Emergency satellite devices have never been more reliable, with increased satellites in the sky and devices that reach over 22,000 miles into space the NOAA Cospas/Sarsat teams can receive and respond to emergency calls from anywhere in the world. This past year NOAA SARSAT and Cospas rescued 397 people across the globe. With strict regulations on battery life, satellite connectivity range, and non-stop monitoring, EPIRBs, PLBs, and LTEs are reliable devices for emergencies.
EPIRBs are designed for marine vessels. If the boat goes down, EPIRBs can be manually activated, or tripped by a hydrostatic release. Never install an EPIRB where it can get stuck as the boat sinks. You want the EPIRB to float free. Ideally, the EPIRB stays with the life raft and the people on board. EPIRBs should be registered with NOAA and tested according to the manufacturer's instructions. EPIRBs will send a signal for at least 48 hours once activated.
PLBs are personal locator beacons which are compact devices that are manually activated. These devices are used on land and at sea. They are small enough to easily attach to rain gear or pack in a grab bag. PLBs can withstand impact, but not all PLBs are waterproof. Double-check that the PLB you purchase is compatible with the environment you are using it in.
ELTs are primarily for aircrafts. They can be manually activated or activated automatically if the plane experiences an excessive force.
All Cospas/Sarsat beacons must maintain full battery life for at least five years if properly maintained. Additionally, all beacons have a one-time purchase cost with no monthly membership fees.
Despite adverse weather conditions and cloud coverage, EPIRBs, PLBs, and ELTs have excellent satellite connectivity. They are required to have a range of at least 22,000 miles into space. The distress signal bounces up to a NOAA satellite before alerting the USCG and Search and Rescue teams nearby. Emergency locator beacon signals can bring rescuers within 100 meters of your location, drastically reducing the search time to find you.
Emergency beacons are not communication devices. Alternative satellite communication devices may help communicate a change of plans to people on shore or communicate with partners in other parts of the world. Different tools for different scenarios. Both devices are valuable tools, but one should not replace the other.
There isn't anything worse than winding up in an emergency with a device that is out of battery power or can't connect with a satellite through the clouds. NOAA Cospas/Sarsat teams are constantly improving their devices to increase their odds of a successful rescue.