• PLB Beacon Review 2016 - The personal EPIRB!

    PLB Beacon Review 2016 - The personal EPIRB!

    April 2016

    This PLB (EPIRB) review is for repersonal use.

    This review will be split in to two parts, EPIRB and PLB. EPIRB will be done sometime this month. Although the the two are similar the Personal Location Beacon (PLB) is a sub category of EPIRB and are not specifically for boats as they are designed to attach to your body and don't necessarily float and or trigger when it hits water. PLBs are most common with 4WDers, hikers, bikers, light aircraft etc etc; for anyone that wants to have a safety device that's easy to carry. Boaters who are seriously safety conscious or are required to have a PLB will use the PLB accordingly. This review is almost a copy paste of the original but is updated to today's available devices plus additional information regarding battery replacement and servicing.

    Important notes:

    In Australia EPIRBs and PLBs are not allowed to have the batteries replaced by the end user, (unless the device is for leisure use) it has to be sent back to the manufacturer for refitting. Thus, devices from overseas often are not approved for use in Australia even if it appears to be the same model. Models in Australia have a different identification to overseas and require registration. If you don't register and use an overseas unit, you will still be rescued, maybe.

    Personal Locator Beacon

    There are 6 406Mhz PLB manufacturers represented in Australia, GME Electrophone (Standard Communications), Ocean Signal, KTi, ACR, McMurdo and Kannad (owned by McMurdo); of those 6 two are Australian products, GME Electrophone and KTi. PLBs are not designed as a boat EPIRB because of two main factors required; floating and automatic trigger in water. PLBs are to be tied to your Life Jacket in a marine environment, or if you wanted to, in your pocket when used elsewhere.

    The models:

    ACR ResQLink+
    GME MT410G
    Kannad SafeLink SOLO
    Kti SA2G
    McMurdo Fastfind 220, Fastfind MAX, Fastfind 211
    Ocean Signal rescue-ME PLB1

    Prior to Feburary 2009 EPIRBs were on the 121.5/243 MHz a n a l o g u e COSPAS SARSAT service, whilst since then only the 406 MHz digital beacon signals will be processed thereafter. Consumers have for some time recognised the major benefits of a 406 MHz over a 121.5 MHz device. They are faster, have more accurate detection, personal identification of each beacon,and reduced search area resulting in a faster more targeted response in a life threatening situation, especially when the PLB is fitted with a GPS.

    I have a problem with buying anything that is not Australian, or at least buy Australian before I buy products from overseas. There is a hierarchy of course, but anything past New Zealand are thrown into the pot and decided upon from price, quality and support etc. In saying that the Australian manufacturers, based on this review, are not second to anyone, but world class leaders, however, you have to read this review to come to the same conclusion.

    If I was to buy a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) I would buy it based on what it was designed to do, save my life. Based on this I would want to ensure a few things first, the battery won't be flat when I go to use it, it will last long enough for Search and Rescue to find me, and is not going to suffer from being lost.

    You may ask, what do I mean by "being lost", well many of you know that over the years GPS technology has improved, in particular sensitivity and tracking. The newer GPS engines (for example SiRF IV, MTK) are far more robust than their predecessors by a huge amount. Anyone who has any of the older handheld and newer handheld GPS will testify this; with loss of signal under normal conditions: normal as in tree canopy or high waves, signal issues unheard of with todays GPS recievers.

    The first thing I look at is the battery life, which ties in with warranty. First number represents battery life in years whilst second is warranty in years.
    Battery/Warranty Life:

    KTi 20/10
    GME 7/7
    Kannad 5/6
    ACR ResQFLink+ 10/5
    Ocean Signal 7/7

    The second thing I look for is if it has a GPS, which most if not all have built-in. The difference between a unit with or without a GPS is many many square kilometres as well as detection time*; 5km radius without GPS and 124 metres with. I feel far more secure knowing that if I am injured or in freezing cold water the extra accuracy and immediately recorded position means extra quick location of my position, thus make it to the hospital in time. It is interesting the accuracies that the manufacturers all quote. There spec sheets states CEP50, which basically means 50% of the time you will be within the stated accuracy. Other GPS products such as by Garmi, Magellan, TwoNav etc use CEP90. Today all GPS are accurate to within 5 metres.

