EPIRB's (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and PLB's (Personal Locator Beacons) have saved thousands of lives. Unfortunately there is a serious problem with false alarms. The US Coast Guard quotes a figure of 96%. A SAMSA Principle Officer estimated the South African rate at 99%. Because of the high false alarm rate, the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) is reluctant to launch rescue services until they have verified that the vessel is indeed at sea. That is where registration your EPIRB with the MRCC is so important. The registration data provides the MRCC with the means to attempt to contact the vessel and to get in touch with your nominated contact persons to see if you are indeed at sea.

Download the MRCC EPIRB Registration form.

If you are in any doubt about the importance of registering your EPIRB, read the story of Gulliver. Three yachties had a close call that night, and the NSRI folk who brought them in won an International Maritime Organisation award for Bravery.

On 15 June 2011 the 44 ft. catamaran Gulliver was sailing from Port Owen to Knysna. The skipper was hoping to reach the shelter of Mossel Bay before the arrival of a cold front. At around 1330 Gulliver capsized in a violent gust about 12 nm offshore in the vicinity of Cape Infanta. One of the crew managed to swim down to recover the EPIRB and set it off. The owner had included the EPIRB on his ship station licence, but was not aware of the additional requirement to register the EPIRB with the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Cape Town. So the MRCC had no information on the vessel and was unable to contact anyone to verify any details. Because the vast majority of EPIRB alarms are false alarms, the probability was that this was yet another false alarm and the NSRI was not activated. However the skipper’s wife became alarmed when her routine cell phone calls to the vessel went unanswered, and because of her persistence the probable link between Gulliver and the unidentified EPIRB alarm was eventually recognised. By the time the NSRI crew at Witsand was activated to launch their 5.5m rescue craft it was dark with wind gusting up to 60 knots.

At about 2300 the NSRI finally located the upturned hull of Gulliver and took the skipper and crew on board. It took another two hours for the overloaded rescue craft to battle back through huge seas. The skipper and crew were taken to hospital for treatment for hypothermia. It had been a close call. The crew of the NSRI rescue boat were given an IMO award for bravery. We salute their courage and dedication.