EPIRBs, officially known as Emergency Position Indicating Radio beacons, are emergency beacons used in maritime distress. They are designed to save your life if you get into trouble by alerting rescue authorities and indicating your location anywhere in the world. They utilize satellite systems by sending a distress signal on 406 MHz frequency that is used to pinpoint your exact location. The coordinates are then sent to the appropriate agency to begin rescue efforts. EPIRBs can also be equipped with GPS technology that transmits your LAT/LONG for precise locating and faster rescue.
It is important to register your EPIRB. Activated registration will be sent automatically to the appropriate Coast Guard Search and Rescue Coordinator Center. The Coast Guard will attempt to contact the owner/operator at the phone number listed in the database to determine if the vessel is underway. If there is no answer, they will attempt to contact family members using the emergency contact numbers you provide to find out the vessel’s intended route, the number of people on board, etc. This is why you should always file a float plan with these contacts to let them know as much as possible about your voyage. The more information your contacts have to the give the Coast Guard, the better rescuers will be prepared to react and launch a search.
One of the best types of 406 MHz EPIRBs you can buy has an integral GPS navigation receiver that will send accurate location as well as identification information to rescue authorities immediately upon activation through both geostationary (GEOSAR) and polar orbiting satellites. The Coast Guard recommends you purchase a Category I EPIRB 406 MHz (if it can be installed properly) with an integral GPS navigation receiver. Alternatively, you can purchase a Category I or Category II personal locator beacon to wear on your person. You must register new or used 406 MHz EPIRBs with NOAA. If you change your boat, your address, or your primary phone number, you MUST re-register your EPIRB.
EPIRBs use a special type of lithium battery designed for long-term, low-power consumption operation. The battery must be replaced by a dealer approved by the manufacturer during the specified time or it will not work properly. Also, consumers should be aware when ordering EPIRBs online, added shipping charges may apply for hazardous material. Some EPIRBs and PLBs are being manufactured that do not use hazardous material batteries.
Source: What Exactly Is an EPIRB?” About.com Powerboating.Web. 06 Mar. 2013.