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Man Overboard – MOB

Man Overboard (MOB) – as you will see there is not a “hard and fast rule” but more of a judgement call at the time of the incident.

There is much confusion, among recreational mariners, regarding the correct use of radio during Man Overboard (MOB) emergencies at sea. Some organisations and groups, representing various sectors of the industry, favour MAYDAY over PAN PAN and are actively promoting their own views among their members.

Conflicting advice and different interpretations of official guidelines have further fuelled the confusion. Such confusion may indeed lead to undesirable outcomes during MOB emergencies, possibly exposing the well-meaning advisors to unwelcome liabilities.
The following is an attempt to provide a more informed basis for the crucial decisions that mariners must take when someone is lost overboard.

Little knowledge is dangerous!

Let us first test our understanding of the rules by answering a simple question:
Which of the following is the most important?
If you selected MAYDAY, you have failed the test!
MAYDAY signal is used during distress situations indicating that:
“A mobile unit or person is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance”.
In other words, it is too late to do anything to avoid the danger. SECURITE signal, on the other hand, is used to announce safety messages that help mariners avoid danger in the first place!
To say MAYDAY is more important than SECURITE is to claim that cure is better than prevention. The same observation applies to PAN PAN.
All three signals are important and must be given equal attention at all times. Their difference is in their priority for transmission. That is to say if a SECURITE, a PAN PAN and a MAYDAY are to be broadcast at the same time, MAYDAY goes first. That is all. No more, no less.

Clarity saves, confusion kills.

The statement above is self-evident and needs no further explanation. To ensure clarity, MAYDAY calls have a strict prescribed format that must be followed to the letter. The response to a MAYDAY call is also strictly prescribed and is legally binding.
The correct format for MAYDAY transmission is as follows:
This is
Titanium, Titanium, Titanium
Position 42˚ 29’ South, 117˚ 19’ East
16 POB

This format ensures that information critical to successful search and rescue, is broadcast in the correct order of who, where, what (after attracting everyone’s attention).
During distress situations, the ability to transmit radio signals is lost as soon as the battery is submerged. The prescribed order for transmitting information, ensures that more important
information (where) is broadcast before (what) just in case the battery submerges in the middle of a call for help.
The obligation to accept distress calls is absolute and they must be given priority over all other communications. This is the law! No If(s), But(s) or Maybe(s)!
In practice, a MAYDAY call will effectively lock out all other transmissions until such time as the search and rescue effort is well underway, and even then, only important calls are allowed.
More importantly, all stations must stay tuned on the emergency channel and record the details of distress radio traffic in their radio log even if they are not in a position to render assistance.
And there is more! The stations that are able to help, must help. This is also the law. In most cases, nearby vessels will rush to the position broadcast during the distress call to render assistance.

First come first served.

Imagine a beautiful busy late afternoon on Sydney Harbour or the Derwent River with hundreds of vessels on the water. Vessel A with two persons on-board (2 POB) crossing a traffic lane loses its steering and is drifting onto rocks. It decides to send a MAYDAY call to warn a large vessel using the lane (but still some distance away) and at the same time ask for immediate assistance.
A few minutes after vessel A transmits its MAYDAY, two other vessels B and C collide with B sinking fast and C on fire. The skipper of vessel B with 6 POB decides to send a MAYDAY. Skipper of vessel C with 8 POB does the same. The three vessels have given different positions obtained from their respective GPS systems. With three MAYDAY calls on the same frequency at the same time, we now have a very confusing situation and confusion kills.
Technically, the first vessel to declare emergency (A) has the control of the distress frequency.
Instead of calling MAYDAY, vessels B and C may indeed achieve better results by using flares or other means of declaring emergency such as Digital Selective Calling (DSC) if available.
The chances of more than one MAYDAY situation developing at any given time is actually higher that we may think. Just remember the Sydney-Hobart Race of 1998.

