The EPIRB is the one device on a boat that is capable of automatically sending a distress signal from anywhere in the world, independent of all other systems you might have on board. To make full use of it, however, it is crucial to mount it correctly. So, where should you mount an EPIRB?
You should mount your EPIRB clear of all overhead obstructions, where it will float free in an emergency. It should be easily accessible so that you can quickly grab it if you take to your liferaft. Popular locations include the top of the cabin roof, adjacent to the helm, or on handrails near the stern.
The most important thing, however, is to mount your EPIRB in a location that makes sense for your boat.
Where Could You Mount an EPIRB?
You could mount your EPIRB anywhere you like. Most importantly, you should consider what is best for your EPIRB and your boat.
If your boat is small and open to the elements, protecting the EPIRB is likely going to be your priority. If you have a larger vessel, easy access may be more important for you. If you are on a sailing boat, keeping clear of the mast and rigging might be your priority.
Mounting an EPIRB on the Center Console
A lot of small boat owners prefer to mount their EPIRB on the center console. The huge advantage of this is that the EPIRB is easily accessible should you want to abandon ship.
Additionally, on the smallest boats, the center console is quite a good location for it to float free. Of course, if you have a canopy of any sort, or your center console is inside, the console is not such a great position.
If there is any sort of covering, you can expect that your EPIRB will not be able to float free. More likely, it will just float up and just get caught in the roof instead.
The other consideration is in the event of a capsize. If your boat turns straight over, it is likely to be impossible for the EPIRB to float clear. It is likely to just get trapped in the upturned hull.
Mounting on the center console is good if you intend to always carry your EPIRB to your survival craft. Your EPIRB would be a Category 2 EPIRB, as it is unlikely to be able to float free (except on the smallest of boats). If you do mount on the center console, ideally, you will carry a PLB or a second EPIRB as a backup.
Mounting an EPIRB on the Cabin Roof
Another common location on smaller boats is mounting your EPIRB on the cabin roof. Compared to mounting on the center console, the cabin roof has one major advantage. The EPIRB should be able to float free in an emergency.
Should your boat sink straight down, the cabin roof gives the greatest chance of the EPIRB floating clear. You do need to make sure that there are no fittings or masts above the EPIRB that could hinder its passage to the surface.
Depending on the shape of your cabin, there is a chance the EPIRB will also be able to float free in the event of a capsize.
You just need to imagine what the roof looks like inverted. If there are deep combings around the edge they could catch your EPIRB. Additionally, if your roof slopes towards the cockpit, the EPIRB would probably just bounce along that and get trapped in the upturned hull.
The final consideration for the cabin roof is its accessibility. Is it easy to get to if you need to abandon ship quickly? Imagine there is a fire in the cabin and you just need to get away. Could you easily grab the EPIRB as you run past?
Mounting an EPIRB on the Foredeck
Similar to the cabin roof, the foredeck gives the EPIRB a good chance of floating free in an emergency. The disadvantage compared to the cabin roof is that in the event of a capsize, the foredeck could be shallower. This reduces the chance of the foredeck getting the EPIRB deep enough to activate a HUR (Hydrostatic Release Unit).
Incidentally, I have made a video about how HRUs work.
The foredeck probably does, however, give a clearer path for the EPIRB from an upturned hull. There is normally less in the way of deep combings, and less chance of it finding its way inside the hull.
The major disadvantage of mounting on the foredeck is accessibility. On a small boat, access to the cabin is usually from aft. If you are running away from a fire, there is less chance of your path crossing the foredeck.
If you mount your EPIRB on the foredeck, it’s good practise to have a secondary EPIRB, or a PLB. The one on the foredeck could be Category 1, and the secondary one could be Category 2.
Mounting an EPIRB on the Railings
Another common location for mounting an EPIRB is on your boat’s railings. If it is mounted outside the railings, there is a reasonable chance that it will float free. Both in the event of sinking vertically, and in the event of a capsize.
There is a good chance that railings will be more accessible than the foredeck and the cabin roof. It makes it significantly easier to reach the EPIRB if you need to abandon ship in a hurry.
The biggest consideration when mounting your EPIRB on the railings is exposure. EPIRBs are designed to withstand a lot, but you want to make sure the mounting is suitable.
Another consideration is the height of the railings. You need to imagine your boat upturned and think how deep the EPIRB would go. Is it deep enough to activate the HRU?
Mounting an EPIRB on a Sailing Boat
Sailing boats are one of the more challenging when choosing a location for your EPIRB. You have sails and rigging, which could all snag an EPIRB floating free.
