personal locator beacon reviews

Top 5 Best Personal Locator Beacons on the Market

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It is no exaggeration that having the right personal locator beacon could make the difference between life and death.

If you are stranded in a remote location and of your chance of rescue, otherwise slim, a working locator beacon will save you.

This, of course, means you need a model that has a long battery life, a good range and is sure to work exactly when you need it most.

Needless to say, there are a number of options on the market today. From buoyant beacons meant for marine use to pocket-sized landbased models. They come in a range of price points and from a range of companies.

In this review roundup, we have put them through their paces to give you the ultimate lowdown. For our findings in a glance, head to the table below. For an in-depth review of each locator beacon, keep on reading.

Best Personal Locator Beacons

BEST PREMIUM
ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon
BEST BUDGET
McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) (45016)
Artex Personal Locator Beacon
Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with Topo Maps and GPS Navigation
ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon with Manual Release Bracket and Built-in GPS
ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon
McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) (45016)
Artex Personal Locator Beacon
Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with Topo Maps and GPS Navigation
ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon with Manual Release Bracket and Built-in GPS
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BEST PREMIUM
ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon
ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 Buoyant Personal Locator Beacon
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BEST BUDGET
McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) (45016)
McMurdo FAST FIND 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) (45016)
Artex Personal Locator Beacon
Artex Personal Locator Beacon
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Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with Topo Maps and GPS Navigation
Garmin inReach Explorer+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with Topo Maps and GPS Navigation
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ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon with Manual Release Bracket and Built-in GPS
ACR GlobalFix Pro 406 2844 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon with Manual Release Bracket and Built-in GPS
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The Reviews

hiking remote location

Personal locator beacons (PLB) can be rated based on their build quality, GPS features, ruggedness, and ability to float and emit homing signals.

Using these criteria and more we have selected 5 of the best PLB models available today. Here are the results.

1. BEST PREMIUM: ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB

This is a compact, well-designed, and rugged manually-activated 406Mhz PLB that has an inbuilt 66-channel GPS receiver, and can broadcast the 121.5Mhz homing signal.

This model has inbuilt redundancies and features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and power-efficient programming module.

Likewise, this well-built, durable, and long-lasting PLB can withstand falls and submersion into water. As expected, it is waterproof, but this is limited to 5 meters underwater for 1 hour, or 10 minutes at 10 meters below the water surface.

It is therefore not well suited for constant use in marine environments, or during underwater exploration, and hence cannot be used as a substitute for boat EPIRB.

Even so, it is buoyant and will quickly float after being submerged in water, and this ensures that its distress signals are not degraded by any aquatic canopy and that it can be seen on the water surface, besides ensuring that its waterproof quality remains intact (because it cannot remain submerged for an hour).

Additionally, this PLB comes with a test mode which allows the user to test whether the GPS functionality and 406Mhz beacon with a green flashing light indicating that the distress signal broadcasted has GPS coordinates, while red flashing light indicating that no GPS data is incorporated in the broadcasted signal.

On the other hand, registration of this PLB is easy and straightforward as the user just needs to visit ACR-Artex Beacon Registration webpage, and then choose a country, and thereafter register the PLB with the relevant government agency.

This PLB model is designed and manufactured by ACR Electronics, Inc, whose headquarters is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It belongs to the ResQLink series of PLBs, and it is the Plus (+) model which is buoyant, unlike the standard model that sinks in water. Its model number is PLB-375, and the product number is 2881.

The most obvious redundancy of this model is its ability to provide location data using two methods – from GPS receiver, and if this receiver fails, then the trilateration of location can be done based on the movement of the LEOSAR satellite that re-broadcast the PLB distress signal.

Also, its 121.5Mhz homing signal is blasted at 50milliwatts (mW). It also comes with a non-removable Class 2, non-hazmat rechargeable lithium batteries whose battery life exceeds 24 hours at -20°C.

The battery shelf life is 11 years. Still, the PLB needs to be returned to the manufacturer for battery replacement, either after use or after a lapse of six years without use.

This compact model weighs about 6ounces[oz] (or 160 grams [g]). It comes with a lanyard and antenna wrapped to the left side of the PLB.

