October 14, 2015

Emergency Alert Devices [Updated Jan-2020]

We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so sometimes we repost to our blog for reference.

The following may be one of those cases. To accommodate our non-boating blog readers, add additional detail, and/or just cause more confusion, I sometimes add some additional {information and links} to the original forum post, below.

It is worth noting since we are discussing electronic and emergency devices, the original post will have a relatively short shelf-life [2-3 years?] due to fairly rapid progress with new devices and technologies...

Updated 28-Jan-2020 [by Bill]

[Added McMurdo Smartfind G8 EPIRB w/ AIS]

Additional resources:

Devices we are considering upgrading to when the time comes:

Forum discussions:

Original Forum Post [12-Oct-2015]

Re: Best PLB to buy for offshore racing.

Originally Posted by giant View Post
Hi Everyone,

I did a search on cruisersforum and the internet that was not very helpful so thought I would put it to the collective minds of Cruisersforum. The technology is constantly changing also.

Skipper has told me I need to buy the thing pronto and register it etc before this Saturdaysrace.

Not looking for bells and whistles. Must be waterproof, probably should float and have a GPS fitted. Looking for value as I am not too flush with $$$. Size is important to me and in this case smaller is better. Battery quality, capacity and efficiency?


I am assuming you are only asking about a PLB [like a personal EPIRB- which we also have on the boat...] per your subject line and not lumping other MOB [Mankind Overboard- applies to anyone suffering an unplanned exit from the boat into the water...] signaling devices under that acronym. [e.g., AIS/DSC signaling devices.]
Reminder: PLBs and EPIRBs are only activated in life and death circumstances; not when you fall overboard and want to notify the crew on the boat, or want to have a pizza air-dropped to your location... Read on...
Therefore I will discuss our PLB choices [which we also carry on land] and I will also mention our MOB alert choices as well just in case that is of interest.

PLBs: [COSPAS-SARSAT Registered]

We started with ACR ResQLink+ [+ = floating; there is a non-floating model as well...] PLBs on our offshore harness/vests. They are very sturdy [i.e., it would be difficult to break it under normal circumstances...] and are easily deployed [i.e., they don't require much thinking if one is in a jumbled state-of-mind or injured...] These have a 5 year battery life.

We find we need to keep the ResQLink+ in a tight fitting neoprene case because it is easy to accidentally deploy the antenna. This adds one more step to the activate process: remove from case first.

We had one of our ResQLink+ PLBs vacuum packed with the life raft and replaced it with a PLB1 from Ocean Signal because I liked the smaller form factor [see photo at end of this post] and the 7 year battery life.

The trade-off for the PLB1 is it must be 'wearing' the included neoprene case in order to float, and one must remember to manually deploy the antenna. [simple- like pulling out an 8 inch measuring tape...] The point being you must remember to do so or the signal won't have an antenna to transmit from... 

The PLB1 does not need to be removed from the case to deploy the antenna.

Bottom line: If I didn't have a PLB I would buy the PLB1 for the form factor [when attached to our offshore harness/vest combos. We use an add-on Spinlock pocket attached to our Spinlock PFDs to hold the PLB.]

You can't go wrong either way from my experience.

I should mention our PLBs are for worse case [life and death] scenarios in a MOB situation. [e.g., You regain consciousness while floating in the water and there is no vessel in site...] 

Other devices we carry on our offshore vests for sounding the electronic MOB alarms on our and other vessels in the area [AIS and VHF DSC as of this writing...] include: 

In addition to a PLB we also each have a portable DSC VHF Radio and auto-activating AIS MOB transmitter attached to our vests. Everything is waterproof and has built-in GPS.

Philosophically, we don't intend to have batteries replaced in our PLBs or AIS transmitters when they expire [which often costs 1/3rd to 1/2 that of a new, more modern device that hasn't been exposed to salt water for the last 5-7+ years...] 

We think of these items as disposable technology that will be replaced by the next, smaller, better, device(s) with more features in better optimized form factors. [e.g., VHF DSC and AIS is already available in one unit in the MOB1 from Ocean Signal, and without hesitation this is what I would buy today to replace/supplement our AIS only MOB alert devices. Video showing activation of an MOB1.]

Therefore to be fully covered, today I would buy these two items: a PLB and a DSC/AIS MOB alert device. 

For us a VHF radio is also a requirement as communication with the rescue party is typically lacking, and can be very useful if conditions permit. It is also a 3rd MOB alert device... ["Denali Rose, Floater here: please don't let anyone eat my lunch..."]

