Personal locator beacons are designed to send out a distress signal to a worldwide search and rescue network when activated. These are excellent for hikers, hunters, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts who spend a lot of time in the wild.
These devices provide Search and Rescue teams with your exact location through GPS data or triangulation calculations from satellite signals, which are provided to local authorities closest to where you are.
Keep reading for the best personal locator beacons for surviving extreme situations, including a guide to help you choose the best PLB for your needs.
Our Top Picks
ACR ResQLink View
McMurdo FastFind 220
Best Combination Option
Ocean Signal Rescue ME EPIRB1
The ACR ResQLink View 425 personal locator beacon’s only function is to send out a distress signal using GPS location services as well as 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz homing capabilities.
This buoyant beacon features an LED strobe and an infrared strobe with a multi-function clip that allows you to keep the device on your person at all times. You can expect this device to work for five years without a subscription.
Each of these personal locator beacons is programmed to send a unique digital code called a HEX ID or Unique ID. The HEX ID identifies the type of beacon as well as the person it is registered to and their emergency contacts.
This PLB is excellent for anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, like hikers, bikers, campers, and boaters, because it’s small, lightweight, and easy to carry.
- No subscription is required with this PLB.
- 5-year battery life.
- Lightweight and buoyant design.
- No satellite messaging capabilities.
- This device requires a factory battery replacement after five years.
- A bit pricey.
Best Budget Option
The McMurdo FastFind 220 personal locator beacon features a 121.5 MHz secondary homing transmitter and a flashing SOS light that can be used to attract attention. The transmitter allows Search and Rescue teams to find your exact location.
This handheld, waterproof beacon features a lithium power cell that offers a minimum 24-hour continuous operation with a 6-year battery storage life without a subscription.
Once you activate the distress call the built-in GPS will determine your location within a few meters and utilize a powerful 406 MHz signal to relay the distress call to orbiting satellites. These satellites then communicate directly with local authorities to deploy Search and Rescue teams.
- 6-year battery life.
- Excellent PLB on a budget.
- Easy to activate.
- Some customers find registration a bit challenging.
Best Deluxe Option
The Ocean Signal Rescue ME EPIRB1 personal locator beacon operates on the 406 MHz frequency, with each beacon sending a unique digital code that identifies the type of beacon as well as who it is registered to.
This beacon’s GPS data continuously updates the Search and Rescue team of your exact location, with the 121.5 MHz homing signal providing a direct path to your location. Featuring a retractable antenna to protect it during drops and other rough treatments, this PLB provides the user with peace of mind when exploring the wilderness.
After activation, satellites receive a beacon emergency distress signal which relays the signal to local user terminals (LUT), which then compute the location of the beacon and forward it automatically to the respective Mission Control Center (MCC). Next, the MCC reviews alerts and works with the appropriate authorities to launch a rescue team to locate the distressed party.
You’ll find a simple protective tab over the operating keys, which prevents you from accidentally activating the beacon. It also has two high-intensity strobe lights to maximize your visibility even in low-light conditions.
- 10-year battery life.
- Lightweight and compact design is easily portable.
- Reviews report that this device is a little more fragile than others on this list.
- A bit pricey.
The ACR ResQLink AIS personal locator beacon is equipped with a Global Navigation Satellite System, which allows for the most precise location tracking in remote locations. This PLB supports 24 hours of continuous operation, which is required by law for a PLB, and has a shelf life of five years.
This device offers automatic or manual activation options for your best chances of being rescued in an emergency situation. It can be installed onto a life jacket and activated upon inflation and features an LED strobe array for low-visibility situations.
Activating the ACR ResQLink AIS personal locator beacon triggers an immediate response, allowing local responders to pinpoint your location in seconds. The Return Link Service (RLS) functionality sends a signal through the Galileo Satellite Network to confirm to the beacon user that their distress message has been received and their location detected.
- 5-year shelf life.
- Features automatic or manual activation.
- Engineered to be impact-resistant and waterproof.
- This device cannot be registered in Canada.
