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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an emergency beacon?
Emergency beacons are your lifeline to survival in the event of a distress situation. Many alternate devices are available but only the emergency beacons recognized for use on the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system provide direct alerting to search and rescue authorities around the world and can trigger a response to emergencies involving aircraft, ships or individuals.
2. What types of emergency beacons are there?
There are three types of emergency beacons used as part of the Cospas-Sarsat system:

- Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT) for aviation purposes
- Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) for maritime purposes
- Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) for inland use
3. How does an emergency beacon work?
When activated, an emergency beacon sends a digitally encoded signal through the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system which alerts search and rescue authorities that a distress situation exists. Appropriate search and rescue units are then able to respond to incidents according to jurisdiction.

As of February 1 2009, the system will only process 406 MHz signal and no longer hear 121.5/243.0 MHz emergency beacons. 406 MHz emergency beacons offer many benefits over 121.5/243.0 MHz.
4. Is there any cost to registering an emergency beacon?
No, registration is free.
5. How do I know if my emergency beacon is Canadian coded and what does it mean if it is not?
Every emergency beacon contains a unique ID and country code. In Canada, a coded beacon begins with A78, A79, 278 or 279. If your beacon's hexcode begins with one of these combinations, then it is Canadian Coded. If it begins with any other combination, then it is not Canadian Coded and therefore cannot be registered with the Canadian Beacon Registry.
6. How do I get my emergency beacon coded for Canada?
You will need to have the unit re-coded at an authorized retailer. Please contact the manufacturer of your emergency beacon to find your local dealer.
7. Can I purchase an emergency beacon in the US or another country outside Canada?
As long as the emergency beacon has been approved for use in Canada, you may do so. However, it is mandatory that the emergency beacon be re-coded to a Canadian country code in order for it to be registered with the Canadian Beacon Registry.
8. Why switch to a 406?
As of 1 February 2009 Cospas-Sarsat satellites no longer detect 121.5 MHz distress beacons.
9. Will I get fined if I accidentally activate an emergency beacon?
There is no fine or penalty if an emergency beacon is accidentally activated. One signal is all it takes to reach Canadian Mission Control Centre (CMCC). In case of accidental activation, CMCC must be advised by calling 1-800-211-8107.
10. Will the emergency beacon activate if its battery is expired?
An expired battery is not the same as a dead battery. An expired battery can still transmit signals when activated. In case of accidental activation, the Canadian Mission Control Centre must be advised by calling 1-800-211-8107.
11. If my emergency beacon is not in use, can I leave it in a safe place such as storage?
The Canadian Beacon Registry must be notified if there is a change of status for a registered emergency beacon. An emergency beacon that is stored away may still be activated and the Canadian Mission Control Centre may take action in response. It is the responsibility of emergency beacon owners to notify the Canadian Beacon Registry if there is a change in status. This includes an emergency beacon that is no longer in use, in storage, stolen, lost, broken, or decommissioned.
12. How do I decode my Beacon?
406 MHz emergency beacons are coded to reflect the beacon type, use and national coding protocols. To decode a beacon's programming please utilize the following link to the COSPAS SARSAT Beacon Decoder - http://www.cospas-sarsat.org/index.php?option=com_beacondecode&task=showBeacon&Itemid=85&lang=en. To learn more about beacon coding protocols in Canada, please contact the Canadian Beacon Registry directly at 1-877-406-7671 or visit the COSPAS SARSAT web page http://www.cospas-sarsat.org/en/beacons/beacon-coding/beacon-regulations.

