The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement: A Comprehensive Guide

The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement is a global initiative that concerns the search and rescue operations of aircraft and ships. It is a satellite-based system that provides distress alert and location data to the authorities responsible for search and rescue operations in a specific area. This programme has been instrumental in saving countless lives over the years and is a vital aspect of maritime safety.

Here’s everything you need to know about the International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement.

What is Cospas-Sarsat?

Cospas-Sarsat is a collaborative effort between Canada, France, Russia, and the United States to provide precise location data for search and rescue missions. The programme uses a network of satellites to detect distress signals and relay that information to the appropriate authorities. The programme`s name is derived from Russian words for ‘space system for the search of vessels in distress’ (COSPAS) and ‘satellite system for search and rescue’ (SARSAT).

Since its inception in 1982, the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system has helped rescuers save more than 44,000 lives worldwide.

How Cospas-Sarsat Works

The Cospas-Sarsat system works by detecting distress signals from emergency beacons fitted to aircraft and ships. When a distress signal is detected, the satellite relays the signal to a ground station. The ground station then processes the information, including the position of the distressed craft, and notifies the appropriate rescue authorities of the situation. This process takes only a matter of minutes, significantly reducing response times.

Cospas-Sarsat operates on two frequency bands: 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz. The 406 MHz frequency band is used by modern emergency beacons that provide digital signals with unique identification numbers, while the 121.5 MHz frequency band is used mainly by older analog emergency beacons.

The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement

The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement is a legal framework established between the participating countries that defines their obligations and responsibilities regarding the programme. It specifies the procedures for the operation and maintenance of Cospas-Sarsat equipment, the exchange of information between participants, and the financing of the programme.

The agreement also established the International Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat, which is responsible for coordinating the programme`s activities, ensuring the compatibility of the Cospas-Sarsat system, and liaising with national authorities.


The International Cospas-Sarsat Programme Agreement is an essential aspect of search and rescue operations worldwide. It provides a reliable and efficient system for detecting and locating distress signals from aircraft and ships. Thanks to this programme, rescue teams can respond more quickly to emergencies, saving many lives in the process. The commitment of the Cospas-Sarsat participating countries to this programme demonstrates their dedication to ensuring safety on the high seas.