NOAA 2005-049
Contact: John Leslie
NOAA News Releases 2005
NOAA Home Page
NOAA Public Affairs


From January through April 2005, NOAA satellites were responsible for rescuing 36 people from life-threatening situations throughout the United States. As spring turns to summer, NOAA officials today cautioned the nation’s outdoor recreation enthusiasts to purchase and register high-tech emergency locator beacons in case danger arises.

NOAA credits the 36 saves, so far, to the emergency beacons, which are used on airplanes, boats and carried by hikers and campers. The beacon technology is part of the international Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking System, called COSPAS-SARSAT. Since SARSAT was established in 1982, NOAA polar-orbiting satellites – with their speedy detection and relay of distress signals from emergency beacons – have helped rescue nearly 5,000 people in the United States, and more than 18,000 worldwide. On average, there are 203 U.S. rescues each year.

“These beacons help save lives,” said Gregory W. Withee, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service. “As temperatures get warmer, and outdoor activities increase in remote areas, where cell phones don’t work, having one of these emergency beacons is a good safety practice.”

So far, Florida is leading the nation in the number of SARSAT rescues for 2005 with nine, and Alaska is second with seven saves through April. For 2004, Alaska had the most rescues, with 37, while Florida had 36. During the January-April period last year, 65 rescues were made.

“By saving lives, these SARSAT rescues are proving the value of a strong, effective Earth observation system, in which NOAA satellites play a key role,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

The SARSAT system uses NOAA’s polar-orbiting and geostationary-orbiting satellites to detect and locate Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (used onboard boats and ships), Emergency Locator Transmitters (carried aboard aircrafts) and Personal Locator Beacons (designed for hikers and campers.)

Once the satellites pick up a distress signal, it is relayed to the U.S. Mission Control Center, which NOAA operates in Suitland, Md. After pinpointing the location of the distress, the signal is routed to a Rescue Coordination Center operated by the U.S. Coast Guard or the Air Force. In the United States, the Coast Guard has responsibility for all maritime distresses, and the Air Force handles all inland search and rescue cases.

“Beacons remain one of the most reliable means of signaling a distress to search and rescue personnel,” said Lieutenant Commander Jay Dell, with the United States Coast Guard’s Office of Search and Rescue. “The timeliness and accuracy of SARSAT alerts are extremely valuable to search and rescue planning and response.”

All U.S. emergency beacon owners are required to register their units with NOAA. The NOAA SARSAT Program Office has a web-based system that allows for faster and more up-to-date registrations over the Internet. The National Beacon Registration Database provides a convenient and secure way for beacon owners to provide their name, phone numbers and other critical information without having to mail or fax it. The system also allows the beacon owner to revise their registration information as it changes over time.

“Registration is not only required by law, but it is perhaps one of the most important responsibilities to owning an emergency distress beacon,” said Ajay Mehta, NOAA’s SARSAT program manager. “Without this critical information, the search and rescue centers cannot respond to a potential distress as quickly. That delay may be the difference between life and death.”

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources.

On the Web:


NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service: