Are you planning to travel to a remote place alone? Are you on a long marine voyage?
If yes for both the questions, then safety is the prime concern to be careful about. Whether you or someone in the family is heading on an adventurous journey alone, it is important to get access to help and security at all circumstances.
Not to mention, the best personal locator beacon is the first item to attach to your arm gear before moving out.
What is a Personal Locator Beacon?
A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a small electronic transmission device to send signals to the nearest rescue team during a life-threatening emergency, accident, or attack in a remote location.
In general, an activated PLB is capable of sending two types of signals simultaneously:
- 406MHz frequency to the Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking System (SARSAT)
- 5MHz frequency to local Search and Rescue (SAR)
We are familiar with the perilous routes, incidents occurring during journey to the backcountry, and on cruises. Several emergency situations can arise during the tour urging the need to seek help or medical aid. Based on our experience with different PLB systems available in the market and the opinion of users (for some models) we have prepared a list of the top 10 models.
In this article, we have provided every bit of information including the review of 10 best PLBs in the market to help you choose the perfect one for your requirements.
Reviews of Best Personal Locator Beacon 2020
#1 ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon
ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ is a feature-packed PLB, highly valued for accurate functionality, signal transferring, superb design, etc. This buoyant device is perfectly suited for cruise adventures amid the most hazardous journeys. It is a lightweight and small gadget having a compact design making it the best personal locator beacon for marine voyages.
Features and Benefits
- This is a GPS-enabled emergency PLB with 66 channels. It helps you to understand the exact location and accurately delivers the location details to the Search and Rescue team quickly.
- The beacon is equipped with a built-in strobe light. It offers sufficient visibility in darkness and allows the rescue team to locate you easily.
- The device comes with extended battery life. When you switch on the PLB to send a signal, the fully charged battery will last for a longer time helping the rescuers to reach the location with the help of the emitted signals.
- This gadget is lightweight and compact. You can easily wear it on your arms with the help of gear and travel without feeling any load.
- This is a buoyant PLB. It will not sink in water so perfectly suitable for water expeditions including boating, yachting, sailing, etc.
- Light and easy to wear during strenuous journeys
- With the buoyant design, it is useful for journey by land as well as water
- The GPS feature eases the rescuers’ job to locate the victim within 100 meters
- No need to pay subscription fees for purchasing and using this device
- It is a bit expensive model
Undoubtedly, this is a highly-priced PLB equipment but an investment on your security on an adventurous tour. Even if the part of your journey is through a marine route, the buoyant design gives complete peace of mind. All in all, this can be a considerable choice if sailing or water adventure is on your mind.
#2 ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon with Manual Release Bracket and Built-in GPS
Before moving on with attributes of this product, it is important to understand what an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is. An EPIRB is also a similar device like PLBs but with enhanced features. They are heavy gadgets with at least double or more battery life. Read the ‘things to consider before buying PLBs’ part below in this article to know more about the differences.
Featuring tried and tested rescue technology, this gadget gives you access to the rescue teams offering services to the US Military, NATO, Arctic Voyagers, Coast Guards, and others. It comes with a polycarbonate bracket for mounting when not in use. Upon activation, the registered PLB is capable of transmitting signals at 406MHz to the SARSAT.
Features and Benefits
- This PLB features an internal GPS with 66 channels. The GPS with an automatic turn-on feature is capable of identifying and informing the rescue team about the exact location. Moreover, it can track wild animals during a forest expedition.
- The device supports registration for security and rescue teams in various countries including the US, Russia, and others. The gadget is useful for people on frequent international adventure tours, especially marine voyages.
- The upper section of the gadget is transparent with built-in LED strobe lights. The bright illumination during the night allows the rescuers to track you quickly.
- The PLB is built with high grade waterproof and UV resistant polymer. It is fully functional underwater as well as in high-temperature zones.
- It operates on a class II Lithium-ion batteries (non-hazardous). The high-performance batteries are completely safe and extended battery life when fully charged.
