The PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) is an individual satellite locator that can be used for multiple applications worldwide.  This device is the most recent product of the emergency locator family, which includes nautical EPIRBs and aeronautical ELTs. Basically, the PLB is manufactured with the technology already in use on naval and aeronautical satellite locators and makes it fully portable and usable in any sector, from boating to air sports, from trekking to hunting.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The PLB is an emergency transmitter that sends a rescue signal on the frequency of 406 MHz. It is powered by a lithium battery that allows the PLB to operate continuously for 24 consecutive hours. The PLB is a beacon with small size and very low weight, it is therefore perfectly suitable for any outdoor activity as it is a little invasive object well suitable for any type of equipment even minimal. For nautical use it can be fastened directly to the life-jacket, otherwise it can simply be placed in your pocket!

The PLB is always activated manually, by extracting the antenna and pressing the power button. Just like on the EPIRB, the PLB has a strobe lamp that emits a series of flashes that are clearly visible even in bright sunlight and that provides proof of the beacon status of activity. The transmission takes place with power that on average is never less than 5 W and is received by the listening satellites belonging to the COSPAS/SARSAT system. Unlike some EPIRB models, any type of PLB always has the GPS, which makes the localization accurate and fast. 

Just like the EPIRB or ELT, the PLB can be detected worldwide.

The PLB requires to be programmed, but in this case the bureaucracy is really minimal since you just need to know the nationality of the user and the device will simply be programmed with a unique identification code for each country in the world, after which you just need to perform the registration procedure at the COSPAS/SARSAT.

COMPARISON BETWEEN EPIRB AND PLB 

This comparison mainly concerns the nautical sector and the question we often hear from our clients is: since the PLB transmits on the same frequency as the EPIRB and is received by the same COSPAS/SARSAT system, can I replace the EPIRB with a PLB?  

This is a perfectly justifiable question since the purchase costs of an EPIRB compared to a PLB are significantly lower, without taking into account that the battery change on a PLB is a much less expensive practice than the complex procedure of general service of an EPIRB. However, the answer to this question is unfortunately: no! the PLB does not replace an EPIRB in all those cases where the EPIRB itself is considered a mandatory on-board equipment. Those who are required to have an EPIRB on board (vessels with unlimited navigation or fishing units) cannot in any way comply with the current regulations replacing the EPIRB with a PLB.

In those cases where the EPIRB must be on board, the PLB can be a very valid integration having features certainly not mandatory but aimed at increasing personal safety since the EPIRB is always tied to the boat, while the PLB must (or at least should) always be tied to the individual person.

In cases where it is not mandatory to have an EPIRB on board, the PLB can be a very valid alternative, even if there are some points that need to be clarified.

It should be noted that compared to an EPIRB, the PLB is much smaller, even less than half. This means that the internal battery is smaller, and this obviously has an impact on its energy duration. An EPIRB is in fact approved as such when it is tested for continuous transmission for 48 hours. A PLB is approved when it is able to transmit for at least 24 hours.

The PLB is, therefore, able to operate for half the time of an EPIRB. This issue must also be carefully assessed depending on  the type of navigation to be carried out.

In addition to this, it should be noted that a PLB must always be manually activated with a procedure that involves extracting the antenna and pressing the activation button. It is a very simple operation that on some PLB models (such as the ACR Electronics ResQLink or ResQLink+) can be performed even with just one hand, but it is good to point out that an EPIRB may be able to release and activate itself in a totally autonomous way in the most serious cases of emergency such as a sinking.

PLB: REGULATIONS

Compared to an EPIRB or an PLB, the requirements to be equipped with a PLB to carry out any activity are practically non-existent. Bureaucracy is marginal and no licenses or authorizations are required. This is true in most countries that allow unlimited use of the PLB - like Italy - but it should be noted that there are countries that instead place some restrictions.  In Poland, for example, PLBs can only be used by those who have a specific radio license. In Japan the PLB is only allowed for aeronautical use, in Germany instead the restriction is even full: PLBs are not allowed unless coded with an EPIRB and used exclusively in the nautical sector. Fortunately, only a few countries require certain restrictions (for the moment). In the largest majority of cases, the PLB is completely free and without any requirements, but it is strictly necessary that it is correctly programmed, just like an EPIRB or an ELT.

PLB MAINTENANCE

The PLB is a heavy duty device made of polymers that are very resistant to the most aggressive weather agents. It requires almost no maintenance and it consists of performing a self-diagnostic test that the users can perform in order to check the operating status of their personal device. In addition, it is strongly recommended to change the battery with a general inspection to be carried out every five years (or after an activation, even accidental). This is an operation that is rather simple and far less expensive than the EPIRB service. It can give your PLB a further five years of service life and its cost is lower, making it unquestionably cheaper than buying a new locator.

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