EPIRB requirements—find out what the changes mean for your DCV operation

The type of EPIRB you need depends on vessel class, length, flotation and operating area.
beacon floating free

An EPIRB is a critical piece of safety equipment for crew and passengers on sinking or capsized vessels, in a fire, collision or vessel grounding.

1. Float-free EPIRB

A float-free EPIRB is a water-activated EPIRB fitted in a float-free bracket. It can activate itself and float free to the water’s surface. It activates when a vessel is submerged to a depth of one to four metres underwater. A float-free EPIRB can also be manually removed from its bracket and manually activated without it being submerged in water.

Float-free EPIRBs are buoyant and float to the surface of the water with the aerial pointing vertically and transmitting a distress signal.

They are detected in the same way all distress beacons are detected, using the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. Read more about how distress beacons are detected.

Don’t wait until 1 January 2021—act now.


Vessels less than 7.5 metres long have the option to carry a GPS-equipped, manual or water-activated EPIRB in a manual bracket, instead of carrying a float-free EPIRB.

If you choose this option, all persons on board MUST wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD).

It is important that you check what your requirements are and be prepared for the upcoming changes.

We recommend you buy your products now so you’re ready for the 1 January 2021 deadline.

Vessels affected

epirb flowchart

Download your own copy of our EPIRB flowchart.

Read about 'B' and 'C' waters.

These changes apply to new vessels, existing (grandfathered) vessels, or transitional vessels. It also applies to vessels that are exempt from the requirement to have a certificate of survey (also referred to as ‘non-survey’ vessels), including those operating under the following exemptions:

Vessels not affected

Vessels without level flotation that are less than 12 metres in length and operating in D and E waters will not be affected by the changes. Similarly, all vessels that are less than 12 metres with level flotation can continue to carry the kind of EPIRB currently required regardless of where they operate.

The change does not affect coastal life rafts.

How to choose a suitable float-free EPIRB

You will need a manual and water-activated EPIRB (class 2) and a float free bracket (category 1).

Make sure the float-free EPIRB meets Australian Standard AS/NZS 4280.1.

In order to work correctly, the EPIRB brand must match the brand of the float-free bracket.

AMSA does not endorse any particular brand of float-free EPIRB; however, we have published a list of EPIRB models currently available in Australia.

If you already have a water-activated EPIRB, you may be able to convert it into a float-free EPIRB by purchasing a float-free bracket. Before converting your EPIRB, consider the:

  • Battery expiry date – if your EPIRB is close to expiring, it may be more cost effective to replace it instead.
  • Costs for re-programming your existing EPIRB.

Contact your manufacturer to determine whether your existing EPIRB can be used in a float-free bracket.

Please note manually activated EPIRBs cannot be converted to a Float Free EPIRB, such models include: GME MT400, GME MT406, GME MT600, KTI SA1, KTI SA1G, KTI SA3G, Ocean Signal rescueMe EPIRB1 and McMurdo A5.


When converting your existing EPIRB into a float-free EPIRB, you must have it reprogrammed to ensure it will work correctly in an emergency situation. Contact the beacon manufacturer for reprogramming options.

Correct installation

A float-free EPIRB should be installed according to manufacturer’s instructions, and in a location that minimises the chance of it being obstructed from floating free and reaching the surface.

Boats often roll upside down before they sink, so avoid areas that might trap the beacon as it floats free.

Manufacturers include detailed advice on how to install and maintain the EPIRB unit in their instruction manuals.

It’s important to follow those instructions and check the EPIRB is correctly mounted inside the float-free bracket before you set off on the water.

The effectiveness of a float-free EPIRB is dependent on where the unit is mounted.

A float-free EPIRB should be mounted:

  • on the outside of the vessel. Note: the vessel may list or roll during submersion, so take this into consideration during installation
  • in a clear open space away from any obstructions
  • where it is easy to access in an emergency and manual activation is required
  • where it is protected from damage.

In this video we show you the different types of EPIRBs and how to activate when in distress.

Register your float-free EPIRB

Register your EPIRB with AMSA. Registration is valid for two years after date of issue and must be renewed before its expiry date.

Registration is free and can be completed online.

Related information

Last updated: 

Tuesday 14 July 2020