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Old 29-01-2005, 10:23   #1
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EPIRB vs. PLB

I'm doing a long distance race this spring and need to be equipped with a 406 mhz EPIRB. I was planning on renting a full size EPIRB but am wondering if I might be better off purchasing a PLB for permanent use.

We do coastal cruising along the gulf coast and rarely venture offshore.

Prices are dropping and functionality is increasing...for example, you can by a PLB with integral GPS for under $700. I guess the only downside is that the PLB won't activate automatically in the water and has a shorter battery life once it starts to transmit. I'm not sure that is a huge deal for a coastal sailor in the Gulf of Mexico.

Are there other downsides to a PLB that I'm missing?

Please don't give me the old "Is your family's life worth a few hundred bucks?" speech. That argument, taken to its logical end, gets very expensive with marginal effectiveness for the additional dollars spent. Like everyone, I'm trying to manage to the best value.

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Old 29-01-2005, 12:16   #2
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I think both are important. They should be viewed as two totally different applications. Like say a GPS and a chartplotter. The EPIRB is designed to alert Authorities that your are in need of urgent assistance, (for what ever the reason) from a great distance, like most of the world's ocean. A PLB is designed to Alert those on your vessel that you have gone overboard. They are short range operation only and the Base station can have features that tie into your vessel. Like it may stop the engine, or it may put the boat into a turn or what ever.
The EPIRB is a unit that is also varied. (Which I think you understand). There are units that are just an Alert device and there are units that give the Satilite the Boat name, and the Position. We have many EPIRB alerts here in NZ waters. Most are accidental sadly.
But the interesting thing I have learn't, is it is well worth the expense of having the Unit that gives your Vessel name and co-ordinates. Otherwise, it seems to be an absolute guessing game for authorities as to where the Vessel in Trouble is. Which means a long time before rescue. Here in NZ at least. This would be because our coast is such a Maze.
One the other day was in a Vacinity of me. But happend to be over a ridge in another sound. If it was open water, I was probably 15 mins away. But with our coast here, it would have been 15hrs under motor to get there. Turned out it was some kids playing anyway.
Now this may be slightly different offshore, as it would be easier to target with an Aircraft. Of course, you have to remember, that often the reason an EPIRB goes off is sometimes related to the weather a vessel maybe trying to endure. And massive sea states make it very hard for Aircraft to spot you.
Around the coast of NZ at least, they really struggle to know just where a vessel maybe. So when one goes off, we have our Maritime Radio put out a Mayday Relay and ask any vessels in the area to keep a look out.
So to summerise, I think you should have both and you should view both as different.
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Old 29-01-2005, 13:19   #3
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Alan,
I'm not sure that is entirely correct. From the ACR Aquafix PLB-200 brochure : "Transmits on 406 MHz via COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system with your registered unique, digitally coded distress signal and 121.5 MHz (SAR homing frequency). " AND "Onboard GPS acquires LAT/LON when the unit is activated,
your LAT/LON are transmitted as soon as acquired providing
rescue agencies with your exact position to within 100 meters
(110 yards)"

Sounds just like an EPIRB to me.

ACR Aquafix
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Old 29-01-2005, 15:58   #4
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Arrrrh, I see. Different to what I was thinking of. I was thinking of the Man over board thingy, that alerst Crew onboard only. Didn't know you could get something like you have described.
Sooo, now I know different, I guess it is to each his own. What is going to suit your needs will best determin your wants.
Let us know what you decide and the reasons why for, so as it arms a few more of us with some thoughts when selecting these things.
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Old 29-01-2005, 16:06   #5
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Actually, thinking about it a bit more. Here are some thoughts. Certainly not based on fact, they are just thoughts. The larger unit is going to Transmit longer. That has to be a plus. It can be mounted in an easy to access place so that it can be grabed along with your emergency bag. So can a PLB of course. But the larger unit can also be set up with a self release mech, should you go down fast and you personally don't get time to get the beacon released. I doubt the PLB version could, but maybe I am wrong. Some of the larger units have strobes for visual contact. Larger Battery to power the strobe would be a plus there too.
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Old 29-01-2005, 16:26   #6
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ACR Electronics recommends the “PLB” (406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon) only for inland waters & hiking ~ NOT for coastal nor offshore cruising.
A PLB is not a substitute for an EPIRB aboard an offshore vessel, largely because PLBs have a battery life in the neighborhood of only 24 hours. While your approximate location may be determined by the satellite-signaling 406Mhz beacon, it is the 121.5Mhz homing beacon that will bring a rescuer close to you. If you are well offshore, it could be far longer than 24 hours before a surface vessel can reach you. Furthermore, PLBs were designed to be carried by an individual; they lack the robust construction and permanent-mounting capability of a full-sized EPIRB.
EPIRB Selection Guides (from ACR):
http://www.acrelectronics.com/epirbrecom.htm
http://www.acrelectronics.com/whichone.htm

Even better that the standard 406 MHz EPIRB - consider the new GPIRB:

The position of a 406 MHz EPIRBs is determined by calculations using the Doppler shift in the beacon's distress signal, which occurs as satellites approach and recede in overhead orbits. The accuracy of the calculations is determined by the number of signal bursts received by the satellites. Accuracy is enhanced when a satellite passes directly overhead, because the satellite receives the greatest number of signal bursts. The only real problem with the system is that it takes time for an accurate fix to be acquired.

In contrast, the GPIRB (combined GPS EPIRB) takes an active role in determining its own position. When activated, its internal GPS finds its own position, just like an onboard GPS you might already have. Having located itself, it broadcasts its identity and position on 406MHz. It will then shut down for 20 minutes to conserve power, and repeat the process of locating itself and broadcasting. It will continue to update its position every 20 minutes as long as it is active.

The advantage of a GPIRB is that an accurate fix is almost instantly available; its frequent update allows rescuers to compute drift accurately, and direct SAR teams directly to you -- difficult to do with the time delays of an EPIRB.

BTW:
Maggie & I never carried boat insurance, an EPIRB, nor a life raft. Like the man said, there’s no such thing as “safe”, merely ‘safer’, and these safety items got “prioritized” out of our budget. We did have a watermaker tho’ ~ bear this in mind as you evaluate my opinion ...


FWIW,
Gord
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Old 30-01-2005, 02:16   #7
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The ACR Aquafix 406 GPS I/O actually has an integral GPS so it is, in effect, a GPIRB.

Perhaps I'm cynical but this sounds a bit like a marketing machine at work....they have a newer, less expensive product but don't want to make their bread & butter product obsolete SO they come up with a new category.

From a feature and function standpoint, they are VERY close and 25-40% cheaper.

Activation life seems to be the determinant: 48 hrs for a standard unit, 24 hrs for the new ones. Sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, I'm not sure that it makes a huge difference.
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Old 30-01-2005, 11:57   #8
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It's a sobering thought, it could take 48hrs or longer before rescue.
I was reading an article last night, about a couple that is cruising the world. Their moto was "they would only abandone their boat, when standing on deck with water upto their necks."
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