During my time travelling around Australia, I've found myself in some sticky situations. Although I haven't had to use my EPIRB or PLB, I've certainly come close.
Just having the ability to send a distress signal can be the difference between life and death in the Australian outback.
Because of this, I rarely leave home without a PLB, especially if I'm heading somewhere without decent mobile or radio coverage. I've put together this informational guide complete with six of my favourite personal locator beacons to help you choose the perfect option for your adventures.
How I Made My Selections
Although I've never used my PLB to contact emergency services, I've spent a lot of time researching the best options for my travels and speaking with other travellers about their experiences.
I've drawn on this knowledge to bring you the following six best personal locator beacons for your next Australian adventure.
If you're looking for a multi-purpose PLB device that you can rely on when you're in a remote area, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ stands out as an excellent option. It comes with global satellite coverage and two-way messaging is available with a satellite subscription.
On top of this, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ enables you to send an SOS alert to local emergency rescue crews if you find yourself in a sticky situation. Your SOS device will be monitored by GEOS, a world leader in emergency service response solutions.
The information provided with an alert enables emergency response centres to track your location, and you can message back and forth to clarify your problem. You will also receive a confirmation once assistance has been dispatched.
One extra feature that stands out to me is the built-in communicator. This enables you to track your position and movement. Friends and family can view this data (if it's shared with them) through the MapShare website. Your map can even be embedded on your website or blog.
The main downside of this PLB device is its high cost. But if you do decide to go ahead and purchase it, you can rest assured that you will be covered, no matter where you are in Australia's great outback.
The Spot Gen4 is a lightweight, highly affordable personal locator beacon. It's connected to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center, which will work with local search and rescue personnel if you experience an emergency.
Along with its affordability, the thing I like the most about this PLB is its size. It's super small and lightweight, which makes it great for backpacking and hiking. It also has a motion-activated tracking feature, enabling friends and family to keep up with your movements.
You can send pre-programmed custom help messages to let your family know you're okay, and there's even a HELP button that you can use to alert someone to non-life-threatening situations.
On the downside, there's no full two-way messaging, and many users report that the device is a little difficult to register and set up. But overall, you can't look past the Spot Gen4 if you're looking for a cheap, reliable PLB.
If you're looking for a lightweight, no-frills PLB, the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 is a great choice. I love the fact that it's fully waterproof and designed for use on land and on the water. It's also just 116 grams, making it one of the smallest rescue devices on the market.
Another thing that stands out about this device is its long, 7-year battery life. It uses an international satellite link to emergency services, enabling you to send an SOS alert from anywhere in the world. In Australia, the Australian authorities will be alerted as soon as your device is activated, enabling them to launch a search and rescue effort.
On the downside, the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 is quite simple, and it has no messaging or tracking features. But still, I'd recommend it as one of the best lightweight PLBs that I've seen.
Although it's a bit more complex than your average PLB, I love the features included with the Spot X 2-Way Satellite Messenger. It acts as a satellite phone and enables full two-way messaging so you can text or email your loved ones with updates from your adventures - even if you have no phone reception.
But it doesn't fall down on the PLB front either. You can alert the Australian Authorities to an emergency with a push of the SOS button, and you can message back and forth to provide more information about what's happening. The GPS functionality also enables emergency services to track your location.
The main thing I don't like about the Spot X is that there's a subscription fee to use it. The price per month after your initial purchase can vary, but make sure that you're aware of this if you decide to go with this high-quality, reliable PLB.
If you're looking for a simple PLB that's designed for hiking, the ACR ResQLink 400 is hard to look past. It enables you to send an emergency signal with a push of the SOS button, and it's a subscription-free device with an impressive 5-year battery life and GPS functionality.
Additionally, this satellite device is buoyant and fully waterproof. I also like the fact that it's super durable, which should enable you to use it in Australia's harsh conditions for many years. It has few additional features, but there's little else not to like about this emergency beacon.
With a simple, compact design and a load of extra features, the Zoleo Two-Way Satellite Communicator stands out as the perfect PLB for bushwalking. It's designed to be used alongside the free Zoleo smartphone app, and it enables you to message and send emergency SOS alerts via satellite networks.
However, there is a subscription fee with the Zoleo PLB. Prices start from $32 per month, and you will get a dedicated phone number and email address linked to your device. It's a tough, lightweight device, and it boasts 200+ hours of battery life - more than long enough for any bushwalk I've ever been on!
What Is a Personal Locator Beacon?
