Personal Locator Beacons: Ultimate Buying Guide

What Is a Personal Locator Beacon?

A PLB (personal locator beacon) is a specific type of EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon station), which is typically smaller, compact, and lightweight device for contacting emergency services in emergency situations where there is no electricity, your mobile device is offline, or the internet is down. A PLB can be utilized if an individual or group becomes lost and no chance of re-locating, injured, has severe medical condition, is stranded without access to food, water, or shelter, if there is bush fire happening, or severe flooding, etc. The primary goal of distress beacons is to save lives! 

For any remote-environment use, including hiking, trekking or backpacking, personal locator beacons are your finest source of life insurance. PLBs can’t be used as GPS, walkie talkies, or to send messages or make calls. They also can’t give you a waypoint or connect you to the internet.

How Does a Personal Locator Beacon Work?

When antennas are fully and properly extended and the button is pushed, the personal locator beacon sends out a powerful distress signal. The signal is picked up by the COSPAS SARSAT satellites. Satellite signals were picked up by local user terminals (LUT). Using a local user terminal, the communication is routed to a mission control center (MCC). And when a signal is detected and confirmed to be a distress call coming from a specific location, the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in that area is notified. A PLB functions globally since the satellite system and response-agency alliance are a component of a global network.

In the majority of the countries, users are required by law to register any personal locator beacon at Registration is important because it allows Search and Rescue Teams to identify you in the event that your beacon is ever activated, and the contacts you designate may be able to provide details about your specific trip intentions. A search-and-rescue operation can take longer to start if this information is missing. 

In the event that you ever sell or otherwise transfer ownership of your PLB, you are obligated to declare it in this database, and the new user is then required to register their personal information.

What Are the Things to Consider in Buying Personal Locator Beacon?


It is powered by long-lasting lithium batteries and this is not rechargeable. 

Depending on the manufacturer, a PLB battery can endure for 5-7 years because it just serves to facilitate an SOS transmission and stays dormant until the switch to activate the distress signal is flipped. PLB is a one-time-use device, and once it has been activated no matter how brief the activation lasted, you must get your PLB replaced after activation. Prior to the battery dying after 24-35 hours of use, it would keep transmitting. 

When it comes time to replace your PLB, you must choose between having it serviced and simply buying a new one. Having your present PLB fixed and given back to you with a new expiration date will probably be less expensive.

The majority of PBLs keep working even after their expiration date.


A PLB may be carried almost everywhere and can range in size from an iPhone to a novel, weighing 200 g to 1 kg (12 to 212 lb). It can even fit in the palm of your hand.

Additionally, this is appropriate for those who enjoy the outdoors because climbers and hikers are constantly seeking for ways to carry less gear.

PLBs will typically be compact and light, however some may be larger.

Transmission Frequency Range 

A PLB, or personal locator beacon, is typically understood to be a beacon that emits a 5-watts emergency distress signal between 406.0 MHz and 406.1 MHz. 

Distress beacons operating at 121.5 MHz are no longer licensed for usage and are no longer picked up by satellites. 


The accuracy of PLBs without GPS is 5 kilometers. The accuracy with a GPS is typically within 100m. In order to enhance your visibility of the sky for satellites, make sure you are in a clean, open region and as high as you can be. Performance may be impacted by overhanging vegetation or steep, you are inside the building, narrow gorges, etc.

Strobe System 

Some models of PLBs come equipped with an infrared and LED strobe that makes it considerably simpler to locate the user at night, in low light, fog, rain or under the snow. Therefore, it is preferable to look for units with strobe lights.


PLB is protected by a tough, durable plastic that is brightly colored for excellent visibility and withstands even the worst weather. It can be attached on the vest or a lanyard.

Majority of PLBs are waterproof, and even after being submerged for a very long time, it continues to function. Some models are buoyant when used in water.


For a PLB, this is frequently a one-time cost; a monthly fee is not necessary. It’s also free to register.


PLB can occasionally cause false alarms. Regardless of whether you intended to hit the button, your PLB will send a rescue crew to you after it has been activated. Switch off your beacon right away and get in touch with AMSA if it was mistakenly turned on. To prevent wasting this priceless resource, the earlier you call, the better.

Therefore, it is advised to handle your device carefully and thoroughly evaluate your circumstances before sending the distress signal. It should only be used in life-or-death situations where self-rescue appears exceedingly unlikely. 

To make sure the beacon is working before a journey, check it out in Test Mode. Check the coverage map for the device you are considering if you are traveling to a distant place.

PLB should be an essential component of any outdoor person’s emergency kit, despite the fact that we all may hope to never need one.