This article appears courtesy of the US Coast Guard. USCG Officer Jim Krezenski, the author, wrote it as a primer on the use of EPIRBs.
Today, we're going to focus on the nautical equivalent of life insurance. Most everyone has some type of life insuranceeach month pay is deducted from your check in preparation for your demise. I submit that the policy you pay for is not life insurance at all, but rather "death insurance," since this kind of investment isn't anything that will benefit you while you're alive. Real life insurance is preventative in nature, and for sailors it's derived from the money you spend on items like VHF radios, liferafts, first-aid equipment, navigation equipment, and probably the most important safety device for offshore and coastal sailors, the EPIRB.
An EPIRB, or Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon is a small battery-powered transmitting device that is carried on board, used only in case of emergency, and usually only as a last resort when your marine radio is inoperable or you are out of range. At last count, 11,471 persons have been rescued using the network of satellites these devices rely upon. Who knows, you could be next.
There are several types of EPIRBs, and the specifics vary from model to model. If a disaster strikes, some float free and automatically activate; others must be activated manually. All EPIRBs float and will send out a continual signal for 48 hours. Since EPIRB signals are primarily detected by a network of international satellites that pass overhead, occasionally there may be a delay in detection, perhaps up to an hour, because there is no satellite currently in the area to pick up the signal and relay it to shore-side rescue bases.