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January 25, 2022 2:42 pm

EPIRB vs. PLB – which is best for you?

Your beacon, be it a PLB or EPIRB, is a key piece of safety equipment to have with you when you’re exploring the great outdoors – whether on the water, or on land.

An emergency beacon, also known as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), is a great tool to be able to communicate where other devices can’t. When set off in an emergency, it’s used to alert the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ) in Wellington by sending coded signals via satellite and ground stations.

If you’re going out of cellphone or VHF range, a beacon might be your best lifeline if you get into trouble. It’s a ‘one touch’ way of sending out your location in an emergency.

So what’s the difference?

To be clear, both work exactly the same way – but there are key differences between the two.

  • PLBs are small, light and designed to fit in your pocket, on your lifejacket or perfectly in your grab bag.
    • Great for hiking, hunting, mountain biking or for confined boat cabins – if you have a smaller boat, this is the beacon for you.
    • For bar crossings we would recommend that you use a waterproof PLB that is carried on you as opposed to an EPRIB, as you may end up in the water with little or no time to grab the beacon.

  • An EPIRB, while being slightly larger in nature, is designed specifically for the marine environment so is perfect for all types of private and recreational vessels.
    • It’s also a required safety device for commercial vessels.
    • While most modern EPIRBs have built-in GPS capability (allowing the RCCNZ to accurately locate you to +/-50 metres), some don’t – we highly recommend getting yourself sorted with a GPS version as it greatly reduces that time it takes to find the location of your beacon.

TIP: Make sure your EPIRB is under 10 years old. This not only ensures the battery is still in good condition, but also that it transmits on the 406MHz rather than the older (and now only occasionally monitored) 121.5 MHz band.

Looking after your beacon

Stow your beacon in an easy to access location where it’s not likely to be damaged or switched on by mistake. In boats, a great place is in your grab bag or mounted to an easily-accessed surface.

Test the beacon in between the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance and battery replacement cycles (roughly every eight years). Your beacon will have a self-test capability to ensure it’s ready to go.

If you were to switch it on by mistake give us a call on 0800 BOATIE (262 843) so that we can advise RCCNZ immediately. You can test your beacon without needing to notify RCCNZ.

Check that the battery is always within the expiry date as all 406MHz beacons have a limited battery life to meet the requirements for the minimum operating time once activated.

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Coastguard New Zealand

Coastguard New Zealand

Coastguard New Zealand is the charity saving lives at sea.

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