False Alerts Prompt Call For EPIRB Registration
PLBs and EPIRBs are powerful life-saving tools — if properly registered.
After responding to more than 700 false alerts in 2018, the U.S. Coast Guard urges anyone with an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) to properly register their devices. EPIRBs transmit a distress signal to a satellite system called Cospas-Sarsat, which relays the signal to a network of ground units and emergency responders, who can pinpoint the beacon location anywhere in the world.
The Federal Communications Commission requires all EPIRB owners to register their beacons with NOAA and keep the registration information up to date.
If an unregistered beacon activates, the FCC can prosecute the owner and issue warning letters or notices of apparent liability for fines up to $10,000. Coast Guard personnel were only able to contact 163 of the more than 700 EPIRB owners to determine the cause of the false alerts in 2018. The other individuals had not registered their beacons, didn't update their registration information, or hadn't disposed of old units properly.
"We handle EPIRB alerts with a bias for action," says Lt. Daniel Dunn, a command duty officer in the 5th Coast Guard District's command center. "We have to treat them as actual distress calls until we can prove otherwise."
When Coast Guard watchstanders receive an EPIRB alert and cannot trace it to the owner due to missing or outdated registration info, they launch aircraft and boat crews to search the area for signs of distress. It costs approximately $15,000 per hour to fly an HC-130 Hercules airplane, $10,000 per hour to fly an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, and $5,000 per hour to operate a Coast Guard small boat.
"Unregistered EPIRBs result in lost time and money, and misuse resources that could be used to save someone's life," says Dunn. Visit the NOAA website to register your beacon.
The BoatUS Foundation Rental Program offers both ACR and McMurdo GPS-enabled 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) and EPIRBs for rent for $45 and $65 respectively per week.