What is a Self Test?
Virtually all 406 MHz beacons incorporate a self test mode of operation (some very old models of beacon may not have this feature). Standard self-tests of beacons usually involve pressing a button or lifting a lever on the beacon and holding it for a few seconds. This usually results in the beacon flashing an LED or strobe and/or making an audible sound that indicates that the internal circuitry of the beacon is functioning correctly. You should always carefully follow the beacon's instructions when carrying out a self test as it's possible to get false results or inadvertently trigger a false alarm if you do it incorrectly. If the beacon fails, you should contact our Technical Service department. If the beacon passes then you can be reasonably confident that it will work correctly in an emergency.
How often should I carry out a self test?
The beacon owners' manual usually recommends the frequency of these tests. Typically, we recommend once a month and/or before extended trips or after you suspect that the beacon might have been damaged in some way (e.g. it got dropped) or at the end of the season. For ELTs and EPIRBs there are often regulatory requirements that define how often these tests should be performed. You can find further details on these requirements in the relevant beacon section.
What is a GPS self test?
Newer GPS (sometimes referred to as GNSS) equipped beacons may also include an optional GPS Satellite Acquisition Self Test (not all GPS beacons have this feature), which tests the operation of the GPS receiver and its ability to encode your location into the transmitted distress message. It is not uncommon for this test to only be permitted to be performed once or twice over the life of the battery (e.g. every couple of years), as this type of test can significantly reduce the battery life of the beacon. This is especially true for beacons with an integral GPS receiver; beacons using a separate external GPS receiver can often be tested more frequently. So it is important to think carefully when you want to do this test and to carefully follow the manufacturers' instructions for procedures and recommended frequencies of this optional test as detailed in the User Manual for your beacon. If your beacon does include this optional test, then assuming that it passes, you can have even more confidence in the correct operation of your beacon and especially its ability to send the GPS location of the beacon in an emergency.
Again, for ELTs and EPIRBs installed in commercial craft there are often regulatory requirements that define how often these tests should be performed. You can find further details on these requirements in the relevant beacon section.
What does a self test check?
Assuming that your beacon has a self test facility (and the vast majority do), then when this is activated it checks for the correct operation of the internal circuitry within the beacon and reports the result, usually by flashing an LED or strobe and/or making an audible sound. Most importantly it indicates that RF power at 406 MHz is being generated within the beacon and therefore the beacon will probably transmit a signal in an emergency that the Cospas-Sarsat satellites can pick up.
All recent beacons go one step further than this and actually transmit a single "Self Test" burst that can be picked up by the satellites, which the receiving ground stations are programmed to ignore. This then provides a way for the 406Link system to pick up the test burst and send you an email/SMS text message notification.
All beacons with a self test feature check the internal circuitry within the beacon for correct operation. A typical beacon self test will check out the battery, 406 MHz Phase Lock Loop (PLL) - the part of the circuitry that makes the beacon transmit at the correct frequency - and the 406 RF output. Some beacons (especially newer ones) check more items than this and a few older beacons may check less. Some beacons also test the 121.5 MHz homing transmitter in the beacon for correct operation as well.
What is a Through Satellite Self Test?
As opposed to a normal Self Test which only checks the internal operation of the beacon and provides a local indication of pass or fail, a Through Satellite Self Test does just that, it checks that the signal emitted by your beacon can be picked up by the Cospas-Sarsat satellites and can be detected and decoded by the ground stations, thus providing a complete test of the system from end to end.
Normal Cospas-Sarsat Ground Stations ignore Self Test messages, but the 406Link ground receiving stations have been specially adapted to receive these self test messages so that we can provide you with this ultimate level of confidence in the operation of your beacon in an emergency.
What does a Through Satellite Self Test check?
Assuming that your beacon transmits a message during the Self Test, then you can use the 406Link Through Satellite Self Test.
The Through Satellite Self Test carries out a normal self test of your beacon and works in exactly the same way as normal, but the transmitted self test message is picked up by the 406Link ground receiving stations and is decoded in the same way that a real message would be to provide the same information that would be provided to the rescue services in the case of an emergency.
Specifically we are able to determine and provide the following information:
- Confirmation of whether or not your beacon would be detected by the satellites used by the International Search and Rescue network
- In addition, you will be provided with the encoded beacon information (15 HEX ID, Country Code, Beacon Type and Programmed Identity) for your verification / records.
