Coast Guard will no longer monitor 121.5/243MHz emergency beacons

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Beginning Feb. 1 the Coast Guard and other search-and-rescue personnel will only monitor and receive distress alert broadcasts using digital 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB).

In anticipation of this change, the digital 406 MHz model became the only model approved for use in both commercial and recreational watercraft worldwide Jan. 1, 2007. Satellite processing from all 121.5 or 243 MHz EPIRB will be terminated.

“A 406 MHz EPIRB is your best chance if you are in distress,” said Lt. LuAnn Kehlenbach, command center chief at Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. “In Alaska, communications are very challenging due to topography and distance. 406 MHz EPRIBs are our most reliable option. Only one 121.5 MHz alert out of 50 is a genuine distress situation. Given the vastness of the Alaska region this has a significant effect on the availability of search and rescue personnel and platforms.”

EPIRB owners are required by law to provide emergency contact information and a vessel description by registering their beacon with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at or by calling 1-888-212-SAVE. This allows search and rescue personnel to quickly confirm if a distress signal is real, and identify what type of boat or aircraft to look for. It also means accidental activation of an EPIRB may be resolved quickly with a phone call to the owner.

The Coast Guard was alerted to the Oct. 22, 2008, sinking of the fishing vessel Katmai by a 406 MHz EPIRB. The EPIRB was the first indication rescuers had of the distress situation.

The United States Coast Guard is the lead agency for coordinating national maritime search and rescue policy and is responsible for providing search and rescue services throughout assigned international waters and waters subject to United States jurisdiction.

For additional information on EPIRB’s and the International Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System please visit the Coast Guard Navigation Center Website EPIRB page at:

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