The lanyard allows the user to secure the device to an object so as to avoid losing it.

The compact PLB is 9.9 centimeters(cm) long, 4.8cm wide, and 3.3cm thick. Its front panel features a transparent upper portion that allows the user to see the green and red LED indicator lights when performing the basic self-test for GPS and 406Mhz beacon activity.

On the left side, panel is the antenna latch at the top, and directly beneath it is the antenna hinge that allows the antenna to be positioned vertically when the PLB is flat on the ground (and this is called vertical polarization).

Below this hinge is the embossed red switch button, and underneath it is the test mode button. The PLB casing is made from high-quality plastic that is resistant to ultraviolet (UV) light and direct impact.

Moreover, this model uses its own proprietary high visibility ACR-true yellow color scheme, which allows SAR teams to easily see the PLB when they are within 100 meters from it.

For visibility at night, the strobe light flashes a bright white light beam at a rate of one light flash for every 3 seconds, and this ensures that the beam can be seen, tracked, and traced by SAR teams.

The manufacturer lists only 2 steps to operating this model: deploy the antenna and then press the ON switch button. The PLB must be left switched on until SAR parties rescue the victim.

As expected, when the device is turned on, the GPS receiver acquires GPS coordinates of the device location.

Relatedly, its distress signals are broadcasted as data bursts that have been encoded according to the required ITU specifications, and this data conformity allows for the establishment of a reliable uplink connection with a SAR satellite when both the PLB and satellite are in direct line-of-sight.

It is also for this reason that the manufacturer recommends that the PLB antenna be pointed to the clear sky (which minimizes signal degradation that occurs when radio waves pass through forest canopies and thick clouds).

As expected, the duration of each data burst is 440ms, and this model expends 5W to broadcast the burst.

The GPS receiver in this PLB has 66 channels which increase the accuracy of location coordinates, with the margin of error estimated to be only 100 meters.

This means that the location data bundled in the distress alert allows SAR teams to narrow the search area to a radius of about 100 meters from where the PLB says it is (located).

Even so, because each channel is simply a correlator that acquires data from a specific GPS satellite, then many channels mean that more power is consumed in order to run each correlator.

It is for this reason that one is advised not to keep the PLB powered OFF when there is no distress and no PLB testing is being done, because this would cause the GPS receiver to drain the battery without providing any noticeable benefit to the user.

On the upside, many channels mean that location data can be acquired quickly from multiple satellites (as compared to 4- or 12-channel GPS receivers), and these coordinates can then be bundled with the SOS call.

Likewise, having 66 channels reduces the margin of error during location data acquisition from GPS satellites that send their signals at a frequency of 1.6 GigaHertz (Ghz).

Usually, 1.6Ghz radiowaves suffer significant signal degradation when they pass through tree canopies, and to a lesser extent, when traversing through clouds, and this results in poor satellite reception for the GPS receiver.

This is one of the reasons that this PLB requires the user to point the antenna to a clear sky because this ensures that the device has a direct line-of-sight with GPS satellites which makes GPS location acquisition easy.

The connection of the antenna and transmitter allows for excellent conductance of electricity, which ensures that the distress signal transmitted maintains high-fidelity with its source binary data.

In simple words, a powerful distress signal is produced because there is minimal loss of energy when the antenna creates radiowaves.

Its fully-charged battery can provide power for up to 30 hours. This can power the PLB through 14 LEOSAR orbital periods, and this ensures that the distress signals can be picked up at least 12 times by LEOSAR satellites before the PLB powers off.

In the USA, this model is supported by a robust SAR infrastructure that ensures that the distress signal is received properly, and moved quickly and efficiently through the signal processing channel – from the SAR satellite to LUT to MCC and then to RCC, before SAR teams are notified of where to find the victim.

SAR teams can be notified in as little time as 5 minutes after the user sends the distress signal. In other nations, the efficiency of their RCC (along with their scope of SRR) and ability of local SAR agencies to form SAR teams determine how quickly one can be rescued after sending a distress signal using this PLB.

This model comes with a warranty of 12 months. Additionally, it is preprogrammed with US code, though this serialized code can be reprogrammed (in a service center) to conform to the nationality of registration.

