Emergency Beacons: Which Products Should You Trust?
We have put together some helpful info about how personal locator beacons work and which ones are best to take with you into the great outdoors. We hope you’ll never need to use it, but of course it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you are outdoors a lot, on your fishing boat, kayaking, or tramping etc, this is an essential safety product to have on you, and we highly recommend getting one.
What Do they Do?
Activating a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) sends a distress signal out to a satellite (there are currently 3, owned by the US, Russia and more recently the EU, which can receive GPS signals). The satellite will then forward your location data within minutes to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ).
The rescue centre will look up the emergency contact listed when you registered your device (so it’s really important to register it as soon as possible, before taking it out), this information needs to be kept current, they will talk to your contact person (who you should tell where and when you’re going out hiking or to sea etc), often the emergency contact is able to give them quick information as to where you are likely to be and this speeds up your rescue. As soon as your location is known to the RCCNZ, through the GPS signal and often with the additional help of your emergency contact, they will quickly send out a rescue party.
In general, personal locator beacons work solely as emergency devices, to send a signal with your location and notify the appropriate agency that you need help. It’s a lot less common, but some newer devices are also able to send out pre-programmed text alerts, to your emergency contact person, or even publicly, when linked with your social media accounts. So your Facebook friends can see your progress and location updates and how long it takes you to climb a mountain or find the fishing spot etc. While that may sound cool, there’s a downside to that type of PLB device, those features will only work if you’re paying regularly for a subscription. It might be better simply to make your friends wait until you’re home and share the photos and story of your adventure then.
When to Use it:
The RCCNZ advise activating it only in a serious emergency, however not to wait too long if you are genuinely concerned for your safety. It is safer to activate it before your situation becomes life threatening, to give them time to get to you. It is much easer to find people In daylight, so if you are concerned try not to wait til nightfall. After activating the beacon, leave it on an if possible, in one place and kept still. If you are at sea, lower your anchor if the water is not too rough to do so. If you’re in the bush try to find a clearing so you are easier to see for the helicopter and wait beside your beacon until rescuers arrive.
Where Can You Buy One?
It’s wiser to purchase a PLB from within New Zealand. This is because it will already be coded for NZ and can easily be registered with the RCCNZ. You may be tempted to buy one from overseas however if you do, it will need to be recoded for NZ by the manufacturer, otherwise your signal will be sent to the rescue centre in the country of purchase which could slow down your rescue significantly.
Most outdoor stores like Hunting and Fishing, Kathmandu, Bivouac, and Torpedo 7, will sell one or two kinds of personal locator beacons. You can google outdoor stores, to find the closest one to where you are. Alternatively, it is probably easier to purchase one online, after doing the research on which one you want. However, make sure you are ordering from a .co.nz New Zealand store online. Here are some websites you can look at for PLB’s:
Our Recommendations: Top Devices for 2019
1. KTI Safety Alert (Buy it here)
Price: $339 Weight: 140g
Featuring: 10yr battery life and warranty, 66 channel GPS, rust resistant in salt water, no need to add a float as the case acts as a float for the device. Solid case and strong holding lanyard that won’t break or open under high impact circumstances. It also features high intensity LED strobe lights and a mirror, to make it easier to find you. For more information on this PLB device take a look at the buy it ‘here’ link above.
This product is our top pick because it is reasonably priced, with decent features, and is easy to see and use. It is lightweight and floats, making it convenient and practical. Some of the others may have a few additional features or slightly newer technology incorporated, but looking at them overall, and comparing value for money, we highly recommend this one.
2. McMurdo Fast Find 220 (Buy it here)
Price: $599 Weight: 152g
This is the only device sold in New Zealand with access to the EU’s Galileo satellite. The others use the US and or Russian satellites. It may be slightly faster to get your co ordinates to the NZ rescue centre because of this. However, it’s not hugely different to using the other satellites, and we wouldn’t base a decision solely on this feature, you would be wise to compare all features with other devices.
Featuring: Galileo receiver, can operate non stop for at least 24hrs once activated, water proof up to 10 meters deep, decent LED light for sending SOS signals, batteries will last at least 6yrs and there is an indicator to show when batteries are low too. The device can be tested with a self test button, there are 50 GPS channels, the case floats, and a lanyard is attached.
This device is new to the market and will be available for purchase from March 2019.
3. ResQLink + (Buy it here)
Price: $479.95 Weight: 153g
Featuring: A 5yr Warranty, conveniently sized at 11.4x4.1cm, 6yr battery life, exceeds 24hrs of continuous use once activated, works at temperatures up to -20 degrees celsius, waterproof up to 5 meters for up to an hour or as deep as 10 meters for the first 10 minutes of being under water. It also has a Velcro strap so it can be attached to a life jacket, built in strobe lights and self test buttons to check the GPS functionality as well as the internal electronics.
Whichever beacon device you chose, having a Personal Locator Beacon is always a wise move for safety, we strongly recommend purchasing or hiring one for when you are out at sea or in the bush, for your own safety and the safety of those out with you.