Testing Your 406-MHz Beacon


Always test your beacon according to the instructions of the beacon manufacturer. Always ensure that you properly register your beacon using the hexadecimal (0-9 and A-F) identification ("Hex ID") printed on the beacon before beginning any testing (so that if a false alert accidentally is transmitted, the authorities will know who to contact before dispatching search-and-rescue services. Most beacons have a special switch (button) or a special switch-position setting to use for testing, and this should be the only switch/setting used for routine testing. Activating a 406-MHz beacon with the distress switch for even a very short time will generate a Cospas-Sarsat distress alert message that will be relayed to search-and-rescue services for immediate action. Older, legacy 121.5/243-MHz distress beacons can be activated briefly for testing at defined time periods (for example, during the first five minutes of each hour). THIS IS NOT THE CASE FOR 406-MHZ BEACONS. 406-MHz beacons are digitally coded and transmit distress signals without delay. Therefore, 406 MHz beacons must not be activated using the distress switch except in real distress situations or unless special prior arrangements have been made with the Cospas-Sarsat Mission Control Centre (MCC) that services your region, to ensure that no search-and-rescue resources will be deployed.

Warning!!! Activating a beacon for reasons other than to indicate a life-threatening distress situation or without the prior authorization from a Cospas-Sarsat MCC is considered an offence in many countries of the world, and could result in prosecution.

How Should I Test My 406-MHz Beacon?

Always test your beacon according to the instructions of the beacon manufacturer. Always ensure that you properly register your beacon using the Hex ID printed on the beacon before beginning any testing. 406-MHz beacons are designed with a self-test capability that is activated by a separate test switch or switch-position setting for evaluating key performance characteristics. Initiating the beacon self-test function will not generate a distress alert in the Cospas-Sarsat System, and the self-test can be performed at any time (i.e., it is not restricted to certain times during an hour). However, it will use some of the beacon's limited battery power, and should only be used in accordance with the beacon manufacturer's guidance for the number of tests to be performed over the lifetime of the beacon. Excessive testing may mean that the beacon-battery reserve will be inadequate for full performance during a real distress situation. (Though the self-test function will not generate a 406-MHz distress alert in the Cospas-Sarsat System, some self-test functions may briefly transmit a 121.5-MHz "homing" signal. This should be taken into consideration in deciding where and when to conduct a self-test of your beacon.) If you have questions regarding your beacon's self-test mode, contact your beacon manufacturer before attempting a self-test.

If you inadvertently activate the beacon in its distress mode by using the distress switch (or by automatic means, such as water contact by an EPIRB with such an automatic feature), deactivate the beacon (if it has a deactivation function) AND contact the nearest Cospas-Sarsat MCC or your local Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) as soon as possible to request cancellation of the distress alert. (Deactivating the beacon alone does NOT cancel the distress alert that already has been transmitted by the beacon and received by Cospas-Sarsat. That is why you must call the appropriate MCC or RCC.)

"Live" Beacon Testing

In rare circumstances there may be a need to activate a 406-MHz beacon in its distress mode for test purposes. Regardless of the beacon's location or the duration of activation, a 406-MHz beacon likely will be detected by Cospas-Sarsat and the resulting distress-alert message will be routed to an MCC and RCC for search-and-rescue resource deployment. Consequently, careful coordination is required to ensure that the appropriate MCCs are informed in advance of the planned test transmission. (A 121.5-MHz "homing" signal is likely also to be transmitted at the same time during a "live" test, and this must also be taken into consideration.) Beacons rarely should require testing in their operational (distress-alert) mode.

Requests to conduct a live beacon test should be directed to the Cospas-Sarsat MCC that services the location in which the test is planned and the Cospas-Sarsat MCC that supports the country code programmed into the beacon (if different).

There are more than 1.5 million Cospas-Sarsat 406-MHz distress beacons in operation. In view of the number of beacons in service, coupled with the effort and resources required to coordinate a live beacon test, beacon owners should be aware that authorization to activate a beacon for testing will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

Aircraft Cockpit Testing of Distress Beacons by Aircraft Maintenance Facilities

Generally, remote cockpit activations are performed on initial installation and during maintenance work on the ELT itself. Routine ELT testing (for example, by cockpit crews), REGARDLESS OF THE TIME DURING AN HOUR, should be undertaken only by using the test-switch position intended for that purpose. If activation of the distress-switch function is required, electromagnetic shielding of the beacon antenna should be considered prior to the “live” distress-switch-activated test.

Live distress-function testing of a 406-MHz ELT from the cockpit may be performed taking into account that if the switch is in the distress-alert position for more than 5 seconds, a distress transmission may be initiated, and the nearest MCC, RCC and Air Traffic Services (ATS) Centre for the location of the alert transmission must be advised so that no search-and-rescue resources will be deployed. When performing a live distress-alert-function test, also consider that a 121.5/243-MHz homing transmission may also be activated as part of this test, and precautions must be taken to ensure that the 121.5/243-MHz signal is not falsely interpreted by other aircraft or airport facilities as a distress alert (this is the one situation in which it may be advisable to test in the first five minutes of an hour).

Some countries have regulations that are more restrictive. Please check with the appropriate regulatory authority regarding the time and duration of the test. 

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the NOAA Satellite and Information Service (USA) provide comprehensive information on beacon testing.