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In an emergency, the ability to signal your location and need for assistance can often mean the difference between life and death for you and those with you. Whether within sight of land or far offshore, the best and often only way to communicate with the outside world is with an emergency beacon.

Designed as the first link in a chain that culminates with a search and rescue resource being dispatched to your location with the right equipment and personnel, emergency beacons come in two major flavors, emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and personal locator beacons (PLBs). EPIRBs are designed for use affixed to a vessel and are registered to that vessel, not to a person. They will broadcast an emergency signal to the search and rescue satellites (SARSAT) for at least 48 hours. PLBs are designed or personal use and are registered to an individual person who is carrying it. They will broadcast the same emergency signal for 24 hours. The difference in broadcasting hours is due to their intended use. An EPIRB is intended for use on vessels that are far from shore where it may take more than a day for rescuers to get to your location. The PLB is intended to be used when at sea but not far from shore, thus only a 24 hour broadcast minimum. PLBs are also used on land in the backcountry to signal for rescue when in a life or death situation.

Although all modern beacons broadcast on the 406 MHz band, there is a wide range of other features that are available and that are prudent to have on your beacon. Some come equipped with a 121.5 MHz homing beacon which provides rescuers a much more precise location fix than the 460 MHz beacon that sends the emergency message. A GPS is another valuable feature that only some models have, but it will give rescuers the most precise positional fix of any of the available features. A fifth feature that not all models have is a self-test of some form to let you ensure your beacon is working and transmitting correctly and successfully. Also, some PLBs are not waterproof or float, which are qualities that anyone would want in a seafaring tool. For these reasons this buyers guide only includes models with all five features: 460 MHz emergency beacon, 121.5 MHz homing beacon, GPS, self-test, and waterproof and floating.

 

SMARTFIND PLUS/G5 GPS EPIRB

MCMURDO

MSRP: $460.00 (manual activation bracket) – $550.00 (float free activation bracket)

Key Features:

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  • 406/121.5MHz GPS EPIRB
  • International approval
  • High-performance multi-channel GPS – typical accuracy less than +/- 62 m (Plus version)
  • High brightness flashing LED light
  • Minimum 48hr continuous operation
  • 6-year battery storage life
  • Comprehensive self-test facility with battery use indicator
  • Manual release bracket
  • 5-year warranty

Description:

The Smartfind Plus/G5 GPS EPIRB offers all the features of the Smartfind E5 but with the addition of a high performance, multi-channel GPS which brings the location accuracy down to typically less than 62m, greatly increasing your chances of rescue in an emergency situation. It is supplied with a float free housing which automatically deploys and activates the EPIRB if the boat is sinking. The Smartfind Plus/G5 features a comprehensive diagnostic and self-test facility to keep you up to date on remaining battery usage and EPIRB operation.

 

FASTFIND MAX G PLB

MCMURDO

MSRP: $430.00

Key Features:

  • 406/121.5MHz PLB
  • International approval
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Waterproof and buoyant
  • Easy to operate
  • 50 channel GNSS receiver uses multiple satellite positioning systems
  • Position updates every 20 minutes
  • Minimum 48hr continuous operation
  • 5-year battery storage life
  • Self-test facility with battery use indicator
  • User replaceable battery
  • 5-year warranty (after registering)

Description:

The FAST FIND MAX G is an advanced Personal Locator Beacon which can be carried on your person at all times. Easy to use, with a three-stage activation to avoid accidental operation, the FAST FIND MAX G is waterproof to a depth of 10m and floats.

When activated, the FAST FIND MAX G transmits a unique ID and your current GPS coordinates via the COSPAS-SARSAT global search and rescue satellite network, alerting the rescue services typically within 3 minutes. The inbuilt GPS pinpoints your location to within 62m and once within the area, the search and rescue services can quickly locate you using the unit’s 121.5 Mhz homing beacon and flashing LED SOS light. The Max-G can operate continuously for a minimum of 48 hours..

 

FAST FIND 220 PLB

MCMURDO

MSRP: $245.00

Key Features:

  • 406/121.5MHz PLB
  • Easy to operate
  • No subscription needed
  • High brightness LED SOS light
  • Minimum 24hr continuous operation
  • 6 year battery storage life
  • Self-test facility with battery use indicator
  • Supplied with flotation pouch

Description:

The FAST FIND 220 is small and light enough for you to carry on your person at all times. Using advanced technology, the FAST FIND 220 transmits a unique ID and your current GPS co-ordinates via the COSPAS-SARSAT global search and rescue satellite network, alerting the rescue services within minutes. Once within the area, the search and rescue services can quickly home in on your location using the unit’s 121.5 Mhz homing beacon and flashing LED SOS light.

The compact FAST FIND 220 is quick and easy to activate, with a safe stow antenna which automatically deploys when the unit is activated. The battery enables it to operate continuously for a minimum of 24 hours. Waterproof to a depth of 10m, the FAST FIND 220 is also supplied with a flotation pouch, for easy retrieval.

 

TRON 60S / GPS

JOTRON

MSRP: $568 (manual activation bracket) – $698(float free bracket)

Key Features:

Manual activation or from free-floating bracket GPS as an option.

