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Steps for proper EPIRB registration

For pleasure boaters and commercial mariners alike, the Lady Mary snafu underlines the importance of properly registering an EPIRB by mailing, faxing or e-mailing a filled-in beacon registration form to NOAA ...

and making sure the information NOAA has in its computer files about your EPIRB is correct, says NOAA program analyst Dan Karlson.

“There’s been a lot of finger-pointing and soul-searching to find out how this error occurred,” says Chris Wahler of ACR Electronics. “If there’s something we can learn from this, we ought to try to do it.”

For the boater, these lessons are clear, Karlson says:

• Register your EPIRB when you get it, then again every two years. If you fill out the registration form by hand, be sure your handwriting is legible. A clerk will have to transcribe the information and enter it into the database. Better yet, register online at NOAA’s Web site ( You enter your EPIRB information directly into the database, eliminating transcription and reducing the likelihood of error. “You’re not relying on someone to interpret your handwriting,” Karlson says.

• Once an EPIRB is registered, make sure the identification code printed on the beacon is the same as the code on the letter and the proof-of-registration sticker NOAA sends back to you. “Do the check,” he says. “Look at the beacon ID and the information that we have on file.” The confirmation letter has all of your registration information on it, including the beacon’s make and model; its ID code; the owner’s name, address and telephone numbers; descriptive information about the boat; and emergency contact numbers.

• Update your EPIRB information on file with NOAA as necessary between registrations — for instance, if you move or your emergency contact numbers change or you buy a new boat. If you register online, you have direct access to the information and can change it online at any time. If you go cruising, Karlson recommends adding to the “additional data” line where you’ll be cruising and on what dates to help rescuers find you in an emergency.

ACR’s Wahler also advises getting an EPIRB with GPS. Though it may cost a few hundred dollars more, a GPS-

enhanced EPIRB has this advantage: The GPS calculates its position, and it is sent out in the emergency alert signal as soon as the EPIRB activates. Rescuers don’t have to wait for a Leosar satellite to pass overhead to get a location.

See related article: "EPIRB error hinders rescue response."

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue.