Free Aviation Insurance Policy: Just Monitor Guard (121.5)

Monitor Guard - Don't Bust Restricted Airspace

We all know that 121.5 is the emergency frequency, and we pretend to make a mayday call during every simulated engine failure. But what you probably weren’t taught is that listening to guard could save from getting that air traffic controller’s phone number, or worse. It’s already saved my bacon a few times.

It is the policy of my airline that we monitor Guard in cruise flight. I typically dial in the frequency on the number two radio as I climb through 10,000 feet and adjust the volume to something low. It’s a Good Samaritan policy that has enabled me to personally report multiple ELT signals and even help a frantic sounding Cessna get ahold of Farmingdale Tower (118.8). And that’s just this year.

As awesome as these planes are, you don't want to see these guys off your wing.

But listening to Guard has it’s benefits too. I’m not a perfect pilot, and sometimes I miss a frequency change. Usually I’ll catch it right away and get ahold of the right controller – no harm done aside from a little bruised ego. But sometimes we’re pretty busy in the flight deck and the mistake goes unnoticed. That’s where monitoring Guard really pays off.

When ATC can’t get ahold of a pilot, a search process begins. They usually call on the frequency that you were supposed to be on, then they go to your last assigned frequency. But if you’re truly lost in frequency land, the controllers will make an all-call on 121.5. “Cessna 12345, transmitting on Guard, please contact contact New York Center 123.4.”

If you’re flying near restricted airspace, such as Washington DC, monitoring Guard is nothing short of a life saver. Picture this: you’re cruising along fat, dumb & happy, when the number two radio crackles to life. “Cessna 12345, you are approaching restricted airspace, turn right heading three-two-zero and contact Washington Center, 124.4.”

Now here’s the thing: if you make the right turn without actually violating restricted airspace, you get away with a stern word from ATC and off you go. No violation. But if you plow ahead through the restricted airspace, like the pilot who did not monitor Guard, you will be hearing from the FAA. If you’re unlucky, you might even get intercepted. Not cool!

Think of 121.5 as a free insurance program. It’s really easy to monitor, doesn’t cost a dime, and it can save you a great deal of stress and heartache. And next time I get lost in frequency land, you can listen and have a chuckle at my expense!


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

3 Replies to Free Aviation Insurance Policy: Just Monitor Guard (121.5)

  1. Keith Smith says:

    Right on. It’s not just airline policy, it’s recommended in the AIM, if memory serves, that pilots maintain a listening watch on guard. I do it every single time I fly, other than when I’m getting ATIS.

  2. Mike Bennett says:

    Great points. I will follow the advice and start monitoring guard going forward.

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