406Link.com Advanced Testing FAQs

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 facility). 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 manufacturers 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 the beacon manufacturer or one of their appointed service agents for further advice and instructions. Assuming that 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, typical advice is 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 facility), 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.

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 Self Test facility that with the right equipment can ensure that your beacon is really working correctly (See Through Satellite Self Test).

Some older beacons also transmit the Self Test burst in the same way that newer beacons do, but not all older beacons work this way, some only carry out the internal check as explained above. You can check whether your beacon actually transmits a Self Test burst or not by looking it up in the list of beacons here

All beacons with a Self Test facility check out the internal circuitry within the beacon for correct operation. However the extent of this internal test varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and sometimes between models as well. 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 SafeLife Systems 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 (you can check whether your beacon actually transmits a Self Test burst or not by looking it up in the list of beacons here) then you can use the SafeLife Systems 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 SafeLife Systems 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 Beacon that can perform a GPS Self Test then we can also provide:

  • The encoded location transmitted as a part of the Beacon message

We can also provide:

  • An official Record of the test and the results where this is required to satisfy regulatory or commercial requirements
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 you 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 using 406Link.com?

406Link is compatible with all currently available ACR and/or Artex beacons. It is also compatible with most previous ACR/Artex models. 406MHz beacons made by manufacturers other than ACR or Artex cannot be used on 406Link.com.

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 the emergency services as quickly as possible to let them know your transmissions are 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 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?

In order to carry out a Through Satellite Self Test you must first pre-arrange the Test by filling in the appropriate forms on this web site (see the relevant area for your type of beacon).

You perform the test in the same way as 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 out of doors
  • That 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 antenna is vertical (pointing straight up at the sky)

Specific details for each type of beacon are provided when you register to test that beacon.

What should I do if I get a Self Test failure?

If you get a Self Test failure, firstly check the instructions in the user manual supplied with your Beacon, make sure you carried out the test correctly and that you have followed any instructions provided. If you are sure your Beacon failed the self test then you should contact the beacon manufacturer or one of their appointed service agents 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 its 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 carry on transmitting for at least 24 hours, so even if you are in extreme conditions the message should get through.

If the satellites do not detect the Single Self Test burst from your beacon, you will receive a Through Satellite Self Test failure message. This may be due to the above noted reasons, or if you do not perform the test within the scheduled time period. If your beacon responds to its Self Test as specified in your manufacturers manual, it is operating normally.

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. However, ACR has optimized our new beacons in conjunction with 406Link so that on New SARLink and AquaLink (PLB Models PLB-350B and PLB-350C) can performs an automatic self test once this GPS test is successful that will transmit the beacons GPS position in the self test burst. 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 Tests can I perform?

New ACR 406 MHz EPIRB and PLB (Manufactured in 2010 or later) can perform 420 self tests over the 5 year life of the battery. The new AquaLink View and SARLink View PLBs (Model: PLB-350 C) can also perform 60 GPS Self Tests over the 5 year life of the battery. The new AquaLink and SARLink PLB (Model: PLB-350 B) are limited to 12 GPS Self Tests over the 5 year life of the battery. ACR EPIRBs and PLBs (Manufactured prior to 2010) can perform 340 self tests over the 5 year life of the battery.

Other Manufacturers: If you have a beacon from a manufacturer other than ACR, please refer to your beacon owner's manual or contact your beacon manufacturer for the number of budgeted self tests your beacon can perform over the 5 year life of the battery.