The piece of safety equipment that transmits the beacon is called an EPIRB.
“E-P-I-R-B, emergency position indicating radio beacon.”
That’s John Ryan of Alexander Ryan Marine and Safety Company. He says the EPIRB works like a GPS devise, it locates satellites and transmits signals to them so that a position can be determined by triangulation.
“When these things go off, literally there is a network, G-M-D-S-S — global marine distress safety systems — this signal is picked up from satellites around the world, so any three satellites on the horizon that can pick this signal up, pick it up.”
The signals then indicate a position within six feet, so, despite winds and tides and currents as soon as a rescue effort is mounted it can head directly to the EPIRB.
But that’s not all the EPIRB does.
“The other thing that happens is with these new generation EPIRBS, you have the ability to program them. When we sell these, we actually program into them the vessels name or the rig name and a contact number and name.”
Ryan says the device is tethered to a vessel and can float on the surface of the water. They usually can be activated both by hand and when they come in contact with salt water. While they are required for licensed fishing boats, supply vessels and mobile off-shore drilling units, they are not required for pleasure boaters or private fishermen. They cost from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars but could be priceless if you end up in the water instead of on it.