Description:

The 406 Emergency Position Indication Radio Beacon (EPIRB), Tron 60S/GPS, is the latest contribution to Jotron`s already comprehensive product range. Tron 60S/GPS small and compact handheld size will be a perfect supplement to meet the growing demand for smaller size EPIRB`s, both in Float-Free and as Manual versions.

Totally sealed and with 5 years warranty are among some of the unique features Jotron offers this latest innovated EPIRB. The new Tron 60S/GPS is designed to meet IMO SOLAS requirement and can be offered with the latest GPS-technology, as an option. With this new handheld size Tron 60S/GPS along with the existing Tron 40S MK II, Jotron will be able to meet all segments of sailing vessels, from commercial vessels, fishing vessel and recreational boaters.

 

 

MT403G 406 MHz EPIRB with GPS Water/Manual Activation

GME ELECTRONICS

MSRP: $560.00

Key Features:

  • COSPAS-SARSAT worldwide operation.
  • Meets AS/NZ 4280.1:2003 standards. C/S T.001/007.
  • Zero warm-up Digital Technology.
  • Antenna deploys automatically when the unit is removed from the quick-release mounting bracket.
  • High visibility solid state strobe.
  • Automatically activates on immersion in water (when removed from the bracket) or can be activated manually if desired.
  • Non-hazardous batteries for restriction free transportation.
  • 6 Year GME Warranty.
  • Rugged lightweight easy-to-mount compact design.
  • 6 Year battery life.
  • 16 Channel parallel GPS receiver with top mounted Quad helix antenna for better than 100-meter accuracy
  • Class 2 international accredited specification.
  • Easy, in-built self-test with an audio/visual alert.

Description:

GME MT403 series EPIRBs are a culmination of three years of extensive R & D by GME engineers. The end result is a radical new design concept that is not only a significant improvement on existing beacon performance but dramatically slashes the cost of 406 MHz EPIRB ownership.

The GME MT403G 406 MHz digital EPIRB is the latest exciting extension of GME’s growing family of innovative safety products. A key feature of the MT403 series is the use of non-hazardous battery packs that are IATA compliant and allow for restriction free transportation.

The MT403G also includes a water activation feature. Once it has been removed from its mounting bracket, the MT403G will activate automatically on immersion in water. Of course, you can also activate it manually if required.

The MT403G has an additional 16 Channel parallel GPS receiver with top mounted Quad helix antenna to improve location accuracy to better than 100 meters typically.

Advantages of a 406 MHZ EPIRB over the older analog EPIRBs include worldwide coverage, position location accuracy to within 5kms (100 m for the MT403G GPS model) and a more stable transmitted signal resulting in faster response time. Most importantly, the addition of a unique digitally coded message provides Search and Rescue authorities with vital information including the country of beacon registration and identification of the vessel in distress thus greatly reducing the incidence of false alerts and unnecessary deployment of valuable rescue resources.

An auxiliary homing transmitter is included in the MT403G to enable suitably equipped Search and Rescue forces to home on the distress beacon.

 

MT410G 406 MHZ PLB with GPS

GME ELECTRONICS

MSRP: $320.00

Key Features:

  • Fitted with NON-HAZMAT long life batteries
  • Featherweight, compact and robust construction
  • 50 search channel GPS receiver for better than 100 meter accuracy
  • Digital 406 MHz, 5 Watt transmission plus 121.5 MHz homing signal
  • 7-year battery life
  • COSPAS-SARSAT worldwide operation
  • 7-year warranty
  • National and International approvals
  • Typical accuracy (with GPS) <100m
  • Sealed waterproof design (exceeds IP67)
  • High visibility flashing light
  • Retention strap and fully buoyant design reduces the risk of loss
  • Unique patented technology – no warm-up period
  • Complete with protective carry pouch

Description:

GME’s Accusat MT410G Pocket Pro+ with integrated GPS Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) has been leading the world’s PLB market due to its features, and innovation.

The MT410G Accusat PLB offers a massive 7 year battery replacement life, and a 7 year warranty, the unit also features a high intensity flashing LED, a ‘Non Hazmat’ battery pack for simple and cost-effective transportation and a 50 search channel GPS receiver with top mounted Quad helix antenna to improve location accuracy to better than 100 meters typically – all contributing to the unique AccuSat advantage.

Today with cutting-edge microprocessor technology, GME’s engineers have been able to provide the outdoor adventurer with a 406 MHz PLB solution that is not only affordable but provides enhanced peace of mind for boaters, bushwalkers, 4 x 4 enthusiasts and aviators should they ever require emergency assistance.

GME has been designing and manufacturing emergency beacons in Australia for over 30 years. In that time literally hundreds of lives have been saved in Australia and around the world.