By using MAYDAY, vessel A has locked-out the distress frequency yet it carries 2 POB compared to 14 POB on the other vessels. Nevertheless, Vessel A has the same rights to radio frequencies as the other two and cannot be blamed for exercising its rights. Besides, vessel A could not have predicted the second incident.
The question is, could vessel A have achieved the same outcome by using PAN PAN instead? If not then it made the right call. Otherwise, it would have been more prudent to use PAN PAN and leave the higher priority available to others who may have needed it more. Remember you could be a person on-board B or C.

The boy who cried wolf.

The definition of distress, “a mobile unit or person is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance”, implies that all other efforts to remedy the situation have failed and the last resort, a MAYDAY call, must be used. This is a judgement call. Repeated overuse of MAYDAY, for more manageable situations, may indeed cause it to lose efficacy and reduce its effectiveness.

Come here or go away?

Let us consider the following scenarios:
1- A person falls overboard a yacht. Others on the boat witness the fall and can see the person in the water. The skipper is manoeuvring the boat to go to the rescue and retrieve the person.
The last thing the skipper needs is a dozen well-meaning good Samaritans in fast boats with powerful engines applying full power, throwing big wakes behind them, and racing at break-neck speed to the position broadcast in the MAYDAY call. They could run over the person in the water!
In fact if this happens during a yacht race, all of the yachts following (more or less on the same track) should immediately disperse to avoid running over the person in the water.
Besides, is the broadcast position that of the person in the water or the vessel itself? Remember, confusion kills!
2- What if we lose sight of the person in the water and want all vessels in the vicinity to stop their engines or slow down and keep a good lookout to find that person or, more importantly, avoid running over that person? Well, same as in previous example, a MAYDAY call may actually make things worse by creating confusion. In this scenario, the MAYDAY must also be modified to provide approximate position of the person in the water. This may not be clear to those who copy the distress call. A MAYDAY call is simply not flexible enough for this purpose!
3- What if someone falls overboard without being noticed and several hours pass before someone realises that the person is missing? Use of MAYDAY would be even more confusing. What position should be reported in the distress call? Will those who copy the call actually realise the approximate nature of the position or simply hear what they expect to hear (in a MAYDAY call) not what is being said? Would they do what is asked of them or simply head to the reported position at maximum speed? More importantly, would PAN PAN achieve the desired outcome?

Leaving one’s options open

It is very easy to upgrade a PAN PAN to a MAYDAY. It is almost impossible to do the reverse without causing confusion and confusion kills.

There is no substitute for intelligence and sound judgement.

A Man Overboard (MOB) situation is one of the most traumatic events on-board any vessel.
Nevertheless, it is not always a MAYDAY situation. It is not always a PAN PAN situation either.
Sometimes, it is not even an emergency! There is no clear-cut choice between MAYDAY, PAN PAN or even SECURITE for Man Overboard.

If there was a clear-cut choice, the regulators would have prescribed it.

Although the regulations lean towards the PAN PAN call from a ship as the preferred choice for MOB situations, there is nothing to stop skippers declaring distress if they judge it to be more appropriate.
However, as we have discussed above, over-simplification of a “one size fits all” response, may actually have the opposite outcome to what was intended and those who prescribe it may be blamed for any adverse results.


The choice of MAYDAY or PAN PAN for Man Overboard (MOB) situations is a judgment call made by the skipper at the time of the incident. In making the decision the following points are worthy of consideration.
• MAYDAY (Distress priority), PAN PAN (Urgency priority) and SECURITE (Safety priority) have the same importance and must be given the same attention! They only differ in their priority for broadcast (if they happen at the same time).
• Distress communications shall have absolute priority over all other transmissions.
• Urgency communications shall have priority over all other communications, except distress.
• Safety communications shall have priority over all other communications, except distress and urgency.
• It is always prudent to use the lowest priority that achieves the desired results leaving the higher priorities available for someone else who may be in more danger (you may be that someone else).
• It is easier to upgrade a PAN PAN than to downgrade a MAYDAY!
• If you want someone to stay clear of a person in the water, MAYDAY may not be the best call!
• Do not rely on hearsay and well-meaning advice. Use your own judgement.
• “One size fits all” solutions are not suitable in life and death situations.
• Nothing stops you using a MAYDAY if you think it is a right thing to do. Ask yourself if PAN PAN can achieve the same or better results (less confusion).
• In many MOB cases, a vessel can start with a PAN PAN and later upgrade it to MAYDAY if necessary.

