Distress Beacons

When and how to use your beacon

Safety, Search and Rescue, Distress Beacons

Tuesday 18 October, 2016

Two-way communications by way of mobile/satellite phone or radio are the most effective means of communication when in a distress situation, with some of the reasons outlined below:

  • Instant confirmation that the call has been received by emergency services;
  • Ability to communicate position, nature of distress, required assistance;
  • Emergency services can adequately scale response assets according to required assistance;
  • Ability to provide updates on the situation and also receive advice until emergency services arrive.

If two-way communications are not available, then a distress beacon should be activated in situations of grave and imminent danger. This means when you feel you are facing a life threatening situation. This is a personal decision that is different for everybody.

The correct way to deploy your beacon depends on the type of beacon you have and whether you're on land or water.



After activating your beacon, position it in a clear and open area. The aerial must be vertical pointing towards the sky, preferably with 180 degrees or more of visibility, away from trees, buildings, mountains, and vehicles. If possible, position it at the highest point if you are within a deep ravine or gully. This will ensure maximum effectiveness for detection.




Attach the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) using the lanyard to the person, vessel, or life raft (nothing that will sink). The EPIRB is designed to float vertically in the water. If you are sitting in a life raft and prefer to have the EPIRB inside the life raft, ensure the aerial is always vertical for the best chance of detection. Ensure your body is not covering the beacon.


Your Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) should be attached to the upper portion of your lifejacket, above water. PLBs do not float vertically in the water as the aerial is top heavy and the aerial must be pointing vertically towards the sky. Do not hold the PLB as you might inadvertently cover the GPS transmission and prevent detection.


After landing, for a EPIRB or a PLB, follow the deployment instructions above, depending on whether you're on water or land.

Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) beacons should automatically activate if a strong impact has been sustained, but you should check your beacon after landing to ensure it's transmitting a signal.