If a beacon is coded with an MMSI, radio callsign or aircraft registration, it is tied to that vessel or aircraft and if it is transferred to another vehicle it would have to be recoded. Beacons coded using either the manufacturers' serial numbers or national serial numbers available from AMSA can be transferred more easily.
13. I've heard that 406 MHz homing equipment is very expensive to buy and quite cumbersome to operate. Do 406 MHz emergency beacons require 406 MHz homing equipment?
All 406 MHz emergency beacons offered for sale in Canada also include a 121.5 MHz homing signal to guide search and rescue crews into a distress site. This signal is particularly helpful in hours of darkness, or where visibility is limited by fog, precipitation, or dense vegetation. This is the same signal many search and rescue crews are currently equipped to home, and this equipment is readily available on the market. Cospas-Sarsat will stop processing 121.5 MHz signal as of February 1 2009, but this frequency can still be used as a homing signal.
14. Do I need to have a 406 MHz ELT on board my aircraft if I file a flight plan with NAV Canada?
Should you find yourself in a distress situation; a 406 MHz ELT will immediately alert search and rescue authorities through the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. If appropriately registered, search and rescue authorities will have critical information required to respond effectively to your specific location. If you do not have a 406 emergency beacon on board and you have to deviate from your flight plan, search and rescue authorities may only be notified when your flight is overdue and may not know your specific location.
15. What is the difference between an emergency beacon with Global Positioning System (GPS) and one without GPS?
An emergency beacon with GPS - a location protocol beacon - has GPS encoded in its transmitted signal. There are two types of location protocol beacons: those with a built-in GPS and those with an externally connected GPS. The GPS is a navigation and precise-positioning tool. A GPS device may take a few minutes to establish its position. An external GPS connected to a location protocol beacon may be able to provide a location on the emergency beacon's first transmission whereas a built-in GPS may not transmit a location until the second subsequent transmission.
16. Does having a GPS-equipped emergency beacon improve search and rescue response time?
Yes. A properly functioning location protocol beacon will provide location information within minutes of its detection.
17. When the Cospas-Sarsat system ceases to process the 121.5/243 MHz signals, will the Canadian Mission Control Centre (CMCC) still receive an alert during a distress situation?
There will be no alerting of 121.5/243 MHz signals at CMCC as of February 1, 2009. It could take longer for search and rescue authorities to be notified that there is a distress situation occurring.
18. Will homing devices such as man overboard devices (Maritime Survival Locator Devices - MSLDs) that use 121.5 MHz be affected by Cospas-Sarsat decision to terminate processing of the 121.5 MHz?
Man overboard devices or MSLDs are intended strictly as short-range homing devices and were never intended or designed as an emergency beacon to alert the satellite system. Although the 121.5 MHz frequency will no longer be processed by Cospas-Sarsat satellites as of February 1 2009, the frequency can still be used as a homing frequency. Thus, 121.5 MHz homing devices will continue to function as intended - for short range homing only.
19. What happens if I haven't purchased a 406 MHz emergency beacon to replace my 121.5 MHz beacon by February 1 2009?
If you are not using a 406 MHz beacon by February 1, 2009, the search and rescue satellite system will not be able to detect that you have a distress situation, or relay your location to search and rescue authorities. You will be relying of older, less instantaneous technology to alert search and rescue authorities of a distress situation.
20. Is it true that Cospas-Sarsat requires that 406 MHz emergency beacons do not send a signal in the first 50 seconds following activation, to minimize false alerts?
Yes. The 50 second delay is there to allow people who have accidentally turned on their emergency beacon the time to turn it off. If this happens, notify the Canadian Mission Control Centre by calling 1-800-211-8107.
21. What is the MEOSAR system and what is the status of it?
Using networks of SAR instruments on satellites and ground processing stations, the MEOSAR system will receive, decode and locate 406 MHz distress beacons throughout the world. All three MEOSAR constellations will be completely compatible with Cospas-Sarsat 406 MHz distress beacons as defined in document C/S T.001(Cospas-Sarsat beacon specification).

MEOSAR satellites orbit the earth at altitudes of around 20,000 km receiving the signals transmitted by Cospas-Sarsat 406 MHz distress beacons. The satellite downlinks are processed by ground receiving stations - hereafter referred to as MEO system Local User Terminals or MEOLUTs - to provide beacon identification and location information. The distress alert information computed by MEOLUTs is forwarded to Cospas-Sarsat Mission Control Centres (MCCs) for distribution to SAR services.

