Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)

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Australian Maritime Safety Authority, January 2024

A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)*  is a highly reliable and effective way to communicate a serious and dangerous situation to emergency services.

A PLB, when activated, sends the location and the device identity via emergency communication satellites and commercial aircraft.  It is a one-way communication.

A PLB does not provide any information about the nature of the emergency.  It should only be activated in a situation of grave and imminent danger – when faced with a life threatening situation.

(* PLBs are sometimes called EPIRBs, but the term EPIRB is now limited to emergency beacons for marine vessels.) 

Australian Government requirements for PLBs are here:

Using your Personal Locator Beacon

Advantages of a PLB

  • Highly effective in a life threatening emergency; a response by emergency services is certain.
  • Will operate in all locations, except deep gorges.
  • Very easy to operate with minimal instruction.
  • Reasonable purchase cost and the only ongoing cost is periodic battery replacement.
  • Can be hired; a useful option for an extended or remote area trip.
  • Long life battery (typically 5 years before replacement).
  • Very robust and relatively light weight.
  • Floating models are available for water activities.
  • A good option for clubs to purchase.

Disadvantages of a PLB

  • Use must be limited to life threatening situations – when facing grave and imminent danger.  It must NOT be used for minor emergencies or changes of plan.
  • One-way communication.  A PLB cannot receive messages.
  • The nature of the emergency cannot be communicated.
  • No confirmation that the emergency message has been received.
  • Cannot communicate with anyone other than emergency services.

When to activate a PLB

A PLB should only be activated in a situation of grave and imminent danger; a life threatening situation.  This is a requirement of the Australian Marine Safety Authority.

Using the PLB effectively

  • Position the PLB in a clear and open area with the aerial vertical, pointed towards the sky, preferably with 180 degrees or more of visibility, away from trees, cliff faces, vehicles, etc.
  • Activate the emergency switch on the PLB.

When a PLB is activated

  • The Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC)  in Canberra receives the signal and location.
  • The RCC notifies the relevant State Rescue Coordination Centre.
  • An emergency services response will be initiated.
  • The registered owner and emergency contacts recorded for the device will be contacted to confirm that the activation is genuine and to obtain trip details.

Note: This section Intentionally avoids excessive technical detail.

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