A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a portable device that will transmit your location in case of an emergency so that rescue crews will be able to find you. A personal locator beacon must be activated manually, and it transmits data to a satellite system, allowing rescuers to track your location within about 2-3 miles. Some PLBs allow integration with GPS units, which can dramatically improve the ability to track your location.
Until 2003, PLBs could only be used in Alaska as part of an experimental program. After the experiment proved successful and helped save hundreds of lives, the FCC approved the program for use nationwide.
Alerts Rescuers to Your Location
If you spend a lot of time out in the wilderness, it is a good idea to carry a PLB for your safety. You are highly unlikely to ever need it, but a PLB is good to have with you in case you have exhausted all other methods of self-rescue and have run out of options. When activated, it will alert rescuers to your location, no matter how remote. It takes less than an hour for your location to be identified with a PLB. If your PLB is integrated with a GPS, it will take about five minutes to identify your location.
Initiates Search and Rescue Procedures
Personal locator beacons transmit powerful signals at 406 MHz, a distress frequency that is monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). When activated, PLBs communicate with a network of satellites that relay your information to AFRCC, which will initiate the search and rescue procedures.
Each PLB has a long-lasting lithium battery that remains dormant until the PLB is activated. The batteries will typically last at least 24 hours, although the battery life may be somewhat diminished in cold temperatures.
No Recurring Fees
You must register your PLB with NOAA, but you do not have to pay any recurring fees to maintain your PLB. You will be given a Unique Identifying Number that is linked to your personal information including your name, phone number, address and any medical conditions rescuers should be aware of.
Only Use as a Last Resort
A personal locator beacon should only be used as a last resort when all of your other attempts to be rescued have been exhausted. Your survival kit should include equipment to help rescuers find you, such as a signal mirror, fire-starting tools, a whistle and an emergency blanket.