Multiple Media Events Highlight Importance and
Effectiveness of SARSAT

July 31, 2015

(Credit: LTJG Jason Wilson, NOAA)

The Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) program, whose instruments are carried aboard NOAA’s fleet of weather satellites, contributed to the rescue of 135 people, so far this year, from potentially life-threatening situations throughout the United States and its surrounding waters.

A recent series of media events has helped NOAA raise awareness about SARSAT and its importance to search and rescue operations in the United States and around the world.

At a media event hosted at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, MD, the home of SARSAT’s U.S. Mission Control Center, NOAA and its interagency partners exhibited the capabilities of the system for several news outlets and boating-safety organizations. Featured at the event was Frank Rawley who, in February 2015, was one of four people rescued from the S/V Trio after it became disabled in a storm. With their electronics knocked out and their cell phones out of coverage, Rawley and his crew relied on the activation of their Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) to alert the U.S. Coast Guard to their distress and location. All four were rescued without injury moments before the mast came down on top of the boat. Without their PLB, the crew would have been dependent on riding out the storm, remaining afloat and hoping that someone happened across them once they were reported missing, a gamble in the North Atlantic winter.

In a separate event, a reporter and crew from NBC News interviewed SARSAT Operations Support Officer, LTJG Jason Wilson about how SARSAT operates for a story connected with the search for two boys from Florida, missing in the Atlantic Ocean. As a part of the interview, a beacon test activation was arranged to showcase its life-saving capabilities. Within minutes, the alert was received at the MCC. ¬†While the beacon did not provide an immediate location, it did immediately provide the beacon’s registration information, which includes current emergency contacts, can initiate an effective search as soon as the first alert is received.

Here are a few of the recent media reports regarding SARSAT. Links to these and other media events can be found at SARSAT's Press Info page.

NOAA satellites are part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, known as COSPAS-SARSAT. This system uses a network of spacecraft to detect and locate distress signals quickly from emergency beacons onboard aircraft and boats, and from PLBs.

When a NOAA satellite finds the location of a distress signal, the information is relayed to the SARSAT Mission Control Center based at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland. From there, the information is quickly sent to a Rescue Coordination Center, operated by either the U.S. Air Force for land rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard for water rescues.

Since 1982, COSPAS-SARSAT has been credited with supporting more than 39,000 rescues worldwide, including more than 7,627 in the United States and its surrounding waters.

By law, owners of emergency beacons are required to register them with NOAA at: That registration information often helps provide better and faster assistance to people in distress. It may also provide information about the location of the emergency, how many people need assistance, what type of help may be needed and other ways to contact the owner. At the end of 2014, NOAA’s registration database contained more than 430,000 entries.

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