Float-free EPIRBs mandatory from January 2021

Thursday 26 July 2018
From 1 January 2021, float-free emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) will be mandatory on certain types of commercial vessel.
Float-free EPIRB

This change to safety requirements is in response to tragic incidents in which commercial vessels sank quickly and the master and crew were not able to deploy their EPIRB in time.

AMSA General Manager of Standards Brad Groves said float-free EPIRBs offer significant safety advantages for crew and passengers on vessels in distress.

“If a vessel rapidly capsizes or sinks, the survival of the passengers and crew depends on the transmission of a distress signal.” Mr Groves said.

“A float-free auto-activating EPIRB can send a call for help within minutes of being submerged in water, without any action by the crew.”

Mr Groves said AMSA is giving industry a two-year transition period to plan for the added cost of fitting a float-free EPIRB, but encouraged owners to fit one to their vessel as soon as possible.

“This technology is available now and it will make you and your crew safer at sea.”

AMSA conducted extensive consultation with public and with industry about these changes to requirements. The National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) will change from 1 January 2019, with a two-year transition period for operators to comply.

From 1 January 2021 it will be mandatory for the following domestic commercial vessels to carry a float-free EPIRB:

  • all fishing, passenger and non-passenger domestic commercial vessels (Class 1, 2,  and 3) that are equal to or greater than 12 metres in length and operate beyond 2 nautical miles from land
  • all fishing, passenger and non-passenger domestic commercial vessels (Class 1, 2,  and 3) that are less than 12 metres in length operating in restricted offshore and offshore waters (B or C waters) and do not have level flotation, and
  • all hire and drive vessels operating in restricted offshore waters (Class 4C) equal to or greater than 12 metres in length, or less than 12 metres and do not have level flotation.

This change applies to new vessels, existing vessels, and transitional vessels. It also applies to vessels that are exempt from the requirement to have a certificate of survey.

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.

During the transition period AMSA will consider an alternative option for owners of vessels less than 7.5 metres in length without level flotation operating in offshore waters. This will be in consultation with industry.

A float-free EPIRB is just one element in ensuring the safety of passengers and crew. It is just as important to prevent and control vessel risks, such as in vessel stability and maintenance, crew training and fatigue management, and in operational risks and weather. 

Emergency equipment does not replace the need for vessel owners to work with their crews to develop rigorous safety management systems and instil an on board safety culture.

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