 

GlobalFix iPRO EPIRB

ACR/ARTEX

MSRP: $540 (manual activation bracket)- $650 (float free bracket)

Key Features:

  • GlobalFix™ iPRO offers the very latest in marine electronic life-saving technology:
  • Highly visible LED strobe – Energy efficient
  • High-efficiency electronics – Performance you can count on
  • Non-hazardous batteries – No shipping hassles
  • Professional grade design – Engineered, tested and built for years of abusive marine use
  • Ergonomic, compact design; Smallest, feature-rich EPIRB available
  • If you use it…we’ll replace it, Free of Charge. Simply submit your story, send us back your used beacon so we can have it mounted on our Wall of Fame and we’ll send you a brand new beacon of equal or greater value.

Description:

GlobalFix™ iPRO sports a digital display that allows you to see all of the beacon’s operational activities. The screen displays GPS LAT/LON, operating instructions, usage tips, transmission bursts as well as battery power.

iPRO makes self-testing your beacon simple and easy to understand with the digital display visually walking you through the self-test step by step; no more relying on listening to beeps and LEDs.

The GlobalFix™ iPRO is also the first EPIRB that offers Dual GPS Technology. Interface your iPRO to your onboard GPS to ensure that your LAT/LON is stored inside so the coordinates are transmitted in the first data burst. iPRO’s internal GPS is optimized for cold starts and is tested and refined at ACR’s GPS Simulation Center so that it will pinpoint your exact location faster than standard GPS enabled EPIRBs.

 

ResQLink+ PLB

ACR/ARTEX

MSRP: $300.00

Key Features:

  • Buoyant
  • No Subscription Fees
  • Super Bright LED Strobe
  • Onboard 66-Channel GPS
  • Self-Test and GPS Test Features
  • Typical Performance 30 Hours
  • Non-Hazmat Battery
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • If you use it…we’ll replace it, Free of Charge. Simply submit your story on our Survivor Club link, send us back your used beacon so we can have it mounted on our Wall of Fame and we’ll send you a brand new beacon of equal or greater value.

Description:

At 5.4 oz and topping just 4.5 inches, the ResQLink+ is both a small and buoyant Personal Locator Beacon. Small enough to be carried in your pocket, clipped to a backpack or stored inside an inflatable life jacket.

With three levels of integrated signal technology – GPS positioning, a powerful 406 MHz signal, and 121.5 MHz homing capability – the ResQLink+™ quickly and accurately relays your position to a worldwide network of search and rescue satellites. A built-in strobe light provides visibility during night rescues.

PLBs have been proven tried and true in some of the world’s most remote locations and treacherous conditions. Just ask the 400 or so pilots, boaters and back country explorers who were saved by a PLB during a rigorous test program in Alaska. Based in large part on the test results, the federal government approved use of PLBs in the United States in 2003.

Even in extreme conditions and situations, the ResQLink+™ activates easily. Just deploy the antenna and press the ON button. With its powerful 66-channel GPS, the ResQLink+™ guides rescuers to within 100 meters or less of your position. And, in the continental U.S., search and rescue personnel is typically alerted of your position in as little as five minutes with a GPS-enabled PLB such as the ResQLink+™.

Two built-in tests allow you to routinely verify that the ResQLink+™ is functioning and ready for use – with the push of a button, you can easily test internal electronics and GPS functionality.

 

AquaLink View PLB

ACR/ARTEX

MSRP: $460.00

Key Features:

  • No Subscription Fees
  • Floats
  • Super Bright LED Strobe
  • Onboard 66-Channel GPS
  • Self-Test and GPS Test Features
  • Typical Performance 30 Hours
  • Non-Hazmat Battery
  • Made in the U.S.A
  • If you use it…we’ll replace it, Free of Charge. Simply submit your story, send us back your used beacon so we can have it mounted on our Wall of Fame and we’ll send you a brand new beacon of equal or greater value.

Description:

Head offshore with confidence. With three levels of integrated signal technology – GPS positioning, a powerful 406 MHz signal and 121.5 MHz homing capability – the AquaLink™ View quickly and accurately relays your position to a worldwide network of Search and Rescue satellites, reducing search time and increasing your chances of survival. It’s reliable signaling technology that has saved more than 28,000 lives since 1982.

The AquaLink™ View broadcasts a unique registered distress signal that not only tells rescuers where you are, but who you are. The onboard GPS can fix your position to within 100 meters and then utilizes a powerful 406 MHz signal to relay your distress call to orbiting satellites. As local Search and Rescue is deployed, a separate homing signal and integrated LED strobe light guide rescuers to your exact location.

The AquaLink™ View sports a digital display that allows you to see all of the beacon’s operational activities. The screen displays GPS LAT/LON, operating instructions, usage tips, transmission bursts as well as battery power. The digital display also makes self-testing your beacon simple and easy to understand by visually walking you through the self-test step by step. No more relying on listening to beeps and looking for LEDs.

The AquaLink™ View is small enough to be easily carried in a pack or pocket or can be worn on deck, at the helm, in quarters or on a life vest and will float if accidentally dropped overboard.

ACR Exclusive: Built-in GPS acquisition test mode allows you to test GPS functionality up to 60 times over the life of the battery. Tap into the same field-tested rescue technology used by the U.S. Military, U.S. Coast Guard, NATO Special Forces and Arctic explorers.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.