A member of Coast Guard Station Rio Vista exhibits a Personal Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon during rescue and survival training, Friday, April 6, 2012. The personal EPIRB is a satellite transmitter capable of broadcasting on both 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz to provide a position accurate to within three nautical miles within 90 minutes.
In the United States Coast Guard’s upcoming El Faro investigation report, Captain Jason Neubauer USCG, Chairman of the Marine Board of Investigation, will recommend that all Personal Flotation Devices on oceangoing commercial vessels be outfitted with a Personal Locator Beacon.
On the morning of October 1st 2015, at 7:36 local time, the El FAro’s 406Mhz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) was activated and began transmitting an emergency signal to rescuers but the unit was old, did not contain a GPS and malfunctioned before NOAA satellites could triangulate its position.
“If GPS had been embedded in EL FARO’s EPIRB” says the report. “The vessel’s position could have been determined in a single satellite pass. However, EL FARO’s 406Mhz beacon did not contain embedded GPS and it was the only EPIRB the ship carried.
The investigation report does not call for a second EPIRB equipped with GPS, as some marine safety experts have called for, but takes the additional step of recommending that PLB’s be attached to all lifejackets aboard oceangoing commercial vessels.
Recommendation #12 – Personal Locator Beacon Requirement. It is recommended that Commandant direct a regulatory initiative to require that all Personal Flotation Devices on oceangoing commercial vessels be outfitted with a Personal Locator Beacon.
A PLB (personal locator beacon) is a specific type of EPIRB that is typically smaller, less expensive, has a shorter battery life and unlike a proper EPIRB is registered to a person rather than a vessel.
The report does not specify if the PLB’s or ship’s primary EPIRB should contain GPS but does recommended that the Commandant direct a “regulatory initiative to require that all VDR capsules be installed in a float-free arrangement, and contain an integrated EPIRB”.