Epilogue and Disclaimer

No doubt some would disagree with what is presented here and the arguments for and against the choice of priority signal will continue. The purpose of this brief is to provide some food for thought for skippers who must make the final call.
This document does not seek to prescribe any set radio procedures for MOB. Relevant Australian and International regulations in the matter have the final say.

Discussion Paper presented by Sam Josof – AMC OMC Manger: Man Overboard

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GME EPIRB Precautionary Safety Alert

Standard Communications Pty Ltd designs and manufactures a range of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) that are marketed globally under the GME brand.

As a result of market place feedback Standard Communications Pty Ltd has become aware of a small number of instances where GME EPIRBs have failed the self test procedure. A consequence of such failure may mean the EPIRB will not operate in an emergency situation.

Subsequent testing and investigation in the company’s Sydney engineering laboratory, identified a microprocessor malfunction that effectively shuts the beacon down, hence the self test failure. Detailed analysis has shown that the failures have occurred in EPIRBs manufactured in the 2005 – 2010 period; to date the overall failure rate remains low, never the less as a responsible supplier of safety at sea equipment, Standard Communications Pty Ltd has in consultation with National Maritime Authorities voluntarily elected to publish this precautionary safety alert. Continue reading GME EPIRB Precautionary Safety Alert

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Planning To Fall Overboard.. Think Again

Cold Water Immersion – It’s a Killer!

In Queensland, we tend to take our warm weather and equally warm coastal waters for granted. Even in mid-winter, our coastal water temperatures are usually quite mild.

On a recent visit M.A.S.T. (Marine and Safety Tasmania) in Hobart, I picked up one of their flyers – Cold Water Immersion – which reminded me how critical water temperatures are to survival if you have the misfortune to fall overboard or capsize – especially in our Southern waters. Continue reading Planning To Fall Overboard.. Think Again

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World Oceans Day 2013

Saturday June 8 is World Oceans Day and a time to celebrate the ocean and strive to protect it.

“Together we have the power to protect the ocean” and the billions of humans, plants and animals which depend on it – now and for future generations.

World Oceans Day is officially recognised by the United Nations and is celebrated on June 8 each year.

Check out the website for more information and think how you can contribute to looking after the patch of ocean near you.

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Frequently Asked Questions


An Introduction to Distress Beacons

What is a distress beacon?

Do I need a distress beacon?

What types of distress beacons are there?

How does a distress beacon work?

What is the Cospas-Sarsat System?

What is the HexID or UIN?


Why use a distress beacon?

When should a distress beacon be used?

Which model? GPS vs Non-GPS

Where should distress beacons be stowed?

What if 121.5 MHz distress beacons are used after 1 February 2009?

What about other tracking and distress devices?


Why register a distress beacon?

Online registration

Why does AMSA issue registration stickers for EPIRBs and PLBs?

What happens when a sticker expires?

What should be done if a distress beacon is sold, lost, stolen or destroyed?

Can distress beacons be registered for more than one use?

Can distress beacons be used overseas or can beacons registered in a foreign country be used in Australia?


How long before a distress signal is received?

What if a distress beacon is accidentally activated?

Batteries and Disposal

When should distress beacon batteries be replaced?

How should unwanted distress beacons be disposed of?

What is a distress beacon?

A distress beacon is an electronic device that, when activated in a life-threatening situation, assists rescue authorities in their search to locate those in distress.

Do I need a distress beacon?

