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Vessels Operating Offshore

If you operate offshore, you should seriously consider carrying additional equipment beyond the minimum federal requirements. This equipment should include appropriate communications gear, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), a means of accurately determining your location, and an inflatable life raft. In cold waters, an immersion suit should be carried for everyone on board.


Carry communications gear, marine VHF-FM and/or HF transceiver(s), appropriate to your operating area. Cellular phone coverage is available in many coastal areas. HOWEVER, cellular phones should NOT BE considered a substitute for VHF-FM marine band radios for emergency purposes.

Satellite EPIRBs

Satellite EPIRBs (406 MHz) are designed to quickly and reliably alert rescue forces, indicate an accurate distress position, and guide rescue units to the distress scene, even when all other communications fail.

Illustration of how a Satellite EPIRB system works.  A vessel in trouble is shown sending a signal through EPRIBs to a satellite.  The satellite relays the signal to a ground station.  The ground station sends the signal to SARSAT Mission Control, which sends it to a Rescue Coordination System.  A search and Rescue vessel is dispatched to assist the vessel in trouble.

When activated, the satellite EPIRB transmits a distress signal with a beacon-unique identifying code. The system detects the signal, calculates an accurate distress position, checks the unique identifying code against the EPIRB registration database (vessel and point of contact information supplied by the owner) and routes the distress alert with registration information to the responsible U.S. Coast Guard (or international) Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). 406 MHz EPIRBs with GPS (internal or attached) also provide an immediate GPS position in the information passed to the RCC.

Geostationary satellites make detection almost immediate. If the EPIRB does not have the ability to provide a GPS position, the process to determine a position takes about an hour on average and almost always less than two hours. Satellite EPIRBs also include a homing beacon and strobe to help rescue forces quickly locate the distress scene.

Satellite beacons have significant coverage, alerting timeliness, position accuracy, and signaling advantages over other types of EPIRBs (121.5 MHz). Before purchasing or using an other-than-406MHz EPIRB, be sure you understand its capabilities and limitations. Mount the EPIRB to float free according to the manufacturer's instructions, if possible. Otherwise, make sure it is readily accessible. Register the EPIRB with NOAA, according to the instructions provided with the beacon. Registration is mandatory, improves response and reduces false alarms.

Inflatable Life Rafts

An inflatable life raft can provide a survival platform for an extended period of time. Make sure the life raft is large enough for everyone on board when the boat operates offshore. It should have the appropriate emergency equipment pack, and should be professionally serviced periodically, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Coast Guard approved life rafts must meet a number of stringent material and performance standards.

Illlustration of an inflatable life raft
Life Raft

Immersion Suits

Immersion suits will delay the effects of hypothermia in cold water. They should be stored and maintained according to the manufacture's instructions.

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