- Class licences
- Emergency locating devices
- Conditions of operation
- Further information
This policy information paper provides information about the Radiocommunications (Emergency Locating Devices) Class Licence 2006 (the ELD class licence).
Class licences authorise the operation of certain radiocommunications devices, such as emergency position-indicating radio beacons, provided that the device is operated in accordance with the conditions of the class licence. Radiocommunications devices authorised under class licences are typically low power transmitters providing short range communications that do not require individual frequency co-ordination for interference management.
Under a class licence, all users operate in the same spectrum segment on a shared basis and are subject to the same conditions. A class licence governs the frequencies that may be used, commonly prescribes equipment standards, and may specify other technical and operational parameters. Class licences do not have to be applied for and no licence fees are payable.
Class licences are ‘issued’ by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) by a notice published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. Class licences generally commence on the day after they are registered under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.
The ELD class licence came into effect on 6 September 2006.
The essential purpose of emergency locating devices (also known as distress beacons) is to assist in determining the location of survivors in search and rescue operations. These include, but are not limited to, devices known as emergency position-indicating radio beacons, personal locator beacons and the maritime survivor locating system.
Emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) are primarily marine beacons and are small, self-contained, battery-operated radio transmitters that are both watertight and buoyant. EPIRBs are used by vessels of all kinds in distress to signal their location. Please refer to appropriate state legislation for any legal requirements regarding the carriage of EPIRBs.
Personal EPIRBs, designed to be attached to a life jacket or carried by an individual, are also available.
Personal locator beacons (PLBs) are designed to be carried by individuals, e.g. bushwalkers and four wheel drivers. They are not designed to float upright in water like an EPIRB but are frequently carried personally to supplement an EPIRB or Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT).
Note: ELT devices are fixed in aircraft for aviation use and are authorised under the Radiocommunications (Aircraft and Aeronautical Mobile Stations) Class Licence 2006.
Both EPIRBs and PLBs operate in the frequency band 406 - 406.1 MHz. They also operate on the frequency bands 121.5 MHz and 243 MHz for the purpose of transmitting a homing signal. Once activated, they are capable of being detected and located by aircraft, listening on the aviation distress frequency of 121.5 MHz, and a specialised satellite-aided system known as COSPAS-SARSAT. COSPAS-SARSAT is an international, humanitarian search and rescue system that uses satellites to detect and locate emergency beacons carried by ships, aircraft, or individuals.
The COSPAS-SARSAT system is intended to serve all organisations in the world with a responsibility for search and rescue operations, wherever a distress situation may occur. It uses several satellites, each making a complete polar orbit in about 100 minutes. At least one of these satellites is within the ‘line-of-sight’ of any point on the Earth’s surface at a maximum interval of approximately three hours. However, the average interval is considerably less. Signals received by satellite are forwarded to the appropriate rescue coordination centre.
The 406 MHz distress beacon emits both an analog 121.5/243 MHz signal and a digital 406 MHz signal. The identifying signal carries a code which identifies the beacon while the analog signal is to enable aircraft to home in on location. 406 MHz beacons can be detected within minutes, depending on the beacon's location, and accurately to within 5 kilometres by satellite. The identifying code can be cross-referenced with a database of registered 406 MHz beacon owners held by the Australian Marine Safety Authority (AMSA).
The maritime survivor locating system (MSLS) is a new device that is designed to be operated as a system on 121.5 MHz. The transmitter component of the system is intended to be worn by individuals on-board a vessel. The receiver is located on the vessel. The system is designed to alert the vessel in an overboard situation rather than send an alert to a satellite.
Australian/New Zealand Standard 4869 1:2006 deals specifically with the MSLS operating on 121.5 MHz.
Devices manufactured, imported, or modified after 26 September 2001, and operating under the class licence, must comply with all radiocommunications standards applicable to them. 'Standard' in this context means a standard made under section 162 of Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act).
It is important that users of emergency locating devices comply with all conditions in the class licence. Subsection 132(3) of the Act expressly provides that:
'Operation of a radiocommunications device is not authorised by a class licence if it is not in accordance with the conditions of the licence.'
If any condition of the class licence is breached (for example, operating on a frequency not mentioned in the class licence) the operator is no longer authorised to operate under the class licence. In this instance, the operator could be liable for prosecution. Manufacturers and suppliers of radiocommunications products, which come within the scope of the ELD class licence, are therefore encouraged to have regard to the above information in forming advice for their customers, and also must have regard to the Act and any radiocommunications standards applicable to the device.
The ELD class licence authorises a person to operate EPIRBs and PLBs in the frequency band 406 - 406.1 MHz, and may incorporate a ‘homing’ transmitter operating on:
- 121.5 MHz; and/or
- 243.0 MHz.
Further information on distress beacons can be found on the AMSA website.