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August 23, 2012

New Personal Locator Beacons

New rescue beacons expand safety options for mariners

Reaching Farther


Besides the new SART, Kannad also makes PLBs and EPIRBs. Those beacons send digital distress signals to satellites that then transmit to emergency-rescue personnel. They must also be registered with the federal government through NOAA’s Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System (SARSAT).

SARTs were designed for crew ­situations and where a distress signal need travel only a short distance. For any other use, a PLB or EPIRB is ­generally recommended.

“SARTs are in the world of what I would call a closed system,” says Chris Wahler, product line manager for Cobham Commercial Systems, which makes ACR PLBs and EPIRBs. “If you can be recovered by the boat you fell off, they will prove to be pretty good … in time.”

Wahler says the assumption, by those talking about SARTs at this year’s Miami Boat Show, was that these beacons would instantly turn every vessel on the water into a rescue platform because they broadcast over AIS. “But we don’t see an overabundance of adoption [of AIS] on vessels, especially in the sport-fishing community,” he says.

PLBs constitute an open rescue system that contacts outside agencies that an event has taken place. “If you don’t have confidence in the vessels around you, you have to reach out beyond that,” Wahler says. “There’s no reason these devices can’t be used in conjunction with each other either. One thing a PLB doesn’t do is alert a captain that an event has taken place.”

None of these rescue beacons adequately work unless they can be deployed when you need them. Wearable devices must be worn. An R10 on a PFD does no good if a crew member falls ­overboard not wearing his life jacket.

“If you’re the only person on the vessel and you’re disconnected from the vessel, a PLB in your pocket is much better suited for your task,” Wahler says. “Anything left in the salon or in  a drawer in the cockpit doesn’t do any good.”