EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons

Find out when to carry and how to use and dispose of a distress beacon.

Distress beacons, such as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), are devices that can be activated to alert rescuers that you are in a life threatening situation and need to be rescued.

Lives are saved each year because responsible skippers carry distress beacons.

Your EPIRB or PLB must be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

Types of distress beacons

Choose a beacon suitable for your vessel and activity. 

Examples of EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)
Examples of EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)

An EPIRB designed for marine use will:

  • float and keep the antennae above the water
  • has a lanyard
  • can operate continuously for 48 hours.

An EPIRB should be positioned in the cockpit or near the helm where it can be reached quickly in an emergency.

Your EPIRB must meet Australian Standards AS/NZS 4280.1 and have an in date battery.

We recommend you purchase a Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled EPIRB.

When activated, a GPS-enabled EPIRB will direct emergency services to within 120 metres of your location compared to 5 kilometres with a non-GPS device.

PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)
PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)


A PLB is a compact portable beacon and is designed to be worn or carried by an individual.

Some PLBs do not float and may not be designed for use in water.

A PLB usually has a shorter battery life than an EPIRB and will only operate for approximately 24hrs.

Your PLB must meet Australian Standard 4280.2 and have an in date battery.

Distress beacon requirements

All registrable vessels, personal water craft, tenders and sailing dinghies.

When operating beyond 400 metres from shore in unprotected waters, you must carry a GPS-enabled EPIRB or wear a PLB.

Registrable vessels are all vessels, including sailing vessels, that are or can be propelled by mechanical power.

Paddlecraft, kite and windsurfers

Paddlecraft, kite and windsurfers must carry a GPS-enabled EPIRB or wear a PLB if travelling:

  • more than 2 nautical miles from the mainland shore, or
  • more than 400 metres from an island located more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore.

Find out more about what safety equipment you need.

Distress beacon registration

EPIRBs and PLBs must be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

Registration is a free and can be completed online.

Proof of registration

You may be required to provide proof of beacon registration during an safety equipment inspection.

You can provide proof of registration, such as an email, SMS or printed copy of your registration confirmation or check your registration on the AMSA website.

Update registration details

If your beacon’s registration details change you can update them on the AMSA beacon register website.

Using your EPIRB or PLB

EPIRBs and PLBs should only be used when:

  • there is an emergency and you believe you are in imminent danger; or
  • when you are told to do so by a rescue authority.

In the event of an emergency, you should also consider initial communications with others close by using radios and other signalling devices.

Testing EPIRBs and PLBs

You should check and test your EPIRB or PLB before going out on the water.

Check the device for signs of damage.

Use the test switch as per the manufacturer's instructions to check power and operation.

Accidental activation

If you activate your EPIRB or PLB by accident, turn it off immediately and let rescue authorities know as soon as possible by calling:

  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on 1800 641 792;
  • WA Water Police on (08) 9442 8600; or
  • nearest Marine Rescue (MR) group.

Unauthorised use of EPIRBs and PLBs

EPIRBs and PLBs must only be activated in an emergency situation.

Intentionally activating an EPIRB or PLB when you are not in distress carries a severe penalty and wastes time and resources.



Store EPIRBs in an accessible place where they can be retrieved easily but away from areas where they might be knocked or accidentally activated.

Attach the EPIRB using the lanyard to vessel or something that will not sink.

Ensure the EPIRB container is not cracked or showing signs of damage and all on board know where it is and how to activate it.


When out on the water, a PLB must be worn or attached to a person.

Your PLB should be attached to the upper portion of your lifejacket, above water but must not restrict the inflation of your lifejacket.


Do not throw your EPIRBs and PLBs in the rubbish bin. Beacons can be accidentally activated if thrown in general waste and end up in landfill.

To dispose unwanted EPIRBs or PLBs you can:

  • Hand in for safe disposal at:
    • Marine Operations Centre, 14 Capo D'Orlando Drive, Fremantle.
    • Marine Operations Centre, Peel Region, 107 Breakwater Parade, Mandurah.
  • Contact your local Battery World store to check whether they disconnect and dispose of beacons. Fees may apply.

Disarm the beacon and disconnect the battery by following the manufacturer's instructions, Once disarmed, check with your local waste management facility for an environmentally friendly method of disposing of the battery.

Opens in a new window Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
Opens in a new window Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA): Beacons
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Page last updated: Thu May 30 2024 2:24:39 PM