You must manually deploy and activate a Category 2 EPIRB, as with PLBs, which attach to your clothing. Both are available with and without internal GPS. Some can connect to an external GPS as well. EPIRBs are legal for use on all navigable waterways, while PLBs can be used on both land and water.
Regardless of type, both EPIRBs and PLBs need to be registered - an EPIRB to a specific vessel and a PLB to a specific person. You can register either for free at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov or with BoatUS at http://www.boatus.com/mmsi.
Then there's the most recent twist to the emergency-signaling game - something called the Spot Messenger. This PLB contacts an emergency-response center via satellite to dispatch responders to an exact location. It requires a $99 yearly subscription fee, and the hardware costs $169. Unlike other EPIRBs and PLBs, Spot Messenger sends its signals via Globalstar satellite. Spot makes up for less output power (compared to PLBs and EPIRBs) by sending multiple signals. Its coverage area includes just about everywhere any readers of Sport Fishing will fish. Spot's been a hit with a variety of land-based-activity users, but most of the time if you're on land, you can walk somewhere should it fail.
When you head to sea, be prepared. That means considering what would happen if it all went wrong.
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