New “Toy”! McMurdo Smartfind G8 AIS EPIRB

Yesterday I finally received my McMurdo Smartfind G8 AIS EPIRB, which I’ve been waiting for for a year and a half! (It took a long time to get required regulatory approvals.) This is the most advanced EPIRB on the planet right now.

This EPIRB is designed to transmit its emergency distress signals for a minimum of 48 hours, and offers 5 ways to help Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel locate it:

  • 5W 406 MHz signal which can be triangulated by satellites
  • 70mW 121.5 MHz signal which can be triangulated by aircraft
  • VHF AIS signal with a typical range of 4 miles
  • GPS coordinates transmitted with distress signals
  • Flashing white strobe light

In the event of an emergency:

  • Remove the EPIRB entirely from its mounting bracket.
  • Lift the red ON button cover and depress the ON button for 2 seconds.

My personal philosophy with regards to EPIRB use is: Only use the beacon as a last resort in situations of imminent peril, danger to life, the vessel has sunk, or all reasonable options for self-sufficiency have been exhausted. Remember that rescue operations involve risk to the lives of both rescuers and evacuees. Depending on conditions and other factors, it could take hours or days for rescuers to arrive.

If possible, issue a MAYDAY distress call on the radio, and monitor channel 16 on VHF for communications from SAR (and possibly 2,182 kHz on SSB as well).

The user’s manual indicates that in an emergency the beacon should be secured by its lanyard and floated in the water. Personally I find the wisdom of this advice suspect, especially in any weather or rough seas, so I plan to secure the beacon inside the vessel or life raft. If the lanyard breaks or the beacon otherwise becomes separated from the vessel, SAR will find the beacon but may have difficulty locating the vessel.

Ideally the beacon has a clear view of the sky when it is operating, both so that its signal can be received clearly by satellites and SAR aircraft, and also so that it can receive GPS signals to obtain a location fix to send in its distress signal transmissions.

When operating in an emergency, the beacon transmits a powerful radio signal from its antenna. Keep the antenna away from your body, head, hands, living creatures, etc.

The beacon will activate its emergency mode and begin transmitting its distress signals automatically if it is not in its mounting bracket and it is floating in sea water.

The beacon should be tested once per month, in the first 5 minutes of the hour. Test by holding down the gray TEST button on the top of the device for 2 seconds. If the test passes, the white strobe lights will flash 1 to 3 times. If one flash, the battery is low and should be replaced ASAP. A red light indicates the test failed and the beacon is non-functional and needs to be serviced ASAP. It will likely fail to operate in an emergency until it is serviced.

Note that the Smartfind G8 does come with a 5-digit checksum code. It can be found on the document titled “Warranty Certificate.”

I got mine from The GPS Store (link below) and can recommend their service.

If for any reason you’re contemplating not having an EPIRB aboard, be sure to read Rescue in the Pacific by Tony Farrington. (It’s a gripping story worth reading in any case!)

McMurdo has come up with a real winner of an EPIRB, and this is my favorite toy I hope to never use!

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