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Mandatory float-free EPIRBs

From 1 January 2021, float-free emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) will be mandatory on certain types of domestic commercial vessels.

Float-free EPIRBs offer significant safety advantages for crew and passengers on sinking or capsized vessels.

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.

We conducted extensive public consultation about float-free EPIRBs in 2018. As a result we made changes to the National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) from 1 January 2019.

A two-year transition period applies— from 1 January 2021 the new requirements for float-free EPIRBs will become mandatory for certain types of domestic commercial vessels.

Between December 2018 and February 2019, we also consulted on options for vessels less than 7.5 metres without level flotation operating in Offshore (B) or Restricted Offshore (C) waters.

As a result of the consultation process, vessels less than 7.5 metres without level flotation operating in B and C waters can choose to carry a GPS-equipped, manual or water-activated EPIRB in a manual bracket instead of carrying a float-free EPIRB where all persons on board are wearing lifejackets or Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs). This option will be made available through further changes to the NSCV to commence from 1 January 2021.

Types of vessels

From 1 January 2021 it will be mandatory for the following domestic commercial vessels to carry a float-free EPIRB. Read more about vessel service categories.

Vessels that must have a float-free EPIRB from 1 January 2021

Vessel type

Vessel length and flotation

Operating area

Class 1, 2 or 3

Equal to or greater than 12 metres.

Beyond 2 nautical miles seaward from land.

Less than 12 metres, and does not have level flotation.*

Offshore waters (B waters) or

Restricted offshore (C waters).

Class 4

Equal to or greater than 12 metres.

Restricted offshore (C waters).

Less than 12 metres, and does not have level flotation.*

Restricted offshore (C waters).

* for vessels less than 7.5 metres—option to carry a GPS-equipped, manual or water activated EPIRB in a manual bracket, instead of carrying a float-free EPIRB where all persons on board are wearing lifejackets or PFDs.

Vessels that are affected

These changes apply to the vessels listed in the table above whether they are new vessels, existing (grandfathered) vessels, or transitional vessels. It also applies to vessels listed in the table above 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.

Distress signals from float-free EPIRBs

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.

Video—mandatory float-free EPIRBs

View or download our video on Mandatory float-free EPIRBs.

Related information

Last updated: 

Friday 27 September 2019