Radio beacons are important devices to own when fishing and boating offshore. These devices have been used to assist in rescuing over 30,000 people!
The GPS based 406 MHz device allows for the location of the device to be tracked within 100 meters in most cases and is able to quickly get emergency contact information from registered devices from the distress signal to determine if there is a real emergency.
In the United States beacons are registered with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration NOAA.
The US Coast Guard urges user to register the device because it can respond more quickly to distress signals for registered beacons. Beacon registration is free and there are no monthly fees associated with the service as governments fund the monitoring stations and rescue crews.
There are two common types of beacons. Emergency Position-Indicating Radiobeacon (EPIRB) is a device used to contact search and rescue monitoring stations in the event of an emergency.
These are typically used in a marine environment and are registered to a vessel. In an emergency, these can be activated to send distress signals containing position and device information to rescue personnel. These signals are monitored worldwide. These devices can be activated manually or automatically after a vessel sinks.
A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a type of EPIRB that is generally smaller, has a shorter battery life and is registered to an individual person. These are commonly used for boating, hiking, and flying. These devices have to be manually activated by a user. I will list the best emergency beacons that I am aware of in 2019. Modern devices contain a built-in GPS and transmit signals using 5 Watts of power at 406MHz. Personally I would not go offshore without one of the first five devices on the boat. When I fish on other people’s boats I will bring my own emergency beacon because there is no guarantee that vessel operators have a modern radio beacon on board.
In the photo, my brother and I are fishing in Florida. He is wearing a PLB on his life jacket. In this case, it is placed through the strap of the life jacket. PLBs also fit well in small zipper pouches in life jackets. Wearing a PLB is ideal because in the event a person falls overboard they can call for help. This is a must-have device when fishing on a boat offshore.
- Here Are the Best Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) in 2019
- 1. ACR Buoyant ResQLink PLB View (Recommended)
- 2. ACR Buoyant ResQLink PLB 400
- 3. Ocean Signal rescueME PLB
- 4. ACR Aqualink PLB
- 5. McMurdo Fast Find 220 PLB
- 6. ACR Buoyant ResQLink PLB 375 (strong attachment)
- 7. ACR EPIRB GlobalFIX iPro Pro or V4
- 8. ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4
- 9. SARLink Dual-Mode Rescue Communication Device
- 10. Garmin Inreach Explorer+ (subscription required)
- 11. SPOT 3 GPS Messenger (subscription required)
Here Are the Best Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) in 2019
1. ACR Buoyant ResQLink PLB View (Recommended)
Price: Around $350
My Review: The PLB View and PLB 400 are the new versions of the PLB 375 that has become the most widely used PLB on the market. This new beacon is now the world’s smallest floating PLB and contains additional features.
Its dimensions are 4.25 x 2.03 x 1.49 inches and the weight is 5.22 ounces. The battery is certified for 5 years. This PLB is waterproof at 33 feet for ten minutes.
The battery life is 28 hours. This beacon emits a 5W 406 MHz distress signal and a 50mW 121.5 MHz homing signal. This unit contains a new built-in display that provide the status of the signal and the GPS coordinates.
Registration of the beacon is free and there are not any added expenses after purchase except to replace the battery every 5 years.
We typically just buy a new unit every few years and keep the old units on the boat as a back-up. Typically a better smaller unit comes out every 5 years anyway. These are the best units on the market in my opinion. These are small and easy to wear on a life jacket. Even if you are not wearing the life jacket at all times having these on a life jacket in an open area makes it much more accessible in the event of an emergency. It is a good idea to have two or more radio beacon devices on all boats that go offshore and in many cases are required by the Coast Guard. This particular unit is buoyant and floats but be careful because there is a unit that looks just like this one that does not float. The new View unit contains a clip vs the PLB 375 which had secure loops built into the device for attachment. This new clip may be handy but for secure storage buying a life jacket with a zipper pouch to hold the PLB would be a great idea.
It is especially dangerous to be boating and fishing by yourself. If you fall overboard there is no one driving the boat and no one is present to assist you or call for help. If you are fishing by yourself I would highly recommend wearing this PLB all the time!
Why I like it:
- It contains a digital display for signal status and GPS coordinates.
- World’s smallest floating PLB
- ACR is a top-quality brand
In the video above I show how to use the PLB in the event of an emergency. I also discuss competing technologies such as Garmin inReach, Spot, and AIS systems. How to test the unit to verify it is working properly is also presented.
