SAR Market

An enthusiastic market

In maritime, aside from recreational navigation, Search and Rescue represents the most relevant market for GNSS. In 2015, the shipment of COSPAS-SARSAT GNSS-enabled EPIRBs and PLBs accounted around 125,000 units. The main regional markets are Asia-Pacific and the EU27 for EPIRBs and North America and Asia-Pacific for PLBs. 

In aviation, the shipment of COSPAS-SARSAT GNSS-enabled ELTs and PLBs was above 35,000 units.

According to a GSA survey of beacon manufacturers, most beacons on the market already include a location protocol, and many manufacturers are preparing for multi-constellation GNSS. In fact, 70% of respondents specifically stated their intent to use Galileo in general, and 71% said they are thinking of using its return link service.

Use Galileo: Up-to-date database of all Galileo-enabled chipsets, receivers and devices

It is this return link service that makes Galileo SAR so attractive to beacon manufacturers. Cited as being a ‘fundamental’ feature of all modern beacons, the ability for the return link service to be transmitted to all Galileo-enabled receivers in view of Galileo satellites – not just beacons – opens up new market possibilities and provides additional assistance to those in trouble. 


Types of beacons

  • Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB): these beacons are installed on maritime vessels. The beacons can be activated either manually or automatically when water pressure caused by a crash, for example, triggers the release. 
  • Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT): these beacons are installed on aircraft and can be activated either manually or automatically when it detects an unusual deceleration force, such as during a crash or forced landing.
  • Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs): although generally carried by individuals who are out of the range of normal emergency services, they can also be found on ships and airplanes. Capable of being used anywhere, they are activated by manually pressing a button.


Thanks to technological upgrades, improved operational efficiency, portability and durability, both the EPIRB and PLB markets are forecasted to grow in the coming years. The role of GNSS in providing precise positioning information will be even more central as the penetration of GNSS in EPIRBs is expected to grow from 70% to 100% by 2020, whereas in PLBs it is already close to 100%.

Maritime applications

The use of positioning in maritime is widespread, with different beacons using GNSS for different purposes. According to  the GSA’s GNSS Market Report, there are more than 500,000 GNSS enabled EPIRBs and PLBs being used by the sector.

Learn more: Galileo gets important recognition from IMO

Aviation applications

As to ELTs, their use in the aviation segment is rapidly growing. The installed base of GNSS enabled ELT and PLBs in aviation in 2015 was above 200,000 units. EASA Air Operations Regulation (EU) 965/2012 request all flights to carry an ELT and a PLB is acceptable for aircraft with six seats or less.

A specific type of ELT, Distress tracking ELT (ELT (DT)) are designed to be activated prior to a crash and to function in compliance with the ICAO GADSS (International Civil Aviation Organisation Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System) requirements for the location of an aeroplane in distress. ELT (DT) may be activated automatically upon detection of a distress condition while in flight or it may also be activated manually

Learn more: ICAO moves to require more aircraft to have ELTs on board by 2021

Updated: Oct 15, 2019