PLB and EPIRBS - thoughts on pros and cons

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By pwb999 on 02/05/19 at 5:51pm

Hi all,

I was wondering if anyone has experience of a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB).

I saw a video of one via which was demonstrated by Lyle Brotherton the author of the Ultimate Navigation Manual.

It would seem that it is pretty much the same in function as a EPIRB which as a sailor is fitted to my boat. Now that my EPRIB needs to be replaced I thought whether any sailor/hikers out there had any experience of using the PLB onboard a boat as well as land and could see any reasons as to why relying on a low cost PLB might not be a good idea.

Many thanks,

Peter B.

By Lancashire Lad on 02/05/19 at 7:02pm (last edited 02/05/19 at 7:09pm)


I'm not familiar with EPIRB's, but maybe this webpage might give you the answers you require: -

Seems that PLB's might not meet up to the specifications of EPIRB's, even though they might use the same satellites.
EPIRB's are registered to the vessel, (whereas PLB's are registered to an individual), and have to meet criteria regarding battery life when activated, automatic operation, etc. etc.

If you don't have a suitable EPIRB, might that affect the validity of any insurance that you are required to have for your vessel or for any passengers carried aboard it?


By pwb999 on 03/05/19 at 8:00pm

Thanks BOTH for the information and the website link which I have not previously come across.

Clearly it explains the main difference between the two products.

So it seems that both will signal the various satellite arrays and notify the MCA Coastguard at Falmouth asap. The EPRIB is registered to the boat and the PLB to an individual. In truth both used together would be a belt and braces approach to safety at sea. I have seen one which also activated your AIS system so that anyone on your boat could be alarmed to a MOB and then provide the helm with a course and distance to the target. Obviously useful for crewed boats where your best chance of recovery is them rather than the Coastguard.

I will look at the two products Paul recommended as my current expired EPIRB is McMurdo and seems very robust and fit for purpose.

Interesting point about insurance cover. At present my insurers have not insisted on any safety equipment being installed. Everything I have is mainly through what the boat had and discussion with fellow sailors. They tend to be pretty suspicious of manufacturers hype and tend to be a fairly conservative bunch. Probably the biggest change is the increasing use of tablet ie IPAD devices on board as a multiuse device including GPS, charts, AIS, Anchor Alarm etc.

If you get the chance I would recommend another website at His book Natural Navigation tries to distill how our ancients forebearers navigated over the globe by sea and land. Its a good read for all walkers and sailors and identifies the various techniques that perhaps are not widely known and yet can bring such pleasure when they work.

Thanks again for the help

Peter B.

By TallPaul on 02/05/19 at 7:15pm (last edited 02/05/19 at 7:16pm)

Beth and I both use PLBs. We used to share one (she for walking, me for sailing) now we each have our own. I've got a McMurdo FastFind 220 (now on its second battery, they last five years), she's got an Ocean Signal Rescue ME 406 which is even more compact.

For walking a PLB give you security where there's no mobile coverage.

For sailing I prefer a PLB to an EPIRB as I'm more worried about going overboard than the boat sinking. I carry my PLB in a pouch on my lifejacket belt and it's got a buoyancy sleeve so it should be unsinkable. (I also carry a day/night hand flare in a pocket in my lifejacket for the last 100m).

PS make sure you get one with built in GPS, some of the cheaper ones don't have that so it takes longer for them to find you as they have to use RDF.

By pwb999 on 25/03/20 at 1:34pm


After much thinking I have opted to go for the newish Garmin Inreach Mini device. Its not a PLB or EPIRB but has some similiar features. Essentially its a two way satellite communications device that uses the USA Iridium constellation so providing a clear view of the sky will work anywhere in the world even Cumbria.

It provides Text only messages communications. It also has a dedicated SOS button which in a real emergency sends a text message to Garmins dedicated Response team who then forward that on to the relevant authority whether thats a land or sea incident. It also if needed sends a GPS location to its servers so that others can view your location and track on a dedicated map server.

As always Garmin dont do this for free. The device ONLY works as a subscription service. The cheapest is about £15 per month and enables the SOS feature and permits the unlimited sending of preset short text SMS messages. If you want to write a more detailed message then you can pair it via Bluetooth to your smartphone and text to your hearts content at 10pence per text. Battery life is a few days so does't compare with PLBs/EPIRBS at years.

However as various youtube videos indicate it should be seen to complement existing emergency devices not replace them. It has particular relevance for anyone who also goes sailing as the SOS facility in addition to EPIRB can provide a two way text communication to indicate how long help will take to get to your location.

If you interested check out this very extensive review of its features. It might provide some peace of mind to your other half when you go walking.

Best regards Peter B.

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