The Difference Between EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)

EPIRBs and PLBs What Are They
A Personal Locator Beacon or PLB can lead rescuers directly to a person who’s fallen off a boat or is in distress while at sea. They weigh less than a pound, making them comfortable to wear full-time. EPIRBs are generally used to provide the position data of a vessel. Many times an EPIRB will be fixed mounted in the cockpit or cabin of the vessel and can be manually or automatically activated. In this article we will explore the differences between PLBs and EPIRBs to help you determine which device would best suite your individual needs. It is very important to qualify what type of boating situations you may encounter to properly equip your vessel and crew.

EPIRBs and PLBs How They Work
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, or EPIRBs for short, are similar to Personal Locator Beacons, or PLBs, in that they are both devices used to alert distress. Both emit a signal either manually or automatically generated, depending upon the model. The 406 MHz frequency that is picked up by both polar orbiting satellites and geostationary satellites allows rescue agencies like the Coast Guard to accurately locate the radio beacon and identify the owner or vessel anywhere in the world. EPIRBs save lives by signaling rescue authorities worldwide through a satellite system, pinpointing the location of the emergency. Marine EPIRBs can alert the U.S. Coast Guard and similar agencies in other countries when a boat sinks, but they’re large, bulky marine electronics devices designed to stay mounted or stowed on a vessel until needed.

That’s where Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) come in. PLBs, smaller versions of EPIRBs are designed to transmit the location of a person in the water, not a boat that’s sinking.

EPIRBs and PLBs Which Is Better Offshore
PLBs have become popular with boaters who travel offshore, crew members on racing sailboats and recreational fisherman who are at greater risk of falling overboard, plus anyone who wants an extra margin of safety while out on the water. Another unique feature of today’s PLBs is the ability to send text messages to a pre selected group of phone numbers or email addresses to periodically let family and friends know where you are and that you are safe. They can even track your progress online.

When determining which emergency beacon to purchase, keep in mind that some type of beacon is better than nothing. It’s not a “should I buy” scenario, but a “which one should I buy?” because every boater should have either an EPIRB or a PLB. In some cases, it’s not a bad idea to have both. Boats sink or capsize and people fall overboard even with the best planning, boating skill and experience in the world. Last year several lives where lost when a small fishing boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico those lives could have been saved if an EPIRB or PLB was onboard that vessel!

Sean Kelly
Your Marine Safety Source


One thought on “The Difference Between EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)

  1. This is a message to the admin. I came to your “The Difference Between EPIRBs and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)” and it was an extremely useful tool to me. I am glad I now know the difference, and I’ve come to the conclusion I need both of them. Thanks!

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