Personal Locator Beacons: Ultimate Buying Guide

In this day and age, communication is vital for human survival. In places where modern cell towers fail to reach, it is important to seek ways to mitigate potential ill fortunes. This, of course, requires something that provides more than just routine communication with the outside world.

Enter personal locator beacons (PLB).

Personal Locator Beacons are a type of emergency beacon. Once activated, they transmit signals that get picked up by the orbiting satellites. It then makes sure an alert is sent off to the emergency services unit. PLBs generally need an uninterrupted via of the sky for successful transmission.

More About PLBs Function

Regardless of your location, when you use a personal locator beacon, it will transmit a powerful 406 MegaHertz (MHz) signal. The signal, at this range, is a globally recognized frequency of distress monitored in the United States by the United States Coastal Guard (USCG), Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), and National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA).

The signal is then transmitted to the satellites that are liked with the COSPAS-SARSAT global satellite-based rescue and search system, which uses satellites’ constellation for near immediate identification of the PLB signal and the ability to determine PLB’s location without needing GPS-encoded data.

Once the transmission arrives, the satellite is going to fix on the user’s area with FOA (frequency of arrival) and TOA (time of arrival) tactics, then relay the details to the USCG or the ARFCC based on the alert’s location. If your PLB is GPS-compatible, it will deliver the coordinates of the GPS to rescue and search staff via the satellite. All that data will then be transmitted to the local rescue and search authorities who will then locate the user to provide assistance.

When Does a PLB Come in Handy?

It’s crucial to know that personal location beacon should be used as a last resort. The initial emergency contact should still be initiated by satpone, radio, direct communication or telephone if needed. Direct contact should lead to an appropriate and quicker response as you’d be able to get in touch with the emergency department.

Use a personal location beacon only when you can’t directly get in touch with emergency services and require assistance on an urgent basis. Before activating the device, go to an area with an open sky, go as high as you can, and connect to get a good signal. Note that there might be some instances when the PLB doesn’t work properly or requires a long wait time for the rescue and emergency assistance to take place.

Some of those instances relate to:

  • Deep gorges: A signal coming from a narrow gorge is often distorted and may not be identified. In this scenario, users should try getting high before activating the PLB.
  • Bad climate: Wind and lighting can make it challenging to gain a good position and cause a delay in the arrival of a rescue. Lack of visibility resulting from weather conditions like these may also disrupt ground crew emergency operations.
  • Night: Signals given off by the PLB can even be picked up at night time, but it can take up to 24 hours for the ground crew or air assistance team to reach the user.

What to look for in a personal locator beacon?

If you need a gadget that you can use to call for help in a life-threatening situation, this is the device you should go for. But before you take a look at the best PLB options available in the market, understand what factors should be taken into account when making a buying decision.

Eligibility to register

Make sure the PLB you buy is eligible to be registered with the relevant organization in your nation. For instance, PLBs are registered in the database of NOAA SARSAT in the US. This is done free of cost and buyers can have a peace of mind in the fact that the data they offer is safe. It is only shown to rescuers when the buyer activates the PLB. When registered, the NOAA will assign the buyer’s device a UIN (unique identification number), which will then be transmitted to the satellites of COSPAS-SARSAT when PLB is used.

Battery

Like smartphones, PLBs are powered by a battery, so it is important to know the shelf life of their batteries and for how long a typical battery will last when the device is in use. Most PLBs feature lithium battery that stays put until the buyer activates the device. Its shelf life is around 5 years. The second aspect to consider is the battery’s strength to power the transmission after the call is made. PLBs are required to legally transmit calls for help at least a day before the battery finishes.

LED Strobe

After giving off a distress signal, users should do everything they can to make themselves visible to emergency services. Here, you can utilize audible or visual signals like a whistle, CD or a signal mirror that can be flashed to catch their attention. See if the PLB comes with an integrated strobe light that should help attract rescuers’ attention.

Best PLBs to Buy

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
ACR Aqualink View PLB
Bushnell Bear Grylls Edition BackTrack G2 Original
Garmin inReach Mini
ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB

1. ACR Aqualink View PLB

The best emergency beacons come from ACR when it comes to GPS-based emergency locators for water-related environments. If you travel offshore on a regular basis all by yourself, carrying the ACR Aqualink View PLB should keep you safe and sound. If you switch it on, it will give off three signals to call for help. A 406Mhz call will be relying on the call for help to the satellite. Additionally, a 121.5 MHZ GPS and a homing signal will provide rescue personnel with your location, quite accurately if it’s inside 10 meters. The larger battery will also come in handy when the transmission takes place, and the digital display will enable you to read the information, test, and operate the device.

What makes it stand out?

The PLB has a strobe light (built-in LED) that can be used to assist the rescuers in identifying your location. Also, it has a rugged design, which means it is capable of surviving harsh weather conditions.

2. Bushnell Bear Grylls Edition BackTrack G2 Original

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, you might want to get Bushnell’s PLB and digital compass. The device is a compact personal locator beacon with an ergonomic shape and two-button design. Additional features include a self-calibrating compass (digital) and a GPS (high-sensitivity). The Bushnell Bear Grylls Edition BackTrack G2 Original stores up to three locations, allowing you to go back to your home base, your car, or another place. It is available in two color variants; the orange/black and black/green. When the day comes to an end, users can also put a finger down on their preferred location and the unit will display the distance and direction to that mark. Aside from emergency situations, the PLB can also be used at festivals, parking lots, and for outdoor traveling.

What makes it stand out?

The device has an improved and ergonomic design. Plus, it comes with a bonus rescue mirror, auto shutoff capability, and LED backlight.

3. Garmin inReach Mini

The Garmin inReach Mini is a pocket-sized device to take along on your adventures. It enables users to receive and send messages, as well as share their location regardless of where they travel. When faced with a dire emergency, buyers would be able to use the Mini to send an SOS alert to the emergency response center (24/7 GEOS). The best part is that you’ll get a confirmation of the delivery as well as updates on the progress of the rescue operation. Other features of Garmin inReach Mini include weather forecast capability, digital compass, travel planning, and more. Furthermore, the inReach Mini has an IPX7 rating, which means it is water and impact resistant to a great extent.

What makes it stand out?

To make things even more convenient and capable for users, the Garmin inReach Mini pairs with smartphones through the Earthmate and the Bluetooth application.

4. ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB

This is the best PLB for activities like fishing and sailing. When an emergency occurs, it will switch on automatically once it touches the water, but requires manual deployment as it is a category 2 EPIRB. Transmission wise, it will transmit a 121.5 Mhz beacon (homing) and a 406 signal). The in-built GPS will allow the rescue team to identify the location with higher accuracy. The beacon does the broadcast for 2 days at a minimum, and also includes a strobe to help attract rescuers’ attention.

What makes it stand out?

This personal locator beacon has a good battery life, with the battery needing replacement after a span of five years. Moreover, it comes with a 6.3-watt transmitter and a mounting bracket for function and convenience.

Final Verdict

A PLB is like a handy insurance policy that makes going on far-off adventures and taking risks a lot more comfortable. Used correctly, they will greatly minimize the imminent danger you face, and may even be the only thing you need to save your life. However, it’s not a substitute for proper preparation and planning. The device needs to be registered and the battery life should be long enough to help you venture out.