Beacons of Hope

With satellite-fed maps on every smart phone getting lost seems like a problem of a past era. But what happens when your electronics short out, your boat starts taking on water or catches on fire and you have to abandon ship? Now you’re lost because your cell phone is an expensive dole brick because it just hit the water, and your GPS and radio are under water.

Now what?

You were a smart boater and you filed a float plan by letting a friend know where you were boating and when to expect you back. You are wearing a life jacket and are dressed for the water temperature by wearing a drysuit. You are safe afloat hanging on to your partially submerged boat, but nobody on land is going to worry for a few more hours. You are lost and stranded in the middle of a lake and none of your fellow boaters have any clue you’re in distress.



Then you remember there is a personal locator beacon in your life jacket pocket. Its waterproof so it still works unlike that handy cell phone you were relying on. You hit a button and activate the waterproof handheld device. It sends a signal and in a few short minutes the Coast Guard is at your side pulling you out of the water.

Personal Locator Beacon

Personal Locator Beacon

Although PLBs are not required on recreational vessels, the Coast Guard strongly recommends them and strongly suggests that boaters and paddlers make an additional investment on their life by having one attached to or in every life jacket on your boat or paddlecraft.

What is it?

A PLB is a small battery-powered device that transmits a digital burst to a satellite once every 50 seconds, which the Coast Guard monitors. These devices have a shelf life of 6 to 8 years. PLBs are a relatively low cost and can be purchased right now for as low as $150.

The PLBs will send out a continual signal for 48 hours unless turned off. New search-and rescue technology aboard Coast Guard Dolphin helicopters and 45-foot response boats can now home in on the signal of a transmitting PLB. With this new technology the Coast Guard can know your location to within 3 feet in less than 3 minutes.

COSPAS-SARSAT Search and RescueSatellite Aided Tracking System

Search and RescueSatellite Aided Tracking System

Additionally, the 406Mhz PLB signals are coded, allowing non-PLB signals to be filtered out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operated search and rescue satellite aided tracking.

How does it work?

ELTS, EPIRBS, and PLBs Eliminating false alerts

Eliminating false alerts

The SARSAT system uses NOAA satellites in low-earth and geostationary orbits to detect and locate aviators, mariners, and land-based users in distress. The satellites relay distress signals from emergency beacons to a network of ground stations and ultimately to the U.S. Mission Control Center in Suitland, Maryland. The USMCC processes the distress signal and alerts the appropriate search and rescue authorities to who is in distress and, more importantly, where they are located. Truly, SARSAT takes the “search” out of search and rescue! This seems like a lot but it all happens within a matter of minutes.

NOAA-SARSAT is a part of the international COSPAS SARSAT Program to which 41 nations and two independent SAR organizations belong to.

Register your device

Registering your PLB will help determine real and false emergencies

Registering your PLB will help determine real and false emergencies

For an EPIRB or PLB to work most effectively, it needs to be registered. In the United States it is required by law to be registered, so if the Coast Guard or another search-and-rescue partner receives a beacon signal would-be rescuers will be able to contact you or another point of contact to determine if there is an actual emergency situation.Registration BrochureThe free registration will include your name, address, phone number, vessel description, and an emergency contact shore side who will know of your plans and capabilities. This information will be entered into the U.S. 406 Beacon Registration Database, which is maintained by NOAA.

Another tool to keep you and your loved ones safe

A PLB is not a save all, but in conjunction with other safety measures it can save your life. Life jackets will keep you afloat; knowing navigation rules will help keep you out of harms way; a marine band VHF-FM radio or GPS can help lead rescuers to aid you; a float plan assists in the emergency notification process, but having a properly registered and transmitting PLB in will drastically improve your chances of surviving an emergency on the water. It will get you rescued faster and more efficiently than ever before. Most importantly it will get you and your loved ones homes safe after an unfortunate accident.


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