- 6 years replacement warranty from the date of purchase or after use during an emergency
- Fully waterproof material makes this PLB suitable for water contact for up to 10 minutes at 33ft.
- Fully functional at high ambient temperatures (55℃ to -20℃)
- Long-lasting battery life keeps the device in proper functioning for up to 48 hours
- No monthly subscription fees
- It is an EPIRB so heavier than PLBs so not suitable for fastening to an arm gear
Despite being a bit heavier and expensive model, this is a professional grade EPIRB packed with robust features to provide long-lasting accurate functionality. If you are looking for the best personal locator beacon for sailing, high-end performance, and durability, this is a considerable option.
#3 Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with Topo Maps and GPS Navigation
Featuring cutting edge technology, Garmin inReach Explorer+ is the next generation PLB that allows you to communicate with the SAR team through the Iridium network. It works in extremely remote locations allowing you to send and receive short text messages.
Features and Benefits
- The device features several navigation tools including preloaded topographical maps, accelerometer, built-in digital compass, and barometric altitude tracker. You can access all these features during your journey to keep track on the route as you proceed.
- Send text messages up to 160 characters. Inform the loved ones that you are safe.
- There is a covered SOS button at the right side of the device. Just remove the cover, press and hold the SOS button to activate your PLB if you need help.
- Integrated GPS coordinates to track and share the location. You can share exact location information to rescuers and even exchange messages.
- Facilitates 2-way communication with the SAR team
- Eases tracking and sharing location
- Simple SOS activation to get access to 24×7 active monitoring center when in distress
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Does not support registration with COSPAS-SARSAT
- Additional expense on a monthly subscription fee
With the set of highly functional navigational tools, this is undoubtedly the best personal locator beacon GPS. The device integrates with your smartphone allowing you to keep your family updated about your status and location. It comes at a price but does offer comprehensive support to ensure your safety.
#4 Rescueme PLB1 Personal Locator Beacon – USA Programmed
Ocean Signal Rescueme PLB1 is feature packed beacon offering high-end performance you can count on. This is one of the most affordable GPS-enabled beacons programmed with government satellite networks. It comes with a floatation cover so you can use it during boating, yachting, sailing and even when backpacking for a remote area tour.
Features and Benefits
- SOS PLB activation button concealed under a protective spring-loaded cover. The NOAA registered device boasts highly frequency SOS messaging to GEO satellites when activated after removing the cover. The tight protective cover on the SOS button prevents inadvertent signal transmission.
- The device has integrated 66 channel GPS. Upon activation, it can transmit signals along with coded location data directly to the GEO satellites to ease the rescue operations.
- The device runs on a high-quality lithium metal battery (included). It has a battery life of 7 years and supports the operational time of minimum of 24 hours upon activation.
- Sends SOS-messages perfectly to COSPAS-SARSAT network from anywhere in the world
- Free floatation pouch
- No monthly paid subscription costs
- 7 years warranty
- Does not support non-emergency messaging
If you are looking for DeLorme’s topographical maps, 2-way messaging or other navigational tools then this is not the one worth consideration.
However, for those who are looking for beacon connected to military supported SAR satellite network, this is a considerable option. This lightweight device is the best personal locator beacon for boating you can buy without paying any additional monthly costs.
#5 Garmin inReach Mini (Gray) Satellite Communicator Bundle with Hiking Backpack Tether
When you are backpacking for a hiking trip with friends, Garmin inReach Mini is your perfect partner. This is an ultra-light beacon loaded with robust features to help you stay connected with your family from any remote location. It is almost half the size of inReach Explorer+ but performs all the functionalities in any standard beacon.
Features and Benefits
- The device supports Emergency 2-way GEOS communication. It enables the user to send and receive notifications to and from 24×7 monitoring center via SOS signal transmission.
- Like all other Garmin devices, it supports messaging via Iridium network. Send text messages to update your family and friends about your current location and activities.
- This mini PLB weighs 3.5oz and has a dimension of 4”x2”. It is very convenient to carry in a pocket or even attach to the backpack on long routes.
