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What is a PLB: How Does it Work & How Much it Costs?

What is a PLB, how much does it cost, and how do you know that you are picking the right PLB?

What is a PLB?

What is PLB?

A PLB formally known as Personal Locator Beacon, is a handheld radio transmitter used to signal distress in emergency situations. When activated, a PLB transmits a distress signal with location data via satellite systems, providing search and rescue teams with accurate location data. PLBs are mostly used in remote or challenging environments where traditional communication methods may not be available. PLBs are commonly used by hikers, boaters, pilots, and other outdoor enthusiasts as a safety tool for potential life-threatening situations.

But what exactly does a PLB do and what are some tips that can be used in figuring out which one is the right PLB for your use?

Jump to > PLB Cost | How Does PLB Work? | How to Pick a Right PLB | Best PLBs

Reading this article can help you understand how PLB’s work and some of the best types of PLBs.

A PLB(Personal Locator Beacon) radios are designed to work in even the most remote areas. They are lighter than most radios and can be carried easily in a bag or even pocket. 

The great thing about PLBs is that they come with a long-lasting battery life. If something happens to the battery, you can send in the old and a request for a new battery to replace it. This multi year battery life warranty is an excellent feature to have.

PLB Registration

With most things, you do have to register the PLB device. This is a free service and does not require any form of payment or subscription. This just means that when you are purchasing a PLB that you will be required to register the device and any personal information into a Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking database.This database requires the buyer and user to input personal information. 

This information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Emergency Contact Phone Numbers
  • Any medical conditions known.

This information is used to help ensure the best and fastest rescue needed. You should plan to update this information regularly and make sure that any medical conditions are noted. This can help rescuers get to you faster and know who to contact. 

Unfortunately, some people may think that they can send messages to loved ones. However, these are only used for signals sent for an SOS to the rescue squads and can’t not be undone or canceled.

Learn more about PLB vs Satellite Messenger and EPIRB vs PLB.

PLB Battery Life

When it comes to the battery, these PLBs come with a lithium battery that has a long-lasting charged life. This means that if the PLB has not been turned on and the battery has not been engaged, these devices can stay charged for up to five years or longer. 

However, when the battery is engaged and the device has been turned out, the battery will only last for approximately 30 hours or so. 

You can buy a replacement backup battery for emergency use when you are traveling for some brands and models. These devices are not designed to be charged. So, it is important to only engage the battery for emergency use.

As previously mentioned, the device comes with a multiple year battery life that also has a replaceable feature. This feature is not free and can cost you money to do. However, if you engage the battery and device for a rescue, the company may replace the device and/or battery for free.

PLB Working Principle Explained: How Does A PLB Work?

How Does a PLB Work?

A Personal Locator Beacon works by transmitting a distress signal to the international search and rescue satellite system. This system then notifies the nearest rescue station via a series of connections. These connections will let rescue teams know the locations and allow them the information about what type or rescue response is needed. 

A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) works through a sequence of events that allow search and rescue (SAR) teams to locate individuals in distress. Here’s a breakdown of how a PLB operates:

  1. Activation: When someone finds themselves in a life-threatening emergency situation, they can manually activate their PLB.
  2. Signal Transmission: When PLB is activated, it transmits a distress signal on the 406 MHz emergency frequency and a secondary 121.5 MHz homing signal. This signal is relayed via a global satellite network known as the Cospas-Sarsat system.
  3. Satellite Relay: The Cospas-Sarsat satellite system captures the signal. Depending on the satellite type, it can determine the general location of the beacon through the Doppler effect or more precisely through onboard GPS data.
  4. Local User Terminal (LUT): After capturing the distress signal, the satellite sends it to a ground station, often referred to as a Local User Terminal (LUT). LUT station processes the signal to determine the location of the PLB.
  5. Mission Control Center (MCC): The LUT forwards the location data and other information about the signal to a Mission Control Center (MCC). The MCC then sends this vital information to the relevant national Search and Rescue Point of Contact.
  6. Search and Rescue (SAR) Mobilization: Upon receiving the PLB’s signal details and location, the appropriate SAR agency is alerted to initiate a rescue operation. This could be a coastal guard, aviation authority, or any other relevant body.
  7. Homing Signal: Once SAR teams are close to the beacon’s location, they use this homing signal to pinpoint the exact position of the person in distress.
  8. GPS Integration: Modern PLBs often have built-in GPS. If the beacon captures a GPS fix before or during its activation, it can transmit its exact coordinates along with the distress signal. This added GPS data significantly improves the speed and accuracy of the rescue efforts.
  9. Registration Data: PLBs are typically registered to an owner, and this registration contains vital information like the owner’s name, emergency contact details, and any pertinent medical information. When a beacon is activated, this data can be accessed to aid in the rescue and provide context to the situation.

It can be important to note that while most of these PLBs can be activated practically anywhere that is ground, air, or water that you know the regulations for setting off a location beacon in the area. 

When Should I Use a Personal Locator Beacon?

A Personal Locator Beacon should be used in only emergencies. These emergencies are when you find yourself in harm’s way and out of any service. They are also used in situations where you may find yourself lost. 

Some examples of when to use a PLB are:

  • Injury that causes you or someone else to be unable to move
  • Severe medical situations
  • Lost in the area and are unable to find your way out or to a safer location.
  • Anyone that is present in the group has become unresponsive.

However, everyone is different and sometimes what one person can handle another cannot. It is important that you use a PLB in any situation that causes you or someone else to be in an extremely distressing state.


