When the Ile De La Reunion, a French fishing vessel, rescued Abby Sunderland from her crippled yacht in the stormy seas of the Indian Ocean on June 12th, 2010, it was no lucky accident. Abby Sunderland carried two emergency locator beacons on board — one for the life raft and one for the survival suit. When the beacons transmitted the distress signal, a satellite communications system put the rescue wheels in motion. Ships in the area received word of the yacht’s predicament and went directly to the last known position of the Wild Eyes.
Not so many years ago, Abby Sunderland would likely have disappeared permanently in those same circumstances. Survival would have depended on luck, not technology, and the odds of living until someone blunders across you in that vast seascape aren’t good. Anyone traveling in distant places today might well be asking what exactly was she carrying that worked so well, and where can I get one?
PLB’s and Personal Tracking Systems aren’t quite new, but only now are becoming affordable for the average person. Several bargain systems are available, and I’ve reviewed a couple of them here on The Marked Tree. If you’re trying to save money, you shouldn’t do that by skimping on emergency gear. The cheap systems aren’t great — the real bargains cost more.
One excellent choice, small enough to carry on a backpacking trip and good enough to trust, is the ACR SARlink Personal Locator Beacon. This one has just enough extra features to give you confidence in the device and some basic experience in actually making it work. The ACR Sarlink 406 GPS PLB has been designed for land use and includes a self test feature which sends a pulse to the satellite system to verify proper functioning without getting the owner into trouble for sending a false alarm. Subscription services are available at extra cost which allow transmission of a preset personal message to five email recipients — most owners would use this as an “I’m OK!” signal. GPS enabled PLB’s like the ACR Sarlink 406 GPS PLB can also send GPS coordinates so friends and family can keep track of you on the internet.
ACR makes two versions of the PLB — the Sarlink model for land travelers and the Aqualink version for sailors. Both versions are waterproof and shock resistant, but the Aqualink floats.
Cheaper alternatives are available, but you’re not getting the same reliability if you step down. In fact, after paying the annual fees for the basic service packages of competing personal tracking systems, you may even wind up spending more money for less capability. Buy the Sarlink or Aqualink, and all you need to do is register the PLB. The basic service is part of the price — add the tiny email and GPS report if you like.