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Personal Locator Beacon PLB

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Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by deanmartin » Mon Dec 28, 2015 8:20 pm

anyone have a preference for PLB on your life vests? Plan on heading to Bahamas soon and want to add PLB to both our life vests
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by John Stevenson » Tue Dec 29, 2015 8:36 am

I'm a skeptic on the value of a PLB for an ocean passage, at least those PLBs that are just miniature EPIRBs. The chance of a shore based rescue when several hundred miles off shore is pretty remote considering the time it would take for recovery and the limited time before hypothermia takes over and the PLB batteries are discharged. For a short hop to the Bahamas, given the warm water temperatures and the nearness of the shore-based rescue facilities, there might be some value in the EPIRB based PLBs.

IMO, the only really useful PLBs are those that allow the remaining crew onboard to locate the crew member who went overboard. When I was preparing for a crossing back to the US from Portugal in 2007 I decided to provide the Raymarine Lifetag system for myself and my crew mate. This is not a true PLB as its only functions are to activate an alarm should one of the transponders become separated from the boat by more than 30' and to create a MOB waypoint on my Raymarine plotter for the boat's position when the overboard condition was detected. I verified that this system would work before departing by walking down the dock away from the boat wearing one of the transponders. I was less the 30' away when the alarm went off and the alarm was loud enough to bring most of my dockmates on deck to find out what the noise was all about.

Here's a link to my description of the Lifetag: http://www.svsarah.com/Sarah/ewUpgradeSafety.htm

Since neither of us went overboard on the trip, we never had a chance to test the system in anger. We did have a couple of false alarms because my crew mate insisted on wearing his transponder on his ankle rather than his wrist. When he was in his bunk the blanket provided just enough attenuation of the signal to set off the alarm. Once I convinced him to take the transponder off when he was in the bunk, the false alarms ceased.

I haven't really looked at PLB products since that trip, so there is likely something more effective available today. Also the Lifetag system is just an alarm if you don't have a compatible Raymarine plotter to create the MOB waypoint. Finally the Lifetag system I have is SeaTalk based. I'm not sure if it has been upgraded for SeaTalkng or is even still available from Raymarine.

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by Scott Berg » Tue Dec 29, 2015 8:52 am

I think the ones that make the most sense are those that use AIS; the MOB appears on the display aboard (and aboard any vessel within range. Makes more sense to me than a 406mhz model... plan to buy a couple before our next passage
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by billwakefield » Tue Dec 29, 2015 10:28 am

Hi Dean,

If you don't mind a recycled response I wrote on another forum recently in response to the same question... I'll include it below.

[If you wish to access all the links included in the original response, please see http://svdenalirosenc43.blogspot.com/2015/10/emergency-notification-devices.html. I don't know how to paste the content here without the links being stripped off, and there were too many to redo here....]

Have fun on your adventure, and be safe!

Cheers!

Bill

I am assuming you are only asking about a PLB [like a personal EPIRB- which we also have on the boat...] per your subject line and not lumping other MOB [Man Overboard- applies to anyone suffering an unplanned exit from the boat into the water...] signaling devices under that acronym. [e.g., AIS/DSC signaling devices.]
Reminder: PLBs and EPIRBs are only activated in life and death circumstances; not when you fall overboard and want to notify the crew on the boat, or want to have a pizza air-dropped to your location... Read on...
Therefore I will discuss our PLB choices [which we also carry on land] and I will also mention our MOB alert choices as well just in case that is of interest.

PLBs: [COSPAS-SARSAT Registered]

We started with ACR ResQLink+ [+ = floating; there is a non-floating model as well...] PLBs on our offshore harness/vests. They are very sturdy [i.e., it would be difficult to break it under normal circumstances...] and are easily deployed [i.e., they don't require much thinking if one is in a jumbled state-of-mind or injured...] These have a 5 year battery life.

We find we need to keep the ResQLink+ in a tight fitting neoprene case because it is easy to accidentally deploy the antenna. This adds one more step to the activate process: remove from case first.

We had one of our ResQLink+ PLBs vacuum packed with the life raft and replaced it with a PLB1 from Ocean Signal because I liked the smaller form factor [see photo at end of this post] and the 7 year battery life.

The trade-off for the PLB1 is it must be 'wearing' the included neoprene case in order to float, and one must remember to manually deploy the antenna. [simple- like pulling out an 8 inch measuring tape...] The point being you must remember to do so or the signal won't have an antenna to transmit from...

The PLB1 does not need to be removed from the case to deploy the antenna.

Bottom line: If I didn't have a PLB I would buy the PLB1 for the form factor [when attached to our offshore harness/vest combos. We use an add-on Spinlock pocket attached to our Spinlock PFDs to hold the PLB.]