When you are someone who likes adventure, you may be wondering if you should take your PLB. The truth is that it is never a bad idea to take it with you. There are some cases that you may not need to have it with you though. 

If you are taking a small trip around town or in an area where service is always readily available, the chances are that you need it with you are lower. Again, if you feel safer and more at ease taking it with you on these smaller trips, please do so. 

However, if you are going into locations where you could get lost, injured, or are unable to get service for help, always carry a PLB. This can prevent any unforeseen circumstances from occurring that can lead to injury or even death. 

If PLBs are something that you want to have or carry for emergencies on your backpacking trips across the United States, you may be wondering how much these costs.

How Much Does A PLB Cost?

There are several Personal Location Beacons available on the market. However, the costs can vary between each brand and type you choose. Things to also factor in on the price are what kind of features you want or need on your PLB. 

Depending upon the type, brand and features, A single PLB costs about $300 to $500. Picking out the right one really depends on your preferences for look and features.

Keep in mind that the best is not necessarily going to be the beacon that costs the most. 

Deciding what features are important to have on your PLB can help you figure out exactly how much you would want to pay. This really depends on where you are going and what you are doing. 

For instance, if you need a beacon that will send signals or need one that can have a longer battery life then the cost will be based on that.

How Do You Pick the Right One?

Choosing the right Personal Locator Beacon can be the most difficult part. Going through the features and brands can be really time consuming. Cost also has a factor in what beacon you will be choosing. To help you decide here are some tips that you can do.

Tips are:

  • Does it have GPS tracking?
  • How is the battery life?
  • Is the warranty life great?
  • Does it transmit signals in a timely manner? (PLBs should last at least 24 hours in zero to negative degree weather conditions.
  • Is the beacon waterproof or at least able to float?
  • Does it have a 121.5 MHz transmitter?

While understanding these aspects of a PLB is great, the one thing you should really consider is what you need your PLB to do. This is important for the locations you are going to be at and can contribute to how much the cost will be in the end. 

Some of the Best PLBs

To help you choose which PLB is perfect for what you need it to do and how you can look at some of the best PLBs out there. The table below shows some of the best Personal Locator Beacons and can let you compare each one. 

ACR ResQlink View$400-$679.99Floatation is built in.Digital DisplayGPS Coordinates406 MHz and 121.5 MHz transmissionStrobe with infraredGlobal CoverageBattery life has 5 years with a 28hr in-use life.Can be customized with ACR skins
McMurdo Fast Find 220$257-$599406 MHz and 121.5 MHz transmissionSOS light is LED.GPS and GNSS Galileo receivers have access to 72 satellites.The under-lid antenna is protected.Waterproof up to about 10 meters.6-year battery life that has an operational time limit of 24 hrs.Comes with a self-test, battery indicator, lanyard, and floatation pouch
Ocean Signal rescueMe PLB1$368-$529Can be used single-handed.406 MHz and 121.5 MHz transmission7-year battery life with a 2-year warrantyBattery lasts for 24hrs when in use.GPS with 66 channelsComes with a floatation pouch and mounting clip.Has a bright strobe light
ACR ResQlink 400$360-$529.99Built-in floatationStrobe and infrared Global coverage406 MHZ and 121.5 MHz transmission5-year battery life with a 24hr usage timeClip system

Even though these are great options, it is important to remember what features suit you best for the areas you will be going to. If you are planning on a trip to an area with a lot of water, then having a PLB that is both waterproof and has the ability to float can pose a huge benefit. 

What About a Satellite Communicator?

You may have been seeing that most searches that come with finding a PLB also include a Satellite Communicator or Messenger. This can leave you confused since they are both different devices that do different things. 

While a PLB is a personal locator beacon, a satellite communicator does a little more than a PLB. 

What a satellite messenger does in regard to a PLB can vary greatly depending on the type you choose. 

There are two types of satellite messenger. They can be either one-way or two-way communicators. One-way communicators are similar to a PLB but allow the user to send a personalized message to rescuers, friends, or family members. However, they do not allow the receiver to send a reply back. They are great for providing updates on traveling and can send SOS beacons. 

Two-way communicators, on the other hand, not only send messages to someone, but they also can receive replies. Messages sent can be received by family and friends, or by rescue services. 

Two-way messengers come in two distinct types of devices.

  1. A phone is not required. This means that the device works on its own and is identical to a PLB but with more features. 
  2. A phone is required for the device to function. These will only work if they are attached via Bluetooth to a smartphone that also has a keyboard function. 

However, the only downside to using one of these is that satellite messengers need a subscription to work. These are plans that depend on what brand of messenger you get. These plans can range from $11 per month to around $15 depending on the brand and subscription you get. 


PLBs are great options to have if you are planning to travel to remote locations or areas where service is not always readily available. Person Locator Beacons are devices that are able to send an emergency signal to the nearest rescue centers. These devices have a long-lasting battery life that once engaged will last for about 24 hours. 

Using a PLB can be great for situations that are not only an emergency but also for extremely distressing circumstances. These situations can range from injuries to feeling unsafe. Using a beacon for any reason should be considered beforehand. It is important to note that while these are great for SOS calls, once they are engaged there is no way to cancel or end the distress signal. 

Registering your PLB is important and should be kept updated. However, these devices are worth the cost to ease your mind while traveling. Plus, they are relatively small and lightweight.

So, you can take your PLB and have a peace of mind for any adventure you embark on.

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