Which epirb is right for me?
E.P.I.R.B. = Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. This is basically a device that will broadcast your position to the US Coast Guard when activated, and let them know you are in peril so. This will notify the USCG to send the Cavalry and let them know who to look for and where.
EPIRBS are offered in a variety of formats. The only ones we recommend have built-in GPS's, so that is what we will be discussing here. It is possible to get them without a GPS, however since these have become available with GPS there is no reason to get one without GPS. The two types of locating devices we will discuss are EPIRBS and PLB's (Personal LocatorBeacons)
EPIRBS are the "wine bottle" sized yellow devices you have probably seen on many boats. They have an antenna sticking up on top. EPIRBS are offered in Category I and Category II. Cat I EPIRBS are automatically deployed and Cat II are manually deployed. What does this mean - an automatically deployed EPIRB comes with a plastic case to hold the EPIRB. The case gets attached to the boat in a spot that is clear of obstruction so the epirb can be releaseed and float free if the boat sinks. A Cat II EPIRB is stored in a bag or a mount near the helm of the boat. If an occupant of the boat decides to activate the EPIRB they will physically turn it on or throw it into the water. We recommend that a boat has a Cat II EPIRB before getting a backup Cat I EPIRB. In case of fire it is likely the Cat I epirb would burn up before the boat sank. If the captain keeps a Cat II EPIRB handy he can easily deploy it when the time comes.
EPIRBS are rated to last for 48 hours once deployed. They can be manually turned on with a switch, and they can be automatically turned on when they come in contact with water. They float and can perform their duty with no input from the user, just toss it in the water. EPIRBS are registered to the boat, so the USCG will search for the boat and victim when activated.
PLB's are the much smaller devices, typcally the size of a cordless phone. PLB's are suited to be used by individuals, although many will use this as the primary rescue locator for the boat. PLB's are small enough to be worn by the user. PLB's need to be manually activated, so they are not water activated like an EPIRB. PLB's also float, but they do not float upright so the user must hold them in an upright configuration for them to work. PLB's also last 24 hours once activated instead of 48 hours like an EPIRB. And finally, PLB's are registered to the user and not to the boat. So you can see PLB's have some major shortcomings over EPIRBS which is why we do not recommend them as the primary device. However, they are better than nothing. The ideal use of a PLB would be for the crew of an EPIRB equipped boat to wear, so in cas that person fell overboard, at night for example, they would have a shot at being rescued. PLB's are also good for boaters that may go out on friends boats that do not have an EPIRB for another level of personal safety.
PLB's and EPIRBS's both require battery replacement every 5 years. This needs to be professionally done in most cases.
Cat II Epirbs