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The cutting edge in EPIRBs

Jan 28, 2020
The McMurdo SmartFind G8 Automatic EPIRB is the first to offer both GPS and AIS signals in addition to the standard 406 MHz signal with 121.5 MHz homing frequency.

The McMurdo SmartFind G8 Automatic EPIRB is the first to offer both GPS and AIS signals in addition to the standard 406 MHz signal with 121.5 MHz homing frequency.

Courtesy McMurdo

Since emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) made their debut as an aid for tracking crashed U.S. military aircraft in the 1950s, this technology has steadily evolved into more compact, highly accurate, life-saving devices priced well within the budget of any serious cruising sailor.

Today, even the humblest of coastal cruisers make sure their vessels are equipped with the familiar little yellow or orange plastic device that can mean the difference between being found alive or coming to rest in Davy Jones’ Locker.

Though we sailors are accustomed to choosing from a wide assortment of manufacturers in a given product field, the EPIRB industry appears to be dominated, if not exclusively inhabited, by three manufacturers of this important technology: ACR Electronics, McMurdo and Ocean Signal.

ACR Electronics’ GlobalFix iPRO EPIRB is the flagship of ACR’s line of vessel and personal EPIRBs. The GlobalFix iPRO’s dual GPS technology permits you to link your EPIRB with the vessel’s GPS to ensure the first signal burst transmits your GPS coordinates to geostationary satellites via 406 MHz signal as well as the 121.5 MHz homing frequency.

This EPIRB also features an LCD digital display of your GPS coordinates, along with step-by-step operator instructions — a far cry from the “beep” prompts and LEDs of yesteryear. At about $500, ACR’s GlobalFix iPRO is $300 less than I paid for an earlier version of the ACR EPIRB more than 20 years ago, and it offers much more crew-friendly operability than its earlier versions. What’s more, the unit is also about a third smaller than before, its environmentally safe battery runs the unit for 65 hours and it keeps its charge for six years.

The McMurdo SmartFind G8 Automatic EPIRB is a revolutionary device: It’s the first to combine both AIS and GPS, in addition to tracking and homing signals, for faster tracking by ships and satellites offshore. This combined technology makes sure your location is being tracked not only by satellites but also by passing ships as soon as the unit hits the water. And to top it off, its lithium iron disulphide battery will last 10 years before requiring replacement.

Without question, you have a much better chance of being plucked from the deck of your stricken vessel with this device than with the lower-priced competitors. The Rolls-Royce of EPIRBs, the McMurdo SmartFind G8 is also the priciest at a little more than $1,000, but the added life-saving features are well worth the extra dent in your cruising kitty.

For about $200 less, you can buy the manual version of this McMurdo device. As long as someone is awake to switch it on, this slightly smaller EPIRB offers the same advantages as the automatic version. By the way, the McMurdo EPIRBs are not for sale in California. I guess I’ll have to drive to Arizona to buy one.

The Ocean Signal rescueME EPIRB1 is the least costly of the three competitors, setting you back a mere $400 while offering essentially the same features as the ACR GlobalFix iPRO. This device features 10-year battery life, 66-channel GPS, 406 MHz signal with 121.5 MHz homing frequency, and a minimum 48 hours of battery life when deployed.

A unique feature of the rescueME is a pair of extremely bright strobe lights, which operate together to add greater visibility at night should the vessel’s circuitry shut down from main battery failure.

After purchasing a new EPIRB and installing it on your vessel, remember that international law requires you to register your beacon code with your country. In the U.S., you may register the device online at

Circumnavigator-author Bill Morris is the author of The Captain’s Guide to Alternative Energy Afloat and is a frequent contributor to Ocean Navigator.

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Jan 28, 2020 07:07 pm
 Posted by  Whitby42

I sailed to Venezuela from New Bedford for 3 years and has an ACR EPIRB onboard . When it was time to get a new battery, I was informed the unit was cracked and not functional. Imagine my surprise and outrage that I sailed fir three(3) years with a non-functioning unit . I will never trust my safety or family safety to ACR again .

Jan 28, 2020 07:11 pm
 Posted by  Whitby42

I sailed with my family for three years with an ACR EPIRB, to South America.
Imagine my surprise and outrage when I return the unit to get a new battery and was told the case was cracked and the unit was non-functional. I had been sailing for three (3) years with my family with a nonfunctional unit . I will never use any ACR product again .

Feb 2, 2020 11:37 am
 Posted by  Roger D.

I would like to know if SART racon radar is mandatory to be seen by coastal land radar

What happened if an emergency ocurrs within the radar range. Lets say 25 miles off the coast ? A coastal radar could be of very importance to start a rescue task

Pls your comments

Best Regards}
Roger Diaz

Feb 2, 2020 11:41 am
 Posted by  Roger D.

Dear Sirs

I would like to know if a SART radar racon should be seen by coastal land radars

What happened if an emergency occurs within the range of the coastal radar. Lets say 25 miles off the coast.? A coastal radar action could be a good start for a rescue operation

Pls your comments

Best Regards
Roger Diaz

Mar 24, 2020 05:01 am
 Posted by  Stemmorex

WHITBY42 - I think you will find that it is a skipper's responsibility to check an EPIRB (Any EPIRB) at least once a year using the built in test systems. Equipment can get damaged on a boat so this is essential. All EPIRBs are manufactured with adequate battery life to carry out regular tests allowing full operational capability until the battery expiry date.

Steve Moore

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