Updated on August 28, 2020

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, also known as EPIRBs, are small radio transmitters that are connected to a global emergency communications network that helps search and rescue groups to locate you in the event of an emergency. These devices are especially necessary on ocean-faring sailboats where currents, tides, and weather can make for unpredictable and sometimes dangerous conditions. Whether you’re an experienced sailor who’s just looking for the latest, most up-to-date gear or if you’re newer to the sport and need to build your gear closet, we’ve put together this guide to help you choose the best EPIRB for you and your vessel. Included in this guide is also some key vocabulary and information to help you make the most informed purchase possible. Check it out, and see you out there, sailor!

For more of our top sailing gear recommendations, check out the Best Life Jackets for Sailing.

 

Quick Answer - The Best EPIRBs

  1. ACR Globalfix V4 EPIRB Category II
  2. Ocean Signal Rescueme EPIRB 1 Category II
  3. McMurdo Smartfind G8 Manual EPIRB With AIS
  4. ACR Globalfix V4 EPIRB And PLB-400 Survival Kit

 

Comparison Table - Best EPIRBs

PictureNameActivation MethodBattery LifeWarrantyPriceRating
ACR Globalfix V4 EPIRB Category IIManual48 hoursFive Years$4.9
Ocean Signal Rescueme EPIRB 1 Category IIManual48+ hoursFive Years$4.8
McMurdo Smartfind G8 Manual EPIRB With AISManual48 hoursFive Years with product registration within 90 days of purchase$$4.75
ACR Globalfix V4 EPIRB And PLB-400 Survival KitManual48+ hoursN/A$$$4.65
PictureNameActivation MethodBattery LifeWarrantyPriceRating
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.

Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.

Reviews - Best EPIRBs for Sailing

ACR Globalfix V4 EPIRB Category II

Specs
  • Activation Method: Manual
  • Battery Life: 48 hours
  • Dimensions: 3.6” W x 9.6” H x 4.3” D
  • GPS Enabled: Yes
  • Warranty: Five Years
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Minimum Requirements: Registration required
Features
  • Battery Pack Can Be Stored For Up To 10 Years
  • Includes An Easy Self-Testing Function To Monitor The Beacon’s Functionality
  • Features A Highly Efficient LED Strobe Light

BEST: MANUALLY ACTIVATED EPIRB

Though it may feel like a large price tag, think of an EPIRB as you would buying insurance. The benefits of having an EPIRB on board your sailboat far outweigh the initial cost. This EPIRB is manually activated, meaning that you have to use its keypad to activate it in the event of an emergency. Once activated, the cutting edge technology in this EPIRB will accurately fix your location and then broadcast the coordinates to Search and Rescue teams worldwide.

This EPIRB also has a highly efficient LED strobe light to help rescuers find you in the dark should your emergency occur at night or in stormy weather. Finally, you know you can count on this device because the battery doesn’t need to be replaced for 10 years, so you’ll be covered throughout those 10 years should you find yourself in a marine emergency situation on board your sailboat.

Ocean Signal Rescueme EPIRB 1 Category II

Specs
  • Activation Method: Manual
  • Battery Life: 48+ hours
  • Dimensions: 7” H x 3.5” D
  • GPS Enabled: Yes
  • Warranty: Five Years
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Minimum Requirements: Registration required
Features
  • 10-Year Battery Life For Peace Of Mind And Maximum Utility
  • Features Two High-Brightness Strobes Lights To Maximize Visibility In Low Light Conditions
  • Retractable Antenna For Easy Storage

BEST: COMPACT EPIRB

If you’ve got a smaller vessel or you’re just looking to save a little space, then you’ll want to go with a compact EPIRB that takes up as little space as possible. This Ocean Signal EPIRB is 30% smaller than comparable EPIRB products on the market and thus can be stowed away easily. 

It even features a retractable antenna that can be deployed for use when needed but can be stowed when in storage. In addition to the convenience of its size, this EPIRB also has a more than 48-hour operational battery life when deployed and two high-brightness strobe lights for maximum visibility. This device will store easily on your boat and keep you safe in the event of an emergency while you’re out on the ocean.

