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Registration of 406 MHz EPIRBs is mandated by law

Advances in technology have made 406 MHz satellite emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) virtually indispensible for voyaging sailors, both cruisers and distance racers alike. However, just buying an EPIRB may not save your life. An EPIRB once activated sends signals via satellite to receiving stations. If you have not registered the EPIRB, the reciving station won't know anything about you, except possibly your position.

Proper registration of your is intended to save your life, and is mandated by Federal Communications Commission regulations. The Coast Guard is enforcing this FCC registration rule. The information you provide can be very helpful in confirming that a distress situation exists, and in arranging appropriate rescue efforts. Also, GOES, a geostationary National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration weather satellite system can pick up and relay an EPIRB distress alert to the Coast Guard well before the international COSPAS-SARSAT satellite can provide location information. If the EPIRB is properly registered, the Coast Guard will be able to use the registration information to immediately begin action on the case. If the EPIRB is unregistered, a distress alert may take as much as two hours longer to reach the Coast Guard over the international satellite system. If an unregistered EPIRB transmission is interrupted for any reason, the satellite will be unable to determine the EPIRB's location, and the Coast Guard will be unable to respond to the distress alert. Unregistered EPIRBs have needlessly cost the lives of several mariners since the satellite system became operational.

What happens to the information you supply?

The registration form you send in is entered into the U.S. 406 Beacon Registration Database maintained by NOAA/NESDIS. If your EPIRB is activated, your registration information will be sent automatically to the appropriate USCG Search and Rescue (SAR) Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). One of the first things the RCC watchstanders do is attempt to contact the owner/operator at the phone number listed in the database to determine if the vessel is underway. to rule out the possibility of a false alarm due to accidental activation or EPIRB malfunction. They will also ascertain the intended route of the vessel, if underway, and the number of people on board from the contact persons listed. If there is no answer at the emergency contact number or no information is supplied, the other numbers listed in the database will be called to attempt to get the information needed to respond appropriately to the EPIRB alert.

When RCC personnel contact the emergency phone numbers you provide, they will have all the information you have provided on the registration form. You should let these contacts know as much about your intended voyage as possible (i.e., provide them with copies of your float plan including intended route, stops, duration of trip, number of people going, etc.).  The more information these contacts have, the better prepared our SAR personnel will be to react. In addition, the contacts can be kept informed of any progress in the distress response.

Registration requirements and benefits

If you purchase a new or a used 406 MHz EPIRB, you MUST register it with NOAA. If you change your boat, your address, or your primary phone number, you MUST re-register your EPIRB with NOAA. If you sell your EPIRB, make sure the purchaser re-registers the EPIRB, or you may be called by the Coast Guard if it later becomes activated.

An FCC ship station license is no longer required to purchase or carry an EPIRB, although ship station license is still required for travel to international territories, including Canada. .

How to register

Download or request 406 MHz EPIRB registration forms from, and mail or fax completed forms to:

                                    SARSAT Beacon Registration
                                    E/SP3, Rm 3320, FB-4
                                    5200 Auth Road
                                    Suitland MD 20746-4304

or call toll free at 1-888-212-SAVE (i.e. 1-888-212-7283) for further information or a copy of the registration form. From outside the U.S., call +1 (301) 457-5430 (fax: (301) 568-8649) for further information. Forms may be requested by phone or fax, or downloaded by computer (above).

There is no charge for this service. IT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE.

You may be fined for false activation of an unregistered EPIRB. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely refers cases involving the non-distress activation of an EPIRB (e.g., as a hoax, through gross negligence, carelessness or improper storage and handling) to the FCC. The FCC will prosecute cases based upon evidence provided by the Coast Guard, and will issue warning letters or notices of apparent liability for fines up to $10,000. The Coast Guard has, however, suspended forwarding non-distress activations of properly registered 406 MHz EPIRBs to the FCC unless activation was due to hoax or gross negligence since these SAR cases are less costly to prosecute.

So, registration of your EPIRB can not only save your life, it can save you much aggravation and the potential for a huige fine if it is accidentally activated. Isn't it worth a few minutes of time to register?

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