A Personal Locater Beacon, is the last resort device you can rely on in the outdoors when there is an emergency requiring rescue assistance.
While you are probably more used to relying on your Mobile telephone their short battery life and dependence on cellular network signal make them a poor option for an outdoor emergency.
How Beacons Work
A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)(*1) transmits its unique identification code and the GPS Coordinates of your location directly to dedicated search and rescue satellites orbiting the earth regardless of your location outdoors.
The activation information is then automatically transferred to the Rescue Coordination Centre for that region, (RCCNZ in New Zealand) were the Registered owners information is also accessed and a Search and Rescue Operation initiated.
Modern PLB’s will also transmit a local homing signal that Search and Rescue can detect, those equipped with a strobe will also flash for night time visibility.
In New Zealand it is a legal requirement for PLB owners to register their beacon (free) with the Rescue Coordination Centre, so on activation your personal information is available to assist in the search operation, including;
- Your contact details (who has activated it?)
- Type of beacon
- Next of kin
- Type of activity you are likely engaged in
- Perhaps you have loaned your beacon to a friend?
When is the Right time?
While it’s never possible to be define the exact time to set off a PLB, it helps to consider them as the last resort in a life threatening / time critical emergency, when no other form of communication is possible.
The Beacons NZ web page has a good activation guide which is worth reading to help you make that decision.
Activating your PLB;
- Do so in a location that is safe for you
- With a wide view of the sky if possible
- Don’t cover the device
- Don’t move the PLB or yourself from the location once activated
- Let the rescuers turn off the beacon
Where to carry your PLB?
It is strongly recommended that a PLB always be carried on your person;
- On your belt,
- In a strong zipped pocket
- After years of looking for a great way to not carry it in my pockets, I found Mountain High Clothing, a great New Zealand company who were happy to customise their radio harness for my requirements(*2)($55 NZ)
Never carry your PLB in your back pack, all it takes is for you to indistinctly drop your pack to;
- Climb a boulder for that great photograph..
- Nip out of the hut/ off the track for the call of nature..
- During a fall in a river
- When you Loose your footing descending a slope
- Or any number of possibilities when you are suddenly separated from your pack and fall / Injury your self.
How do you carry your PLB?
Personal Locater Beacons available in New Zealand
Firstly it advisable to always buy your beacon coded to your home country, it will however work any where in the world.
When I purchased my first beacon 10 years ago it weighed 300 gm and was one of the first new generation of 406Mhz PLB’s on the market. There is now a huge range of latest beacons on the market, all of which are much smaller, cheaper and more advanced then my original one.
Having recently replaced / upgraded mine to the Kti SafetyAlert PLB – SA2G, (rather than install a second battery) I found it was difficult to find another beacon that was as advanced;
- Fits in the average adults hand, and weighs 140 gm
- Designed for one handed operation
- Is Gps equipped(3m accuracy) – sending and updating your position.
- Displays a flashing strobe light when activated
- Transmits a homing signal
- It will transmit for a minimum of 24 hours+
- The Kti floats on its own with out additional floatation
- Lanyard with incorporated whistle
- Signalling mirror in case
- Rigid zipped belt case – 50mm webbing belt loop (and Neoprene pouch or Armband available)
- The cheapest available in New Zealand retail market:$314.00
I haven’t found any yet, have you?
All PLB’s have a battery Expiry date marked on the case or battery. Make sure the battery gets changed at this time.
While it is often possible to change the battery yourself, it’s a more advisable to take the PLB to the authorised service agent, and have it changed along with a full system check up.(the self test function can not test if the PLB can still actually transmit when activated)
(*1) Modern PLB have sealed one use batteries typically with a standby life of 5-10 years before activation. While many PLB’s have user replaceable batteries its better to send it to the agent as they will also conduct a full system check at battery replacement, to make sure the PLB is still actually working.
(*2) Having commenced using the harness in Mid 2018, I am really pleased with it, it can be moved around to suit your needs – centre of the chest or off to the side, and I have found the second large pocket great for carrying my Topo. map, compass and small camera, with a small survival kit under the beacon in the outer pocket. MHC where very happy to work on modifications to the basic design also.
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