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I still have a simple, old manual one stored together with the em-pack in the locker next to the life raft and hope never using this thing.
Main difference between one without GPS ore one with build in GPS or GPS interface is, that the ones connected to the GPS or build in GPS send your actual position, meaning providing the rescue center with boat type, name of vessel and position. Action can be taken straight away.
The others transmit only a blank signal followed by boat identification data. To aquire your position via Satellite in an em could last up to 40 minuts.
While you are sailing close to a coastline, having one with GPS you could be back home while having the other one the rescue center still doesn''t know where you are.
Manual ore automatic, well, the manual one, you have to turn it on. The automatic one activates it self while the boat goes under.
Buying a new EPIRB, now I would for one with GPS interface. 40 minuts in an em can be a very long time. To me, it doesn''t need to be a automatic one but that''s philosophie I think.
For more info have a look at the following web site. There you''ll find every thing you need. http://www.howstuffworks.com/question351.htm
Hope I could help you a bit with this one.