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February 20, 2013
Enforcement Advisory No. 2013-03
Enforcement Bureau Reminds Users of all Emergency Locator Beacons
About Their Proper Use and Registration
What are Emergency Beacons and How Are They Used?
The FCC authorizes three types of emergency beacons for transmitting
distress signals: Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) for
maritime use, Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs) for aviation use, and
Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) for land-based use. All emergency beacons
operating on frequency 406 MHz can be tracked by satellites and must be
registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
for Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT). As discussed
below, false alarms from or failures to register emergency beacons may
result in substantial monetary penalties (up to $112,500 for any single
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs)
EPIRBS are used for commercial and personal watercraft. Pursuant to the
FCC's Rules, only EPIRBs operating on frequency 406 MHz may be
manufactured, imported or sold in the United States.^ A separate license
is not required to operate an EPIRB. The frequency 406 MHz has been
designated internationally for use only for distress signals. The 406
MHz EPIRBs are divided into two categories. Category I EPIRBs are
activated either manually or automatically. The automatic activation is
triggered when the EPIRB is released from its bracket. Category
II EPIRBs are activated manually.
Detected by Satellites. A 406 MHz EPIRB signal can be instantly detected
by satellites, which allows a search and rescue team to accurately locate
the EPIRB and identify the vessel anywhere in the world. Even a brief
inadvertent activation on frequency 406 MHz can generate a false alert and
is a violation of FCC Rules, thereby subjecting the operator to potential
monetary penalties up to $112,500. Operators should take every precaution
to avoid such activations because activations do not create an audible
Must Be Registered. The FCC requires that all 406 MHz EPIRBs be
registered with NOAA.^ Failure to register an EPIRB may subject its owner
to monetary penalties up to $112,500. More importantly, registration will
help rescue forces find a vessel faster in an emergency and allows the
operator to contribute to the safety of others by not needlessly occupying
search and rescue resources that may be needed in an actual emergency.
Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs)
ELTs operate as part of an aircraft or a survival craft station as
locating aids for survival purposes.^ ELTs were the first emergency
beacons developed and most U.S. civil aircraft are required to carry
them. ELTs were originally intended for use on the frequency 121.5 MHz to
alert aircraft flying overhead. Obviously, a major limitation to the early
ELTs is that another aircraft must be within range and listening to
frequency 121.5 MHz to receive the signal. While ELTs operating on
frequency 121.5 MHz are still permitted in the United States, ELTs
operating on frequency 406 MHz are also available and encouraged.^ A
separate license is not required to operate an ELT.
Detected by Satellites. 406 MHz ELT ELTs have the same advantages as 406
MHz EPIRBS: they can be instantly detected by satellites, which allow a
search and rescue team to accurately locate the 406 MHz ELT anywhere in
the world. ELTs can also be activated manually or automatically.
Inadvertent and non-emergency-related activations violate FCC Rules and
may subject the operator to monetary penalties up to $112,500.
Must Be Registered. Also like 406 MHz EPIRBs, 406 MHZ ELTs must be
registered with NOAA.^ Failure to register can result in monetary
penalties up to $112,500.
Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)
PLBs are portable units that operate as emergency beacons, like EPIRBs
or ELTs, except that these beacons are designed to be carried by an
individual instead of on a boat or aircraft. Also, like EPIRBs or ELTs,
the FCC authorizes PLBs to be used only for distress and safety
communications.^ PLBs are licensed by rule, and an individual license is
Detected by Satellite. PLBs can only be activated manually and operate
exclusively on frequency 406 MHz.^ Like 406 MHz EPIRBs and ELTs, they can
be instantly detected by satellites. Inadvertent and non-emergency-related
activations are a violation of FCC Rules and may subject the operator to
monetary penalties up to $112,500.
Must Be Registered. The FCC requires that PLBs also be registered with
NOAA.^ Failure to register can result in monetary penalties up to
Registering An Emergency Beacon
As discussed above, all emergency beacons (EPIRBs, ELTs or PLBs) that
operate on frequency 406 MHz must be registered with NOAA. Registration is
free of charge and can be done online at the following website:
Paper copies of registration forms can also be downloaded from the
Need more information?
To file a complaint, visit www.fcc.gov/complaints or call 1-888-CALL-FCC.
For additional information regarding enforcement of the FCC Rules
concerning emergency beacons, visit the websites below or email
MarineRadio@fcc.gov. Media inquiries should be directed to Mark Wigfield
at (202) 418-0253 or Mark.Wigfield@fcc.gov.
* For information related to EPIRBs and other maritime radio
information, please visit the FCC website at
* For information related to ELTs and other aviation radio information,
please visit the FCC website at
* For information related to PLBs, please visit the FCC website at
To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities
(Braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at
202-418-0530 (voice), (202) 418-0432 (TTY). You may also contact the
Enforcement Bureau on its TTY line at (202) 418-1148 for further
information about this Enforcement Advisory, or the FCC on its TTY line at
1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) for further information about maritime
radio, aviation radio, or personal locator beacons.
Issued by: Chief, Enforcement Bureau
^ 47 CFR SS 80.1051-80.1061.
^ 47 CFR S 80.1061(f).
^ 47 CFR S 87.193.
^ 47 CFR S 87.199.
^ 47 CFR S 87.199(f).
^ 47 CFR SS 95.1400-95.1402.
^ 47 CFR S 95.1401.
^ 47 CFR S 95.1402(f).
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FCC ENFORCEMENT ADVISORY
Federal Communications Commission
445 12^th St., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
News Media Information 202 / 418-0500