2. ACR Buoyant ResQLink PLB 400
Price: Around $300
My Review: The PLB 400 is very similar to the PLB View above but does not have the built-in digital display. The battery life during use is 24+ hours vs 28+ hours for the view.
Its dimensions and weight are the same for both units 4.25 x 2.03 x 1.49 inches and the weight is 5.22 ounces. The battery is certified for 5 years. This PLB is waterproof at 33 feet for ten minutes.
This unit is the new version of the widely used PLB 375. Since this unit is about $50 cheaper than the View it is a great option. This unit contains a strobe and sends a 406 MHz distress signal and 121.5 MHz homing signal for 24 hours.
Why I like it:
- Lower Cost than the PLB View
- Clip attachment to wear without a belt or strap
3. Ocean Signal rescueME PLB
Price: Around $290
My review: The ocean signal rescueMe has Dimensions are 1.3 x 2.0 x 3.0 inches and the weight is 4.1 ounces. The battery storage life is 7 years. The PLB is waterproof to 49 feet deep. Typical battery life is +24 hours when in use. Emits a 5.0W 406 MHz signal with GPS coordinates and a 25-100 mW 121.5 MHz homing signal.
This PLB has a 66 channel GPS receiver and operates on the Global Cospas Sarsat rescue system. This has similar functionality and specifications to the ACR PLBs. The advantage of this device is that it is smaller. This makes it easier to contentiously have on your person while on a boat. The PLB does not float on its own but contains a flotation pouch to fit the PLB into which enables it to float. This seems like a great option for PLB.
Why I like it:
- Worlds smallest PLB (requires external float)
- Comes with an external float pouch
- Spring-loaded flap covers the activation button preventing inadvertent use.
- Waterproof to 49 feet deep
Price: Around $405
My review: ACR Aqulink Personal Locator Beacon with digital display. Dimensions are 1.45 x 2.3 x 5.8 inches and the weight is 5.4 ounces.
The battery is certified for 6 years from the date it was manufactured. The PLB is waterproof at 33 feet for ten minutes.
Typical battery life is 30 hours when in use. Emits a 6.3W 406 MHz signal with GPS coordinates and a 50mW 121.5 MHz homing signal.
This device is very similar to the ResQLink PLB 375 and also floats.
The primary difference is that this device is larger has a built-in digital display and emits a 6.3W 406 Mhz signal compared to the 5.0W 406 Mhz signal of the ResQLink PLB 375. The device also comes with an attachment clip. I think this device is a bit large to wear all the time. It would be a good option to store on the boat or in a backpack to use in an emergency situation.
Why I like it:
- Powerful 6.3 W signal output power
- Built-in strobe
- Has a digital display
5. McMurdo Fast Find 220 PLB
Price: Around $260
My review: McMurdo Fast Find 220 PLB. Dimensions are 1.34 x 1.85 x 4.17 inches and the weight is 5.4 ounces.
Has a 6-year battery storage life. Waterproof to 30 feet for 5 minutes. Typical battery life is +24 hours when in use. Emits a 5.0W 406 MHz signal with GPS coordinates and a 50 mW 121.5 MHz homing signal. This is another great option for a PLB. It also has similar specifications to the ACR PLB’s.
This is a category 2 device and does not float. It does come with a floating pouch that it can be stored in. The cap has been reported to be difficult to remove in emergency situations. This seems like a well designed PLB but does not have any standout features compared to the other devices mentioned above.
Why I like it:
- Waterproof to 30 feet.
6. ACR Buoyant ResQLink PLB 375 (strong attachment)
Price: Around $290
My Review: The ACR PLB 375 had been the best unit on the market for years in my opinion. It was the world’s smallest floating 406 MHz personal locator beacon. It has now been replaced with the PLB 400 and PLB View.
This unit’s dimensions are 4.5 x 1.9 x 1.6 inches and the weight is 5.4 ounces. The battery is certified for 6 years and has a typical shelf life of 11 years. This PLB is waterproof at 33 feet for ten minutes.
The typical battery life is 30 hours when in use. This beacon emits a 5W 406 MHz distress signal with GPS coordinates and a 50mW 121.5 MHz homing signal.
This unit has been with me on many offshore adventures and gave me peace of mind knowing that help would be easy to reach if needed. I do like the built-in attachment loops on this unit better than the clips that comes on the new models.
