Posted on 10th January 2021
If you own a Personal Location Beacon (PLB), you’re no doubt aware of the huge amount of life-saving potential that little device has. But if you haven’t registered it, or kept your details up to date, you’re significantly hindering any rescues it would help with.
Trust us – your next man overboard will be grateful you took those few minutes to register up to date information!
Your ship may well have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) but if you have people onboard your ship, you need PLB’s too. If you don’t yet have PLB’s (or even know what they are) here’s the lowdown on what a PLB is, why you need them and how important it is to register them with up to date contact and emergency information.
Personal Location Beacons are simple devices designed to bring rescuers to your exact location in the event of an emergency. They emit a signal that can be picked up by emergency services – even where you don’t get a mobile phone signal as their signals are picked up by satellites in orbit.
They work just like their larger, boat-based counterparts but as they are portable they have a few differences. They are smaller, allowing them to be carried on your person and use the same Cospas-Sarsat satellite communication as the larger EPIRB equipment.
Some PLB’s such as the Martek Marine PLB range include GPS (Global Positioning System) location – ours sends GPS location via AIS every minute so you can be navigated to the PLB to within a metre of its location.
The Cospas-Sarsat system became operational back in 1985 and now has over 1 million connected units and devices connected to the system. By using the 406mhz frequency, it can relay information via ground-operating tracking stations and mission control centres.
The main advantage is that if your Personal Location Beacon is correctly registered and you are working on another ship – or even on land – you’re still going to be found if anything goes wrong as it is registered to you and not to your ship.
It is also reassuring to note that the device is activated automatically upon immersion in water as well as manually, so if any injuries are sustained which inhibit movement or the man overboard is unconscious they will still be transmitting their rescue signal straight away.
It is hugely important that, not only do you register your PLB, but that you also update it with the correct point of contact details, should an emergency take place. Did you know that a mind-boggling 40,000 PLB devices have never been registered? In an emergency, they will be virtually useless as your rescuers won’t know who you are, and won’t be able to investigate whether a real emergency has taken place.
This could also mean that they send rescue crews out to your position when your beacon may have activated by accident. Currently, the emergency services try to make contact with you, your emergency contacts or even your employer to see if they can get in touch with you to check whether your beacon has been activated on purpose or not.
If they can’t get hold of anyone, or they find that a real emergency is taking place, they will send out rescue services.
Once a PLB has been purchased, you need to register it with the Marine Coastguard Agency and maintain the accuracy of the registration details, including the 24-hour Emergency Point Of Contact (EPOC) details. This means that if you ever have to activate your beacon, vital information such as route, number in your party, experience, clothing colours, etc are all available to the rescuers.
The EPOC can also be helpful in working out whether a beacon activation is real or false.
You can put a number of messages into your EPOC details such as;
This kind of information massively helps the mission control centre work out if your Personal Location Beacon has activated on purpose or by accident, saving time and money on false alarms. It’s the quickest way of getting help when you need it and in some cases can be the difference between life and death.
Technological advances can mean there are now a significant number of features which are not included as standard. You’ll want to know that you’re buying the right device for your circumstances, as well as buying a model which will stay the course – no pun intended!
If you are going to need to re-charge devices regularly, for instance, this runs a serious risk of being overlooked and there may be scenarios your PLB isn’t suitable – for instance around explosives or flammable substances. The Martek Marine PLB range is the first PLB to be Atex1 approved. At a glance you can see why it is such a market leader;
This combination of features significantly increases the chance of your man overboard being located far more quickly.