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Old 02-10-2008, 08:13   #1
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121.5 EPIRB (update/more info)

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Originally Posted by Wotname View Post
Does anyone know (or can speculate) what response (if any) can be expected from local rescue authority if an 121.5 /243 MHz EPIRB (non 406) is activated after Feb 1, 2009.

OK we know that the transmission will not be received by the COSPAS SARSAT system but potentially the 121.5 MHz transmission may still be received by anyone monitoring that frequency. Would such transmissions still constitute a distress signal and warrant a response from a RCC?
Back in June I started the above thread and rather than add an update to the bottom of it, I am posting my latest info here .

I had a interesting phone conversation with the Australian RCC today and popped the above question to them.

Their position is quite straightforward:
  • 121.5 MHz remains a legitimate distress frequency.
  • If a 121.5 beacon transmission is picked by an aircraft, it will almost certainly be reported to the Air Traffic Control and thence to the RCC.
  • Once reported it WILL be investigated (even if it is not backed up with a corresponding 406 transmission).
  • After Feb 1, their job in locating it will increase significantly as they will not have the doppler location assistance from the satellites that they currently have. They will simply have to resort to the old DF methods (launching search aircraft etc) just to get any idea of it's position.

I guess they are not looking forward to this scenario. BTW, this information may not necessary apply to other RCC jurisdictions.

FWIW, I had customer with a ELT problem today and it inadvertently transmitted for about 40 seconds. While the 406 transmission did not become active, the 121.5 transmission was reported to ATC by several aircraft, some of which where quite some distance away (+100 miles).
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Old 05-10-2008, 15:17   #2
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Hi Wotname

Thanks for passing on that information.

While I don't know of any publically stated policy here I expect that NZ will be doing pretty much the same as you outline. However, that has to be seen in the context that NZ is currently one of the very few countries that reacts to ALL 121 alerts now without corroborating requiring evidence of a distress (eg vessel overdue, independant report, vhf tx, etc).

There has been a big push here for conversion to 406 with TV and other media advertising targeted at pleasure users (commercial vessels are all converted now) and a dedicated website set up so I suspect after some early time 121 alerts will here too only be reacted to if corroborating evidence of distress exists.

The NZRCC makes the point that the relay from an aircraft of a 121 alert rec'd from a 121 EPIRB is next to useless because of the potentially enormous size of the search area once the satellite doppler fixes are gone from Feb next year. That coupled with the high percentage of false alerts - running over 90% here - makes the initiation of a search needle in a hay stack stuff complicated by the close to certainty that the needle doesn't even exist in the first place .

John
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Old 05-10-2008, 15:24   #3
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In the US, this is the Coast Guard position

https://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/786/139352
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Old 05-10-2008, 16:25   #4
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Maybe not 406 EPIRB either...

There is always the chance that, in these perilous times, the cost of any search is a consideration.
An ordinary 406 EPIRB still leaves a wide search area, so I would not be surprised to find that an EPIRB activation does not lead to an extensive search.
Checking out a precise location is going to be way cheaper, and much more likely to happen.
For the extra hundred bucks for a GPS EPIRB I think it's cheap insurance.
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Old 06-10-2008, 05:02   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck Baier View Post
In the US, this is the Coast Guard position

https://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/786/139352
Excerpted from the above USCG notice, titled:

BOATERS MUST NOT OPERATE 121.5/243 MHZ EPIRBs AFTER 31 DECEMBER 2006

"The Coast Guard reminds all boaters that beginning January 1, 2007, both 121.5 and 243 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are prohibited from use in both commercial and recreational watercraft. Boaters wishing to have an emergency rescue beacon aboard their vessel must have a digital 406 MHz model..."
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Old 06-10-2008, 06:01   #6
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Just a reminder:

All 406 EPIRBs also have a low-power 121mHz beacon which is used for homing in on the signal by aircraft and/or nearby vessels.

Once this signal has been acquired by a search/rescue entity, it's a fairly straightforward and reliable means of locating the unit, at least according to a Coast Guard C-130 SAR crew I talked to some years ago.

Their take on it was: "if you go in the water clutching your (121.5) EPIRB and we know you're out there, we'll find you".

By contrast, they said that at 250 knots and given all the uncertainties of lighting, etc., if you didn't have an EPIRB, they might NOT find you even if you were in a "big orange liferaft".

Bill
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Old 07-10-2008, 00:09   #7
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The intent of the OP was more to discuss what response the various RCC's would provide if they received notification of an activation of non 406 beacon after Feb 1, 2009, rather than should such beacons be used.

I think most of us on CF would not be using an old 121.5/243 beacon.

It would appear that the Aussie RCC position is quite clear: They will continue to treat any 121.5 transmission as legitimate but will have much more difficultly in localizing the search area. In practice this probably means they won't be able to find you. As Midland One reports, the NZRCC seems similar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuck Baier View Post
In the US, this is the Coast Guard position

https://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/786/139352
Quote:
Originally Posted by GordMay View Post
Excerpted from the above USCG notice, titled:

BOATERS MUST NOT OPERATE 121.5/243 MHZ EPIRBs AFTER 31 DECEMBER 2006

"The Coast Guard reminds all boaters that beginning January 1, 2007, both 121.5 and 243 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are prohibited from use in both commercial and recreational watercraft. Boaters wishing to have an emergency rescue beacon aboard their vessel must have a digital 406 MHz model..."
With respect Chuck B and GordM, this relates more to the requirements that we boaters need to operate to rather than what the RCC will do.

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Originally Posted by Boracay View Post
There is always the chance that, in these perilous times, the cost of any search is a consideration.
An ordinary 406 EPIRB still leaves a wide search area, so I would not be surprised to find that an EPIRB activation does not lead to an extensive search....
Hmm... maybe... but this certainly isn't the official position of the Aussie RCC and I for one, would be surprised if this situation occurred. Mind you, not many things surprise me these days so I will keep an open mind about this situation.

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Originally Posted by Boracay View Post
Checking out a precise location is going to be way cheaper, and much more likely to happen.
For the extra hundred bucks for a GPS EPIRB I think it's cheap insurance ....
I couldn't agree more, it's just got to be the best value for money around when considering safty equipment.

Taking a slightly different tack on this subject, just consider the possibility of a failure of the 406 (and its ID coding) aspects of a modern beacon. While I admit it is unlikely, it is possible for this aspect of the beacon to fail while the 121.5 homing aspects continues to transmit.

Perhaps just another (although unlikely) reason that an RCC will continue to treat 121.5 transmissions as legitimate?????????
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Old 07-10-2008, 01:09   #8
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Since Epirbs have been introduced there have been 3 versions. The first change was to make the Epirb suitable for satellite use. They looked the same but the signal went from continuous to intermittant. Being a professional fisherman and in survey I had to buy a new one. Same thing again now with the 406/121. Notice how aircraft still only have 121. When the market is saturated with 406 machines expect a new compulsary unit to appear.

Two weeks ago the fishing vessel that ties up behind me had a helicopter appear while he was recovering his longline during a bumpy day at sea. The helicopter hovered just off his stern and held a mobile phone out the window to indicate that he wished to communicate. To cut a long story short, while he had been flung around the inside of his cabin he had acidentally activated his old 121 Epirb. What is also interesting is that the battery expiry date was in the late '80's.
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Old 07-10-2008, 02:01   #9
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Relative costs...

Checking an accurate location may only cost hundreds. In many cases it is possible that a local resource (light aircraft, trawlers, cargo ships etc.) might already be in the area and the cost to government zero.

An extensive search can cost $millions++.

A contact webpage for the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Australia can be found here.

It gives general details on how search and rescue is managed.


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