Binned and bumped beacons waste search and rescue resources

AMSA Media release with bottom of the sea image

Ahead of the busy summer holidays, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is calling on owners of distress beacons to take care when handling, storing and disposing unwanted distress beacons after 1748 inadvertent activations in 2021.

Distress beacons like EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) and PLBs (personal locator beacons) can mean the
difference between life and death in an emergency.

With the flick of a button or in some cases, water immersion, these technological marvels can signal for help and within minutes, some of Australia’s finest search and rescue crews are gearing up to come and save your life.

AMSA Response Centre Manager Kevin McEvoy says unfortunately, every year those same crews also waste precious and potentially lifesaving time on wild goose chases for beacons which have inadvertently activated.

“It might be a PLB that a hiker has thrown into their backpack which has been crushed by other equipment, or maybe an incorrectly mounted float-free EPIRB which has switched on after being exposed to wet weather,” Mr McEvoy said.

“It could even be an old EPIRB that someone has carelessly thrown into a rubbish bin which has ended-up at a council tip and inadvertently activated.

“Beacons are sensitive pieces of equipment that need to be handled with care.”

“Preventing a time wasting and embarrassing inadvertent activation is easy.”

“For PLBs, keep these devices in a dedicated pocket on your clothing or on the exterior of your backpack, clear of other equipment which might crush or damage it.

“For EPIRBs, keep these in a safe and dry location which is easily accessible in an emergency.

“For EPIRBs in float-free set-ups like those mounted externally on commercial vessels, always make sure it’s perfectly aligned inside the housing with the cover closed as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

“Also, be careful of high-pressure hosing around a float-free EPIRB set-up which could dislodge and accidentally activate an incorrectly mounted device,” Mr McEvoy added.

“If you have an unwanted beacon, dispose of it responsibly.
“Find your nearest waste management facility that will accept distress beacons and batteries.

“Remember, beacons don’t belong in the bin.”

What happens if your beacon has inadvertently activated?

“You’ll notice the strobe light is flashing and an audible beep. Switch it off quickly – if it has a water sensor, dry it – and contact AMSA on 1800 641 792 to call-off the search and rescue,” Mr McEvoy said.

“There are no penalties for an inadvertent activation.

“If we detect your beacon, we’ll also try to contact you. Always keep your beacon’s registration details up to date which includes your phone number and next of kin’s contact details.”

Beacon registration is free and, in some states, mandatory by law. Jump onto to update your registration details.

Mr McEvoy said getting the basics right of responsible beacon ownership helps ensure that critical search and rescue resources don’t go to waste.

“After all, if you’re in a genuine emergency and you activate your beacon, you want to know that a crew is looking for you and not broken beacon in a bin in the burbs,” Mr McEvoy added.

A video about inadvertent distress beacon activation and how it can be avoided, can downloaded here: 


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