Check your EPIRB

If you still have one of the 121.5MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) on board your boat, then it is time to replace it with one of the new 406MHz EPIRBs.

If you are looking for a new 406MHz EPIRB, we suggest the ACR ResQMate G 406 MHz GPS EPIRB. Check out Hutchwilco’s website for full product details and a list of retailers. 

All 121.5 MHz distress beacons were made obsolete in February 2009. This is because the council that controls the international satellite system decided the satellites will stop processing 121.5 MHz analogue signals from that date. From 1 February 2009, only 406 MHz beacons will be detected by satellite.

The decision to make 121.5 MHz beacons obsolete was aimed at reducing the very high false alarm rate from analogue distress beacons worldwide. Currently, a staggering 97% of analogue distress beacon signals are false alarms. In New Zealand, that figure was 93%, and this means valuable resources are wasted by false alarms.

Most importantly, 406 MHz beacons are detected quickly and more accurately, which has obvious safety advantages. For example, depending on the location of the 406 MHz beacon, the signal may be detected within minutes, compared to up to the five hours that it may take to get a confirmed satellite detection from a 121.5 MHz analogue beacon.

406 EPIRB Registration

The new 406 EPIRB is more accurate and results in a faster response time, but much of this advantage is lost if the beacon is not registered.

When activated, every 406 beacon transmits a unique number, so that the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Wellington know which beacon is transmitting. Registration simply shows who the beacon belongs to and gives the phone number for contacts.

Jim Lott, Manager Recreational Boating for Maritime New Zealand says that when a beacon is activated, the information comes to the RCC within minutes. The contacts are then phoned.

 “Straight away the RCC knows whether the boat is out and where it is likely to be, so resources can be alerted immediately and the rescue is under way.

 Given that about 90% of activations are accidental, often with the boat still on its trailer, sending out rescue agencies unnecessarily can be avoided. They can be kept for when it is really needed.”

When an unregistered beacon is activated, there is likely to be a delay in getting the rescue started. If the RCC cannot ascertain where the boat is by a phone call, then they must wait for additional satellite passes to determine the position. Jim Lott says that there is also a significant chance it is a false activation and resources wasted. Another advantage of registering the beacon is in case it is stolen, it can be returned if activated.

Registration is FREE and the advantages of doing so are clear. It can be done and submitted on line at or a form can be downloaded from and faxed to the Rescue Coordination Centre. Don’t forget to update if you sell the beacon or the boat.