New Zealand Date/Time:
Sat, Mar 24, 2018, 5:48:48 AM
Distress Beacons

Check your Emergency Beacon

The satellite system supporting 121.5 MHz/243MHz distress beacons such as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) will cease operation altogether on 1 February 2009.

This means after that date the satellites have no way of hearing anyone who gets into trouble and tries to summon help using an old 121.5MHz distress beacon, nor will the satellites be able to provide rescuers with a location.

Whether they are for aviation, marine or land use all distress beacon users should check what type
of beacon they have and, if it’s a 121.5/243MHz beacon, to disable and dispose of it carefully before
getting a new 406MHz beacon and registering it for free at

There is a wide range of beacons suitable for marine use. Some are activated manually while others will float free and activate automatically if the vessel sinks. In some cases a smaller, waterproof Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) may be suitable and can also be used for other purposes such as tramping, climbing, gliding and other outdoor activities. PLB’s are small enough to fit in your pocket and are activated manually but most do not float and have a shorter battery-life than EPIRBs.

As well as being the only distress beacons monitored by satellite from 1 February 2009, 406MHz beacons have a much more powerful life-saving capability because they are faster and more accurate. 121.5MHz beacons were detected by orbiting satellites which could take several hours to process a signal and determine its location and even then an approximate location was all that could be provided to rescuers.

406MHz signals can be received within seconds by geostationary satellites and have a unique identification code, which is part of its signal. Registered 406MHz beacons provide vital details to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand including the owner’s emergency contact details. From these, it’s possible to find out more about the party in distress and their intentions.

The old beacons could provide a search area of about 900 to 1500 km from the coast and around a thousand square kilometres within the New Zealand land mass, whereas the 406s are picked up across the entire globe and can narrow down the search area to approximately 20 square kilometres, and even down to a few square metres if the beacon is GPS enabled.

For more information on beacons, including where to purchase one and whether your vessel is required to have one by law go to