Emergency radio in Switzerland (161.300 MHz) and the use of PLB

The emergency radio network in Switzerland, along with the e-channel (emergency channel) and the emergency radio equipment designed for it, which has a maximum output power of 5 Watts from 1st January 2017 (radio frequency 161.300 MHz), uses the infrastructure of the Swiss Air Rescue (REGA) network. PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) are small, portable transmitters which can be activated in an emergency to transmit

The emergency radio network

The emergency radio network and emergency radio equipment are available to all but this is solely for the purpose of raising the alarm in an emergency. This emergency radio network (frequency 161.300 MHz) uses the infrastructure of the Swiss Air Rescue (REGA) network which covers a large part of Switzerland. However, since certain regions are not covered, it would be unwise to rely solely on emergency radio equipment. More detailed information can be obtained from the Swiss Air Rescue Service (REGA) or from the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).

Radio installations used for distress signals on the frequency allocated to them for this purpose (161.300 MHz) do not require a licence and there is therefore no licence fee. The emergency frequency is intended for anyone who does not have any other means of communication to hand and who requires assistance. The conversation must relate exclusively to the rescue operation. The installation and operation of equipment which does not comply with the regulations (even equipment which incorporates a REGA chip) is still not permitted and is liable to prosecution.


PLBs are small, portable transmitters which can be activated in an emergency to transmit distress signals. These are detected by polar orbiting or geostationary satellites and are forwarded via a ground station to a mission control station. If the PLB has a GPS (satellite positioning system), a geostationary satellite is able to detect the distress signal together with the current position of the PLB and forward them to the mission control station. Usually, with such equipment, the alarm is raised within minutes. If the PLB does not have a GPS, the position cannot be determined by the geostationary satellite. In some circumstances, the polar orbiting satellite must make several passes before the signal can be detected and the position of the emergency determined. As a result, it can be several hours before the alarm is raised at the mission control station. Because line of sight between the PLB and the satellite is needed for the transmission of distress signals, a PLB can only operate reliably in open terrain.

The use of PLB

The use of PLB (see below) requires the use of search and rescue units to be regulated. To ensure that the emergency rescue chain can operate properly in an emergency, a PLB must be registered in the IBRD (International 406 MHz Beacon Registration Database) operated by COSPAS SARSAT as a personal emergency transmitting device. After registration the owner can print out a confirmation. If a PLB is activated in Switzerland, the RCC Zürich +41 58 484 10 00 takes over the role of the mission control station and works closely with the rescue authorities concerned. Because no voice communication is possible with a PLB, the RCC Zürich does not know what type of emergency is involved and therefore must assume a worst-case scenario. The precise location of the emergency must, in certain circumstances, be determined using special direction-finding equipment aboard an aircraft and/or helicopters. As a result, a rescue operation can be extremely expensive. A mobile telephone, emergency radio network access, an emergency telephone or a satellite telephone are therefore more suitable for raising the alarm in an emergency in some circumstances.

Specialist staff
Last modification 11.11.2021

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