People who spend any amount of time exploring the great outdoors should definitely consider adding a personal locator beacon to their equipment list. Besides adding peace of mind, this handy device can literally save your life in case of an accident or other unforseen complication. PLBs can be pricey, but the security they provide is well worth it if you are going to be spending any amount of time in a remote or dangerous location.
I recently purchased the lightweight and easy to use McMurdo FastFind220 Personal Locator Beacon because I do a lot of solo kayaking and hiking. I also had an upcoming trip to the Caribbean where I would be participating in a drift snorkel in a strong current over the Palancar Reef in Cozumel. The FastFind220 was perfect for my needs because it is waterproof to 30′, has a 6-year battery life and would do me well in a variety of situations. In the event of an emergency, upon manual activation, the FastFind220 PLB will transmit a unique ID and current GPS coordinates to the COSPAS-SARSAT global search and rescue satellite network allowing rescuers to find and assist you. It also activates a bright LED SOS light to help rescuers pinpoint your location.
Fortunately, I never had to deploy my device during my trip, but it gave me an added sense of security just to know that if I got into trouble I had a way to summon help. It was easy enough to keep with me; I simply placed the device into its flotation pouch and used a carabiner to clip it onto my snorkeling vest and swam away. When hiking or kayaking, I attach it to a belt loop or to my hydration pack. The device has held up well, showing no signs of leakage and continues to test well.
There are several types of PLBs out there to choose from, but do your research. Some require a yearly activation fee (the McMurdo Fastfind220 does not.) They all must be registered with NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking, which is a simple process and will help rescuers get to you more quickly by eliminating an unknown signal on their resources. Because the FastFind220 PLB is primarily a distress beacon, it does not support a messaging system to alert friends and family of your status or location.
If peace of mind and the ability to summon help when necessary seems like something that appeals to you, consider adding a PLB to your outdoor arsenal. It may be the best investment you’ve ever made.