The website is undergoing maintenance between 3-5 pm AEST today. You may experience temporary loading issues. We apologise for any inconvenience.

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.

New EPIRB requirements commenced on 1 January 2021. Is your EPIRB compliant and registered correctly with AMSA?


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.

Vessels affected

epirb flowchart

Download your own copy of our EPIRB flowchart .

Read about 'B' and 'C' waters .

Level flotation means that the boat will continue to float in a level position if swamped, preventing it from capsizing in calm water. This will allow people to remain in the vessel and bail out the water.

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).

We recommend EPIRBs are purchased in Australia to ensure compliance with the National System carriage requirements and registration with AMSA.

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.

Purchasing float free EPIRBs from overseas—warning

Australian Domestic Commercial Vessels complying with EPIRB carriage requirements must have an Australian coded and registered EPIRB with AMSA onboard.  If an EPIRB is purchased overseas it may not be compliant with the AS/NZS 4280.1 and may be incorrectly programmed with another country code which will prevent Australian registration and therefore will be non-compliant.  In order to register a compliant Australian EPIRB with AMSA the EPIRB must be programmed with the Australian country code ‘503’ and the HEX ID will commence with ‘BE’ or ‘3E’. 


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: 22 September 2021