Activating a beacon

When and how to activate

If you feel that your life is in grave or imminent danger, you should first try to use two-way communications such as a phone or radio so that you can talk to emergency services. If this is unavailable, then a distress beacon should be activated. This is a personal decision that is unique to each situation.

Activate your beacon according to the manufacturer’s instructions:

  • Position your beacon in a clear and open area
  • Point the aerial vertically towards the sky, away from trees, buildings and mountains. If you are in a vehicle, place on top of the roof for better transmission
  • If you are within a ravine or gully, position it at the highest point

What happens next?

Your distress beacon will send a signal to a Cospas-Sarsat 406 MHz satellite within the international search and rescue satellite system, which then notifies the nearest ground station.

Your distress call is then relayed through a Local User Terminal and then Mission Control Centre (MCC) to the region’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC), which then arranges a search and rescue operation.

It is important that your beacon is registered, so that RCCNZ can contact your distress contacts immediately and request details about you, your activities or trip that may help them coordinate the response more effectively.

How you are rescued depends on your location and the circumstances. Factors such as the availability of responders, terrain and weather will impact on how soon they can reach you. Helicopters and LandSAR, Coastguard and Police and nearby vessels could be used to help you.

Be prepared to survive if assistance cannot reach you immediately.

For helpful tips on what you should know before you go, please visit the Adventure Smart website.

For more information on how beacons work, visit the Cospas-Sarsat system website.

After-activation Steps

Turn off your beacon once the emergency situation has been resolved or you have been asked to by rescuers.

Contact your beacon retailer or manufacturer to make arrangements to have the battery checked or replaced and the beacon serviced. The battery may have been depleted by the activation, and the beacon may have been damaged. Your distress beacon may not activate correctly in a second emergency.

For a list of who can service your beacon, go here.