Using your beacon

When and how to use your beacon

Two-way communications via a mobile/satellite phone or radio is the most effective means of communication when in a distress situation, with some of the reasons outlined below:

  1. Instant confirmation that the call has been received by emergency services;
  2. Ability to communicate position, nature of distress, required assistance;
  3. Emergency services can adequately scale response assets according to required assistance;
  4. Ability to provide updates on the situation and also receive advice until emergency services arrive.

If two-way communications are not available, then a distress beacon should be activated in situations of grave and imminent danger. This equates to when you feel you are facing a life threatening situation. This is a personal decision that is different for everybody.

The correct way to deploy your beacon depends on the type of beacon you have and whether you're on land or water.

Correct deployment

What to do in a group

If you are in a group, do not activate more than two beacons. If the group separates, activate a beacon in each group. If individuals drift apart, activate beacons fitted to each person.

What happens after activation

Activating your beacon transmits a signal that can be detected by satellite. How long it takes for emergency personnel to rescue you and the cost of the rescue operation varies on your situation.

How beacons work

Accidental activation

If your beacon is accidentally activated, switch it off immediately and contact the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on 1800 641 792. There is no penalty for accidental activation.

Using your beacon overseas

Beacons are detected world-wide by the global satellite system, Cospas-Sarsat, and are detected from anywhere on the Earth’s surface if they are deployed correctly.

It is recommended you contact your chosen airline for guidance on carrying distress beacons as every airline and airport have differing requirements.

Please also note that some countries consider Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) carriage and activation illegal on land. Refer to the Cospas-Sarsat website for the appropriate SPOC (search and rescue or SAR point of contact) for the country you are travelling to and contact them to confirm you are legally allowed to use your beacon.

It is worth noting that the search and rescue response in each country will vary due to different levels of SAR resources and capability. It is recommended that you check locally the sort of SAR response you can expect. This will also depend on the weather conditions at the time the search and rescue is being conducted e.g. day, night, visibility (low cloud, fog, snow), high winds etc.

The rescue coordination centre of the country where the beacon is detected will coordinate the search and rescue response, not Australia. AMSA Search and Rescue will only provide the registration details, if known, and any other information it gathers from emergency contacts. AMSA will request information on the progress of the search and rescue.

Using international beacons in Australia

Internationally purchased beacons can be activated in Australia and Australia will coordinate the search and rescue response. However, your beacon needs to be coded and registered to your country of residence.

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