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Emergency locating devices

Emergency locating devices help find survivors in search and rescue operations.


In the case of a life-threatening emergency, where standard two-way communication devices such as mobile telephones or radios have failed, satellite distress beacons EPIRB-AIS (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon with an Automatic Identification System transmitter) can help locate people who are lost at sea or in remote land areas. 

Satellite distress beacons and EPIRB-AIS can alert search and rescue authorities to the location of people in distress through the COSPAS-SARSAT network of satellites. 

COSPAS-SARSAT is a satellite-based search and rescue distress alert detection and information distribution system, best known for detecting and locating emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and hikers in distress.

Satellite distress beacons for use on aircraft are authorised by the Radiocommunications (Aircraft and Aeronautical Mobile Stations) Class Licence 2016.

Satellite distress beacons and EPIRB-AIS for use on land or sea are authorised by the Radiocommunications (Emergency Locating Devices) Class Licence 2016

Locating aids

Locating aids such as MSLS, AIS-SART and Radar-SART are short range devices that need a receiver to be within receiving range of an associated transmitter.

Maritime survivor locating systems (MSLS), including man overboard (MOB) devices, are designed to signal a need for assistance when a person has fallen into the water from a vessel, on shore, or while engaged in other marine activities.

Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a ship and shore based, short range, broadcast system. AIS is used to send and receive data about a ship (including its position, course and speed). AIS is used between ships, suitably equipped aircraft and shores. AIS-SARTs (search and rescue transponders) are transmitters that use AIS to assist in determining the location of a vessel in distress.

Radar-SARTs are self-contained, waterproof devices that transmit a radar locating signal on the 9 GHz band and are intended for emergency use at sea.

The use of MSLS, AIS-SARTs and Radar-SARTs are authorised by the Radiocommunications (Emergency Locating Devices) Class Licence 2016.

Looking after your EPIRB

EPIRBs can be activated:

  • if you don't properly store them
  • if they fall or are knocked over

A major cause for callouts to locate activated EPIRBs is from people throwing them out in the rubbish. You should take old or unwanted EPIRBs to a marine equipment retailers to recycle.

The AMSA website has advice and registration details for EPIRBs.

Further information

Information on emergency locating devices can be found on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) website.

More information about Class Licences.

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