10,000th emergency beacon registered at Falmouth 

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency have seen a dramatic - and welcome - increase in the number of Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) being registered with the MCA’s 406 MHz Distress & Security Beacon Registry based at Falmouth Coastguard station.

A 406 MHz beacon is an important part of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System as it sends a digital signal via satellites to the Coastguard that identifies the vessel or person in distress. EPIRBs are designed for maritime use and float free from the vessel in the event of a capsize or can be manually cast adrift after a vessel failure or catastrophic event whereas PLBs have to be manually activated.

The Registry recorded the 10,000th new beacon for this year on the 4th September, bringing the overall total to just under 38,000 records. On the 5th of September last year, the Agency had registered just new 3390 beacons.

Steve Huxley, Search and Rescue Communications Manager at Falmouth Coastguard said

“There are several reasons for the increase of registrations; the cessation of the 121.5 distress alert service, the availability of cheaper and more portable beacons as well as better public awareness of the importance of such safety devices.

The registration of the 10,000th new beacon this year, should encourage leisure vessel and yacht owners to consider buying one, if they have not done so already.

“A 406 MHz beacon is the simplest means of providing a way to alert Rescue Authorities ashore. Operating on the 406 MHz frequency they have their own unique Hex Id code programmed in that is transmitted during an alert therefore identifying persons or vessels in distress. Such beacons are designed with an inbuilt 121.5 MHz homer thus provide improved location accuracy locally as well as having global coverage via satellite.

“Vessel owners are reminded that to provide the best conditions for automatic deployment, EPIRBs should be sited so they can float free and clear regardless of the vessels angle or position during or following capsize (e.g. on the wheelhouse roof). Some compromise on siting an EPIRB may need to be made on the vessel to enable access for alternative manual activation, for example, if the EPIRB is placed on one side of the vessel, or immediately behind the wheelhouse then the likelihood of correct deployment is reduced.

“If a vessel sinks, EPIRBs with hydrostatic release are designed to detach automatically, float free and transmit a distress signal which will be routed to the nearest Coastguard Co-ordination Centre.  PLBs transmit their unique data using the same method however they need to be manually activated.

Steve Huxley added

“It is crucial that EPIRBs and PLBs are registered in the Beacon database, which is accessible to global Search and Rescue authorities at all times. The records detail the beacon coding and its proposed use as well as owners and emergency contacts information. This data is vital for the effective use of relevant resources as invalid or obsolete data can hinder or delay Search and Rescue action. Consequently, the proper registration of a beacon could make the difference between success and failure of a Search and Rescue mission.

“This is an immense achievement by our team at the Registry, and we have expressed our warmest congratulations to them.”

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