Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) can be carried and used to issue a distress alert via satellite and overhead aircraft in the event an emergency occurs in the field. They are sometimes referred to as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) though this type of beacon is intended for Marine Use.
Bush Search and Rescue do not use PLBs during searches, but they are recommended for bushwalking and other trips into remote areas, noting that they:
- Can save lives, although they may not be completely reliable in all circumstances.
- Are a last resort in cases of grave and immediate risk to life – not a first resort.
- Are not a substitute for sound leadership and party strength.
- Beacons are waterproof and have long-life batteries which last 5 to 7 years.
- Beacons without GPS have an accuracy of 5km. With a GPS (recommended) the accuracy is generally within 100m.
- Beacons with non-HAZMAT type batteries can be safely carried on commercial airliners
- Distress beacons should only be used when there is a threat of grave and imminent danger. In an emergency, communication should first be attempted using radios, phones, SPOT devices and other communications devices available.
- Ensure you are in a clear open area and as high as possible to increase your visible area of sky for satellites. Steep, narrow gorges or overhanging foliage can affect performance.
- Distress Beacons are a one-way device. The flashing red light when activated indicates the beacon is transmitting but does not confirm your activation has been received.
- Distress Beacons must now be registered. Information on registering them is available at 406 Beacon information.
- Distress Beacons can be hired from a number of outlets including some GPS suppliers and Police Stations. Check the internet.
- If you borrow or hire a PLB, make sure that the registered owner is aware of your route and timetable as they will be contacted by the Rescue Command Centre if the PLB is activated.
- Use Test Mode prior to a trip to confirm the beacon is operational. They should not be activated for testing.
406MHz beacons transmit a unique identification, including the country of origin. Without a GPS they have an accuracy of 5km. With a GPS the accuracy is generally within 100m. It is recommended to purchase a beacon with GPS.
GME MT410g (with GPS)
The older 243/121.5MHz beacons are no longer being monitored by satellites. This shutdown occurred on 1 February 2009. Their accuracy was about 20km. These devices should no longer be used. They should be returned for recycling and safe disposal [link].
Where to buy
- Specialist bushwalking and outdoors shops
- Marine suppliers
- Specialist GPS shops such as Johnny Appleseed GPS
- SPOT tracking devices
- Misuse of personal locator beacons
- ResQLink Personal Locator Beacons
- Remote area communications
- 406 Beacon information, Australian Maritime Safety Authority