EPIRBs and PLBs: Essential safety equipment
Is your vessel disabled? Are you lost at sea? No working electronic devices? You’re in big trouble unless you have an emergency beacon onboard. EPIRBs and PLBs can help ensure you get the help you need in a timely manner.
EPIRBs and PLBs
Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons and Personal Locator Beacons both emit distress radio signals designed to broadcast your position in the event of an emergency. However, they have significant differences.
EPIRBs identify the position of the vessel in distress. Larger than PLBs, they remain with the vessel. PLBs identify an individual’s position and remain with the individual. For this reason, PLBs are useful for a variety of outdoor activities— backcountry skiing, hiking and hunting—where conventional communications aren’t always possible.
How emergency beacons work
In an emergency, EPIRBs and PLBs send out a 406 MHz distress radio signal. COSPAS-SARSATS satellites pick up these distress radio signals. Once detected, the satellites relay the signal to a ground station. The ground station relays the signal to the closest search-and-rescue authorities who can initiate a SAR operation.
PLBs send out two signals. One allows rescuers to determine a position within 100 meters or so. The second allows an SAR-tracking device to pinpoint an exact location once rescuers enter the 100-meter area.
As with any piece of safety equipment, you hope you’ll never have to use it, but you should always be prepared for an emergency. An EPIRB for your vessel and a PLB for yourself are valuable additions to your safety equipment arsenal.
You can find a wealth of information online about the different types of emergency beacons. Or you can take one of our safe boating courses or seminars to learn more. –John Swenson
Prepare for any crisis
Learn how to handle any emergency while underway by taking our Emergencies Onboard seminar.