Ocean Navigator|July/August 2020
The EPIRB on your boat is the user element of an international system called Cospas-Sarsat. This system — developed by the U.S., the USSR (after the breakup of the USSR, Russia continued to participate), France and Canada — began in 1979 as an agreement between the four nations for a satellite-based system for aiding downed aircraft and mariners in distress. Transceivers were first included onboard low Earth orbit (LEO) polar-orbiting weather satellites. These transceivers pick up the signals from EPIRBs and emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) on aircraft and retransmit them down to Earth stations. Later, similar Sarsat transceivers were added to geostationary satellites and to GPS, GLONASS and Galileo medium Earth orbit (MEO) navigation satellites. The result is that 54 satellites are listening for EPIRB and ELT signals, and together provide coverage for the entire globe.
The Earth stations, called local user terminals (LUTs), send the distress signals to 34 mission control centers (MCCs) around the world. The MCCs evaluate the case and then send the info to the appropriate Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). These are the facilities that actually dispatch search and rescue (SAR) vessels and aircraft to find and assist the boat in distress or downed aircraft.
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