Digital ELTs Required By 2009

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Well, don't get the hankies out yet. 121.5 megahertz -- the longtime distress frequency for emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) -- is on its way out, but the funeral is not till 2009. The new frequency is 406 MHz, and it's more precise, more reliable, and less prone to interference from false signals, such as from malfunctioning TV sets or pizza ovens (yes, it's happened). So why is it taking so long to switch over? It's also more expensive. The new digital ELTs cost about $1,500, compared to about $500 for the venerable old style. But if you need somebody to come find you, how much would it be worth to know they have your GPS coordinates? "Sarsat takes the 'search' out of search and rescue!" says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the program. The 406 MHz signals decrease rescue time by six hours, NOAA said, and are more reliable.

Last month, local emergency officials knocked on a Oregon man's door to find out what distress he was in -- and discovered that his Toshiba television was sending out a signal on 121.5. Such false alarms from electronic devices happen about twice a year, according to The New York Times. The new digital beacons are designed to work with satellites, and send signals filled with digital information, rather than 121.5's crude homing signal. They are also immune to electromagnetic interference, unlike the 170,000 old-style ELTs still in service. As for Chris van Rossman, of Oregon, Toshiba is sending him a new TV set. Meanwhile, he's adapting to life without television. "I've managed to get out of the house more often," he said, according to The New York Times. "So that's a good thing."