- Send and receive messages from anywhere you are on the planet
- This is a money saver combo pack with genuine Garmin accessories for your PLB
- Get GPS access with the included Garmin Backpack Tether Mount
- The device is not GPS enabled so make sure to connect it to the GPS tether
While it is worth investing in a PLB when it comes to assuring safety during perilous journeys, Garmin inReach Mini does a lot more to keep you informed and stay connected with close ones and the family. It is smaller than your pocket and easy to attach to your backpack using the carabiner clip and mounting kit (also included in the package).
Hence, this is the best personal locator beacon for backpacking that you will find useful even if you are fortunate enough to cover the entire journey safely.
#6 Garmin inReach SE+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with GPS Navigation
If Garmin devices are on your mind to get access to the Iridium network whenever in distress, inReach SE+ is cheaper model compared to inReach Explorer+.
So what’s missing in inReach SE+?
SE+ has all the features and functions you find in Explorer+ but does offer the essential navigational tools- DeLorme’s Topo maps, barometric altimeter, accelerometer, and the digital compass. Take a look at the features of this smart PLB device to know what makes it the best personal locator beacon for hiking.
Features and Benefits
- The device facilitates the users to access 2-way text messaging via the Iridium satellite network. You can send or receive messages from anywhere in the world to your loved ones to keep them updated about your proceedings.
- Integrate your Smartphone with this device via the free Earthmate app to access NOAA charts (US only), downloadable maps, color aerial images, and other features. These features offer navigation assistance during your hiking tour so that you are never out of track during the expedition.
- The PLB has a SOS button on the right side covered by a protective casing. Remove the cover and press the SOS button to interact with the rescue team to notify them about your location, type of distress, etc.
- This is a GPS enabled device. It facilitates the Iridium satellites to track your exact location instantly when you send a distress signal.
- Supports location tracking and sharing
- Integrates with almost any mobile device
- Get to know about weather conditions (optional) at the location to plan your trip accordingly
- Sync phone contact data with the device via Earthmate app
- You need to pay for the additional monthly satellite subscription fee
Unlike other beacons, Garmin devices are useful even if you do not need rescue support. Use the device to stay connected with your loved ones way back home. Get easy access to navigation tools to understand your location and keep sharing data with your near ones. Not to mention, this device is a value for money in terms of safety and communication features.
#7 ACR 2831 RLB-41 GlobalFix V4 EPIRB, Yellow
Built with industry grade UV-resistant polymer, this EPIRB is a waterproof device suitable for sea voyages. This COSPAS-SARSAT approved floatable and the submersible device is specially manufactured with marine electronic lifesaving technology for use on boats, sea vessels, etc.
Features and Benefits
- It has built-in 66 channel GPS. The device allows ‘faster acquisition from a cold start’ and fixes your accurate location to broadcast information to your coordinates.
- It has a user replaceable Class-2 lithium manganese (non-hazmat) battery with 10 years replacement life and 48 hours of continuous operation life for uninterrupted signal transmission.
- The device features an activation keypad with a protective cover. The protective casing prevents unintended activation or signal transmission.
- This EPIRB is a tested waterproof device. It can be submersed at a depth of up to 33’ under the water for up to 5 minutes.
- Take two self-tests to verify its functions and features (available in America only)
- 5 years warranty
- Energy efficient 4 LED strobe flash lights for visual clarity in the dark
- Activation keypad with protective casing to prevent accidental signal transmission
- Easy manual activation
- No need to pay subscription charges
- This is an expensive beacon but worth the money considering the high-end functions
Considering there are so many lightweight PLBs available for personal use during a trip, this is not a considerable product for a single person. However, if you own a vessel, ship, boat, or yacht, this is one reliable live saver beacon to ensure complete peace of mind.
#8 STANDARD HORIZON HX870 Floating 6W Handheld VHF with Internal GPS, Black
This handheld VHF offers much more than a conventional PLB does for your when in distress. Power-packed with a range of intuitive features, it is one of the best devices to help you get in touch with the rescue team using MMSI number if there is any mishap.
