Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, EPIRBs
EPIRBs are authorized under a class licence and as such do not require an individual radio communications licence. An EPIRB is described as a small, self-contained, battery-operated radio transmitter that is both watertight and buoyant.
The essential purpose of an EPIRB is to assist in determining the position of survivors in search and rescue operations. The EPIRB should not be considered as an alternative to an approved marine radio transceiver.
Operation of the EPIRB should be a simple two-step action, and once switched on or activated, should not be switched off until rescue has been completed. International Radio Regulations state that the EPIRB battery should be capable of supplying power to the EPIRB for a minimum of 48 hours.
Local User Terminals
Stations established on land for the purpose of receiving signals from the Cospas-Sarsat satellites are known as known as Local User Terminals (LUTs).
There are two LUTs in Australia, one located at Albany, in Western Australia, and another at Bundaberg, Queensland, both of which are linked to the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Canberra. Another LUT located at Wellington, New Zealand, is also linked to RCC Canberra.
Type of EPIRB
There is currently only one type of EPIRB available for all craft:
- The EPIRB operating on UHF frequencies of 406.025 MHz, 406.028 MHz, and 406.037 MHz has recently been made available. Each is commonly referred to as the 406 MHz EPIRB.
- Identification of a 406 MHz EPIRB
Purchasers of a 406 MHz EPIRB are required to complete a registration form which in turn is lodged with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Canberra. The 406 MHz EPIRB has a unique identity code which is transmitted as part of its digitised signal and indicates its country of registration. RCCs around the world can therefore identify the vessel to which an activated EPIRB belongs.
The COSPAS-SARSAT International Satellite System
The COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system is an international consortium of The United States of America, Canada, France, and Russia designed to locate an activated EPIRB operating on a 406. MHz frequency. The system uses four low earth-orbiting satellites, LEOS, each making a complete low earth POLAR ORBIT, at between 700 and 1000 km altitude, in approximately 100 minutes. At least one of these orbiting satellites is in “line of sight” of any point on the earth’s surface at a maximum interval of no longer than three hours. Orbiting satellites in the COSPAS-SARSAT system have a viewing range, or footprint, of approximately 2000 km on either side of its track across the surface of the earth.
The system also uses five satellites that are GEO STATIONARY, in fixed positions, some 36,000 km above the equator.