Satellite processing of 121.5/243 MHz beacons to cease from 1 February 2009

The International COSPAS/SARSAT System will cease satellite processing of 121.5/243 MHz beacons from 1 February 2009. Only 406 MHz beacons will be detected by the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system after that date. This affects all maritime beacons (EPIRBs), all aviation beacons (ELTs) and all personal beacons (PLBs).


Cospas-Sarsat made the decision to cease satellite processing at 121.5/243 MHz in response to guidance from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), since they recognised the limitations of the 121.5/243 MHz beacons and the superior capabilities of the 406 MHz alerting system.


The digital 406 MHz beacons offer many advantages over analogue 121.5/243 MHz beacons. With a 406 MHz beacon, the position of the distress can be relayed to rescue services more quickly, more reliably and with greater accuracy.


With a 121.5/243 MHz beacon, only one alert out of every 50 alerts is a genuine distress situation. This has a significant effect on the resources of search and rescue (SAR) services. With 406 MHz beacons, false alerts have been considerably reduced (about one alert in 17 is genuine) and when properly registered can normally be resolved with a telephone call to the beacon owner using the encoded beacon identification. Consequently, real alerts can receive the attention they deserve.


When a 406 MHz beacon signal is received, SAR authorities can retrieve information from a registration database. This includes beacon owner contact information, emergency contact information, and vessel/aircraft identifying characteristics. Having this information allows SAR services to respond appropriately. Make sure your 406 MHz beacon is properly and accurately registered!


It is crucial that 406 MHz distress beacons be registered in recognised beacon registration databases which are accessible to search and rescue authorities at all times. The information contained in these databases concerning the beacon, its owner, and the vehicle/vessel on which the beacon is mounted is vital for the effective use of search and rescue resources. The proper registration of a beacon could make the difference between success and failure of a search and rescue mission.


To learn more and be directed to the registration database appropriate to your vessel’s flag, please click here for the COSPAS/SARSAT homepage.


Contact: Fredrik Larsson