Improperly used distress beacons cause distress to the Coast Guard

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Flying a Jayhawk helicopter costs the Coast Guard $10,000 an hour. Flying a C-130 costs $15,000, and sending out a small boat costs $5,000.

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska

So when the Coast Guard has to send those to fish an emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB, out of the trash, it really starts to add up.

“Since October 2018, we had about 16 false alerts, and those 16 false alerts that we received through the command center cost our Coast Guard about $354,000 of taxpayer dollars,” says Petty Officer Tom Thelen, a Marine Science Technician for the Coast Guard 17th District. “Three of them actually activated in a dumpster or a landfill."

So what exactly is an EPIRB?

“It's a piece of life saving equipment that is used in conjunction with satellites that are operated by NOAA, that will essentially relay information about a vessel in distress to our command center." Petty Officer Thelen says.

EPIRBs can tell the Coast Guard not only where you are, but who you are, which is why it's important to keep your registration up-to-date.

“If it's properly registered, we would be able to contact the correct owner and operator of the vessel, to whom the EPIRB is registered, and we can rule out any sort of false signals." says Petty Officer Thelen.

It's also important to dispose of EPIRBS properly.

“Sometimes people throw the EPIRB away before the battery is actually expired, and sometimes they can be accidentally activated, which can trigger a false alert to our command center." says Petty Officer Thelen.

Proper disposal of an EPIRB involves completely removing the battery and following the manufacturer's instructions to dispose of it. Some batteries can be removed by hand while others will require a screwdriver. Some manufacturers say to send the EPIRB back for disposal, so the safest thing to do is follow the instructions.

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