In addition, if you have a GPS-enabled beacon that can perform a GPS Self Test then we can also provide:
- The encoded location transmitted as a part of the beacon message
What are the advantages of a Through Satellite Self Test?
Compared to a normal self test, a Through Satellite Self Test offers the following advantages:
- Confidence that your beacon can transmit a signal that can be picked up by the satellites
- Confidence that your beacon transmits a signal that can be recognized and decoded by the ground stations
- Confidence that the details programmed into your beacon are correct, thus helping to speed up any rescue should one be necessary at some point in the future
- Overall confidence in the complete system from end to end in case of an emergency
- If your beacon is fitted with a GPS Self Test, then confidence that the GPS receiver is working correctly and that the beacon correctly encodes your location into the transmitted message and that it is received and decoded correctly
Are there any beacons that I can't test Through the Satellites?
Yes, in particular some older beacon models do not transmit a 406 MHz burst, so cannot be tested in this way. You can check whether your beacon actually transmits a Self Test burst or not by looking it up in the list of beacons here
What happens if I set off a false alert by mistake?
Don't panic, as long as it was a genuine mistake and not deliberate you have nothing to worry about, however you must turn off your beacon and contact Search & Rescue as quickly as possible to let them know your transmission was a false alert.
Deliberate misuse or not notifying the proper authority may incur a severe penalty.
When you call, be prepared to provide the following information:
- The beacon's Unique Identifier Number (UIN) (15 Hex ID printed on the beacon)
- The date, time and duration of the false alert
- The location of the beacon at the time of the false alert
- The cause of the false alert
The primary contact point in the United States for the notification of false alerts is the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (USAFRCC). The telephone number is 1-800-851-3051.
However if you have an EPIRB you can contact the United States Coast Guard (USCG) in the following areas:
Atlantic Ocean / Gulf of Mexico USCG Atlantic Area Command Center Tel: (757) 398-6390 Pacific Ocean Area / USCG Area Command Center Tel: (510) 437-3700 USCG HQ Command Center Tel: (800) 323-7233
If you have an ELT as well as contacting the USAFRCC you might also want to contact your local Flight Service Station (FSS) on 1-800-WXBRIEF (1-800-992-7433) as well.
How do I carry out a Through Satellite Self Test?
You perform the test in the same way you would for a normal self test following the manufacturer's instructions in the user manual for your beacon. However, in addition you must also ensure that:
- You perform the test outdoors.
- You have a clear view of the sky, especially to the south (the satellites are typically located in a SE to SW direction at an elevation angle of between 25 to 50 degrees).
- That the beacon's antenna is vertical (pointing straight up at the sky).
What should I do if I get a Self Test failure?
If you get a Self Test failure, first check the instructions in the user manual supplied with your beacon, make sure you carried out the test correctly and that you have followed all instructions provided. If you are sure your beacon failed the self test then you should contact ACR's Technical Service department for further advice and instructions.
What if the Through Satellite Self Test doesn't work?
Provided that you follow all the instructions on how to carry out the test correctly, the test should work. However it's important to remember that the self test only transmits ONE single burst of data up to the satellites and it is possible in some circumstances for that burst to get corrupted by atmospheric conditions and other anomalies. In an emergency your beacons transmits a burst up to the satellites every 50 seconds and thus if the first burst does not get through, its highly likely that the second or third burst will. However, don't worry, your beacon will continue transmitting for at least 24 hours, so even if you are in extreme conditions, the message should get through.
How does the GPS Self Test feature work?
A lot of beacons on the market have the capability to do a GPS test, in which the beacon turns the GPS engine on, acquires GPS data and flashes a light to signify the test is completed. Your GPS coordinates are sent to you with your location plotted on an online map. Due to Cospas-Sarsat location restrictions, the GPS position on the map will be within 100 meters.
How many Self Tests and GPS Test can I perform?
|Normal Self-Tests||GPS Tests|
|SARLink View PLB||420||60|
|AquaLink View PLB||420||60|
|GlobalFix Pro EPIRB||420||1|
|GlobalFix iPro EPIRB||420||1|
ARTEX ELTs can perform 60 Normal Self Tests over the 5 year life of the battery.
Can 406Link send SMS/text message notifications to any cell phone?
406Link can send SMS/text message notifications to most cell phones in the United States and Canada. The service currently supports the following cellular providers:
- Cellular One
- Sprint PCS
- Virgin Mobile
- Rogers Canada
It's important to choose the correct provider for each phone number in order for notifications to be sent properly. The service is able to send email notifications to any email address.