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Old 13-07-2008, 20:13   #1
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Need USCG contact for EPIRB test

The USCG has a program where they will actually test an EPIRB for the owner, while you attend. Something like one site in each District, by appointment only.

But I've lost my contact information, can't find it on the web again, and the USCG hasn't answered last month's email asking for contact information on this program.

Before I start calling the District HQ and playing Twenty Questions...does anyone have contact info for this program? In District 1 or the NY/LI Sound/CT area?
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Old 13-07-2008, 21:55   #2
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Aw it's easy to contact the boys 24/7.
Just flip that little EPIRB switch and you can ask them all the questions you want in no time. You might have to answer a few of theirs first, but hey, I can't think of a more reliable test.
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Old 14-07-2008, 03:22   #3
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Most EPIRBs have a visible test switch that is usually spring loaded so it cannot be left on inadvertently and thus reduce the life of the battery. A light will indicate that the test circuits are operating correctly. Sometimes this light will also activate the strobe light.
It is recommended that the self-test switch be held for no more than 2 flashes of the strobe light or no longer than 1 minute after the first self-test mode burst transmission.

When operating a 406 MHz EPIRB self-test, the EPIRB is allowed to radiate a single burst which is specially coded so that it is ignored by the COSPAS-SARSAT system.
The EPIRB must never be tested by actual operation. If it is accidentally activated in the transmit mode, then it should be turned off at once and the false alert cancelled by calling the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Station and have them contact the nearest
Rescue Coordination Center.

For more information on EPIRB registration and the Search & Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system, visit NOAA’s SARSAT website at:
NOAA SARSAT

Or call 301-457-5678 or toll-free at 1-888-212- 7283.

Additional information may also be found at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Search & Rescue website at:
www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/sar.htm

or by calling 202-267-1943.
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Old 14-07-2008, 06:21   #4
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Thanks, Gord, but the test switch and test light have already been condemned in at least one rather infamous product incident. I don't know if there was a formal recall, but the units were found to indicating they worked--and then simply NOT TRANSMITTING when actually used.

The USCG has recognized the fact that test lights are idiot lights, and the only real test for an EPIRB is to fire it off and see what it spits out. They do this in a "casket" with a radio monitor, so they can also confirm the signal quality and accurate programming, all at once.

I don't want to know the idiot light works--I want to know the transmitter actually is proven to work, and generates the proper code response in the system.

www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opr/sar.htm generates a 404 error (page is offline or for other reason doesn't exist right now) and the nice folks at NOAA couldn't believe it when I told them my EPIRB decal never arrived. Which indicates to me that although my online registration is perfect--they don't have my information associated in their database yet. And PROBABLY they have someone else's information associates with it, guaranteeing they won't be looking for me, and will write it off as a false alarm when someone else says "Nah, my boat is in the slip."

Gives you faith in the system, doesn't it? USCG doesn't seem to do "tech" very well, do they?
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Old 14-07-2008, 07:25   #5
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Just a quick note on the ACR EPIRBs, I'm not sure about other brands, if you want to do the 1 or 2 strobe test. There is a little breakable pin right behind the switch that can be broken if you push the switch all the way to set. Be careful to gently lift the switch so as to just set off the strobe to test. A broken pin is viewed by the USCG as evidence that the EPIRB was NOT set off for a test or accidentally. This is one of those items a new guest gets clear instructions on when we head offshore.
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Old 14-07-2008, 08:54   #6
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Hellosailor, what particular make/model beacon are you trying to test (and confirm correct transmission).
FWIW on the newer 406 units I am familiar with, the self test actually does fire up the transmiter, measures the Tx power and SWR, confirms that the HEX ID is encoded into the Tx carrier and finally checks accumulated battery "on time".
Providing the results are within limits and accumulated battery time is less than 1 hour, the self test indicates OK. If not, the light blinks a code sequence that tells what part of the self test failed.
Of course it doesn't actually check the ID is the same as what is on the paperwork (and Midlandone, I believe, has had a couple that were incorrect in this regard). However once you have had the ID code confirmed correct once by way of a bench test, I reckon one could be pretty certain it won't alter.
It also doesn't prove the code changes from "inactive" to "active" at the 1 minute mark but hey, one has to have a little bit of faith occasionally . Of course these are top end units and the cheaper ones may not be so clever.
I MIGHT be able to find out what the self test does on your model.
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Old 14-07-2008, 08:54   #7
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Why would you not just call the local CG office?
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Old 14-07-2008, 11:09   #8
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Chuck-
I wouldn't go to the local USCG "office" because there's no such thing. There are two USCG Stations in my nearby area, and last time I heard (about a year ago) the USCG hadn't even accomplished their goal of one test rig in each DISTRICT. So simply going down to a USCG Station, without an appointment, won't get me past the gate in these post-9/11 paranoid times, much less get someone to spend on hour with the EPIRB testing it. I'd rather make a phone call than waste a couple of hours and play road warrior on the parkways. (Honest, you can't just walk in, you have to be there to be seeing someone specific.)

