Coast Guard advises, check emergency beacons

The U.S. Coast Guard advises all mariners to make sure Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) aboard their vessels are up to date. An EPIRB can send a distress signal that can be received by overhead aircraft or orbiting satellites, but older technology is outdated and troublesome.

Beginning February 1, 2009, the Coast Guard and other rescue personnel will only receive emergency alerts from newer, digital 406 MHz EPIRB units. Satellites that receive the alerts will no longer process distress signals from older analog EPIRB units that transmit on 121.5 or 243 MHz frequencies.

It is very likely, but not certain, that EPIRB units purchased in 2008 are newer digital models that will work after the deadline. But a local retailer said older models remain on the market, sometimes sold for reduced prices, with the caveat that they would become obsolete on February 1, 2009.

In a new release, a Coast Guard spokesman said the newer models are 50 times more powerful and far more accurate than older analog units, allowing search teams to narrow their initial search to a 25 square mile area. With older models, the search began over a 500 square mile area.