Why I like it:
- Built-in belt loops for secure long term attachment
- Contains a visible and IR strobe
7. ACR EPIRB GlobalFIX iPro Pro or V4
Price: Around $600
My review: ACR GlobalFix Pro 2842 Category 1 EPIRB rescue beacon. Dimensions are 4.2 x 7.0 inches and the weight of the beacon is 1lb 4oz. This EPIRB comes as a category 1 device with an automatic release or as a category 2 device with a manual release bracket. Emits a 6.3 Watt 406 MHz signal with GPS coordinates and a 50 mW 121.5 MHz homing signal. The battery has a 6-year self-life. The device is waterproof at 33 feet for five minutes. Typical battery life is 65+ hours with a 48 hours minimum operational life when in use.
Why I like it:
- Built-in strobe
- Beacon automatically deploys if your boat sinks
- An approved beacon for Cost Guard inspected vessels
8. ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4
Price: Around $450
My review: The ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4 Robust Internal GPS is an amazing little device.
Its dimensions are 4.3 x 8.1 inches and the weight of the beacon is 1lb 11oz. This EPIRB comes as a category 1 device with an automatic release or as a category 2 device with a manual release bracket. Emits 5 Watt 406 MHz signal with GPS coordinates and a 50 mW 121.5 MHz homing signal. The battery has a 10-year self-life and is user-replaceable. Waterproof at 33 feet for five minutes. Typical battery life is greater than 48 hours when in use.
An ACR EPIRB is a great choice to keep on the boat in case of an emergency. The automatic release bracket allows for a category one rating which is required on many vessels. If the boat sinks the beacon floats free at a depth of 4.9 to 13.1 feet and is automatically activated. The Category 2 beacon must be manually removed from its bracket. Once removed it does automatically activate if it comes into contact with water. It can be activated while in either bracket by lifting the switch to the active position.
Similar ACR EPIRBS include the GlobalFix Pro iPro and V4. The main difference I noticed between iPro and Pro is that the iPro has a digital display. The main difference I noticed between the Pro versions and the GlobalFix V4 is the batters and output power. The typical performance of the Pro is 65 hours compared to +48 hours for the GlobalFix V4 but both versions have a minimum operating life of 48 hours. The GlobalFix V4 battery has a 10-year replacement interval compared to a 6-year replacement interval with the pro versions. The output power of the pro versions is 6.3 Watts compared to 5.0 Watts with the V4 version. If you are in a location were signal power is important than a pro version would be a good choice.
Having a device that automatically deploys is important because in the event of a boat crashing or flipping in rough seas would not give people on the boat the needed time to get to the emergency devices. The GlobalFIX Ipro, Pro and V4 are all great devices that give the Category 1 automatic deployment capability. I listed the pro and V4 version because they are quite a bit cheaper than the iPro version. If money is not a factor and the digital display seems like a nice feature than the iPro is the best option. In my opinion, the V4 is a good way to go because the battery only needs to be replaced every 10 years and the 5.0 Watt output power seems sufficient.
Why I like it:
- Category 1 (Automatically deploys if vessel sinks)
- Good value
- 10 year Battery Life
9. SARLink Dual-Mode Rescue Communication Device
My review: Dimensions are 1.5 x 3.12 x 8.12 inches and the weight is 12.5 ounces. The unit has two batteries a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery to use message and tracking features and a dedicated Lithium battery for the 406 MHz locator beacon that lasts a minimum of 24 hours at 5W.
That battery has a 7-year replacement cycle. Waterproof at 3.2 feet for 30 minutes. Emits 5.0 W 406 MHz signal with GPS coordinates. Link Margin Uplink averages 7dB and Downlink average 13dB. Has a 3-inch touch screen display.
This is the first device that offers the 406 MHz distress signals via the Cospas Sarsat rescue system as well as custom text messaging and tracking via the Iridium satellite network. One major catch is that this unit is not a commercially available product and is only available to government agencies. Tracking intervals can be once per minute to once per day. Canned and custom text messages can be sent. In order to use tracking, two-way text messaging and the Iridium distress alert features a subscription needs to be purchased for Iridium Airtime from a Backend Service Provider. To use the 406 Locator Beacon functions the device just needs to be registered with NOAA.
The SARLink seems like a device that properly handles messaging and contentious tracking with PLB functions all in one device. The device does not also transmit the 121.5 MHz homing signals like other PLBs. I am not sure how often the homing signal is used in modern search and rescue operations. This seems like a great device and hopefully, they allow civilians to purchase this device soon. The other PLBs handle more extreme operation conditions and having a stand-alone EPIRB or PLB on the boat would still be a good idea. This would certainly have an advantage on other messaging and tracking devices if it becomes commercially available.