The sailing boats I have seen tend to either mount their EPIRB on the foredeck, or on railings near the stern. Capsize is one of the biggest risks on a sailing boat. Both the foredeck and the railings do offer a chance of the EPIRB floating clear during a capsize.
The railings would be preferable if you only have one EPIRB as it is so much more accessible. If every crew member is issued with a PLB, however, the foredeck may be a better location.
Keeping your EPIRB in a Grab Bag
Another popular location for the EPIRB is in the grab bag. Especially if you have a Cat 2 EPIRB that isn’t designed to float free.
Once you make the decision to buy a Category 2 EPIRB, you have accepted that it will need manual activation. You need it to be easily accessible so that you can grab it as you run past. The exact same criteria applies to the grab bag, so it makes sense to keep them together. You will find a lot of grab bags have a pocket specifically designed for this purpose anyway.
If you have decided that a Category 2 EPIRB is enough for you, the grab bag is an ideal location for it.
What to Consider when Choosing where to Mount Your EPIRB
We have already discussed some considerations above. You need to take into account as much as you can to find the optimal position for your own EPIRB.
Ask yourself this: If my boat sank straight down vertically, would my EPIRB float free?
Look straight above the mounting position and check for obstructions. Some may pose more of a threat that others. A canopy, for example, would be more of a hindrance than the rigging.
When you consider the sinking scenario, only think about vertical sinking. It is best to consider capsize separately.
Ask yourself this: If my boat capsized, and I was trapped in the hull, would the EPIRB float free?
It is slightly harder to imagine your boat upside down. You can, however, just change your way of thinking. Instead of thinking of the buoyancy of the EPIRB, think of gravity. Try to find an object similar in shape to your EPIRB. A foam ball or an old bottle can work well.
Place it where you plan to mount the EPIRB and let go. Does it roll around and eventually fall off the boat? If so, there is a good chance the EPIRB will do similar and float clear of your upturned hull.
Remember, there is a lot of movement during a capsize. You can jiggle your object a little bit if needed. When your boat capsizes, it is unlikely to be a gentle process.
Finally, consider the activation depth of the EPIRB. Will it be pushed deep enough to activate the HRU during a capsize?
Ask yourself this: If I was running away from a fire, would I be able to grab the EPIRB on the way?
You can consider where you spend most of your time, and the chance of your escape path passing your EPIRB. You won’t be able to account for every eventuality, but you can assess the most likely scenarios.
Ideally, your EPIRB would be accessible near the exit of your accommodation or close to the main helm position. When your boat is underway, the helm should be manned the whole time. At night, other crew will most likely be inside the cabin.
In either case, think about the path that people will take as they try to escape. Will they pass the EPIRB’s storage location?
Protection of the EPIRB
Ask yourself this: Is the EPIRB protected in its storage location?
EPIRBs are designed to withstand sunlight and exposure, but it is better if you can minimise it as much as possible. Category 1 EPIRBs will most likely have an additional outer case, so you can factor that in too.
Try to consider more than just exposure though. Is the EPIRB mounted next to an onboard hazard? Make it is not close to potential sources of fire: fuel, engine room etc.
Finally, how well protected is it from daily life onboard? You don’t want to mount it in the companionway if crew are going to knock it every time they pass. Make sure you watch out for ropes and lines as well.
Where to Mount a Category 1 EPIRB
Category 1 EPRIBs are those that are designed to float free and automatically activate.
You need to mount Category 1 EPRIBs in the location that will give it the best chance of floating free in an emergency.
I personally quite like to use the railings on one of the quarters. It gives it a reasonable chance of floating free in a capsize, or sinking scenario. Depending on the height of the railings, I would consider using a pole to increase its depth in a capsize scenario.
Using the quarters, it is also close enough to be accessible to take to a survival craft.
It is kept clear of daily knocks and bashes from the crew. There is minimal chance of people passing close by to knock it.
Finally, it is clear from the galley and other hazards on board. It might be close to the engine, but that is a compromise that I would make given the other advantages of the location.
Where to Mount a Category 2 EPIRB
Category 2 EPRIBs are manually activated and do not float free.
As such, you need to mount a Category 2 EPIRB in the most accessible location you can. I would keep my Category 2 EPIRB inside my grab bag. In turn, I would keep the grab bag close to the helm position.
If I didn’t have a grab bag, I would keep the EPIRB close to the helm position anyway. I’d work on the assumption that the helm is the only place onboard that is likely to be continuously manned. Additionally, the helm is often close to the cabin entrance, so it would be on the escape path out of the cabin.