    On some manufacturers sites they mention CEP 50% for accuracy. No one in the GPS world really works on 50%, they typically look at 95% with a stated accuracy of typically 10 metres for a GPS engine. Today's GPS engines are practicaly identical and far superior to the previous generations. I do see no obvious differences between them all, so performance would be practically identical. The locating accuracy is limited by COSPAS-SARSAT system because they have not kept up with the times and maintain a GPS location accuracy only to 124 metres (4 seconds of arc). Any accuracy specification listed below is not going to be better than COSPAS-SARSAT's 124 metres; thus quoting better than 124 metres is a furphy.

    *Please read the AMSA letter at the bottom of this review.

    GPS detection accuracy (read above regarding accuracy):

    KTi 3 metre* (66 channel GPS engine)
    GME <100m (50 channel GPS engine)
    Kannad <120m (50 Channel)
    ACR <100m (66 Channel)
    Ocean Signal <150m (60 Channel)

    *Detection accuracy (CEP50).

    The next issue is strobe, I love strobes because even though the unit may or may not have a GPS a strobe is an added cost effective feature that I can't go without. It is certainly mandatory with the none GPS unit but even so at night time with a 124 metre radius (GPS version) a chopper with a spotlight searching in rough seas at night still may struggle to locate you. A nice bright little strobe light blinking every 3 seconds is worth the extra few dollars.
    Additional features:KTi LED strobe, signalling mirror, floats
    GME LED strobe, floats
    Kannad LED strobe, floatation pouch
    ACR LED strobe, floats
    Ocean Signal LED strobe, floatation pouch
    McMurdo LED strobe, floatation pouch

    Usage time:

    KTi 2+ days
    GME 2+ days
    Ocean Signal 2+ days
    ACR 2+ days
    Kannad 2+ days


    KTi: 88mm x 64mm x 31mm
    GME: 135mm x 71mm x 38mm
    Kannad: 112mm x 50mm x 36mm
    ACR: 190mm x 48mm x 41mm
    Ocean Signal : 77mm x 51mm x 32.5mm
    McMurdo 106mm x 47mm x 34mm

    What the spec means is it is going to cost the manufacturer and thus the end user a lot more money for the privilege of having that MIL -spec on your product. Not to say it is an over the top requirement but certainly pushes the product above the others especially in price.
    Following prices are RRP and for the GPS kitted version.

    KTi $299
    GME $349
    Kannad $399
    ACR $399
    Ocean Signal $399
    McMurdo from $449

    PLB Refurbishment:
    Refurbishment requires the device to go back via land based transport due to safety hazard issue with Batteries

    GME Electrophone $199
    KTI EPIRB $154
    Kannad TBA
    ACR $243.50
    Ocean Signal $160
    McMurdo TBA

    Test Function:

    All units have the ability to do a self test to make sure it is working correctly. In USA there is a service that allows you to make sure your beacon is being picked up by the 406link.com service, which is only available in North and South America

    The KTi meets the most important requirements and unlike the previous review, is now the PLB of choice. At the start of this review I said I would prefer to buy Australian first, but the results speak for themselves; nothing skewed, everything as per manufacturer specifications.

    The KTi's advantage is that it is local (Melbourne), is bouyant rather than relying on a floatation pouch which could deteriorate over time, and has a reflective strip to flash at any moving object with people inside it.

    What surprises me is the Kannad is dearer than either of the Australian products but is inferior to them as well.

