Every minute counts in search and rescue

The best way to call for help is with two-way communication like a radio or satellite phone but, if this is impossible, you should activate a distress beacon.

When you are operating a boat, two nautical miles or more from the coast chances are you may be required to carry a specific type of distress beacon called an emergency position-indicating radio beacon or EPIRB.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) coordinates maritime and aviation search and rescue operations in Australia and recommends GPS-equipped beacons because they provide authorities with the quickest and most accurate alert.

GPS beacons allow search and rescue officers to pinpoint your location faster without the need to triangulate a position using multiple satellite detections.

A GPS-equipped beacon will give AMSA your location within 20 minutes of being activated, accurate to within 120 metres.

A beacon without GPS can take between 90 minutes and five hours to provide a position, and that location is only accurate to within five kilometres.

AMSA Response Centre Manager Alan Lloyd, who manages AMSA’s search and rescue operations, says there is a definite advantage to GPS that boaties should consider before buying a beacon.

“EPIRBs which have GPS can save precious time during an emergency,” Mr Lloyd said.

In 2017, AMSA registered a total of 2,292 EPIRBs in South Australia – 68% of which were GPS-equipped.

“A GPS-equipped beacon that has up-to-date registration details, including the owner’s emergency contacts and trip plans, can make all the difference in an emergency,” Mr Lloyd said.

Updating your beacon registration details is free and easy online.
Visit AMSA’s beacon website www.amsa.gov.au/beacons for more information.