If you are working or travelling in remote or particularly hazardous areas, you should strongly consider purchasing a PLB. Carriage of a registered 406 MHz EPIRB in vessels sailing more than two nautical miles offshore is mandatory and many responsible mariners encourage the use of PLBs as well. Increasing numbers of aviators carry PLBs as well as have ELTs fitted to their aircraft.

What types of distress beacons are there?

There are three types:

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons ( EPIRB ) used in ships and boats;

Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) used in aircraft; and

Personal Locator Beacons ( PLB ) for personal use by bushwalkers, four-wheel drivers, other adventurers on land, employees working in remote areas, crew in boats and aircrew.

EPIRBs are designed to float in the water to optimise the signal to the satellite. An EPIRB has a lanyard that is used to secure it to something that is not going to sink so that it can float free.

Once activated, an EPIRB is required to operate continuously for a minimum of 48 hours.

There have been a number of incidents where vessels have sunk quickly and crew have been unable to deploy an EPIRB. In such incidents, float-free EPIRBs may have reduced response times and saved lives. Float-free EPIRBs are held in a bracket and fitted with a hydrostatic release that is water activated deploying the beacon automatically if the vessel sinks. If the vessel continues to float then the EPIRB can be manually deployed where a distress situation exists.

NOTE: Although Yachting Australia requires all crew in Category 1 and 2 ocean yacht races to carry a PLB when on deck, an EPIRB must also be carried in the yacht.

Likewise, PLBs are not considered a substitute for EPIRBs when adhering to State and Territory marine regulations on the carriage of EPIRBs.

ELTs are usually fixed in the aircraft and are designed to activate on impact. ELTs are required to operate continuously for 24 hours once activated. Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulations require most aircraft to carry an ELT.

CASA regulations allow for PLBs or EPIRBs to be carried in General Aviation aircraft as an alternative to an ELT.

PLBs are designed for personal use in the aviation, land and marine environments and are becoming increasingly popular in a number of fields, both in industry and recreationally.

PLBs are required to operate for a minimum of 24 hours once activated.

406 MHz beacons come in two basic types: those that provide an encoded (GPS) location and those that do not.

The satellite system can calculate a beacon’s location, but locating a distress site is usually much faster if the beacon signal provides a GPS location.

How does a distress beacon work?

When a distress beacon is activated, it transmits a signal that is detectable by satellites. As the satellites orbit the Earth, they ‘listen’ for any active beacons and report their position to rescue authorities.

Beacons developed for the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system operate on 406 MHz and use digital technology that allows the beacon to transmit a unique code (HexID or UIN) to identify the beacon. These beacons also transmit on the analogue 121.5 MHz frequency to allow final stage homing.

Satellite processing of 121.5 MHz signals ceased on 1 February 2009 and any old 121.5 MHz beacons should be disposed of responsibly.

What is the Cospas-Sarsat System?

The Cospas-Sarsat System is divided into:

the space segment comprising distress beacon receivers on Polar-orbiting satellites and on satellites in geostationary orbit over the equator; and
the ground segment is made up of a network of Local User Terminals (LUTs) that are the ground receiving stations for the satellite transmissions with Mission Control Centres (MCCs) that analyse and pass the distress alerts to responsible Rescue Coordination Centres (RCC).

In the Australian region there are three LUTs, located at Albany (WA), Bundaberg (QLD) and Wellington (NZ); controlled by the MCC located with RCC Australia in Canberra.

Alerts from 406 MHz distress beacons may be received and processed by geo-stationary satellites and passed to RCC Australia within minutes. If the beacon has GPS capability then a highly accurate position may be transmitted with the alert. Non-GPS beacons require detection by a Polar orbiting satellite before a position can be obtained.

COSPAS-SARSAT System Overview

What is the HexID or UIN?

The HexID or Unique Identity Number (UIN) is the unique code programmed into each 406 MHz distress beacon and transmitted when the beacon is activated.

When registering a distress beacon, this code must be included in the registration as it is the only code that links the individual distress beacon to the registration database. Without the HexID the beacon cannot be registered.

