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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a 406 MHz distress beacon?

What types of 406 MHz distress beacons are there?

How do 406 MHz distress beacons work?

Why do I need to register my 406 MHz distress beacon?

What is a Hex ID or UIN number?

What is a Check Sum Number (CSN)?

What is the difference between GPS coded and a non GPS coded 406 MHz distress beacons?

My beacon has been stolen, what do I do? 


What is a 406 MHz distress beacon?

A 406 MHz distress beacon is a small electronic device that, when activated in a life threatening situation, alerts rescue authorities and assists them to locate those in distress. 

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What types of 406 MHz distress beacons are there?

There are three types of 406 MHz distress beacon:

  • EPIRBs - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons - are used in the marine environment on ships and boats

  • ELTs - Emergency Locator Beacons - are used in aircraft

  • PLBs - Personal Locator Beacons - for personal use by trampers, four-wheel drivers, crew in boats etc
For more detailed information about the types of beacons available see the distress beacons page on this website.

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How do 406 MHz distress beacons work?

When a 406 MHz distress beacon is activated it transmits a digital signal that can be detected by a series of stationary and orbiting satellites called the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system.  These satellites listen for any active beacons and report the beacon position to the appropriate rescue authorities. 

Beacons developed for Cospas-Sarsat operate on the 406 MHz frequency and use digital technology to transmit a unique code (Hex ID or UIN) which enables the rescue authorities to identify the beacon.  The beacon will also transmit on the 121.5 MHz frequency.  This signal can be picked up by overflying aircraft and is primarily used by rescuers to "home in" on the beacon's location. 

The Cospas-Sarsat satellites provide a close estimate of the beacon position which can be used to send rescuers into the right region and then the 121.5 homing frequency can be used to guide the rescuers to the exact beacon position.

Some of the distress beacons also have the ability to transmit their GPS position which provides rescue authorities with a much more accurate position fix for the beacon. 

For more detailed information on 406 MHz distress beacons see the technical information page on this website. 

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Why do I need to register my 406 MHz distress beacon?

Registration of 406 MHz distress beacons is a legal requirement in New Zealand.  You can register your beacon by clicking on the registration page on this website.

Registration is free and can result in a more efficient search and rescue effort.  Digital 406 MHz distress beacons transmit a unique code that identifies a particular beacon when it is activated.

A registered 406 MHz beacon will allow the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand to access the registration database and find contact details for the owner of the beacon, details of registered vessels, aircraft or vehicles where the beacon is used, and details of your nominated emergency contacts who may be contacted if the beacon is activated.

These emergency contacts may be able to provide valuable information to the Rescue Coordination Centre that can assist with a more expedient rescue. 

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What is a Hex ID or UIN number?

The Hex ID or Unique Identity Number (UIN) is the unique code programmed into each 406 MHz distress beacon and is transmitted when the beacon is activated. 

When registering a distress beacon, this code must be included on the registration form as it is the only code that links the individual distress beacon to the registration database.  Without a Hex ID or UIN the beacon cannot be registered.

The Hex ID or UIN is 15 characters long and is made up of hexadecimal numbers (0-9) and letters (A-F).  The code can normally be found on the label of the 406 MHz distress beacon, although the position of the code on the beacon will vary depending on which model you have. 

Ensure that you know where the Hex ID or UIN is located on your 406 MHz distress beacon when you purchase it. 

Being able to identify the beacon means that the rescue authorities can access your registration details.  This means they can phone the contacts you have listed which enables the rescue authority to determine if the alert is real or false and can greatly speed up the time it takes to locate your position and effect a rescue. 

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What is a Check Sum Number (CSN)?

From the 1st July 2012 all new 406 MHz distress beacons manufactured will also carry a Check Sum number.  

This number is additional to the Hex ID or UIN.  The purpose of this number is to reduce the errors made by entering the wrong Hex ID or UIN into the beacon registration database when the beacon is registered.  The number is simply used to verify that the Hex ID or UIN has been entered correctly. 

If the beacon has a check sum number this will normally be listed on the sticker directly after the Hex ID or UIN number. Note when registering your beacon if you are unable to locate a check sum number leave this section blank on the registration form. 

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What is the difference between GPS coded and non GPS coded 406 MHz distress beacons?

GPS coded 406 MHz distress beacons have the ability to obtain an accurate position from the Global Positioning Satellites (GPS).  This position is then encoded and sent through the Cospas-Sarsat satellites back to the rescue authorities.  Therefore a position for the beacon is provided as soon as any of the orbiting or stationary satellites detect the beacon.

Non GPS coded 406 MHz distress beacons don't have this functionally and the position of the beacon is determined by the orbiting satellites using the doppler effect to determine the doppler shift to locate the position of the active beacon.  This often takes several passes of the satellites which can take a number of hours to complete.  The stationary satellites have no ability to determine the position of non GPS coded 406 Hz distress beacons. 

406 MHz beacons with GPS capability are normally more expensive than the non GPS type but, due to their ability to quickly provide accurate positions, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand highly recommends the use of beacons with GPS functionality. 

The table below provides further comparison information for the GPS versus non GPS 406 MHz distress beacons.

 



406 MHz distress beacons with GPS 

406 MHz distress beacons - Non GPS 

Signal Type 
 
Digital

Digital
 Coverage
The entire globe

The entire globe

Identification

406 beacons have a unique identification code which is part of its signal.

When properly registered with the Rescue Coordination Centre.

The unique code provides information about the boat or aircraft, or person carrying the beacon.

This includes the owners emergency contacts and the country of registration.

Allows false alarms to be resolved with a radio or phone call.

406 beacons have a unique identification code which is part of its signal.

When properly registered with the Rescue Coordination Centre.
               
The unique code provides information about the boat or aircraft, or person carrying the beacon.

This includes the owners emergency contacts and the country of  registration.

Allows false alarms to be resolved with a radio or phone call.


Alert Time 
The 406 signal may be received within seconds by the Geostationary satellites.

If detected by a polar orbiting satellite, detection time will be longer.

The extra information provided by a 406 will in most cases help authorities locate you faster. 
The 406 signal may be received within seconds by the Geostationary satellites. 

If detected by a polar orbiting satellite, detection time will be longer.

The extra information provided by a 406 will in most cases help authorities locate you faster. 
 

Location

GPS - Has an accuracy locator of approximately 120 Metres 

Orbiting satellites will calculate the position if there is no GPS capability.

These orbiting satellites take 90 minutes on average to receive the signal but may take up to five hours depending on conditions.

More information is needed to determine the real location. This usually means at least two satellite passes &/or independent intelligence required to determine a location and this means more time. Non GPS has an accuracy location of 5KM   

 

Rescue Time

If the 406 beacon is registered, it will enable rescuers to know more about who you are, where you are, what your boat/plane looks like, and your emergency contact.

This saves time, and therefore helps rescuers to act more quickly.


Rescuers must wait for confirmation of the beacon's position before sending a search & rescue team. This takes more time.

If the 406 beacon is registered, it will enable rescuers to know more about who you are, where you are, what your boat/plane looks like, and your emergency contact. 

This saves time, and therefore helps rescuers to act more quickly. 


 


 



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My beacon has been stolen, what do I do?

Owners are asked to notify the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ) if they sell their distress beacon or if it is lost, stolen or destroyed.  This information will be recorded against the beacon registration in the database. 

If your beacon has been stolen and the beacon is then subsequently activated, RCCNZ will notify the Police of the beacons location. 

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