If you love exploring the wilderness, places where there is no phone coverage, and far away from help, a personal locator beacon (PLB) is going to be your best companion. PLB or also known as distress beacon is a device that you can use to alert emergency services if you are in danger.
PLB is a smaller, lighter version of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). EPIRB is a distress beacon that is usually used in a maritime setting. Boats that are sailing for over two nautical miles away from the shore need to carry this device.
On the other hand, PLB is designed for hikers and people on small sea crafts such as kayaks or smaller boats, which are sailing near the shore. PLB and EPIRB work the same, but they are made for different outdoor settings.
How does a PLB get detected?
When you have activated your PLB, Cospas-Sarsat, the international search, and rescue satellite system detects the signal and sends it to the nearest ground station. The ground station will send the signal to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Canberra. The JRCC is managed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which gets all the signals from the beacon on the sea, air, and land within the country’s search and rescue region.
The JRCC will receive the signal in a few minutes after activating the beacon, given that it has been deployed properly. Make sure that the aerial is vertical, and you should deploy your beacon in an open area, giving your signal the best chance to be detected by the satellites.
After receiving the signal, the JRCC will then contact the people on your emergency list. They will be asked if they can give any information about the location, any medical conditions, and your provision, while they are trying to determine your location.
They will get your exact location to within a 120-metre radius in around 20 minutes with your GPS equipped beacon, again, given that you have deployed it properly. On the other hand, it would take about 90 minutes to five hours to detect your location to within a five-kilometre radius if you are using a non-GPS beacon. The satellite must pass overheat twice before they can determine your exact location. So always choose a device that is equipped with GPS.
AMSA will then coordinate search and rescue operations along with the authorities within the territory. The volunteer agencies, contracted search and rescue units, and other emergency services agencies may be tasked to search. Keep in mind that the duration of the rescue operation depends on the circumstances. Remember to be prepared and do your best to stay alive until they arrive.
When should you activate your PLB?
If you get yourself in a dangerous situation out in the wilderness, your first step should call the emergency services by dialling 000 from your phone. This way, you can quickly relay your location and your situation.
If you are in total danger and you cannot contact the emergency services due to lack of reception or low battery, then that is the time that you need to activate your personal locator beacon. Remember to stay at your location once you have activated the beacon.
PLB is one of the most important devices that you should have, anytime you are going on an outdoor adventure. Moreover, don’t forget to inform the people on your emergency contacts about where you are going, what supplies you brought, and any medical conditions you may have.