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New Year Marks End for 121.5 MHz EPIRBs

U.S. Coast Guard SealFor all the boaters out there, the new year marks the end of your legal use of 121.5 MHz EPIRBs. While satellite processing of 121.5 MHz distress signals doesn’t end until February, 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard wisely, in my opinion, got ahead of the issue by prohibiting the use of these dinosaurs effective January 1, 2007.

Because the boating world was the first to adopt the advanced 406 MHz distress beacon technology, over a decade ago, and boaters have been urged for years to convert over to the new technology, this regulation doesn’t adversely impact all that many. Only a relatively few cheap boaters with a notable lack of good sense are affected. Perhps this will finally get them to do what they should have done much earlier, toss that 121.5 MHz piece of junk and get a 406 MHz EPIRB.

It is probably worth mentioning that as great as a 406 MHz PLB is, it is not an EPIRB and should not be considered as a replacement for one. On vessels required to have an EPIRB on board, it also wouldn’t be legal. While I believe that PLBs are a godsend for many boaters, especially sailors who are most at risk of bing dumped overboard, they are a PERSONAL distress beacon, to be worn with your PFD anytime on deck. Every boat still needs an EPIRB, which has twice the signaling life and is designed to float upright in the water so it will be sending out that distress signal no matter what, a critical capability that PLBs do not currently have.

Also worth noting is that Man Overboard Beacons that use 121.5 MHz for their short range signaling are still legal, but they have to be part of a MOB system for that to be the case.

You will find the complete press release on the Coast Guard’s web site here.

Legalities aside, to keep using a 121.5 MHz EPIRB, given all their shortcomings, is just plain stupid. Do yourself, your family and friends, and Search and Rescue a favor and start the New Year right. Get a 406 MHz EPIRB today.