US Coast Guard Focus on EPIRBs for Fishing Safety

Commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States, and by law all commercial fishing vessels operating more than three nautical miles from the coast are required to carry an EPIRB, whether offshore, on inland waters or the Great Lakes.

According to the Coast Guard, the Mid-Atlantic region alone is home to approximately 5,800 commercial fishing vessels. Coast Guard commercial fishing vessel safety examiners with the 5th District conduct over 500 dockside examinations a year, and between 500 and 600 at-sea boarding’s by Coast Guard boarding officers.

The U.S. Coast Guard 5th District for the Mid-Atlantic region is attempting to draw attention to the importance of EPIRBs and their role in commercial fishing vessel safety. While vessel owners and operators are ultimately responsibility over the vessel safety, the Coast Guard aims to foster safety in the industry by enforcing regulations and providing oversight of safety practices and procedures.

All commercial fishing vessels are legally required to follow regulations listed in 46 Code of Federal Regulations Part 28 – Requirements for Commercial Fishing Industry Vessels, regardless of type, size or state or federally-registered.

Coast Guard 5th District examiners and boarding officers issue on average 40 EPIRB-related deficiencies to commercial fishing vessels each year, but vessels can avoid violations and penalties by having the proper equipment from the start.

Once activated, an EPIRB sends your distress signal on the Cospas Sarsat 406MHz frequency, this message is relayed to the search and rescue authorities linked to the EPIRBs registered location, who coordinate rescue efforts.

EPIRBs are designed to transmit the distress signal and GNSS location for a minimum of 48 hours, providing coordination centres with updated positions and data based on current conditions during search and rescue.

With the huge investment in modernising Cospas Sarsat, the network that manages 406MHz distress beacon search and rescue, beacon detection and accuracy have been fundamentally improved. The project called MEOSAR updated ground antenna and provided new satellites, which have greatly accelerated the time from activation to the authorities knowing where you are. The latest Return Link Service beacons, which launched in 2021 also have the ability to send signals back to the beacon to reassure the user their call for help has been received and their location is known.

Vessels over 36-feet are required to have a Category 1 EPIRB which automatically release from their mounting brackets when immersed in water, while Category 2 EPIRBs must be manually released. Both can be activated automatically by immersion in water, as well as manually.

The Coast Guard also highlights current registration as the surest way to correctly notify the SAR system, as well as allows the Coast Guard to contact your family or other point of contact to find out additional details. To register or update your EPIRB, go to the United States 406 MHz Beacon Registration Page.

You can also check your registration status by calling 888-212-SAVE (888-212-7283).

For over 20 years, the Coast Guard has conducted no-cost, no-fault voluntary dockside safety exams on commercial fishing vessels, issuing a safety decal valid for two years for successful completion of the exam. The Coast Guard also says it is beneficial for every commercial fishing vessel to maintain a current safety decal, which could facilitate a more streamlined safety check if boarded at sea.

The Coast Guard highly recommends all commercial fishing vessels undergo safety exams even though all vessels are not required (for commercial fishing vessels operating beyond three nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline or Great Lakes coastline, safety exams are mandatory).

For more information on how to schedule a voluntary dockside exam, visit: the Dockside Exam Request page or contact your nearest commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator.

For any additional questions, you can reach out to Andrew Diggs, a Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Examiner at Coast Guard Sector Virginia at andrew.j.diggs@uscg.mil