Features and Benefits
- This device has 66 integrated WAAS GPS channels. It helps to send location information instantly to the GEO satellites to speed up the rescue operations.
- This handheld floating equipment has an additional receiver with 70 ‘Class D’ DSC (Digital Selective Calling) channels. It enables the owner to transmit digital messages to any saved MMSI number over a very high frequency (VHF).
- This is an IPX8 submersible waterproof rated device. The device can remain in perfect functioning condition for up to 30 minutes when submersed under the water at a depth of 4.92ft.
- There is an emergency strobe light button (water activated) on the right side of the device. The device illuminates in the dark for convenient visibility to aid the rescue teams.
- Send and receive digital messages over very high-frequency maritime radio systems
- Fully waterproof and submersible PLB for marine voyages
- Large screen intuitive display
- Noise cancellation function for audio transmission and receiving
- It is slightly heavier than usual PLBs
This is a highly functional PLB with built-in GPS channels and DSC facilities. It is an all-purpose medium budget device. Altogether, this is an emergency lifesaving gadget to seek help even at extremely remote locations.
#9 Artex Personal Locator Beacon
This is an inexpensive PLB with a lot of promising features and functions. It works with the government program so the buyers in the US can register their device with NOAA and use it worldwide. If you are in distress outside the US territory, the local rescue team will take charge of the rescue operation.
Features and Benefits
- About 3 inches in height, this beacon weighs just 4.2 ounces. It is small enough to fit in your pocket and feathery light to carry throughout the journey.
- Strong lithium battery lasts for up to 7 years with 24 hours of uninterrupted signal performance. When it distress, you can rely on the beacon as it is sufficient to get access to the rescue team within this period.
- It has a protective cover on the activation button. The cover prevents unintended switch on and signals transmitted from the device. Simply open the spring-loaded cover to switch on the device when in an emergency.
- The package includes mounting accessories and a floatation pouch. The floatation pouch keeps the device safe from accidental water contact and mounting accessories make it suitable for carrying in on your arm gear.
- LED strobe lights ease the vision in the dark for the rescuers
- GPS enabled signals for quick location tracking
- Programmed for NOAA registration and rescue access
- One-time purchase only, no subscription charges
- Designed for functioning in air, on water, and land
- This is not a waterproof PLB so not suitable for marine expeditions without floatation cover
This is a considerable choice if you are a first-time buyer and want to go on a budget. It is GPS enabled so you can expect quick action from the SAR teams. Overall, this small compact PLB is easy to carry and easy to operate.
#10 McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) (45016)
This is a budget-friendly beacon for one-time use. Whether you are backpacking for a backcountry tour or just setting in a vessel along the sea route, this PLB ensures complete safety for you and peace of mind for the family back home.
Features and Benefits
- It is lightweight, compact, and waterproof beacon. It is an affordable and multipurpose beacon you can use for backpacking, boating, sailing, and yachting tours.
- The upper part of the PLB has a transparent casing with built-in strobe flashlights. Offers clear night illumination to ease rescue operations in the dark.
- It comes with a standard lithium-ion battery to transmit signals for 24 hours after activation. The battery remains in fine condition retaining full charge for up to 6 years when not in use.
- Compact design
- Lightweight and easy to carry
- Easy user interface
- One time purchase fee only. No subscription fee required
- Not designed for floatation
This is a standard light beacon fitting in your pocket or backpack. If you have not used beacons before, this device allows you to take a test following the manufacturer’s guidelines. All in all, this is a dependable device to ensure your safety at remote places.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now that you have at least 10 options in mind, it is quite likely to have some queries in the mind. Before you contact the customer support team for a pre-sale query, herein are the answers to commonly asked questions customers often have in their minds about PLBs.
Which is the best PLB?
No two PLBs are the same. All of them are different with varying features, functions, etc. Every model serves your need to transmit emergency signals to the rescuers but there are certain basic considerations when choosing a model.
For instance, if your route is mainly through landscape areas, then you do not need to spend extra to get a waterproof mode. However, you may be crossing rivers during the expedition. In that case, you may go a bit higher with at least a buoyant PLB for greater safety.