The Ocean Signal RESCUEME PLB1 personal locator beacon is an excellent option for anyone who spends a great deal of time in the wilderness, such as hunters, campers, hikers, and boaters. This beacon has a 7-year battery life and a 24-hour operational life, providing you with a reliable option for rescue.
This device is equipped with a unique cradle mounting system that can easily be installed onto your life jacket, belt, or backpack so it doesn’t take up much space and remains easily accessible in an emergency.
You’ll find a simple spring-loaded flap covers the activation button to prevent you from accidentally activating it. This locator beacon works with the only officially recognized worldwide dedicated search and rescue satellite network that’s operated by Cospas-Sarsat. Once this device is activated it transmits your position and your unique ID to the proper authorities.
Rescue services are immediately notified of your emergency, as well as your location. A 121.5 MHz homing signal is transmitted for Search and Rescue services to locate your exact location. It also has an integrated strobe light that ensures maximum visibility even in the worst of conditions.
- Equipped with a spring-loaded flap to avoid accidental activation.
- 7-year battery life.
- Does not require a subscription.
- Not buoyant like other options on this list.
- The antenna may be challenging to use for some users.
Personal Locator Beacon Buyer’s Guide
Not all locator beacons are personal locator beacons. Devices cannot be marketed or sold in the United States as PLBs unless it’s compliant with the guidelines and regulations of the Cospas-Sarsat and RTCM standards.
The Cospas-Sarsat system is the most reliable system out there for rescuing campers, hikers, bikers, mountaineers, and others who have lost their way in the wilderness. Personal locator beacons are engineered and tested to stringent international requirements that exceed that of devices relying on other systems.
When you activate your beacon, it transmits a digital 406 MHz SOS signal, that includes a unique 15-digit identification number, which is then sent to the Cospas-Sarsat Satellite system. Once a signal is received from your PLB, a rescue team will then access the registration for your beacon, which shows them who the beacon belongs to, as well as emergency contact information.
Size and Weight
When it comes to the size and weight of a personal locator beacon, aim for the most lightweight product you can find, since you’ll want to make every ounce count when trekking through the wilderness.
You should look for a device that’s small enough to fit in your pocket or even in your pack, without weighing you down. All personal locator beacons are specifically designed so that you can carry them on your person at all times.
Some of the smallest devices weigh around three ounces, while some of the heavier ones weigh around seven ounces. You’ll find that some of the lightweight beacons may have fewer features, but what you lose in functionality you gain in portability.
The battery life of your personal locator beacon depends on its usage and operation. If you never have to activate your device it can last anywhere from months to years without needing to be replaced or recharged.
When your PLB is actually turned on and transmitting your location, it must work for a minimum of 24 hours, by law. You should look for a device that can last for several days or weeks without needing to be recharged.
Since a personal locator beacon is meant for emergency purposes out in the wilderness, it needs to be able to withstand the harsh conditions you might face when hiking, biking, mountaineering, or boating. You should look for a PLB that is able to withstand extreme temperatures and is waterproof and shockproof.
When it comes to durability, pay attention to the Ingress Protection (IP) rating and military-grade standards to ensure it can withstand the elements, in addition to harsh conditions, moisture, and rough handling.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are PLBs worth the money?
Personal locator beacons provide you with a reliable connection with emergency services, ensuring your safety and peace of mind in remote or risky situations. If you spend a lot of time in the wilderness, a PLB is definitely a worthwhile purchase.
What is the downside of a PLB?
The only downside of a personal locator beacon is that it only provides one-way communication. These devices can only send distress signals but cannot receive messages, which limits your ability to interact with rescue services or the outside world at all during an emergency.
Wrapping Up the Best Personal Locator Beacons
Having a personal locator beacon will give you and your loved ones a sense of assurance you’ll be able to notify help if things go wrong on your next remote adventure. Make sure a PLB is part of your gear before heading out!
For more information on keeping yourself safe while exploring the wilderness, check out our guide on Satellite Communicators and how they provide a lifeline in remote locations.