    Applicable to marine use: After you purchase a 406 MHz beacon you MUST register this unique code with your local rescue co-ordination authority (see below for details) so that, if an emergency occurs and you need to activate your beacon, the authorities will have immediate access to your name, your emergency contacts and the type of vessel or craft you are in.
    Purchasing from overseas:
    You may be keen to buy from USA etc but be aware, AMSA in their great wisdom decided to add an additional code to the Australian sold beacon transmission making the PLB/EPIRB in Australia unique to the extent they will know if the item is an import ands so will the local manufacturers/distributors who won't service them locally. Personally it infuriates me when the various government agencies think we need to be different to the rest of the world and thus what is good enough for USA or Europe is not good enough for us. It is just a means to keep the in-efficient red tape happening. Let me tell you about "Intrisically Safe" products.....

    Click Here for the application form

    Forward your EPIRB registration to:

    Beacon Registration Section, AusSAR
    Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
    GPO Box 2181
    Fax International: +61 2 6230 6868
    Fax Local: 1800 622 153
    Email: aus_beacon_query@amsa.gov.au
    Phone International: [IMG]resource://skype_ff_extension-at-jetpack/skype_ff_extension/data/call_skype_logo.png[/IMG]+61 2 6230 6811
    Phone Local: [IMG]resource://skype_ff_extension-at-jetpack/skype_ff_extension/data/call_skype_logo.png[/IMG]1800 641 792 FREE

    New Zealand
    Forward your EPIRB registration to:

    Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand
    PO Box 30050, Lower Hutt 6009
    Fax: +64 4 914 8388
    Email: 406registry@msa.govt.nz
    Phone: [IMG]resource://skype_ff_extension-at-jetpack/skype_ff_extension/data/call_skype_logo.png[/IMG]+64 4 914 8383
    Inmarsat-C: 582451200067



    * The letter from AMSA below is via Bushwalk web site:


    The best accuracy the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system can relay is 120mtrs. The GPS chip inside the beacon may have an accuracy of 45/60/100 mtrs etc. however when the system receives the distress message and relays it the accuracy is 120mtrs. This is very good compared to the ****ogue system of 20kms.

    Non GPS equipped distress beacons the accuracy is a 5km circular radius.

    We do recommend the GPS equipped distress beacons however they are a higher cost. When a GPS beacon is activated it is detected within a few minutes, the RCC will receive the HEX ID and the GPS coordinates within 120mtrs.

    When a Non-GPS beacon is detected within a few minutes the RCC will receive the HEX ID but no position details. The position is calculated by a Polar Orbiting satellite which averages an overpass over the Australian SAR region every 90mins or max. 5hrs. When the first position report is received we receive two positions; A and B. One is the true position and the other is the mirror image. To confirm which is the true position we can await for the satellite to overpass a second time or an overflying aircraft may report into air traffic control the hearing of 121.5 MHz in a particular area or the emergency contacts can provide information as to the region the owner is operating in.

    In order to deploy a search & rescue platform or personnel we require the location/area/region of the distress. The sooner we know the location of the distress the quicker we can organise the rescue deployment. A GPS equipped beacon is the quickest way to advise the RCC of the location of distress. Please note even though the distress alert is received within a few minutes, it can take some time to coordinate a rescue platform, this can be affected or delayed by; day or night, weather conditions, strong winds, fog, low cloud, helicopter/vessel/personnel availability to respond in the area etc. It is important the person in distress maintains there survivability until the rescue crew are on scene.

    Remember: Do not turn the beacon off until the rescue crew advise to do so, just because you may see the rescue crew in the vicinity does not mean that they have seen you.
    If you wish to discuss further please contact me, I'm happy to assist with any enquiries or product details.

    One thing I forgot to mention is that when a beacon is detected we always contact the owner and then the emergency contacts immediately to confirm if it is an inadvertent activation or a live distress. If the owner answers the phone it is usually a false alarm of which we request the owner to locate the beacon and switch off.

    If a beacon owner feels that the beacon may have inadvertently activated they can call the RCC directly on Ph:
    [IMG]resource://skype_ff_extension-at-jetpack/skype_ff_extension/data/call_skype_logo.png[/IMG]1800 641 792 FREE. There is no penalty, we appreciate the call to confirm all is safe & well.

    Linda Berryman
    This article was originally published in forum thread: PLB Beacon Review 2016 - The personal EPIRB! started by Nicko View original post