Distress Beacons, PLB & EPIRBS
devices do not actually allow you to have a conversation as such but
signals from distress beacons can be picked up by satellites and passing
aircraft. They are to be used only in an emergency situation. They should
be correctly stowed so they do not go off accidentally and waste valuable
search and rescue resources. Penalties do apply for misuse.
There are three types:-
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons usually used by marine craft.
– pocket size
Personal Locator Beacon
activated electronic locator transmitters, mainly for aircraft.
The definition of ‘distress situation’ varies
from country to country but it relates to the
safety of human life.
A fact sheet No. 22 is available from the
Australian Communications and Media Authority
(ACMA). The ACMA indicate that if vehicles and
bushwalkers in remote parts of Australia carry a
distress beacon it should be the 406 MHz PLB
The 406MHz distress beacons are more accurate,
are detected more quickly and identify their
owner. Also the 406MHz operating beacons are
compatible with Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System
that receives distress signals as it orbits the
The beacon should only be activated in a
distress situation. The fact sheet defines a
‘distress situation’ as:-
A distress situation is generally defined as one
in which a person or persons face grave and
imminent danger and require immediate
assistance. On land such situations might
the need for urgent medical evacuation;
mechanical breakdown where food and water
supplies can not be replenished;
being lost with little hope of reaching
outside assistance before food and water
supplies are finished; and
similar life-threatening situations.
Each situation is unique and common sense and
good judgment need to be exercised.
and 4WD use, on land, the Australian Maritime
Safety Authority (AMSA - responsible for search
and rescue) recommend the use of a Personal
Locator Beacon (PLB). They also recommend a PLB
with the inbuilt GPS feature as, once activated,
the time to provide a location and the accuracy
of precision of the location is much better.
These lightweight personal
devices are ideal for camping, bushwalking or
4WD in the outback.
Once activated the PLB will emit
a homing signal for emergency services to locate
The GME's MT410GAUS
personal locator beacon
with GPS capability and a 7 year warranty
designed and manufactured in Australia. They claim it is small
enough to go in your top pocket or be able to be hung around your neck on a
Some other brands/models are
ACR Electronics TerraFix, Orvis
AeroFix and L.L. Bean ACR TerraFix.
can be hired in Australia from National Parks
and Wildlife Services (NPWS) during office hours at places like Jindabyne,
Perisher Valley, Khancoban and Tumut. EPIRBS can also be
Mountains Centre or Katoomba & Springwood police stations as part of the
Think Before You Trek bush safety initiatives.
PERSONAL LOCATION TRACKERS
As an EPIRB can only be used in a ‘distress situation’
defined above you may want this personal location tracker. Whereas the personal locator beacon (PLB) can be used
on a public-access satellite network there is now a product Spot GPS
Personal Location Tracker which uses the commercially owned Globalstar
You can hire the personal location tracker or purchase one
outright. Costs include the unit itself, the GPS subscription cost and a
fee for the tracking functionality. Search and rescue insurance can also be
purchased at the initial activation of the personal location tracker which
is cheaper than if you purchase it later.
The Spot GPS Personal Location Tracker or Spot Locator
is a rugged plastic waterproof device which uses
x AA lithium batteries
only. One of the features of the PLT is a recessed emergency ‘911’ button
and once pressed there is despatch of a message to the GEOS International
Emergency Response Centre and a local emergency services are sent to your
location. The other feature is a personal tracking feature (subscription
required) where you press and hold an ‘OK’ button and your designated
contacts will receive an SMS or email letting them know your position and
that you are fine. This ‘OK’ function must be re-activated every 24 hours
and your position will be registered and logged every 10 minutes. The
standard cost for this feature includes up to 200 annual check in or help
text messages and an upgrade option is available for send and save your
location and allow contacts to track your progress. The Custom Message
button lets you send a pre-programmed message to nominated personal contacts
for say when a destination is reached and all well. Your location map using
Google Maps is viewable via a website which you can provide to your family
and contacts before you leave on a trip so they can view your trip
Another feature of the PLT is you can also set up a
designated contact and when you press the ‘Help’ button it will inform your
designated contact that you are not okay.
Another similar devices are the Delorme
inReach SE Communicator and the RescueME PLB1 (works with Compas Sarsat
Thuraya SatSleeve - If you have a Samsung Galaxy
smartphone there is a satellite adaptor for smartphones that provides an
easy and affordable access to mobile communication over the Thuraya
satellite network. Just inset your smartphone into the SatSleeve for
Android and stay connected through phone calls, SMS and date via satellite
mode. The SatSleeve sells for around $800 and monthly service plans start
from about $15.