Wotname-
I don't know what the new ones do--but this is an older EPRIB, and I *know* it does not actually test the RF output when it does a self test. I'm unaware of, or if, any of the newer ones actually confirm their output and signal quality, but the original 406 EPIRBs definitely were not required to do either, and at least one vendor (ACR) did not, for certain. (AFAIK none of them did.) From what you say, the newer models have way more brains than the old ones.
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Old 14-07-2008, 11:34   #9
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HS, Hence my question, why would you not CALL them?
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Old 14-07-2008, 14:26   #10
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Chuck, I do plan to call them--but for the same dime I thought I'd ask here first, if anyone had specific contact information for the TEST PROGRAM directly. I figure there's a 70-30 chance that a general USCG number will either get me connected--or get me a puzzled fellow saying "Do we do that? Really?"

Remember, their own general email inquiry desk didn't bother responding, which may mean that even internally they don't really know about the program.
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Old 14-07-2008, 16:11   #11
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I believe the CG had originally set aside 5 minutes before the hour to do EPIRB tests but don't know if that is still current.
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Old 14-07-2008, 18:34   #12
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Chuck, there was a test window for the 121.5 locators, but nothing for the new ones, IIRC. I could probably take it underground (good concrete foundations and sub-basements) and use a 406 radio to at least confirm there's a deedle-deedle of data being put out, but I'd rather give a Coastie a job. Doing my bit for full employment, justifying their budget allocation, and all those important jobs a citizen simply HAS to do. [g]
No rush, I'm waiting patiently to see if NOAA can generate a sticker within 30 days.
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Old 14-07-2008, 18:45   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hellosailor View Post
.......
Wotname-
I don't know what the new ones do--but this is an older EPRIB, and I *know* it does not actually test the RF output when it does a self test. I'm unaware of, or if, any of the newer ones actually confirm their output and signal quality, but the original 406 EPIRBs definitely were not required to do either, and at least one vendor (ACR) did not, for certain. (AFAIK none of them did.) From what you say, the newer models have way more brains than the old ones.
Sounds like it is not going to so easy with the USCG . So far no-one has come with the contact details you are asking for.

Just a suggestion, do you have any mates in a halfway decent marine radio workshop or avionics shop. They should be able to do a full test in a couple of minutes for some Kimberly Currency.

(Quick aside to Gord - have you got that in your lexicon yet - now back to topic).

I can't speak for the older 406 units or for any units in the bottom end of the range but my GUESS is that their self test functions are pretty basic. Again the units I am referring to are more at the upper end (and new-ish). Note to self: must do some research on cheap EPRIB test functions.

Drifting slightly here, can you enlighten me on the difference with test procedures and requirements between USA and Canada in regards to frequency of carring out tests, times allowed, notifying (or otherwise) of a local or regional authority etc. I ask because I see quite different notes about these things in manuals depending whether the manual has a Canadian or USA origin.
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Old 14-07-2008, 20:22   #14
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No idea what they do in Canada, but AFAIK the US/USSR SARSAT system plays by the same rules worldwide--there is no testing allowed, and no other use of that 406 frequency. An avionics shop would not be likely to deal with it unless they also had a 'casket' or radio-opaque room. These exist--they're common in the land-mobile, pager, cell, etc. industry but generally only in "class one" shops and I'd expect to pay a fast $100 for anything in those rooms.

I did find a few mentions of some new units having the ability to send a live "TEST" message, but apparently none of the makers thinks that sailors should be bothered with any details about that, and only the Australian gov. web site actually mentions the TEST message--along with a requirement to notify them in advance of live tests lasting longer than five seconds.

Ignore the man behind the curtain?
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Old 15-07-2008, 02:03   #15
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I guess we have it easy here. My guys just stick the antenna output into a dummy load or if the antenna is not removable, put the unit inside a tin can that has another antenna inside it coming out on a coax cable. Connect to the spectrum analyser and hex decoder and hey presto job done in a couple of minutes.

We used to call AMSA as per the website but gave up after awhile as they never received any transmission leakage from the shop (it has metal roof and metal framing so that helps a bit). We call the local airport tower as a courtesy if we are doing a more than a 2 or 3 in the one session just in case there is some 121.5 leakage. They are used to the occasional beep but start to worry if it seems to continue.

AFAIK, the 5 second rule was around pre 406 days in Oz and no-one has ever bothered to change it in light of the technology shift with the 406 parameters (or more likely, never thought about it).

FWIW, many years back we are testing some 121.5 / 243 direction finders and needed to conduct a "live" search to complete the testing. Talk about complicated approval process to get official permission to activate a beacon; but after a couple of days of paperwork and phone calls, we were allowed to activate a beacon for 30 minutes. What was interesting, the company we were doing the testing for was the only SAR outfit for some 500 miles in any direction so they would haved been the ones called anyway if the beacon transmissions were mistaken as "real".

Anyway good luck with hunting down the CG guys.
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