McMurdo Smartfind G8 Manual EPIRB With AIS

Specs
  • Activation Method: Manual
  • Battery Life: 48 hours
  • Dimensions: 4.09” x 8.54” x 4.8”
  • GPS Enabled: Yes
  • Warranty: Five Years with product registration within 90 days of purchase
  • Waterproof: N/A
  • Minimum Requirements: Registration required
Features
  • Utilizes Multiple Frequencies To Broadcast Distress Signal When Activated
  • Includes A Hands-Free Carrying Strap
  • Battery Can Be Easily Changed Following Its 10-Year Storage Period

BEST: HIGH-TECH EPIRB

The benefits of this EPIRB device are clear: it utilizes multiple channels to broadcast your distress signal in the event of activation in an emergency, including 406MHz, 121.5MHz, AIS, and GPS. The use of all of these channels together creates a really powerful combination of coverage that promises peace of mind and safety should you find yourself in an emergency situation. 

Though the battery on this device lasts for 10 years, there are also tests that you can deploy to test the system to make sure that everything is working as it’s supposed to before you head out on a multi-day cruise. Finally, the five-year warranty on this device ensures that you’ll feel safe and secure throughout all of your upcoming voyages.

ACR Globalfix V4 EPIRB And PLB-400 Survival Kit

Specs
  • Activation Method: Manual
  • Battery Life: 48+ hours
  • Dimensions: N/A
  • GPS Enabled: Yes
  • Warranty: N/A
  • Waterproof: N/A
  • Minimum Requirements: Registration required
Features
  • Kit Also Includes A Personal Locator Beacon, Ensuring A Second Way For Rescuers To Locate You
  • Signal Mirror And Whistle Included To Alert Rescuers Of Your Location
  • Two Strobe Lights Also Included In This Kit Along With Your EPIRB

BEST: SURVIVAL KIT

In addition to the EPIRB device that broadcasts your location to Search and Rescue crews in the event of an emergency on board your sailboat, this product also includes a full survival kit with a personal beacon, two strobe lights, a signal mirror, and a whistle. In a compact carrying case, you’ll truly have everything you’ll need if you run into bad weather or an emergency situation while out at sea. 

The EPIRB has a 10-year battery life, so you can rest assured that you’ll be protected throughout all of your near and future voyages and long after you’ve reached your sailing destination. Think of the survival kit like an insurance policy: you don’t want to have to use it, but if you need it, you’ll be glad that you have it.

 

 

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING EPIRB

 

MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC DEPLOYMENT

There’s a good chance that you’ll never have to use your EPIRB, and that’s a good thing. But in the unlikely event of a collision or if your vessel is taking on water, it would be nice to have one less thing to worry about – the manual deployment of your EPIRB. The cost difference between the two is negligible, so it might be best to go with one that has automatic capabilities. 

For more information about choosing the right EPIRB for your sailboat, check out this article from West Marine.

 

DO YOU NEED BUILT-IN GPS?

In the event of an unlikely emergency, you’re going to want to be found as fast as possible. Therefore, it would be prudent to get an EPIRB that also has a built-in GPS so that it can help to more accurately pinpoint you and your vessel. This has been proven to reduce the time for rescue, so it would be prudent to look for an EPIRB that has a built-in GPS. 

 

DO I ALSO NEED A PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON?

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are the smaller cousins of EPIRBs, which are designed specially for marine environments. PLBs can also be used on land for hikers, backpackers, climbers, pilots, and hunters, among other recreationalists. They are a great alternative to have when heading out on your dinghy to explore because they are essentially smaller, lighter weight EPIRBs.

 

WHY DO I NEED AN EPIRB?

Unexpected things occur when out on the ocean. Weather systems come in quickly, and if you’re in a sailboat, you can often happen upon a faster speed boat that may not see you. Having an EPIRB on board your sailboat is like purchasing an insurance policy. You hope that you never have to use it, but you’re definitely glad it’s there if you do need it.

 

 

FEATURES EXPLAINED

 

GPS

This acronym stands for Global Positioning System, a radio navigation system that determines your exact location. 

EPIRB

This acronym stands for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon used to transmit a homing signal to determine your exact location in the event of an emergency.

STROBE

A type of very bright flashing light used in rescue situations to find those that have been lost in the dark or low visibility situations.

NOAA

This acronym stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. You are required to register your EPIRB with this agency.

PLB

This acronym stands for Personal Locator Beacon, a lightweight version of EPIRB that can also be used elsewhere other than marine environments.

PAB

This acronym stands for Personal AIS Beacon, a device meant to be strapped to your life jacket and to deploy or activate if you go overboard.

CATEGORY I EPIRB

The distance that a radar device can detect. It typically has both a minimum and maximum range.

CATEGORY II EPIRB

The distance that a radar device can detect. It typically has both a minimum and maximum range.

READ MORE

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