Wow, ask a simple question on Cf and end up with a great and varied conversation. Thanks everyone for responding.
A quick assessment of responses shows that some opinions were given (as requested), some rules were quoted (or linked to), some discussion on comparisons made between new and old beacons - not actually part of the OP but a reasonable conclusion to draw - and to finish with opinions on ELT carriage on aircraft.
Rather than fill this page with multiple quotes, I will make general comments on the various responses.
Gord's link to the USCG News seems clearcut that one mustn't operate (activate?) an old marine
beacon. I am assuming this is actually a rule
(or even law) in the US but possibly it is just guidance. This is in stark contrast to the postion taken by AMSA in Australia
(Australian Maritime Safety
Authority) which is the governing body in Oz for such matters. It is clear from their website that one can still activate an old beacons. They also make it clear it won't do you much good as it is very unlikely to initiate a SAR response http://beacons.amsa.gov.au/digital_vs_analogue.asp
MarkJ makes a point that an MOB
beacons are not much help unless one has some sort of DF equipment
on board (more on that later). Of course, a 406 PLB on a MOB
does raise the alarm
in a general way through the COSPAS SARSAT system even if the skipper
hasn't noticed anyone missing
Sandy (and others) make a valid point that DF'ing any beacon is a difficult excerise and I have to agree. Most (almost all) of the aircraft DF (homing) I have installed or repaired is very basic and even with the best equipment, the process is time consuming. This is a good reason to have a 406 beacon incorporating a GPS
While CSY's experience with re-certiying an old beacon is probably common, these old beacons are still being sold today in Oz - at increasingly discounted prices - no surprise there.
Bill makes the point of false activations will still continue even with the new beacons and I can attest to that here in Perth. I personally know of five 406 activations in West Oz over the last year and four of those were false or inadvertent. Of those four, one was unregistrated and resulted in a limited SAR response until the beacon was located at a yacht club. As an aside, one of the false activations was a beacon fitted to a SAR aircraft that was returning from a training flight while another was a $4,000 beacon that I was testing in situ (correctly). It malfunctioned due to very light corrosion
and very small amount of moisture (condensation) in a connector. The result was the beacon could not be switched off after the test and by the time I had removed the beacon and isolated the battery
- about 3 or 4 minutes, the RCC in Canberra was aware of the transmission
and had begun the analysis phase of the SAR plan. A quick phone
call resolved the situation.
As to carrying a airband radio on board (even handheld), I really think this is very much a limited 3rd or 4th option fallback arrangement.
Firstly consider the legal
aspects - as I understand Australian law (especially the Radio Communications
Act) - I don't THINK owning an airband transmitter is illegal however transmitting with it is UNLESS life or property is in grave and imminent danger
AND all other methods of obtaining help have been exhausted. The onus of proof resides with the person using the transmitter that such use is warranted in this instance.
Secondly marine VHF and HF would "normally" get a response while a 406 beacon would certainly initiate a SAR response. As Midland points out, all SAR aircraft have marine VHF anyway however I can see there might be a rare situation where voice communication mid ocean with an high flying international aircraft may be your last chance of raising a SAR response.
Back to my original post, it would seem to me that activating an old beacon is unlikely to generate a SAR response (which Gord pointed out in the first reply and is confirmed in the AMSA website above) and yet is still a legal option (in Australia
Given these conditions I wonder if a 121.5 beacon could be useful in some MOB situations if one had suitable DF equipment on board. Envisage a off-shore MOB situation where the unluckly one is overboard
and old EPRIB) and is out of sight. Formulating a workable search pattern is going to be a very hit or miss affair for the average cruising yacht. However perhaps with a portable 121.5 receiver and a good directional antenna
(mounted or hand held), an azmuith bearing to the MOB (say +/- 30 degrees) may be possible and would be a good starting point for recovery of the said MOB. I am still working on the design of a cheap(ish) DIY receiver and possible directional yagi antenna
Of course, such a system would still work with a 406 beacon but using a 406 beacon WILL generate a full blown SAR response even if you are well off shore and is possibly not warranted in many cases.
I note that the use of a EPIRB
(again in Oz at least) is a method of last resort and should only be used after all other methods of communication has failed (radios, phones, mirrors, flags
and what have you). http://beacons.amsa.gov.au/useage.asp
Is the USCG take on this aspect similar?
Activating an old beacon to facilitate a MOB recovery in certain situations might actually be helpful and seems to comply with current regulations