Have fun on your adventure, and be safe!


SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

Relative size comparison showing:
1 liter water bottle, ACR Gfix EPIRB, ACR ResQLink+, PLB1, iPhone 4 case, and a chapstick...

Following is a related post from 29-Nov-2015:

Re: Personal Locator Beacon as boat's EPIRB?

Originally Posted by coolboat30 View Post
The boat we just bought has an ACR EPIRB Model 2744 which expired in 2008. I think I have figured out that that model is no longer being serviced and I should buy a new one. However, there is an ACR AquaLink Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) Model #350B on board that is good until 03/2018. I am thinking that for coastal cruising in Baja California, the PLB could serve as the boat's EPIRB. Is that a dumb idea?

I gather that is what the former owner was doing.

A PLB [once properly registered and tested] will serve your stated intent for the adventures you describe. {Link to US NOAA EPIRB/PLB Registration System}

You are already aware of the trade-offs [differences] between a PLB and an EPIRB, so you can make your own risk assessments.

Since an EPIRB is registered to a vessel, and a PLB to an individual, following is what we wrote on the online registration form for a PLB we had packed with our liferaft during the last recertification:

We added 'Boating' to the 'Other' field in the 'Specific Usage' line; chose 'Boat' in the 'Type' line; and in the "Additional Data" field we added the following:
Used as life raft PLB on US Documented 43ft Sailing Vessel DENALI ROSE 663100


Iridium Sat Phone: From US: 480-768-2500 Ext XXXX-XXXX-XXXX

Automated vessel position: Denali Rose
We also have 2 other PLB's registered to each of us as individuals that also mention [in the registration form 'Additional Data' field] they may be used from the boat. [We venture into some pretty remote areas on land and sea so these are always on our person as we travel...]

Whenever we make decisions- particularly where risk assessments are involved- we remind ourselves that it is not a one-time decision; but needs to be revisited whenever any of the original parameters or assumptions change.

I hope your adventure is everything you hope for.


SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

Here is another somewhat related post- this one having to do with sourcing our EPIRB upgrade [30-Nov-2015]

Re: Personal Locator Beacon as boat's EPIRB?

Originally Posted by StuM View Post
Someone is being ripped off. Here's the current Whitworth's prices that I've just grabbed with a search for EPIRB at https://www.whitworths.com.au/

$199 - $559

Note that these as AUD, so take 30% off for USD and a further 9% (approx) off for the GST refund if you are taking it out of the country. So under $USD 355 for the most expensive one and under $US130 for the cheapest one.
It would be great if we in the US could take advantage of the Class 3 [manual activation only] EPIRBS currently only available in Australia and New Zealand. But unfortunately- as I understand it- they cannot be registered with NOAA because they lack the automatic water activation function [in addition to manual activation...]
Sidebar: Don't confuse activation when floating in water with automatic deployment of the device (via hydrostatic release); those are two different things...]
Here is one US cruiser's lament on this topic.

I researched the above because we are due to replace our ACR RLB-35 EPIRB next year, and I've been shopping lately...

Why replace? A new [5 year] battery is US$285 + shipping to/from Alaska both ways- another ~US$50+ or so.....

The new EPIRB I am currently leaning toward [Update Jan 2017; now purchased and commissioned] has a 10 year battery and sells for ~US$369...
Sidebar on this unit: Ironically, the EPIRB I linked above is Class 2 [automatically activated in water] so can therefore be registered with NOAA for US flagged vessels [and all other countries] BUT is requires manual deployment of the antenna... Now this is something I can live with, but it seems at odds with my interpretation of the intent of the water activation requirement. [e.g., If this unit floated-free of a sinking vessel, it will activate- but the signals won't be transmitted until the antenna is manually deployed...]
What about purchasing a unit in Australia and changing the country code? [i.e., to fool NOAA...] I have not found any documented evidence indicating this has been successfully accomplished. Therefore, I will pay an extra ~US$180 for the same model EPIRB [but Class 2 with water activation feature] compared to our friends from down under...

Maybe this will all change in the future, but I have to deal with now...

Please let me know if you have knowledge and/or references to the contrary, or know of a better deal on EPIRBs matching the specs I linked above.

And for the nerds and/or insomniacs among you, here is the link to the Int'l Beacons Regulations Handbook [Conveniently it is missing a link to the list of EPIRBS approved for registration in the US...]

