Here’s how beacons work.
For those new to voyaging, an emergency position-indicating rescue beacon (EPIRB) simultaneously transmits a distress call via a satellite signal and a radio-homing signal for search-and-rescue forces worldwide. It can be activated manually or hydrostatically by immersion in water. Sometimes referred to as GPIRBs, the latest models also incorporate GPS, shortening the time needed to get an accurate fix on the beacon’s location. A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a pocket-sized EPIRB that sacrifices battery life to offer its smaller size. In the U.S. both are supposed to be registered with NOAA, so if the beacon is activated, rescuers have a description of your vessel and know who they are looking for. The Cospas-Sarsat system, as the worldwide beacon-tracking system is known, has been credited with rescuing nearly 30,000 people since the program’s inception in 1982.
This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.