PLBs Reviewed

A look at the ACR ResQLink View, Spot X with Bluetooth, Garmin GPS 86sci inReach and Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1
Boaters clinging to an upturned boat
Courtesy US Coast Guard While any beacon can hail help, an EPIRB can float and work without any intervention, freeing victims’ hands to cling to wreckage—or each other.

No matter how carefully you prepare and plan for an excursion on the water, things can go wrong. Traveling with a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger can add ­tremendous peace of mind.

A personal locator beacon (PLB), which you attach to your belt or life jacket, uses GPS to establish your position and satellite communications to transmit it to international search and rescue (SAR) authorities.

Most PLBs transmit through a free one-way rescue satellite ­messenger. A few also offer satcom capabilities that require a contract, but most are simply rescue beacons.

Satellite messengers, or satellite ­communicators, are closely related to PLBs in purpose but instigate a rescue differently. Satcom ­rescue devices can offer the ability to reliably send an SOS with your position to the well-established GEOS travel-safety group, which contacts, coordinates and monitors SAR efforts. GEOS operates continually to coordinate rescues directly with the US Coast Guard or other rescue authority nearest your position. Some devices offer GPS navigation screens, and most offer two-way ­communications—for a fee.

ACR ResQLink View floats and sends SOS info
Courtesy ACR Electronics

ACR ResQLink View

acrartex.com
$359.99; cabelas.com

This PLB was awarded an NMMA Innovations Award for its ability to float, self-test, and confirm via an LED screen that SOS information with GPS location has been sent to initiate rescue efforts. The ResQLink comes with several options for wearing on your person. A belt clip securely holds it to a life-jacket strap or belt. Or an alternate clip connects it firmly to the oral inflation tube on an inflatable life jacket. A neck lanyard and Velcro strap are both options compatible with either the belt or inflation-tube mount. The design and physical separation of the test button and SOS activation button eliminate the chance of accidental activation. White light and infrared strobes make for easy visual observation. Adhesive camo and ocean camo skins are included to customize your device based on your outdoor activities.

  • SAR Networks: SARSAT, COSPAS, MEOSAR
  • Battery Life: 5 years
  • Operational Battery Life: 24 hours
  • Satellite Constellation: GPS, Galileo GNSS
  • Floating: Yes
  • Subscription Cost: None
  • Satellite Messaging: None
  • Communications Contract: None
SpotX with Bluetooth sends out the GPS location of a boat
Courtesy SpotX

Spot X with Bluetooth

findmespot.com
$249.95; rei.com

This is one of Spot’s most sophisticated communications devices yet. Probably the most important bit for boaters, this device captures your GPS location and stands ready to transmit an international SOS complete with your location. Private emergency monitoring bases coordinate your rescue with appropriate authorities, be it the US Coast Guard or other international authorities. It can also send and receive messages to designated contacts using the Globalstar satellite network. A full keyboard and Bluetooth connectivity to any smart device make it easy to generate messages. You can also set up pre-drafted ­messages, such as “I’m on my way to the boat ramp.”

  • SAR Networks: GEOS Emergency Services
  • Battery Life: Rechargeable lithium-ion
  • Operational Battery Life: 240 hours
  • Satellite Constellation: GPS, Galileo GNSS
  • Floating: No
  • Subscription Cost: $12 to $40 per month
  • Satellite Messaging: Yes
  • Communications Contract: Required
Courtesy Garmin

Garmin GPS 86sci inReach

garmin.com
$649.99; westmarine.com

The priciest satcom device is also the most versatile. For $650, Garmin offers you a 66-channel ­handheld GPS with the highly detailed BlueChart g3 coastal maps (a microSD card slot allows other maps to be added), and inReach SOS and civilian communications capabilities. With Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, you can sync all Garmin devices on your boat, and also control your Fusion Audio system. Wireless connectivity also allows you to complete easy firmware updates and map upgrades­—a feature not to be sneezed at. The ­lithium-ion ­battery can operate up to 35 hours in 10-minute tracking intervals, and up to 200 hours in expedition mode, which turns off the screen until you need it.

  • SAR Networks: SARSAT, COSPAS
  • Battery Life: Rechargeable lithium-ion
  • Operational Battery Life: 35 to 200 hours
  • Satellite Constellation: GPS, Galileo, Iridium
  • Floating: Yes
  • Subscription Cost: Iridium rates from $12 to $65 per month
  • Satellite Messaging: Yes
  • Communications Contract: Required

Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1

oceansignal.com
$289.95; rei.com

The world’s smallest PLB floats in its included carrying case and uses a 66-channel GPS receiver to acquire your position and transmit it via the international COSPAS-SARSAT search and rescue system. If the ResQLink model isn’t small enough, this one is smaller by 1.5 inches, or 30 percent in total volume. Slip it in a pocket for convenience, or fasten it to your life jacket for added assurance you’ll have it at the ready should you need it. A unique spring-activated plate covers the activation button, preventing accidental deployment, and the antenna is conveniently stowed while kept in a pocket, or on a lanyard or belt clamp. A 1-candela strobe is visible for more than a mile to assist and visually guide rescue personnel to your final geolocation.

  • SAR Networks: SARSAT, COSPAS
  • Battery Life: 7 years
  • Operational Battery Life: 24 hours
  • GPS Satellite Constellation: GPS, Galileo GNSS
  • Floating: No, but floating pouch included
  • Subscription Cost: None
  • Satellite Messaging: None
  • Communications Contract: None

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