PLB 210x300 EPIRB vs. PLB

Ocean Signal PLB-1

Which is right for you?

Hello everybody! My name is Ken, and I am affiliated with a marine electronics company that has been serving the Clear Lake area for 23 years. The folks at Gulf Coast Mariner Magazine invited me to pen some content relating specifically to marine electronics – I hope you find this, and future columns, to be useful. I look forward to sharing our experience with you!

Our customers continually ask us about the difference between EPRIBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons). EPIRBs have been around since the early 1980s and were designed specifically to address the needs of the commercial maritime market. PLBs arrived on the scene in 2003, and were designed for personal use. Here are the differences and similarities between the two:

Activation – EPIRBs can be purchased for either automatic or manual deployment, while PLBs can only be activated manually.
Registration – EPIRBs are registered to a vessel, while PLBs are registered to an individual.
GPS – Both EPIRBs and PLBs can be purchased with or without an internal GPS. Having internal GPS is a benefit in that rescue resources are focused in a smaller area.
Flotation – All EPIRBs float. Most PLBs will not float unless fitted with a flotation sleeve.
Operational Battery Life – EPIRBs are required to function for 48 hours continuously, while PLBs are only required to operate for 24 hours.
Strobe Lights – All EPIRBs are required to have strobe lights. PLBs are not required to have a strobe light, but many of them do.

“So”, you ask “what’s best for my application?” That of course, depends on you.

otherlocator EPIRB vs. PLB

Ocean Signal E100 EPIRB

If your vessel falls under SOLAS regulations, or is any type of commercial vessel (fishing or passenger), then the law dictates that you must have an automatically deployable EPIRB. However for pleasure craft, it is simply a matter of personal choice.

Both products bring unique qualities to the table. The ideal installation would have both an EPIRB in a “ditch bag,” and PLBs affixed to the PFDs (personal flotation device). In this way, all the options are covered. Remember that the EPIRB is registered to the vessel, so when a distress activation is received, the rescue assets are looking for a boat. However the PLBs are registered to an individual, so rescue assets are aware that they are looking for a person.

As a multi-purpose device, PLBs offer the most “bang for the buck.” You can take your PLB along with you on a canoe trip down the Comel River, hiking in the Colorado back country, or simply keep it in your vehicle’s glove box. Carry it during any outdoor activity for which you desire that extra margin of safety. Because of this mutli-tasking capability and their lower cost, many customers are opting to rely exclusively on PLBs.

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