Older radio beacons need to be changed

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2008

JUNEAU - Starting Feb. 1, 2009, boaters with older model Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) that transmit a distress alert on 121.5 MHz or 243 MHz, will no longer be monitored by satellite and are likely to go completely undetected in an emergency. Only distress alerts from 406 MHz beacons will continue to be detected and processed by search and rescue satellites worldwide.

Since the traditional start of the 2008 boating season is just a couple of weeks away, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary recommends that boaters make the new EPIRBs a part of their season start-up shopping list.

Although recreational boaters are not required to carry an EPIRB, they are strongly recommended for all boaters, including kayaks and other paddle craft, along with a VHF-FM marine band radio.

The 406 MHz signal sent by the newer EPIRBs when a mariner encounters distress are picked up by the COSPAS/SARSAT satellite constellation, which determines the EPIRB's position through triangulation. EPIRBs with embedded Global Positioning System are even more helpful in quickly finding a distressed boater. With GPS coordinates, the position of distress is pinpointed almost immediately. Without GPS, it may take two or three satellite passes to come up with a good, triangulated position.

As long as the new 406 MHz beacon has been registered (which is required by law), search and rescue authorities can quickly confirm that the distress is real, who they are looking for, and a description of the vessel or aircraft. This means an effective search can be initiated even before a final distress location has been determined for non-GPS EPIRBs. It also means that a false activation may be resolved with a phone call to the beacon owner, saving resources for actual distresses.

Registration is free and can be done on the Internet at: www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov, or it can be mailed/faxed to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration by calling 888-212-7283.

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