Saving Lives on Land and Sea

SARSAT system overview..

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Whether you’re a mariner, pilot, or weekend hiker, if you find yourself in peril, NOAA can find and locate you by satellite as part of the search and rescue satellite system called SARSAT.

Besides watching weather systems develop, NOAA’s geostationary and polar orbiting satellites also play double duty to detect distress signals from emergency beacons onboard boats, planes, and from handheld personal locator beacons.

When a satellite pinpoints the location of a distress alert within the United States, or its surrounding waters, that information is relayed to the U.S. Mission Control Center at NOAA’s Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Md. From there, the alert is sent to a rescue coordination center, operated by either the U.S. Air Force for inland rescues, or the U.S. Coast Guard for maritime rescues.

SARSAT operations center.

SARSAT Operations Center.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Now in its 26th year, the international Cospas-Sarsat system has been credited with more than 23,000 rescues worldwide, including nearly 6,000 in the United States and its surrounding waters. So far in 2008, the system has saved 174 lives in the United States, including 135 people rescued at sea, three people in downed aircraft, and 36 people using their personal locator beacons. With this life saving technology, SARSAT is helping to take the “search” out of search and rescue.

Improving Emergency Beacons

Effective February 1, 2009, emergency beacons operating on the 406 megahertz (MHz) frequency will be the only device that satellites will detect. The new, improved beacons can be detected instantly, they are more accurate, and provide search and rescue personnel with vital registration information. If you own one of the older beacons operating on the 121.5 and 243 MHz frequencies, you must replace it with a 406 MHz device. You must register your 406 MHz beacon with NOAA, which can be done easily online.

To learn more about this lifesaving technology, visit NOAA’s SARSAT Web site. NOAA logo.