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Featured Articles & Information

Hiker in Grand Canyon Rescued thanks to Personal Locator Beacon(10/10/2010)
On October 1, 2010 a rented Personal Locator Beacon was activated in the Grand Canyon. The PLB was rented to a Denver, CO man who was backpacking in the Grand Canyon. Read More...

New Year's Resolution - Enjoying the Outdoors?(12/27/2007)
MUKILTEO, WA. December 27, 2007 Ė Whether itís Mother Nature stirring up an additional dose of extreme weather leaving you stranded or an injury limiting your ability to get help, a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is the best emergency rescue device available. Read More...

Rescue of Missing Hiker in North Cascades(11/4/2007)
The recent rescue of Mary Hyde Wingfield after six days in a remote area of the North Cascades National Park illustrates how easy it is for a day hike to turn into a potentially life and death situation. Read More...

First Hand Account of Grand Canyon PLB Rescue(7/30/2007)
An Indiana man recognizing he was suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration while hiking in the Grand Canyon with three companions was rescued by helicopter after activating his rented PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) on July 2nd. Read Jason Sherman's first hand account of the experience. Read More...

Rented PLB saves Hiker in Grand Canyon(7/4/2007)
An Indiana man recognizing he was suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration while hiking in the Grand Canyon with three companions was rescued by helicopter after activating his rented PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) on July 2nd. This marks the first PLB rescue in the Grand Canyon. Recovering at the Flagstaff Medical Center, the hiker, Jason, is being treated for severe dehydration and the onset of renal failure. Read More...

More Public Awareness of PLBs Needed(12/19/2006)
December 19, 2006 Ė Although Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) have been steadily increasing in popularity after being approved for use by individuals in the U.S. in July of 2003, many people still havenít heard about them or know what their purpose is. Read More...

First Land Rescue with a Rented PLB(4/12/2006)
April 12, 2006 - The first rescue in the United States using a rented PLB (from PLB Rentals, LLC) helped to quickly locate 4 hikers in the Olympic National Forest. This was also the first rescue with the ACR TerraFix PLB. Read More...

What is a PLB?

What is a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)?

PLB's are part of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) SARSAT (Search And Rescue Satellite-aided Tracking) system. When an individual (or group) is in distress, activating a PLB results in a 406MHz signal being transmitted. The distress signal is received by the SARSAT system which uses NOAA satellites in low-earth and geostationary orbits to detect and locate the source of the signal.

Initially, the geostationary satellites detect the signal and relay it to a network of ground stations and then ultimately to the U.S. Mission Control Center (USMCC) in Suitland, Maryland. The actual location of the transmitting PLB is then determined using doppler technology from the low-earth satellites which can take up to 45 minutes depending on the location of the PLB transmitter compared with the closest low-earth satellite.

Encoded in the transmitted signal is a serial number which is used to determine the registered owner of the PLB device. Some models of PLB's include and/or allow a GPS (Global Positioning System) module. The GPS module is able to determine the PLB location by acquiring information from GPS satellites. Once the position is acquired using GPS satellites, the position coordinates are transmitted as part of the PLB signal thereby providing position information within minutes instead of the potential delay of 45 minutes. With the GPS information included in the transmission, the beacons location can be determined within feet instead of miles.

The USMCC provides the location information to the local Search and Rescue authorities. In addition to the 406MHz transmitted signal used by the SARSAT satellites, the PLB devices also transmit a 121.5MHz homing signal that is used by Search and Rescue teams to locate the person in distress once they get close to the location provided by the SARSAT system.

COSPAS-SARSAT System  Overview

Comparison of the 121.5 MHz and a 406 MHz emergency beacons:
  121.5 MHz 406 MHz
LOCATION ACCURACY 12 miles 2 miles
COVERAGE Local Global
SIGNAL POWER 0.1 Watt 5 Watts
SIGNAL TYPE Analog Digital
ALERT TIME 2 Hours Instantaneous
DOPPLER LOCATION Two Passes Single Pass
GPS LOCATION None 100m Accuracy

View the FCC Order authorizing 406 MHz PLBs including detailed requirements.


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