The benefits of a personal locator beacon (PLB)
The benefits of a personal locator beacon (PLB)

Don't set sail without a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)! Discover the benefits of this essential safety equipment for sailors and how to choose the right one for your needs.

The Benefits of a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

As you embark on your sailing adventure with your family, safety should always be a top priority. One essential piece of safety equipment that should be on every sailor’s list is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). In this article, we will discuss the benefits of having a PLB on board, how they work, and how to choose the right one for your needs.

Table of Contents

What is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)?

A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a small, portable device that can be used to send out a distress signal in case of an emergency. When activated, a PLB sends out a signal that can be detected by search and rescue (SAR) teams, allowing them to locate and assist you in a timely manner. PLBs are designed to be used in life-threatening situations, such as when you are lost at sea, injured, or in danger of sinking.

How Does a PLB Work?

A PLB works by transmitting a distress signal on the 406 MHz frequency, which is monitored by the international search and rescue satellite system known as Cospas-Sarsat. When you activate your PLB, it sends out a signal containing your unique identification number, along with your GPS coordinates if your PLB is equipped with GPS. This information is then relayed to the nearest search and rescue team, who can use it to locate you and provide assistance.

In addition to the 406 MHz distress signal, most PLBs also transmit a 121.5 MHz homing signal. This signal is used by search and rescue teams to pinpoint your exact location once they are in the vicinity of your distress signal.

Benefits of a PLB

There are several benefits to having a PLB on board your boat, including:

  1. Peace of Mind: Knowing that you have a reliable means of calling for help in an emergency can provide you and your family with peace of mind as you set sail on your adventure.

  2. Global Coverage: The Cospas-Sarsat system provides global coverage, meaning that your PLB will work anywhere in the world, regardless of how remote your location may be.

  3. Rapid Response: The distress signal sent by your PLB is received by search and rescue teams almost instantly, allowing them to respond quickly and efficiently to your emergency.

  4. Increased Survival Odds: In a life-threatening situation, every minute counts. A PLB can significantly increase your odds of survival by ensuring that help arrives as quickly as possible.

  5. Compact and Portable: PLBs are small and lightweight, making them easy to carry with you at all times. Some models can even be attached to your life jacket or belt for added convenience.

  6. Affordable: While the cost of a PLB can vary depending on the features and brand, they are generally quite affordable, especially when you consider the potential life-saving benefits they provide.

Choosing the Right PLB for Your Needs

When it comes to selecting a PLB for your sailing adventure, there are several factors to consider:

  1. GPS Capability: Some PLBs come equipped with GPS, which can provide search and rescue teams with your exact coordinates, making it easier for them to locate you. While PLBs without GPS can still be effective, those with GPS are generally considered to be more reliable and efficient.

  2. Battery Life: The battery life of your PLB is an important consideration, as it will determine how long your distress signal can be transmitted. Look for a PLB with a long battery life, preferably one that can transmit for at least 24 hours.

  3. Size and Weight: As mentioned earlier, PLBs are designed to be compact and portable. When choosing a PLB, consider the size and weight of the device, as well as how easy it will be to carry with you at all times.

  4. Waterproof Rating: Since you will be using your PLB on a boat, it’s essential to choose a device with a high waterproof rating. Look for a PLB that is rated to at least IPX7, which means it can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes without damage.

  5. Ease of Use: In an emergency situation, you want a PLB that is easy to activate and use. Look for a device with a simple activation process and clear instructions.

  6. Price: While price should not be the primary factor in choosing a PLB, it’s still important to consider your budget. There are many affordable options available that still offer excellent performance and reliability.

Registering Your PLB

Once you have purchased your PLB, it’s essential to register it with the appropriate authorities. In the United States, this is done through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Registering your PLB allows search and rescue teams to access important information about you and your vessel, which can help them respond more effectively to your distress signal.

To register your PLB, you will need to provide your name, address, phone number, and information about your boat, such as its make, model, and registration number. You will also need to provide an emergency contact who can be reached in case you activate your PLB.

Testing and Maintaining Your PLB

To ensure that your PLB is functioning properly, it’s important to test it regularly. Most PLBs have a built-in test function that allows you to check the device’s battery, GPS, and distress signal. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for testing your PLB, and replace the battery as needed.

In addition to regular testing, it’s important to keep your PLB clean and free of debris. Store your PLB in a dry, cool place when not in use, and avoid exposing it to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight for extended periods.


A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is an essential piece of safety equipment for anyone embarking on a sailing adventure. By providing a reliable means of calling for help in an emergency, a PLB can offer peace of mind and significantly increase your odds of survival. When choosing a PLB, consider factors such as GPS capability, battery life, size, and waterproof rating. Remember to register your PLB, test it regularly, and maintain it properly to ensure its effectiveness in an emergency situation.