Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), those pint-sized, individual rescue beacons used by boaters, sailors, and paddlers to summon emergency help have saved hundreds of lives since their authorization for use 17 years ago. That doesn’t mean they are maintenance free, according to the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety. The boating safety nonprofit offers these simple tips to maintain and use a PLB.
- PLBs need to be registered with NOAA. As a way to ensure accurate, up-to-date information, registration is valid for just two years. While NOAA will attempt to reach you to re-register, it’s a good idea to put in on your calendar.
- Not sure of your PLB registration’s emergency contact information? NOAA allows PLB owners to update contact info at any time and if you’re unsure of whom you have listed, you may want to take a look now. Outdated information can delay rescuers.
- PLBs need to be tested, typically monthly, according to manufacturer recommendations. Testing does not activate a PLB so get comfortable checking one.
- After testing, confirm that the battery has not expired and the O-ring is in good shape. This will give you peace of mind that the PLB will operate flawlessly when you really need it. Battery life is typically five years.
- Because they are worn by the user, PLBs can get banged up or abused during normal wear. It’s a good idea to check over the outer case for cracks or damage.
- What makes a PLB different from an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)? Both use NOAA’s Search And Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT) System to detect and locate mariners in distress, however EPIRBs are intended to facilitate a rescue for a specific boat while PLBs are used for individual crew. The other big difference is PLBs can only be activated manually − even if the wearer is underwater, while EPIRBs activate automatically upon submersion.
- With larger batteries, EPIRBs are also rated to activate for a minimum of 48 hours while PLBs have a minimum of 24 hours. Having both aboard for offshore passages can increase redundancy and crew safety.
- Do you have temporary need for a PLB? The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water’s EPIRB / PLB Rental Program offers ACR ResQLink 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacons for $7 daily, $45 weekly, or $150 monthly.