The latest and greatest in Personal Locator Beacons

The mobile data/voice network in the United States is spotty (in fact, there are plenty of places near our house in flat thickly-settled Jupiter, Florida where it is impossible to get data service from Verizon Wireless). This leads to occasional tragedies such as the family that died on a Northern California hiking trial last summer. For aviation and boating enthusiasts, the chance of being out of cellphone coverage in the event of a serious problem is rather high. Consequently, it makes sense to carry a Personal Locator Beacon. These are about the size of a mobile phone, but can summon rescue from anywhere with a clear view of the sky via a 406 MHz signal to a satellite network. They cost $250-400 typically.

The batteries expire after 6 years and by then it might make sense to get an upgraded version rather than send the old one back for replacement batteries and re-waterproofing.

My choice this year, which I’m definitely hoping never to use during flights over the Everglades, to the Keys, and out to the Caribbean, is the ACR PLB 425 ResQLink View. If you want to buy it straight from ACR, use “10OFFACR” to get a 10 percent discount (they sent me the code after I bought mine direct from them in order to be sure of getting the freshest battery and therefore longest life). This one is basically the same as previous ACR units, which are kind of a standard due to inherent buoyancy while being reasonably compact, but it has a small display that explains what the device is doing, e.g., “GPS Acquiring” and “406 Sent!”. The device also has a built-in strobe to help the Coast Guard find you at night in your Survival Products raft (Switlik would be better, but their rafts are too heavy and bulky for four-seat airplanes).

I hope this blog post inspires at least one reader to check the battery expiration date on his/her/zir/their PLB. If so, I will have potentially saved at least one life and therefore this post can be considered as effective as a mask order for 333 million Americans.

(There is a $50/year subscription service where testing the PLB results in some email and text messages being sent out. Potentially useful for peace of mind before heading out over the Caribbean, but the rescue process is the same if you don’t pay for the subscription.)


  • About the same price to buy, but $180 per year to maintain, the Garmin InReach lets you communicate via the Iridium satellites. (I don’t think this a substitute for a PLB because it requires charging and everything that can be discharged when you need it will be discharged when you need it.)

13 thoughts on “The latest and greatest in Personal Locator Beacons

  1. I think you copied some text twice in your last comment about the Garmin InReach. Does the ACR also need to be charged like the InReach?

    • @Dave – no, the ACR has sealed battery that cannot be charged and as Philip mentions, there is a published expiration date.

    • Dave: you are referring to “everything that can be discharged when you need it will be discharged when you need it”? I meant to write it that way!

      (As Paul notes, I don’t think that something could be marketed as a “PLB” if it required charging. says “PLB transmitter types must be designed to comply with technical standard RTCM 1010.2.” Of course, RTCM standard is not public. refers to the standard, however, and says “The RTCM PLB standard requires a non-rechargeable battery with sufficient charge for the PLB to function for a minimum of twenty-four hours, but the Emergency2 uses a rechargeable battery sufficient to provide eighteen hours of continuous operation.” (in reference to a watch that has as good an ELT function as can be built into a watch and which therefore got a waiver))

    • @Phil – I understand that sentence now. Perhaps if I had heard it spoken instead of reading it, I would have got it the first time. I like my Garmin inReach for hiking since it allows me to communicate non-emergency situations. Perhaps having both devices is the right solution.

    • Anon: I think ELTs should work fine and, as you’ve probably learned by now, can be manually activated from within the aircraft in case you land so smoothly that there aren’t enough G forces to activate the ELT automatically. But the ELT that is part of the airplane doesn’t address the “forced landing in the Caribbean” situation. It will stop transmitting when the airplane sinks. The PLB can stay with the humans in the raft.

  2. If you crashed in the Everglades, a personal ELT would be useful in finding the python or alligator that ate you.

  3. Anonymous, I passed 3 feet from an alligator in Everglades and it did not even bother to look at me. There are feral pigs in other feral former domesticated animals in Everglades. Alligators seem to prefer soft targets – farm animals. When I was getting out a long alligator crossed the road to the neighboring farm, blocking two lanes at once.

    • “There are feral pigs in other feral former domesticated animals in Everglades… When I was getting out a long alligator crossed the road to the neighboring farm, blocking two lanes at once.”

      At about 10:00pm one night two weeks ago, a friend was sitting on her front porch at her home in a rapidly developing residential area of SW Palm Bay, FL and heard the sound of hooves galloping. Thinking it was horse, she was shocked to see a wild hog trotting down the street, up her driveway, and off into the brush behind the house.

      On the eve of Hurricane Matthew, Oct. 5, 2016, a ten-foot alligator crawled out of the 14th hole water hole at my community’s golf course and parked itself on my front lawn until the cops and the animal trapper came and hauled it away.

  4. Business idea: Following the hospital emergency room model, supply these for free but when someone uses one, charge them a random amount between $$$ and $$$$$$.

  5. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Try not to put yourself in a situation where you’ll need one of these things. A friend went hiking alone near Yosemite, and the weather unexpectedly turned very cold and wet, leaving him stranded on a granite face that he couldn’t get off of. He activated his emergency device. His call was received immediately, but the weather was so bad that rescuers couldn’t reach him until the next day. By then, he had died of cold. I will never forget helping his widow get the photos he had taken as he died off of his camera.

  6. Often little thing make a difference and do not let adventure turn into a tragedy – having few oz space blanket or fleece in your backpack, orientation in the wilderness, fire starter lint, knot tying skills i.e. old boy-scouting staff. It is more fun without traceable gadgets and emotionally does not provide false hope of being retrieved for few tents of thousands $$ – as AG above noticed help is usually not available in conditions when it is needed most.

  7. Pretty sure Greenspun can be seen from space without any subscription service & with the unaided eye.

Comments are closed.