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VOL. 13 NO. 11
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EPIRBs and PLBs

You should always carry these safety devices on board

EPIRBs and PLBs (Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife)

Is your vessel disabled? Are you lost at sea? No working electronic devices? You’re in big trouble. At the very least, you need an EPIRB, but you should also have a PLB with you.

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, but there are significant differences between the two. An EPIRB identifies the position of the vessel in distress. It’s larger than a PLB and meant to remain with the vessel. The PLB identifies the position of an individual and is meant to remain with that individual. For this reason, PLBs are useful to those who engage in a variety of outdoor activities—backcountry skiing and hiking and hunting—where the possibility of being unable to use conventional means of summoning help is very real.

In an emergency, EPIRBs and PLBs send out a 406 MHz distress radio signal, which is picked up by COSPAS-SARSATS satellites. Once detected, the satellites relay the signal to a ground station, which relays the signal to the closest search-and-rescue points manned by authorities who can initiate a search-and-rescue operation.

PLBs actually send out two signals: one which allows rescuers to determine a position within 100 meters or so and a second one that will allow an SAR-tracking device to pinpoint an exact location once rescuers are within that 100-meter area.

As with any piece of safety equipment carried on your vessel or on your person, 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 EPIRBs and PLBs, or you can take one of our safe boating courses or seminars to learn more.

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