Each MEOSAR satellite provides visibility of a large portion of the surface of the Earth. Furthermore, because of the large number of satellites in each constellation, and the orbital planes selected, the DASS, SAR/Galileo and SAR/Glonass constellations could individually provide continuous coverage of the entire Earth, subject to the availability of suitably located MEOLUTs. Each of the three MEOSAR constellations could support near instantaneous distress alerting, although a short processing time may be required before an independent location of the distress beacon becomes available. And it could be in use as soon as 5 or 6 years.
22. Will GPS equipped emergency beacons - or location protocol beacons - become obsolete with MEOSAR?
No. Even though MEOSAR will rely on GPS satellites, not all GPS satellites will be equipped with a search and rescue repeater. If a distress incident occurs in a steep ravine or gully and only three GPS satellites are in view then all three would have to have a search and rescue repeater on-board in order to calculate a location. If the emergency beacon is GPS equipped (a location protocol beacon) then it will be able to provide a location to rescuers even if only one of the visible satellites has a search and rescue repeater. If the emergency beacon is not GPS equipped and if only one or two of the visible satellites carry a search and rescue repeater then the rescuers will have an alert without a location. This will be the case until at least three search and rescue repeater equipped satellites are visible.
23. If my emergency beacon is not registered, will search and rescue authorities at Canadian Mission Control Centre (CMCC) be advised if the beacon is activated?
An emergency beacon signal will be received by CMCC even if a beacon is not registered. This will be considered an emergency. Call the Canadian Beacon Registry to register your emergency beacon at 1-877-406-SOS1 (7671).
24. Once I register my emergency beacon, will the registration expire?
No, your registration does not expire therefore it is very important to notify us of any changes to your personal information such as address or emergency contact.
25. Will someone send me a reminder to renew my registration?
No reminder will be sent. It is your responsibility to update your information; however, it is possible the Canadian Beacon Registry may contact you to confirm or update it.
26. To whom is my emergency beacon registration information released?
Your information is provided to search and rescue authorities in the region for which the distress is initiated through the Canadian Mission Control Centre (CMCC). It is important to note that all information is private and only shared in the event of activation.
27. Do I need a ship station license or a documentation number to register an EPIRB?
No, you do not need this information, but should you have or acquire it, it is recommended to provide it when registering your EPIRB.
28. I have just purchased an emergency beacon from a manufacturer. Doesn't that mean it is already registered?
No. Think of an emergency beacon as a car. When you purchase a car, you still must register it in the new owner's name. A beacon follows the same principle.
29. Will the dealer register my emergency beacon when I purchase it?
It is the responsibility of the emergency beacon owner to contact the Canadian Beacon Registry and register their beacon. The dealer is not responsible for giving the registry information such as vessel information, owner information, or emergency contacts.
30. If I buy a new boat and use the emergency beacon from my old boat, do I need to register it?
The Canadian Beacon Registry should be advised of any information regarding a change in vessel. If the old vessel was blue and the new one is yellow, searchers will be looking for a blue vessel. This may impede the search. Emergency beacon owners should call and advise the Canadian Beacon Registry of a change in vessel information as well as any changes in address or telephone numbers.
31. If I sell my boat with an EPIRB, is it the new owner's responsibility to update the beacon registration?
In this case, there are two things that must be done. The seller of the vessel must call and notify the registry of the sale. Then, the new owner must contact the registry to update the information relating to the emergency beacon. If these steps are not taken, the search will be based on outdated and inaccurate information. Much like a car, when one is sold, the new owner must register it their own name.
32. If I buy a new emergency beacon for my vessel, do I need to register it? My former emergency beacon was registered therefore, isn't my information already in the registry?
The former emergency beacon must be decommissioned and the newly purchased one registered. If there is a distress signal received with the new beacon and it is not registered, searchers will not know what to look for. If the unused emergency beacon isn't decommissioned and it is activated, searchers may start a search for your vessel when it is not needed.
33. How do I get my 24-bit aircraft identification number?
Your 24-bit identification number is available on the Canadian Civil Aircraft Register available on the Transport Canada Civil Aviation website. (http://www.tc.gc.ca/aviation/activepages/ccarcs/aspscripts/en/quicksearch.asp)