A personal locator beacon (PLB) is a small device that lets you send a distress signal from anywhere in Australia via a satellite network. You can activate your PLB in an emergency, enabling emergency services and search and rescue crews to find you in a fast, efficient manner.
Some PLBs come with extra features such as:
- Two-way messaging
- Emergency contact storage
- Location tracking
- Built-in navigation tools
How Does A PLB Work?
When you activate your PLB, it immediately sends a distress signal to the Australian emergency services. They will be able to pinpoint your exact location using GPS information from the signal and launch the most appropriate search and rescue efforts.
Some PLBs enable two-way messaging so you can speak with emergency services about the nature of your problems. This can help ensure the appropriate assistance is provided.
How About The Batteries?
When it comes to battery life, there are two different types of PLB. The first features long-life batteries lasting for five or more years. These can often be replaced, and the long battery life makes them a reliable option for long-term use.
The other type of PLB uses rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. They usually come with extra features like GPS tracking and the ability to send and receive non-emergency messages. Because of this, their battery life can be as low as a few days, making them suitable for short hiking or camping trips.
How Do You Activate A PLB?
Before I jump into this it's important to note that PLBs are there to be used, but only as a last resort in emergency situations. They aren't to be used for simple inconveniences, and you should make emergency contact by phone if possible.
But if you do need to, activating your PLB is usually very straightforward. Most emergency communication devices come with a push button hidden under a safety flap to prevent accidental activations. You may also need to fold out an antenna with some devices.
What If I Set it Off Accidentally?
If you accidentally set off your PLB, it's important to get in contact with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority as soon as possible to let them know that there's no emergency. They can be reached by phone on 1800 641 792, and there's no penalty for accidental activation.
Can I Buy It Locally Or Overseas?
In my experience, it's usually safest to buy your distress beacon locally from an Australian store. If you do this, your device will be compliant with Australian regulations and pre-programmed to be registered with the Australian authorities.
It is possible to buy a PLB overseas, but you need to be careful to make sure that it meets Australian standards. It's also important to find a device that's pre-programmed to Australia, or else you won't be able to register it.
Things To Look For When Buying A PLB
I've bought a few different PLBs over my time travelling around Australia and the world, and it never gets any easier to choose the right model. To help you decide, I've listed a few important things to keep in mind while you're making your selection.
First, the price. You can expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $1000+ for a PLB, and you may have to fork out for ongoing subscription fees as well. Make sure you set your budget before you start looking for a new device, as this will make your decisions much, much easier.
Size & Weight
If you just need a PLB to stick in your car for when you're out camping, a few hundred grams difference in weight or a few centimetres in size aren't going to make a big difference.
But if you're on a multi-day hiking and camping trip, for example, you will want to go for a compact, lightweight device that doesn't take up much space in your backpack.
Ease Of Use
Most PLBs are very self-explanatory and easy to use. However, some of the devices with extra features - such as two-way messaging and built-in navigation - can become a little more complicated to set up and get the hang of using.
If you're going to be taking your PLB hiking, bushwalking, or doing anything near the ocean, I'd strongly recommend going for a waterproof model. This will ensure that you're protected, regardless of the weather conditions or anything else that might happen.
If you're planning to go somewhere quite remote that could take a long time for emergency services to reach, you need to ensure you have a device that will transmit an emergency signal for some time. Some devices only have enough battery power to transmit information about your location for a few hours, while some work for 24 hours plus.
Last, but not least, is long-term battery life. Most PLBs that function solely as emergency distress beacons have long-life batteries that usually last for years without use.
However, devices with extra features such as satellite tracking and two-way messaging tend to have rechargeable batteries that last anywhere from a few days to 10 days plus.
The best PLB in Australia is the Garmin inReach Explorer+. It offers full SOS functionality and comes with two-way messaging, GPS tracking, and a range of other great features. It is a little pricey, but it's worth every cent if you can afford it.
All six PLBs on this list are reliable, highly-functional satellite communication devices. PLBs are heavily regulated in Australia, so any model that's compatible with Australian standards will be a good choice.
I've outlined six of the best PLBs on the market in this article to help you choose the best option. The Garmin inReach Explorer+ is my favourite all-around model, but you need to think about what extra features you want. It's also important to decide whether or not you're willing to pay an extra subscription fee.
Yes, PLBs work everywhere. Since personal locator beacons connect to emergency services via a satellite network, they can be used anywhere in Australia and around the world to get help in an emergency situation.
Most PLBs cost somewhere between $200 and $500. However, there are a few more expensive models on the market, especially if you're looking for something with extra messaging functions and other features.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.