The HexID is 15 characters long and is made up of hexadecimal numbers (0-9) and letters (A-F). The code can be found on the label of all 406 MHz distress beacons.


Why use a distress beacon?

Distress beacons save lives – in some cases it’s the law. All vessels travelling more than two nautical miles from land must carry a registered EPIRB.

Aircraft are also required under CASA regulations to carry an ELT in flight. Check your Commonwealth, State or Territory authority for the specific regulations applicable to you.

When should a distress beacon be used?

Distress beacons should only be used when there is a threat of grave and imminent danger. In the event of an emergency, communication should first be attempted with others close by using marine radios, phones and other signaling devices. Mobile phones can be used but should not be relied upon as they can be out of range, batteries run low or become water-damaged.

Which model? GPS vs Non – GPS

406 MHz GPS Equipped Signal type Digital Coverage

The entire globe Identification 406 beacons have a unique identification code is part of its signal.

When properly registered with the Rescue Coordination Centre, Australia, the unique code provides information about the boat or aircraft, or person carrying the beacon. This includes the owner’s emergency contact and country of registration.

Alert time The 406 signal may be received within seconds by Geostationary satellites. If detected by a polar orbiting satellite, detection time will be longer. The extra information provided by a 406 will in most cases help authorities locate you faster.
Location GPS – Has a location accuracy of 120 Metres. Location is provided by geostationary satellites within minutes.

Rescue time If the 406 beacon is registered, it will enable rescuers to know more about who you are, where you are, what your boat/plane looks like, and your emergency contact. This saves time, and therefore helps rescuers to more quickly.
Signal Power 5 Watts

Orbiting satellites will calculate the position if there is no GPS capability. These orbiting satellites take 90 minutes on average to receive the signal but it may take up to 5 hours depending on the conditions. More information is needed to determine the real location. This usually means at least two satellite passes &/or independent intelligence is required to determine a location and this takes more time. Non GPS has an location accuracy of 5km.

Where should distress beacons be stowed?

Distress beacons are stowed depending on the type. Some have mounting brackets, some are installed permanently and some are carried in pockets or life vests.

It is important to keep distress beacons away from:

items that may accidentally knock the activation switch;
magnetic sources, such as microphones and radio speakers;
high pressure water sprays; and children who may play with the beacon.

In a boat, a distress beacon should be stowed in its mounting bracket where it is visible and easy to access in an emergency or in a grab bag along with flares, a torch or strobe and other safety equipment. If possible keep it out of the weather and locked away when the vessel is not in use. An additional beacon can be stowed in any inflatable life raft carried in the vessel. When storing an EPIRB, ensure it is correctly stowed in its bracket as a number of EPIRBs have water activated switches that are armed when the EPIRB is removed from its bracket or incorrectly replaced in its bracket.

Also ensure that your passengers are aware of the location of the beacon and how to activate it in an emergency.

Note: If an EPIRB is to be stowed in a grab bag or out of its bracket you should choose a manually operated EPIRB. Water activated EPIRBs should always be stowed correctly in their brackets when not in use, to avoid inadvertent activation even if stowed below. In an aircraft, ELTs are usually hard-wired into the aircraft and mounted in a rack. CASA regulations allow pilots flying General Aviation aircraft to carry a PLB as an alternative to an ELT. These should be carried on the pilot’s person so that if involved in a crash, the PLB is within easy reach even if they are thrown clear of the aircraft. Pilots should listen on 121.5 MHz before shutting down in case their ELT has been activated during the landing. If activated, the ELT should be switched off and the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC Australia) immediately notified by calling 1800 815 257. There is no penalty for inadvertent activations.

On land, PLBs are to be physically carried on the body or within easy reach or, if in a vehicle, stowed in a glove box or other safe and accessible compartment.

What if 121.5 MHz distress beacons are used after 1 February 2009?

