Mariners around the world are reminded to check and test their emergency beacons on a day celebrating the importance of these safety devices and the satellite system alerting response services
Seafarers are also reminded to wear their emergency radiobeacons operating on 406 MHz radio frequency on 6 April, or 406Day. These beacons transmit in an emergency to the designated 406 MHz Cospas-Sarsat international search and rescue satellite-aided tracking system.
When 406 MHz beacons are activated their signal is picked up by search and rescue services, including the US Coast Guard, around the world.
This comes as search and rescue organisations respond to one of the worst ferry disasters this year with more than 60 people missing after ferry Taimareho sank in Solomon Islands waters over the weekend. This 66-m ferry was caught in cyclone Harold and sank in rough seas and strong winds. Search and rescue operations were hampered over the weekend by storm conditions, according to Fleetmon.
A recent example of EPIRB’s effectiveness was a yachtsman rescued by a container ship off Colombia when an EPIRB signal was picked up by the French Mission Control Centre (MCC) at Griz-Nez. It made a satellite call to all nearby vessels and transferred the alert to MCC Colombia, which alerted nearby ships of the need for rescue.
On 406Day, suppliers of personal location beacons (PLBs) and EPIRBs are jointly raising awareness of their importance in life saving. Mariners are reminded to visually inspect and initiate test sequence checks on their emergency beacons and register all beacons to the appropriate authorities. UK users of EPIRBS and PLBs should register their details on the UK Beacon Registry at www.gov.uk/406beacon.
This reminder was made jointly by marine safety specialists ACR Electronics, Ocean Signal and Ocean Safety. Together they asked seafarers "When was your EPIRB or PLB last tested or serviced?"
Users must check expiry dates to ensure the EPIRB or PLB will function correctly when required in an emergency. Batteries need to be replaced if their power is low and EPIRB should be switched to self-test mode once a month to monitor the 406 MHz radio frequency power.
Their 121.5 MHz homer radio frequency power also needs to be tested. Other tests include synthesiser lock and battery voltage under load.
Mariners should check for obvious signs of damage, including the antenna, secure mounting on the bracket, float-free housing and the lanyard. With float-free housing, the hydrostatic release unit should also be checked and the GPS receiver should be tested more than once a year.
The importance of EPIRB registry was highlighted earlier this year by New Zealand authorities. New Zealand has one of the largest search and rescue areas in the world and received 276 beacon alerts in 2019.
Its search and rescue authority pleaded with mariners to register their EPIRBs and PLBs and ensure they are not accidentally activated. “When not everyone registers their beacon it wastes time and potentially costs lives,” the New Zealand authorities said.
The Cospas-Sarsat constellation includes geostationary and low Earth orbit satellites to detect the signals transmitted by distress radiobeacons. Ground stations receive a satellite downlink signal to generate distress alerts, which are forward to mission control centres and then to rescue co-ordination centres that will alert search and rescue authorities.
Cospas-Sarsat are enhancing their capabilities by commissioning medium Earth orbit satellites in the MEOSAT constellation.