406-MHz distress beacons are safety-of-life devices. They are complex radio transmitters and their proper functioning in an emergency depends on proper maintenance. You MUST maintain your 406-MHz distress beacon in accordance with the instructions of the manufacturer. For aviation ELTs and marine EPIRBs, the requirements and procedures for maintenance of beacons and their external components are generally subject to national regulations or international standards. Beacon maintenance requirements also may be regulated by local authorities. Typically, maintenance procedures include, but are not limited to:
- Periodic physical inspections,
- Periodic beacon self-tests,
- Battery replacement accordingly to manufacturer instructions,
- Periodic technical inspection and service by a service center approved by the beacon manufacturer agents.
It is important that beacon owners perform regular visual inspections of their beacons to look for physical damage, such as cracks or corrosion, in the case or other parts which could cause false activation of the beacon and/or cause the beacon to fail when activated in a real emergency.
The beacon self-test feature, which is described in the beacon owner’s manual, is designed to verify proper operation of beacon electronics by checking all key features, including the radio transmitter and battery. Beacon self-tests can be performed by the beacon owner. Self-tests should be performed at regular time intervals, as recommended by the beacon manufacturer. Immediately contact the beacon manufacturer if a self-test indicates a failure. Avoid conducting self-tests more frequently than recommended by the manufacturer, unless you have reason to suspect a problem with a beacon. For battery-powered beacons, activating the beacon self-test consumes a small amount of the beacon’s battery energy. Therefore, excessive self-test activations may prematurely deplete the beacon battery, causing inadequate battery performance in an emergency.
Battery replacement must be performed no later than the date indicated on the beacon label, or after activation in an emergency. During each routine inspection, verify the time remaining until replacement is required. You may also need to replace the battery earlier than indicated on the label if you have conducted an excessive number of self-tests. A healthy battery is necessary to ensure proper functioning, and sufficient operating life, of a beacon if it is activated in an emergency.
Always use replacement batteries that have been approved as a part of the original Cospas-Sarsat type approval, and as directed by the beacon manufacturer or one of its approved service centers. Use of after-market batteries not approved by the manufacturer (purchased, for example, from some on-line vendors) could result in inadequate beacon performance during an emergency.
If you have questions about the maintenance of, or battery replacement for, your beacon, please consult the beacon manufacturer using contact information in the user manual. You also may find contact information for beacon manufacturers on the "Contact Lists" tab of our Professionals home page.