Coast Guard urges EPIRB education to save taxpayer dollars, lives

BALTIMORE – An emergency position indicating radio beacon is held in front of a 25-foot Response Boat-Small moored in front of Coast Guard Station Curtis Bay, Md., Dec. 9, 2010. When activated, a properly registered EPIRB sends an electronic signal that will notify the Coast Guard of a distress situation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Brazzell.

An emergency position indicating radio beacon is held in front of a 25-foot Response Boat-Small. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Brazzell.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Coast Guard is encouraging boaters in Alaska to educate themselves about emergency position indicating radio beacons, and to understand the negative consequences for failing to do so.

An EPIRB is a device that transmits a distress signal that reaches the Coast Guard and other emergency responders. The Coast Guard is urging anyone with an EPIRB to properly register their device, and to ensure that the device is deactivated with the batteries removed if it is thrown away.

When the Coast Guard receives an EPIRB alert and cannot trace it to the owner due to missing or outdated registration information, they launch aircraft and boat crews to search the area for signs of distress.

It costs approximately $15,000 per hour to fly a C-130 Hercules aircraft, $10,000 per hour to fly an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter, and $5,000 per hour to operate a Coast Guard small boat.

Since October 1, 2018, there have been 16 confirmed false alerts for distress beacons in Alaska that cost the taxpayer approximately $353,108.

Of those 16 cases, three of the distress beacons were located in garbage dumps. The cost for searching for those beacons was approximately $35,000.

Other reasons for false distress alerts included improper testing of beacons by turning them on, equipment failure such as mounting brackets, and dying batteries while the beacon was put in storage.

Boaters should follow the instructions on the testing process and not turn the beacon on. When storing an EPIRB or other emergency signaling device or when disposing of such a device, boaters should remove the battery.

When the beacon is decommissioned, also ensure that NOAA has the information updated in their registry database.

If an unregistered beacon activates, the FCC can prosecute the owner based on evidence provided by the Coast Guard, and will issue warning letters or notices of apparent liability for fines up to $10,000.

Owners of commercial fishing vessels, uninspected passenger vessels that carry six or more people, and uninspected commercial vessels are legally required to carry an EPIRB. However, the Coast Guard recommends that every mariner who transits offshore or on long voyages carry an EPIRB.

The Federal Communications Commission requires all EPIRB owners to register their beacons with NOAA and keep the registration information current.

“EPIRBS here in Alaska that are not disposed of properly or are not registered are especially costly to the taxpayer,” said Paul Webb, search and rescue specialist for the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau. “The Coast Guard in Alaska has the largest area of responsibility in the country. False EPIRB alerts result in lost time, lost money, and potentially loss of life. An EPIRB activated in a landfill could take our responders away from someone who is actually lost at sea or otherwise facing a deadly situation.”

To register your beacon, visit the NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking U.S. 406Mhz Beacon Registration website.


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