Prevent False Alerts

Note: if you have accidentally activated your beacon but do not need assistance, please contact the appropriate RCC right now (day or night) to cancel the search efforts. For ELTs and PLBs, contact the Air Force RCC at 1-800-851-3051. For EPIRBs, contact the U.S. Coast Guard at 1-855-406-USCG (8724).

Only You Can

OK, so we weren't the first ones to come up with this slogan, but what Smokey says about forest fires also applies to EPIRBs, ELTs and PLBs. The vast majority of false alerts generated within the Cospas-Sarsat system originate from beacon users. This is by no means to suggest that most mariners, aviators and other beacon users are careless. In fact, most of these folks are meticulous and conscientious. The false alert problem arises from a lack of knowledge. The solution lies in educating users about the negative effect of false alerts on the system and how to prevent them.

The following are some suggestions on how you (yes, you) can prevent false alerts. By doing so, you will increase the effectiveness of the very system your life may someday rely on! We cannot stress the importance of this enough. Responding to false alerts can cause large delays in responding to real emergencies. Unnecessary deployments also put the lives of search and rescue personnel at risk. Although Cospas-Sarsat is a high-tech, automated system, large volumes of false alerts can cost valuable minutes to people in real distress. Every little bit does help! So please, read the recommendations below and follow them. Above all, use common sense.

For PLBs:

For 406 MHz ELTs (aviation):

For 406 MHz EPIRBs (maritime):

Proper Beacon Disposal Helps Prevent False Alerts

At the end of the useful life of your 406 MHZ beacon, please ensure that you properly dispose of it. When this occurs, it is vital that you follow the manufacturers' guidance on how to properly disable your beacon to eliminate false activations. Most manufacturers recommend that you remove the beacon's battery when disposing of it to prevent false activations. False activations cause expensive disruption to Search and Rescue services and may endanger the lives of rescuers and unnecessarily divert limited SAR resources. 

Once your beacon has been permanently disabled, the remaining parts (including the battery and electronics) should be disposed of in a manner that does not present a threat to the environment. In addition to containing traces of lithium, distress beacons may contain lead and brominated flame retardants, both in the housing material and circuit boards. Please do not simply discard the beacon along with residential garbage or in a community landfill. Please review your local laws and procedures for disposal of electronics and batteries or contact your beacon manufacturer for further guidance (this Cospas-Sarsat link provides manufacturer contact information).

After you have carefully disposed of your beacon, please update your registration at our website, NOAA Beacon Registration, to indicate this change in status. If you lack internet access or would prefer to mail, fax, or email your registration updates, please contact the SARSAT Beacon Registration Database Team for assistance: 

Phone: 1.888.212.7283 (Toll-Free) or 301.817.4515
Fax: 301.817.4565

The bottom line is this: as with any piece of safety gear, it's only as good as the person operating it. Spend some time to familiarize yourself with your ELT, EPIRB or PLB. Ask yourself if and how it will work in a real situation, and know how to use it. Finally, know how to prevent false alerts and actively do so. Your efforts are certainly appreciated by us at NOAA and especially by those in distress!