You can't go wrong either way from my experience.

I should mention our PLBs are for worse case [life and death] scenarios in a MOB situation. [e.g., You regain consciousness while floating in the water and there is no vessel in site...]

Other devices we carry on our offshore vests for sounding the electronic MOB alarms on our and other vessels in the area [AIS and VHF DSC as of this writing...] include:

In addition to a PLB we also each have a portable DSC VHF Radio and auto-activating AIS MOB transmitter attached to our vests. Everything is waterproof and has built-in GPS.

Philosophically, we don't intend to have batteries replaced in our PLBs or AIS transmitters when they expire [which often costs 1/3rd to 1/2 that of a new, more modern device that hasn't been exposed to salt water for the last 5-7+ years...]

We think of these items as disposable technology that will be replaced by the next, smaller, better, device(s) with more features in better optimized form factors. [e.g., VHF DSC and AIS is already available in one unit in the MOB1 from Ocean Signal, and without hesitation this is what I would buy today to replace/supplement our AIS only MOB alert devices.]

Therefore to be fully covered, today I would buy these two items: a PLB and a DSC/AIS MOB alert device.

For us a VHF radio is also a requirement as communication with the rescue party is typically lacking, and can be very useful if conditions permit. It is also a 3rd MOB alert device... ["Denali Rose, Floater here: please don't let anyone eat my lunch..."]
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by jonathancaldwell » Tue Dec 29, 2015 3:27 pm

Always the best advice is: Don't go overboard!

Someday it would be really helpful to hear from someone who went overboard with all this gear on and lived to tell the tale.

We are planning for a one in a gazillion probability.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by deanmartin » Wed Dec 30, 2015 11:13 am

Thank you all for the advice. I have researched until blue in the face. My thought was for a AIS type MOB alert only. So we could locate our fallen partner. The comment about a VHS also is good advice.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by deanmartin » Wed Dec 30, 2015 1:13 pm

Oops fools are self made, the should have said VHF not VHS.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by Brian D » Wed Dec 30, 2015 2:11 pm

Had we the ability to edit our posts, no one would have been the wiser. :)
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by John Stevenson » Wed Dec 30, 2015 2:19 pm

Looking over the responses since mine has informed me on a lot of the changes that have taken place with PLBs in the last 10 years.

If I were looking for a MOB alerting PLB today (I'm not), my decision would likely be between the AIS and VHF/DSC capable PLBs. Which one I went with would depend on the corresponding onboard equipment activated by the PLB. My decision factors would be the loudness of the MOB alarm and the ability of a plotting device to automatically plot the MOB location. My off shore sailing is normally with short-handed crews (2-3), standing one-person watches at night. The need would be for an alarm loud enough to wake any sleeping crews. I know the DSC alarm on my VHF radio will wake the dead, so that is not an issue with this type of PLB. For the AIS type PLB I'm not sure what device would generate the alarm. If it is my PC, that might not wake me even though my bunk is next to the nav station. My chart plotter and navigation PC will automatically generate a target position for a MOB AIS message, but I currently do not have any device on board that will generate a MOB waypoint from a DSC message.

So I think you need to evaluate the PLBs not just on the capability of the device, but also on the onboard capabilities that will be required to wake off-duty crew and automatically generate a tracking plot for the MOB. At the current time I do not have the necessary on board equipment for either type of PLB,

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon PLB

by billwakefield » Thu Dec 31, 2015 9:18 pm

John,

You point out a very valid consideration: a person overboard alarm is not useful if it doesn't alert the onboard crew... [Not unlike a DSC radio without an MMSI number and GPS fix, or an unregistered PLB or EPIRB...] They all make you feel good, but do nothing useful when needed...

In our case for person overboard notification, we rely on AIS transmitters [with built-in GPS] on our PFDs. Therefore, as you point out, we want to make sure the alarm is heard.

Our Vesper Watchmate 850 AIS transceiver accommodates an external alarm [for which we have on a separate on/off switch so it can be quickly muted- as can all our alarms; there is no talking over them...] It wouldn't hurt to connect a red strobe as well I suppose in case we ever have someone on board who is hearing challenged...

Only the deaf could sleep through our claxon, and we can make it sound the airhorn simultaneously if desired. [The airhorn is also an option with our bilge high water alarm claxon and intrusion security alarm...]

I suspect most other AIS transceivers have a similar provision for an external alarm of choice, but have not researched that to confirm.

As I mentioned in my earlier post in this thread, when we upgrade our devices, we will go with a combination VHF DSC/AIS device so we have not only redundant alert technologies, but redundant [L O U D] alarm systems as well.

Thanks for reminding us all how important this is.

Cheers!

Bill
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