Why I like it:
- Waterproof at 3.2 feet for up to 30 minutes
- 406 MHz distress signals through Cospas Sarsat rescue system
- Two text messaging
Mcmurdo Dive PLB Canister
Price: Around $150
Mcmurdo Dive PLB Canister is Made from high strength Aluminum. Dimensions are 3.68 x 6.38 inches and the weight is 1.98 lbs. This can be taken to a depth of over 450 feet. This dive canister is intended to carry a PLB with a diver while scuba diving. This is a really smart idea. When diving often times there is no one left on the boat. If the boat breaks free the diver would surface without a boat or any way to signal for help. A diver can easily get swept away by strong currents that prevent the diver from reaching the boat again. Having a PLB or submersible dive radio on your person while driving could save your life. When we dive one person has a radio and the other person has a PLB in the waterproof canister. I’m sure there are other good canisters out there, but I recommend this one because I know for a fact it works great.
Alternatives to PLBs and require a subscription
10. Garmin Inreach Explorer+ (subscription required)
Price: Around $290
My review: Dimensions are 1.5 x 2.7 x 6.5 inches and the weight is 7.5 ounces. The display size is 1.4 x 1.9 inches. Has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts 75 hours at 10-minute tracking intervals and 30 days at 30-minute tracking intervals. Has SOS button to send a distress signal to the private GOES International Emergency Response Coordination Center who then contacts emergency services. This device has an IPX7 rating which means it suitable for splashes, rain, snow, and showering but not being submerged in water.
This device transmits to the privately-owned Iridium satellite system.
It is capable of sending and receiving custom text messages and transmitting tracking information to friends and family. This device also functions a GPS where detailed TOPO maps can be uploaded.
My dad went Elk hunting this past year by himself in a remote area that did not have cell phone reception and we kept in contact with him using this device with a custom text messaging twice a day and continuous tracking.
This service costs about $300 per year and 45 cents per custom message sent or received. There are cheaper packages available but you get charged per tacked point which would get expensive quickly even at 10-minute tracking intervals. This could also be used to track boat locations that are far offshore. The computer interface was pretty easy to use but it was sometimes difficult to get the latest points to update.
Unless a custom message is sent this only happens at certain intervals and in our case the tracking points updated every 4 hours to save battery. The device operates on a custom size rechargeable battery which is actually really annoying because external charge packs and solar panels are needed for extended use in remote areas. The messaging and tracking features of this unit are very useful but this is not a replacement for a PLB or EPIRB.
Having both a messaging device and PLB is a good idea when going on multi-day trips that are in locations where typical communication methods are not an option.
Why I like it:
- Utilizes global Iridium coverage for 2-way messaging
- Packed with awesome features
- Can text the nature of the emergency
11. SPOT 3 GPS Messenger (subscription required)
Price: Around $140
My review: SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger. Dimensions are 1.0 x 2.56 x 3.43 inches and the weight is 4.0 ounces. Takes 4 AAA Lithium batteries. The device is waterproof at 1 meter for 30 minutes. Can transmit tracking data at 2.5, 5, 10, 30 or 60-minute intervals. Has an SOS button that sends distress information to the GOES International Emergency Response Coordination Center which then provides your GPS coordinates to emergency services. This only works if you have payed for the subscription service.
The Spot works off the Globalstar satellite system which are privately owned satellites. In addition to device cost there is a $200 annual fee to use their services including the SOS messages. Advantages are the user can send non-emergency text messages to contacts and allow people to track the device position as frequently as every five minutes with the basic service plan.
It does use more battery to transmit more often. In my opinion, this device is not nearly as good for emergency situations as a PLB that transmits at 406 GHz to the Global Cospas Sarsat rescue system. However, it is nice that friends can check in on you to know if help is needed. If you get knocked out and only have a PLB you will not be able to request help. If you have check-in times with friends when in remote areas with spot and you do not check-in, people can request help to your location even when you can not.
So having a messaging device and PLB is a good idea.
Why I like it:
- Easy to use the messenger
- Check-in functionality
- Super durable Easy to send pre-programmed messages with your GPS location
Thanks for visiting Global Fishing Reports. I hope this information allows you to select the best PLB or EPIRB!
If you have any additional information, leave a comment below!
Captain Cody has worked on charter fishing boats in the Florida Keys, Virgin Islands and Alaska. Cody grew up in Pennsylvania and has also done extensive freshwater fishing including bass fishing tournaments. Cody strives to provide detailed information about the best fishing gear and tactics to help both novice and experienced anglers have a more productive and enjoyable time on the water. Cody also has a background in aerospace engineering and neuroscience but really only takes pride in being good at one thing and that is fishing!