Pros of the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB
  • Manually activated PLB that comes with a GPS receiver and can broadcast 121.5Mhz homing signals.
  • Easy to use as it only requires 2 steps to operate.
  • Comes with test mode that allows user to test both GPS functionality and the 406Mhz beacon.
  • Uses a high visibility manufacturer-patented ACR-true yellow color scheme that allows SAR teams to easily see the PLB.
  • 66-channel GPS allows for the location of PLB by GEOSAR satellites within a margin of error of 100m.
  • Waterproof for up to 5 meters underwater for 1 hour.
  • A buoyant model that can float on water.
  • Audible data burst.
  • It comes with a long-lasting and fail-resistant Class 2 non-hazmat, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries whose battery life is 30 hours, and shelf life is 11 years.
  • Supported by a 12-month warranty.
The Cons
  • Requires user to ensure that its antenna has direct line-of-sight to SAR satellites for optimal performance.
  • Model not well suited for use in marine environments, or during underwater exploration.

Bottom-line

ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 is a compact, well-designed, and rugged manually-activated 406Mhz PLB that has an inbuilt 66-channel GPS receiver and can broadcast the 121.5Mhz homing signal.

It is designed to function as a land-based EPIRB that can be used by cyclists and boaters. It has inbuilt redundancies and features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and power-efficient programming module.

This easy-to-use buoyant and high-performance PLB is reliable, durable, rugged, and compact, and this makes ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ the best personal locator beacon in this review.


2. BEST BUDGET: McMurdo FastFind 220 Satellite PLB

This is a well-designed, waterproof and rugged manually-activated 406Mhz PLB that can broadcast 121.5Mhz homing signals and comes with dual navigation data acquisition modes – the 50-channel GPS receiver and the Galileo receiver.

It also comes with a buoyancy pouch that allows it to float in water, and just like the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 model, it is not suitable for use in underwater exploration and cannot be used as a substitute for boat EPIRB.

Its Galileo receiver functions similarly to the GPS receiver, only that it acquires its navigation data from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) that is exclusively run and maintained by the European Union.

This McMurdo model also supports basic self-test which includes battery tests.

This PLB also comes with two types of strobe lights – the Morse-Code SOS flashing light and the bright LED signal light – which improves night-time visibility and easily attracts the attention of nearby SAR parties.

Relatedly, it comes with a safe-stow antenna that is tucked in the PLB casing and can be retrieved, unwound and positioned vertically so that vertical polarization is achieved.

Additionally, this model is marketed as a satellite PLB which basically means that it is a GPS-enabled PLB.

Evidently, this model has inbuilt redundancies, and it also features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, GNSS receiver, switch, and a power-efficient programming module.

This PLB model is designed and manufactured by Orolia Maritime and marketed under the McMurdo brand whose headquarters, McMurdo Inc. USA, is based in Lanham, Maryland. It belongs to the FastFind series of PLBs, and its model number is FastFind 220.

Unlike the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ PLB which relies primarily on LEOSAR and GEOSAR satellites, this FastFind 220 PLB relies on all three COSPAS-SARSAT satellites constellations – LEOSAR, MEOSAR and GEOSAR.

Additionally, this well-built, durable, and long-lasting McMurdo PLB can withstand falls and it is waterproof, but not buoyant on its own. To make it buoyant, one must put it in its buoyancy pouch. This qualifies it as a category 2 buoyant PLB.

Its waterproof value is limited to 10 meters underwater for 5 minutes, and it is evident that ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ PLB affords better waterproof protection that this PLB.

Even so, just like ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ model, the registration of this PLB is easy and straightforward as the user just needs to visit the registration webpage, and then choose a country, and thereafter register the PLB with the relevant government agency.

McMurdo FastFind 220 comes with a test mode that allows the user to test the GPS (not GNSS) functionality, 406Mhz beacon, and battery charge.

When performing the battery test, three blinking lights indicate that the battery has enough charge, while a single blinking light indicates that the battery needs to be replaced, and this requires one to return the PLB to the manufacturer.

This model also has multiple inbuilt redundancies with the most obvious one being the GPS receiver, GNSS receiver and support for location trilateration by LEOSAR satellite systems.

