Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Beacon Care

Looking after your distress beacon 

Where should distress beacons be stowed? 

How to test your beacon 

When should the batteries be replaced?

Who is authorised to service my beacon in New Zealand? 

Looking after your distress beacon

406 MHz distress beacons should only be activated when a ship, aircraft or person is in distress, that is in grave and imminent danger and requiring immediate assistance.  

When your beacon is not in use in a distress situation, follow these simple care instructions to ensure it will be ready for use should it be required

  • Properly stowed in an easy to access location where it is not likely to be damaged or inadvertently switched on.
  • Test the beacon in between the manufacturers’ recommended maintenance and battery replacement cycles.  The beacon can be tested by the owner using the self-test capability to ensure the continued functionality of the beacon.
  • Ensure the battery is always within the expiry date.  All 406 MHz distress beacons have a limited battery life to satisfy the requirements for minimum operating time once activated.


Where should distress beacons be stowed?

In a Boat

EPIRBs should be stowed in the mounting bracket provided where it is visible and easy to access in an emergency, or in a grab bag along with flares, torch or strobe and other safety equipment. 

If your distress beacon is designed to self deploy it needs to be mounted in such a position that it can float free from the vessel should the vessel sink.

On Land

PLBs need to be physically carried on the body or within easy reach.  If in a vehicle, stowed in a glove box or other safe and accessible compartment. 

In an Aircraft

ELTs are usually hard wired into the aircraft and mounted in a rack.  Where and how ELTs are mounted is controlled by Civil Aviation Regulation. 


How to test your beacon

All Cospas-Sarsat type approved 406 MHz beacons include a self-test mode of operation.  

The manufacturers’ instructions on the frequency of performing a self-test should be adhered to.  This will limit the likelihood of inadvertent activation and battery depletion.

The complete self-test transmission is limited to one burst and is activated by a separate switch position.  The self-test function performs an internal check and indicates that RF power is being emitted at 406 MHz and at 121.5 MHz, if applicable.  

The test function for each beacon type and model is different.  Instructions for how to test your distress beacon and what happens when the test is completed will be available in the manufacturers handbook with your beacon at purchase.  

Guidelines for testing 406 MHz distress beacons

  • EPIRBs and PLBs can be tested at any time using the self-test function without the need to notify RCCNZ
  • ELTs in situ in aircraft are not normally tested using the self-test function
  • ELTs in situ in aircraft and in accordance with AIP can be tested for 5 seconds only
  • RCCNZ must be notified 48 hours in advance of the test and you need to supply your 406 MHz ELT Hex ID 
  • Any 406 MHz beacon tested for longer than 5 seconds must be coded with the TEST protocol and the 121.5/243 MHz homing transmitter disabled 
  • Any test longer than 5 seconds will require two days notice.  You will need to contact RCCNZ and provide the information listed in the operational tests section of your manual
  • A test of a 406 MHz beacon for longer than 5 seconds with an operationally coded protocol is not permitted under normal circumstances

Any request for tests with an operationally coded beacon will need to be discussed with RCCNZ's Cospas-Sarsat Advisor during normal business hours on 0800 406 111.


When should the batteries be replaced?

Distress beacon batteries need to be replaced before the expiry date noted on the label of the beacon.  

This will ensure the beacon will transmit for the minimum time required once activated.  Battery life varies from model to model, usually between five and seven years from the date of manufacture.

Batteries should be replaced by the beacon manufacturer or their New Zealand Agent.  Contact your local beacon retailer or agent to arrange battery replacement and service for your distress beacon.


Who is authorised to service my beacon in New Zealand?

If the beacon battery was replaced or serviced by a non-certified service centre then the beacon is non-compliant for carriage requirements and there is a risk the beacon may not function correctly.

Periodic battery replacement is essential to maintaining the compliance of many beacons with applicable standards. Those standards are set in order to maximise the likelihood of the beacon working in the adverse environments in which distress and emergencies often arise.

Risks arise if batteries are replaced or repairs to beacons are carried out by someone other than the manufacturer (or its approved service centres).  

Only the manufacturer has the necessary equipment and technical information to carry out battery replacement or repairs and then confirm that the beacon continues to meet all applicable standards. In this regard it is important to note that the in-built test function on many beacons is not conclusive of the beacon’s ongoing compliance with all applicable standards. For example, battery replacement and other dismantling often affects the physical integrity of the case and seals protecting sensitive electronic components from adverse environmental conditions. For this reason, manufacturers are likely to disclaim liability for the performance of beacons that have had maintenance or repairs carried out by someone other than the manufacturer.  

Further, when a beacon must be carried to comply with New Zealand law, the law usually requires that the beacon meet a specified standard, and that standard usually specifies that all maintenance and repairs must be carried out by the manufacturer. In these cases this means that if the battery is changed by someone other than the manufacturer, the beacon automatically ceases to meet the required standard and the carriage of that beacon will not result in compliance with the law.

A situation of genuine distress or emergency is not the time to discover that a beacon does not meet applicable standards and does not satisfy applicable carriage law. The risks of that happening will be substantially reduced if the beacon is maintained by the manufacturer.

Beacon standards

  • The Australian/New Zealand standard 4280.1 (EPIRB) and 4280.2 (PLB) states that beacons must be returned to the manufacturer or a manufacturer’s approved service centre when repairs or battery replacement are required. 
  • If a beacon is required to meet carriage requirements under Maritime regulations or CAA it states the beacon must be compliant with AS/NZ 4280.1 and/or 4280.2. 

Who can service my beacon?

Your beacon can only be serviced by the manufacturer who is identified on the side of the beacon.

  • GME - GME Auckland or phone 09 274 0955
  • McMurdo/Orolia – Absolute Marine or phone 09 273 9273
  • Kannad / McMurdo / Orolia – Aviation Safety Supplies or phone 07 543 0075
  • ACR/Artex – Wilco Marine Services or phone 09 308 9165
  • Ocean Signal/RescueME - Lusty & Blundell or phone 09 415 8303
  • Kinetic Technology International Pty Ltd – KTI Melbourne, or Ph: +61 3 9583 9566
  • Other Brands – refer to beacon manufacturer website for servicing contact list.                                                         



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