Do I need a personal locator beacon?
Undoubtedly, PLBs are expensive. There is often a consideration in the mind whether this is even worth having one.
Unfortunately, mobile phone or other devices may not be sufficient to send security alerts to a rescue team if there is an urgency to get help. When your loved one is carrying an industry-standard best emergency locator beacon, it gives you peace of mind at home even miles away.
I wish you never have to use it. But, in case of a mishap such suffering with a broken leg in the backcountry alone, encounter a MOB attack, or stuck by a marine tornado an activated professional-grade EPIRB can help you to get in touch with the nearby rescuers.
This is the most convenient way for you to send a signal to the rescue team and get help at the earliest.
Can you rent a personal locator beacon?
Yes, there are some providers offering PLBs on rental scheme. The charge is generally imposed on per day basis. It can be anywhere around $10 or higher for one day.
How much does a PLB cost?
The cost of a PLB can range anywhere from $300-$800 depending on the features, model, brand, and other factors.
In general, the PLBs with complete waterproof housing can be highly expensive. Hence, if you are looking for the best personal locator beacon yachts, sailing, boating, or marine expeditions, it is worth considering a highly functional EPIRB.
How does a personal locator beacon works?
Herein is a step-by-step guide on how PLBs work to help you receive aid from a Search and Rescue (SAR) team.
- All PLBs have a push button that you can turn on to activate your device.
- Upon activation, PLB is capable of transmitting signals (digital encoded data) at 406MHz to the SARSAT.
There are two types of SAR satellites-
- Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites- Use Doppler Shift computation to determine the location of the PLB from which it is receiving the signal.
- High Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites- These are geostationary orbit satellites capable of tracking exact location of the distress signals only when sent through a GPS enabled PLB. These satellites cannot use Doppler Shift computations to determine the PLB’s exact location.
- The SARSAT system upon receiving the signal encodes the data. There are two possible scenarios determining how you will receive help from the rescuers:
- Signal Transmission from GPS Enabled PLB: The signal from your PLB is first received by the GEO satellites. If you are sending signal from a GPS-based PLB, it can quickly transfer the data about the signal and its precise location to the SAR team for further proceedings.
- Signal Transfer from PLB without GPS: Since the GEO satellites cannot interpret the exact location information from the non-GPS PLBs, the rescuers have to wait for the location details.
They will get the location tracking once the signal is traced by an LEO satellite. These satellites are not static so it may take up to an hour or more for the SAR team to get the details before then can proceed for the rescue operations.
Note: Misuse of PLBs is strictly forbidden. You should only activate the device only if there is an instance when you are in need of urgent help. Sending false alerts may attract strict penalties and imprisonment sentences for up to 6 years.
How long do PLB batteries last?
A standard PLB battery will last for a minimum period of 24 hours. However, if you are using an EPIRB, it is able to keep transmitting signals for at least 48 hours or even more.
Register Your Personal Locator Beacon
To make sure you are able to send a signal to the local Rescue and Search team, it is extremely important to register your device with the National Authority of your country. This may differ from one nation to another.
For instance, if you are a resident of the U.S., visit the official website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This organization regulations the rescue operations in the country with the help of Search and Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking System (SARSAT).
To register your new PLB with NOAA, visit the official device registration website: https://beaconregistration.noaa.gov/rgdb/.
You will find all the guidelines related to device registration norms in the US and the steps to register your PLB with NOAA.
After you complete the registration process, NOAA will send you the authorization sticker that you need paste on your PLB.
Things to Consider Before Buying Best Personal Locator Beacon
As you may have already realized that there are several models and popular PLB brands in the market. It can be really overwhelming and confusing to choose the right one to meet your needs.
Read below the aspects to take note of when buying your next PLB so that you get the best emergency locator beacon worth your money and suits your requirements:
If you are an American resident then your device may be registered with NOAA. However, you can carry it anywhere when backpacking for a trip to Alps, Antarctica, etc.
