Understanding the Impact of EPIRB Legislation in 2020

Legislation is often the primary driver in the adoption or role out of innovations in marine safety equipment. This brief overview highlights two significant changes that will impact a range of vessel users, the timeline for implementing and explains the safety rational behind them.

Legislation: US mandates that Only GNSS EPIRBs can be sold

The US have introduced a new requirement through an updated RTCM EPIRB standard mandating GNSS receivers in EPIRBs for vessels in US waters. The new law states that ‘EPIRBs that do not meet the requirements of RTCM 11000 shall not be manufactured, imported, or sold in the United States’ from 17th January 2020, removing a number of well-known older product types that no longer meet the standard.

47 CFR § 80.1061 - Special requirements for 406.0-406.1 MHz EPIRB stations

(a)… 406.0-406.1 MHz EPIRBs must meet all the technical and performance standards contained in RTCM 11000 (incorporated by reference, see § 80.7), and must also comply with the standards specified in § 80.1101(c)(5). Beginning January 17, 2020, all new applications for certification of 406.0-406.1 MHz EPIRBs must demonstrate compliance with the requirements of RTCM 11000. 406.0-406.1 MHz EPIRBs that do not meet the requirements of RTCM 11000 shall not be manufactured, imported, or sold in the United States …shall be prohibited on vessels subject to 47 CFR subparts R, S, or W …that do not meet the requirements of RTCM 11000 must be operated as certified.
Source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/80.1061



The aim of RTCM 11,000 is to increase the accuracy and speed of the location detection from the EPIRB signals, to help reduce the search area and accelerate rescues.

Non GNSS EPIRBs rely on 406 MHz for alert and general location, using the now outdated 121.5 homer to track location when rescue vessels are within 10 miles approx of the initial alert location. By deploying EPIRBs with GNSS, such as GPS or the recently activated Galileo; satellites can pinpoint exact coordinates and provide real time updates to emergency services.

Boat owners may question new legislation, which will ultimately remove the option of the cheapest non GNSS EPIRB variants from the shelves, but it also brings the US in line with the global IMO SOLAS standard for commercial vessels and will help the Cospas Sarsat search and rescue system save even more lives.

Legislation: Global Mandating of AIS EPIRB for SOLAS Vessels

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee updated the SOLAS requirements for EPIRBS in June 2019. The new regulations will apply from the 1st of July 2022 and require the EPIRB to include an internal AIS frequency alongside the 406 MHz and GNSS requirements.

Recommendation on performance standards for float-free EPIRBs from IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) 101/24/Annex 24 2.3.16

The MCA recommends an update of the International Convention for the Safely of Life at Sea (SOLAS)…requiring that ships be provided with an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB), if installed on or after 1 July 2022, to include an Automatic Identification System (AIS) locating signal in accordance with the Recommendation ITU-R M.1371, Technical characteristics for an automatic identification system using time division multiple access in the VHF maritime mobile frequency band.


By including AIS in EPIRBs, the new requirement will allow localised awareness of distress alerts and location in nearby AIS equipped vessels for the first time. The existing non AIS EPIRBs focus on contacting the professional search and rescue community via the Cospas Sarsat 406 MHz dedicated frequency. When supported with GNSS this allows the distress signal and location to be identified and tracked, but it doesn’t directly contact nearby vessels, who may be in the best position to offer assistance.

By deploying AIS EPIRBs the rescue authorities are contacted, while at the same point vessels within VHF range pick up a Man Overboard (MOB) signal along with GNSS coordinates of the distress location. This increases the chances of an accelerated response to the distress signal and the possibility of local recovery.

A secondary benefit of the local AIS alert is greater awareness of false activations, as vessels in the vicinity will pick up the AIS activation, where previously the first insight is often a helicopter overhead. This may seem a trivial problem, but the reality is the vast majority of activations are accidental and by identifying and standing down search and rescue crews, we can both reduce the significant risk to deployed crews and the unnecessary cost of coastguards and volunteer bodies.

Orolia Maritime

Orolia Maritime offer a range of EPIRBs in the Kannad and McMurdo brand. At the present time the SmartFind G8 AIS & SafePro AIS are the only beacons that meet the new IMO requirements. Learn more about our award winning, Meosar ready and Galileo leveraging innovations at Oroliamaritime.com