Calling all yachtsmen

Offshore emergency experts are this week reminding boat owners around the country that they need to upgrade their analogue radio beacons by February 1 2009 if they are to remain safe at sea.

A campaign, sponsored by Sartech Engineering and backed by three key organisations, has been warning sailors with onboard EPIRB technology that from February 1 2009, the distress signal from any analogue EPIRB will not be tracked by satellites – the 121.5MHz alerting system is to be switched off as the final stage of the changeover to digital technology on 406MHz. Anyone relying on the older style EPIRB will not be picked up by the search and rescue satellites and will be at risk of not being

Peter Forey of Sartech said: ‘Boat owners with one of these beacons will need to upgrade to 406MHz technology immediately. Distress messages sent using a 406MHz beacon contain an encoded data stream which tells rescue services who you are – and it’s by using this information that they can easily verify whether a real emergency exists. That means they can get on with the important business of saving your life!’

The changes are being made because – as the commonly-used 121.5MHz transmitters so frequently give out false alerts – rescue services are having to verify each signal, causing delays that are putting lives at risk.

The campaign is supported by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which monitors and responds to distress beacon alert data. Steve Huxley, the MCA’s search and rescue communications manager, said: ‘Get a better fix, switch to 406. The MCA has been warning and advising mariners regarding this issue for some years now to ensure they have a 406 beacon in place by 1 February next year. That’s when the International Search and Rescue Satellite System – known as COSPAS/ SARSAT – will cease monitoring 121.5 and 243 MHz beacons. In order for your beacon to receive satellite coverage in the event of an emergency it will need to operate on the 406 MHz frequency.’ He advised people to visit, and for further information.

And Stuart Carruthers, cruising manager from the Royal Yachting Association, which looks after the interests of recreational boaters, also put the organisation behind Sartech’s campaign, saying: ‘It is vitally important that people check their beacons -now. From a safety point of view, this is paramount’.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the charity that provides nine out of ten sea rescue launches around the coast of the UK and Republic of Ireland, first responds when an EPIRB or distress call is picked up by the Coastguard. RNLI Sea Safety Manger, Peter Chennell said: ‘It’s important that anyone who has an EPIRB that only operates on 121.5 frequency is aware that this is something they will no longer be able to rely on.’

The MCA reminds boat owners that when they do upgrade, the old equipment should be disposed of responsibly, to avoid the chance of false alarms calling emergency rescue teams to landfill sites!

A special Safety at Sea helpline for people that want to know more about this issue has been set up by Sartech Engineering on 08456 588445.