*COSPAS-SARSAT are government military satellite networks having coverage across the globe. There are other private satellite networks such as Iridium (supporting Garmin PLBs) and Globalstar offering similar surveillance support. However, Globalstar does not cover remote areas on the poles and Africa.
When buying your device, check for the satellite network supported by the model.
* COSPAS is the acronym used for Space System for the Search of Vessels in Distress in the Russian language.
PLB vs. EPIRB
While both the devices perform the same function of transmitting distress signals to the SAR satellites, there are some basic differences worth taking note of before choosing your emergency locator beacon:
- Size and Weight: PLBs are lightweight small devices often designed for handheld bearing or attached to an arm gear. EPIRBs are comparatively heavier to carry along and generally designed to mount in boats, ships, and other vehicles for use during emergencies.
- Water-Resistance and Buoyancy: Most EPIRBs are fully waterproof designed for floating on water. Some PLB models are also designed for buoyance and suitable for carrying on yachts, boats, and sea cruises.
- Battery Life: There is a huge difference in battery life of PLBs and EPIRBs. When fully charged, a standard PLB can store it for 6 years and transmit signals for up to a minimum 24 hours. A fully charged EPIRB can store charge for 10 years and transmit signals continuously for 48 hours and even more.
- Device Registration: EPIRBs are not for personal use and registered only for vehicles or vessels. PLBs are small devices basically for personal use and registered in the name of the user or owner.
- Device Activation: There are distinct mechanism in both EPIRBs and PLBs to prevent accidental activation. There is a magnetic collar and a water activation switch on EPIRB for activating the device. These features are not present in PLBs but have a three-step activation process to prevent unintended activation.
Why Choose GPS-Based PLBs
As discussed earlier, the signal transmitted from a GPS-enabled PLB is directly recognized by the static GEO satellites immediately. It is able to trace your exact location based on the information received from the GPS channels. Thereupon, it sends information to SAR team to take quick action.
If you are not using GPS-based PLB, it can be rather difficult for the teams to track your location. It can take even a few hours for them to locate you and take adequate measures.
Is It Safe to Buy a Previously Owned PLB?
There are several risk factors for travelers using a pre-owned PLB device:
- How old is the Beacon?
It is vital to know the exact date of manufacture of the beacon. It is also difficult to determine if the PLB has been serviced before. The details about the manufacture date and servicing records can give you an idea of the present condition of the device. You can also take a self-test to see if it is functioning properly.
- Have you purchased a previously registered PLB?
If you have purchased a pre-owned beacon, ask the previous owner whether it is a registered device or not. If registered, the person should send a request notification to NOAA to cancel the present registration. Upon cancellation, the new owner will be able to register the device in his name.
- Ask the Owner about the Battery
If you are buying a previously owned device, it is important to know about the battery expiry date. If it has been replaced previously, it can be highly expensive to replace the battery again. In that case, it is worth buying a new device at a lesser cost.
- Check the Tamper-proof Seal on the PLB?
To ensure the beacon has not been opened before, check if there is blue tamper-proof seal on one of the screws. If opened previously, it can be risky to use a tampered device.
- Is the Beacon Programmed for Your Country?
Always check for the country code for which it is programmed. You need a device programmed for your country to ensure it works in the location you desire to visit. Otherwise, you need to reprogram it for the country you are visiting.
If you are already backpacking for an adventurous tour, the PLB is the most reliable and highly efficient security system everyone should use.
It is more powerful in transmitting signals in remote locations where your phone network or GPS features may not work. Most standard PLBs have high-performance battery life that lasts longer than a fully charged Smartphone battery.
Those who are in need of a lightweight device for secure signal transmission for personal use may consider buying a PLB with a mounting arm gear. For novice users planning a trip to backcountry or journey through land routes, ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ is definitely a considerable option to get started.
However, if you are looking for a professional-grade device, ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB is a great choice.
The devices in this list were chosen based on their performance, reliability, and features to help you with the possible options before buying.
I hope that this extensive review and essential tips will ease your problem in choosing the best PLB before your next expedition.