Slight drift: Reading the above linked handbook, I just noticed [and this is the part I did know...] while the US has no mandatory EPIRB carriage requirements for US flagged recreational vessels, Hawaii does... This is news to me- but perhaps not those of you transiting Hawaiian waters...

Following are those details about Hawaii in case any of you were unaware of Hawaii's law [like I was...] and may be affected:

On May 28, 2003 the State of Hawaii became the first state within the USA to enact a statute requiring mandatory EPIRB carriage requirements for any vessel that operates beyond one mile of shore.

Enacted on January 1, 2004 under the Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 2,
Chapter 200, a new law that designates and reads:
§200 - Emergency communication devices -
It shall be unlawful to operate in the waters of the State beyond one mile of shore any:
SP/S7JAN31.15 USA - 2 C/S S.007 - Issue 1 - Rev.6
January 2015
(1) Vessel required to be registered by the State or documented by the United States Coast Guard; or
(2) Manual or sail-propelled vessel not required to be registered by the State or documented by the United States Coast Guard, unless the vessel is equipped with a properly functioning fixed mount or handheld marine VHF-FM radio (156 - 162 MHz band) or 406 MHz emergency position indicating radio beacon.

Canoes, thrill craft, surfboards, and paddleboards shall be exempt from this section. Kayaks and training sailboats shall be exempt from this section when accompanied by at least one vessel that complies with this section.

SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

Below is a follow-up to the preceding post [also 30-Nov-2015]

Re: Personal Locator Beacon as boat's EPIRB?

Originally Posted by Rustic Charm View Post
Can someone explain this 'class' and 'catagory' of EPIRBS.. from what I can see Australia doesn't have 'classes and catagories' of EPIRBS which I think is a damn good thing. Is it only the US? Where can I read about these groups. 
Hi Rustic,

It is real confusing... I haven't yet found a single source making it all clear.

Following is what I have gleaned from different resources during my search. I think it is pretty close, but don't take it as authoritative:

Since I've been shopping, I've seen 3 'Classes' and 2 'Categories' defined.

Categories have to do with the type of bracket used to house the EPIRB.

Category I is auto release if vessel sinks- using a hydrostatic release device. It is inferred that Category I brackets can only be used with a water activated EPIRB [Class 1 or 2, see below]

Category II is manual release. I have read that keeping a water activated EPIRB in it's designated bracket will prevent accidental activation while in the bracket. Therefore it is inferred that a Category II bracket may be used with any of the 3 classifications of EPIRBS available today. [Read on...]

Of the manual and/or salt water activated units acceptable anywhere in the world:
Class 1 Beacons are rated to -40C for the minimum 48 hr operation period
Class 2 are rated to -20C " [what we all typically get...]

Of the manual activation only [no water activation]
Class 3 are also rated to -20C but are only available/registerable to boats flagged [residents of?] Australia and New Zealand.

Just to add to the confusion... it is worth noting that historically the word 'Class' was used differently: [using letters instead of numbers...] when differentiating between EPIRB features dealing with frequency. [e.g., 121.5MHz homing frequency only, 406MHz satellite frequency, etc.- from memory...] That all went away [again from memory] in early to mid 2000s when 406 MHz with 121.5KHz units became the standard. And then GPS was added...

If anyone finds an authoritative resource spelling this all out, please share...


SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

Following is another post on this topic- this one regarding our PLB functional requirements and purchase philosophy [01-Dec-2015]

Re: Personal Locator Beacon as boat's EPIRB?

Originally Posted by Scout 30 View Post
Any opinions on which PLB is best? Some pretty good deals on the ACR ResQlink+ 375, which actually floats, plus a $50 rebate right now.
Hi Scout,

All PLBs meet or exceed the required specs and testing, so they will all get the job done.

When I was buying last year, I looked for: [in order of my priority]
  • waterproof [perhaps all models are waterproof?]
  • fresh water buoyant [some require an external neoprene jacket to float- which also helps protect the unit...]
  • battery longevity [most were 5 years, one was 7; remember that was last year...]
  • form factor [I was going for compact]

I ended up buying a unit that met all of my criteria- one with a 7 year battery life span because even with the specials and rebates at the time for those with 5 year batteries, the cost/year was less...

Also, make sure you are getting a fairly 'fresh' unit as they can age a year or two off the battery life sitting on a retailer's shelf...

I think in terms of $/year as I will not replace the battery when it expires; I'll buy a new one... Like I'm doing now for my expiring EPIRB... [see my previous post in this thread...]

I hope this helps, and that you never need to use it...


SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]

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