EPIRB Battery Out of Date & Maintenance Procedures

Bummer!  Our EPIRB Battery is out of date — actually it was out of date last winter when we went to the Exumas.  But the nifty battery test feature lets us know it’s still functioning fine, despite being purchased for when we first sailed from Annapolis to Southwest Florida, around the Keys, back in 2001.

Back then, the brand new EPIRBs had just come out with a GPS included.  They were more than twice as expensive as what we paid for our Seimac PRO-Find EPIRB.  Given the costs of outfitting a boat for cruising, we opted for the Cat II Manually Deployable PRO-Find 406.  One of the chief reasons for selecting this particular model and company was the “user serviceable” battery – according to Seimac, when the time came, we could order a battery and replace it ourselves rather than have to send the entire unit back to have the battery replaced.

But when I checked about purchasing a new battery – the battery plus the US Hazmat shipping charge was going to be within $50 of buying an entirely new unit.  BIG surprise.  I guess it never occurred to us that a battery could be several hundred dollars!  🙁

So we’re not replacing the battery.  If and when we decide to go offshore again, we will definitely replace the EPIRB with a newer model, with the GPS built in.

In the meantime, we continue to follow the maintenance recommendations put out by NOAA and the US Coast Guard (click here to download the NOAA EPIRB Maintenance PDF).   This document is actually written for ships and fishing vessels, but the maintenance instructions are valuable for any cruiser with an EPIRB.  After all, why spend the money for an EPIRB if you’re not sure it will work when you need it!

According to the US Coast Guard:  Throughout the inspection and testing process, great care must be taken to avoid the transmission of a false distress alert.    Apparently it is common for people testing the EPIRB’s to accidentally set them off creating a false emergency for the Coast Guard to figure out … if you DO happen to accidentally set off your EPIRB, call the nearest US Coast Guard station IMMEDIATELY!

Here are the recommended steps (mainly for big ships, but they can still apply to cruisers)


1.  Visually inspect the EPIRB and mounting bracket for any signs of water intrusion, corrosion or anything else that might get in the way of the until operating properly.   Our EPIRB is mounted just at the base of the companionway, not outside, so we’ve never had a problem with this, but you never know.

2.  Check the expiration date — mounted on the outside of the EPIRB unit.

3.  Check the lanyard, should not be tied on to anything.

4.  Perform the EPIRB Self-Test to make sure it’s functioning correctly.   Here’s the part of the downloadable PDF above that talks about the self-test procedure.  Everyone will need to read the manual specific to your EPIRB to make sure you’re doing this correctly!

Self-Test Switch

Most EPIRBs have a visible test switch that is usually spring loaded so it cannot be left on inadvertently and thus reduce the life of the battery. A light will indicate that the test circuits are operating correctly. Sometimes this light will also activate the strobe light. It is recommended that the self-test switch be held for no more than 2 flashes of the strobe light or no longer than 1 minute after the first self-test mode burst transmission.

When operating a 406 MHz EPIRB self-test, the EPIRB is allowed to radiate a single burst which is specially coded so that it is ignored by the COSPAS-SARSAT system. The EPIRB must never be tested by actual operation. If it is accidentally activated in the transmit mode, then it should be turned off at once and the false alert cancelled by calling the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Station.

It is also important to note that the battery MUST BE REPLACED anytime the EPIRB is set off in an emergency, no matter how long it ran.

5.  Don’t forget to doublecheck the EPIRB registration. To register or check your registration, click here to go to NOAA’s page.   If it goes off and it’s not registered correctly or if the information on file with the US Coast Guard is not up to date,  it may delay or even prevent rescue!  Don’t miss this step!

Do you have additional information to add to EPIRB Maintenance?  Please leave a comment below and let everyone know!  THANKS!  Jan



  1. We found our Epirb to have another part that is subject to expiration. The HRU (Hydrostatic Release Unit). I don’t know if others are different, but this unit expires after two years. Something to think about replacing just before you leave.

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