With the satellite system no longer receiving alerts from 121.5 MHz from 1 February 2009, over-flying aircraft are the only means of detecting activated analogue beacons. In some areas within the Australian search and rescue region, this could amount to days rather than hours before a 121.5 MHz beacon could be heard and in some circumstances, the 121.5 MHz beacon may not be detected at all.

Not all aircraft ‘listen’ to the 121.5 MHz frequency and those that do are generally very high flyers. As a consequence, the search area resulting from these detections could be very large and it would take rescue authorities considerable time and resources to localise the distress signal. This would also apply to distress beacons activated directly under a well used flight path.

From 1 February 2010, 121.5 MHz EPIRBs are no longer licensed for use. Any person found activating a 121.5 MHz EPIRB may find themselves liable for a fine. 121.5 MHz fixed ELTs continue to be licensed for homing purposes.

What about other tracking and distress devices?

There are an increasing number of devices advertised as tracking beacons with an auxiliary distress function and are marketed as being similar to a PLB. Care should be taken to ensure that any distress alerting device purchased is Cospas-Sarsat compatible as many of the tracking devices available operate on mobile or satellite phone networks and are subject to the same limitations. These devices are not manufactured to the same standards as a Cospas-Sarsat device and do not meet the requirements of a registered EPIRB or ELT. Going without a registered 406 MHz beacon can expose you to serious risk in a distress situation.


Why register a distress beacon?

Registration is free and can result in a more efficient search and rescue effort.

Digital 406 MHz distress beacons transmit a unique code to identify a particular beacon when it is activated.

A registered 406 MHz beacon allows the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Coordination Centre to access the registration database and find initial contact details; details of registered vessels, aircraft or vehicles; and up to three nominated emergency contacts who may be called if a beacon is activated and direct contact cannot be made. These emergency contacts may be able to provide valuable information to the RCC that can help with the rescue.

Online registration; click on link here:

All types of Australian coded 406 MHz distress beacons can be registered online via Beacon owners have protected access to their accounts and are able to update details at any time including changes to:

ownership and emergency contact details;
boat, aircraft or vehicle details;
registered addresses; or
indicate the sale or disposal of a beacon.

There is also the facility for owners to note trip itineraries so when a beacon is activated, the RCC will have access to current movements and be better placed to organize the most suitable response. This does not replace advising a responsible person of your trip details.

In addition to online access, registration forms and changes to details can also be provided to AMSA by fax, phone, email or post. We prefer you register and update your information on-line to get maximum benefit from the system.

Why does AMSA issue registration stickers for EPIRBs and PLBs?

AMSA issues registration stickers to provide distress beacon owners and marine inspectors with proof of current registration. The sticker will note the HexID/UIN of the beacon, its registration expiry date (two years from date of issue) and vessel name, registration number or owner’s name depending on type of beacon and use. This registration sticker must be affixed to the beacon. If a current sticker is not found affixed to a beacon during a safety equipment inspection you may be liable to a fine.

What happens when a sticker expires?

Approximately 45 days prior to the sticker expiry date, AMSA will either email or post a Beacon Registration Renewal notice to the registered owner. Once this notice is received, the registered owner is to contact AMSA to validate/update the registration details. Validation can be completed by online at or by fax, phone, email or post. Once the validation process has been completed, a new registration sticker will be posted (please allow up to two weeks for delivery).

NOTE: Beacon Registration Renewal notices are sent as per details on AMSA’s distress beacon registration database. Please ensure your details are always up to date.

What should be done if a distress beacon is sold, lost, stolen or destroyed?

Owners are asked to notify AMSA if they sell their distress beacon or it is lost, stolen or destroyed. If AMSA is not notified and the new owner activates the beacon, any rescue will be delayed as the last known registered owner will be contacted. Notification of sold, lost, stolen or destroyed distress beacons can be made online at, or by fax, phone, post or email.

Can distress beacons be registered for more than one use?

EPIRBs and PLBs are increasingly being used across all environments. AMSA’s registration database will accept details for the beacons’ primary use as well as for other uses.

