Government Affairs Home Federal Boating Issues Archives

Federal Boating News

July 2007
Use of 121.5/243 MHz EPIRBs Banned

BoatUS Magazine - March 2007
As of the first of the year, boaters are now prohibited from using 121.5 MHz Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons, the U.S. Coast Guard announced. This is in preparation for the shut-off of satellite reception on these frequencies set to take place Feb. 1, 2009.

Boaters who plan to travel more than 20 miles offshore should now use only 406 MHz EPIRBs whose signals are picked up by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellites worldwide. The 406 MHz beacons send "smart" signals coded with information such as vessel identity and location to search and rescue stations around the world.

The new ban on use of 121.5 MHz beacons applies to all Class A, B and S products. However, it does not affect the use of 121.5 MHz man-overboard devices which are intended to work solely with alerting a base station on board the boat and not the satellite system.

The biggest problem with 121.5 beacons has been false alerts. The Coast Guard reports that only one out of 50 alerts from a 121.5 are actual distress calls. The rest are false alerts. Since the 406 beacons are required by law to be registered to the owner, wider use of the 406's has significantly cut down on false alerts.

Registration in the U.S. for a 406 MHz EPIRB can be done via or by calling 1-888-212-SAVE.

The BoatU.S. Foundation will continue to rent 406 MHz EPIRBs for boaters who need one for a specific offshore cruise or a race. Reservations can be made online at Since the program began, Foundation rental beacons have saved 49 lives.

© BoatUS Magazine March 2007