Care must be taken when using a distress beacon for a purpose other than the specific purpose for which they were designed. For example, EPIRBs are designed to float in water and use the water plane to reflect the signal upwards to the satellite. An EPIRB activated on land or in a boat must remain vertical to ensure the signal is not greatly degraded. Similarly, PLBs although waterproof and constructed to float, are not designed to float upright so if activating a PLB at sea it should be supported so that its antenna remains vertical and out of the water.

Some life vests have pockets for PLBs sewn into the webbing up high near the shoulder allowing the PLB to be supported above the water, leaving your hands free.

Can distress beacons be used overseas or can beacons registered in a foreign country be used in Australia?

Cospas-Sarsat is a global system and distress beacon alerts are received by the satellites from anywhere on the Earth’s surface. If an Australian-coded distress beacon is activated overseas, an alert will be sent to the Rescue Coordination Centre responsible for the region in which the distress incident is occurring. A second notification is then sent to RCC Australia as the registrar for the beacon.

Correspondingly, alerts from beacons registered in other countries, activated in the Australian region, will be received by RCC Australia. Australian residents who buy a distress beacon registered elsewhere must have the beacon recoded with the Australian country code by a local agent and have it registered with AMSA. Some PLBs manufactured in the USA and elsewhere are programmed to transmit a Morse Code “P” as part of their alerting signal. These beacons do not meet the Australian Standard and are unable to be registered in Australia.


How long before a distress signal is received?

A distress beacon alert is usually detected by the RCC within minutes. If your distress beacon has an encoded GPS location capability, this information will also be sent to the RCC and your position becomes known.

If emergency contacts are aware of trip details or trip details have been submitted online, search operations can be commenced much sooner. If the RCC has to rely on polar-orbiting satellites to determine the location of a beacon, the time to gain an accurate position may be longer, potentially delaying search operations.

NOTE: Polar-orbiting satellites over-fly the Australian region on average every 90 minutes but passes may be anywhere from minutes to five hours apart. To improve response times, ensure distress beacons are registered and inform emergency contacts of trip details.

Even once a position is obtained, response times then depend on the time for a search and rescue (SAR) unit, such as a helicopter, aircraft or ground party to be readied and transit to the search area. The more remote the location of the distress incident, the longer the response time. In all instances, you must be prepared to survive.

What if a distress beacon is accidentally activated?

The most important thing to do is to switch off the beacon and notify RCC Australia as soon as possible by calling 1800 641 792 to ensure a search and rescue operation is not commenced. There is no penalty for inadvertent activations.


When should distress beacon batteries be replaced?

Distress beacon batteries need to be replaced before the expiry date noted on the label of the beacon. This will ensure that the beacon will transmit for the minimum time required once activated. Battery life varies from model to model. Batteries should only be replaced by the manufacturer or their Australian agent.

How should unwanted distress beacons be disposed of?

Distress beacons need to be disposed of responsibly in case they accidentally activate and trigger a false alarm. Individuals are able to dispose of their unwanted beacons through Battery World. For disposing of commercial quantities please contact your local Battery World Store. Alternatively, the documentation that comes with distress beacons often contains information about how to disarm the beacon safely. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer or local agent or call the beacon advice line on 1800 406 406.


Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) – Australia 24 hour emergency contact telephone numbers:

1800 641 792 (Maritime)

406 MHz Beacon Registration

p 1800 406 406
f 1800 406 329

NOTES: Do not dispose of your beacon in general waste as it will end up in landfill and could be activated inadvertently. After 1 February 2010, activation of an old-style 121.5 MHz distress beacon may be illegal and may attract stiff penalties. 406 MHz beacons that transmit on 121.5 MHz for final stage homing are unaffected by this rule.

Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) – Australia

24 hour emergency contact telephone number:

1800 641 792
General enquiries during business hours:

1800 406 406

above selective images and Q&A courtesy of AMSA