Likewise, its 121.5Mhz homing signal is blasted at 50mW. It also comes with 7 non-removable Class 2, non-hazmat rechargeable lithium-manganese batteries whose battery life exceeds 24 hours at -20°C.

The battery shelf life is 6 years. Expectedly, the PLB needs to be returned to the manufacturer for battery replacement, either after use or after a lapse of six years without use.

This compact model weighs about 5.36oz/152g. It comes with a neck lanyard and stow-away antenna as explained above. The compact PLB is 10.6cm long, 4.7cm wide, and 3.4cm thick.

Its front panel features the indicator light, SWITCH button and TEST button. In the left side panel is the ceramic patch antenna, and at the top of the PLB is the anti-tamper seal that one needs to break before releasing the antenna.

The PLB casing is made from high-quality, impact-resistant plastic. Also, this model has a yellow-and-black color scheme.

Its manufacturer lists only 3 steps to operating this model: lift the top latch and break anti-tamper seal to release the stow-away antennae, deploy the antenna and then press the ON switch button. The PLB must be left switched on until SAR parties rescue the victim.

As expected, when the device is designed to operate and conform to PLB operations guidelines and regulations. Likewise, the PLB antenna must be pointed to the clear sky.

The GPS receiver in this PLB has 50 channels which increase the accuracy of location coordinates, with the margin of error estimated to be 100 meters.

Its fully-charged battery can provide power for up to 35 hours at 10°C.

Like ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB, this model comes with a warranty of 12 months. It is also preprogrammed with US code, though this serialized code can be reprogrammed (in a service center) to conform to the nationality of registration.

Pros McMurdo FastFind 220 Satellite PLB
  • Manually activated PLB that comes with a GPS and GNSS receivers, and can broadcast 121.5Mhz homing signals.
  • Easy to use as it only requires 3 steps to operate.
  • Comes with test mode that allows user to test both GPS functionality, battery charge, and the 406Mhz beacon.
  • Uses a 50-channel GPS receiver.
  • Safe stow antennae.
  • Waterproof for up to 10m underwater for 10 minutes.
  • It can float on water if it is placed inside its buoyancy pouch.
  • Audible data burst.
  • It comes with a long-lasting and fail-resistant Class 2 non-hazmat, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries whose battery life is 35 hours, and shelf life is 6 years.
  • Supported by a 12-month warranty.
The Cons
  • Category 2 buoyant PLB that only floats when it is inside its buoyancy pouch.
  • It requires users to ensure that its antenna has direct line-of-sight to SAR satellites for optimal performance.
  • Model not well suited for use in marine environments, or during underwater exploration.

Bottom-line

McMurdo FastFind 220 is a well-designed, waterproof and rugged manually-activated 406Mhz PLB that can broadcast 121.5Mhz homing signals and comes with dual navigation data acquisition modes – the 50-channel GPS receiver and the Galileo-GNSS receiver.

It also comes with a buoyancy pouch that allows it to float in water. It is designed to function as a land-based EPIRB that can be used by adventurers and boaters.

It has inbuilt redundancies, and features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS and GNSS receivers, switch, and power-efficient programming module.


3. ARTEX PLB 8110 Personal Locator Beacon

This is a compact, MEOSAR-compatible, and rugged manually-activated 406Mhz PLB that has an inbuilt 66-channel GPS receiver, and can broadcast the 121.5Mhz homing signal.

It is designed to be strapped to the waist or bag, and it features a mounting clip, lanyard, and mounting band for securing it to the body or bag.

It also comes with a flotation pouch which indicates that this is a category 2 buoyant PLB like McMurdo FastFind 220.

Even so, it is designed and manufactured by ACR Electronics, Inc, and this means that it has inbuilt redundancies and features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and power-efficient programming module.

Similarly, this well-built, durable, and long-lasting PLB can withstand falls. It is also waterproof for up-to 15m underwater at 20°C.

Therefore, like ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB, it is not well suited for constant use in marine environments, or during underwater exploration, and hence cannot be used as a substitute for boat EPIRB.

Even so, this ARTEX PLB comes with a test mode that allows the user to test the functionalities of the GPS receiver and 406Mhz beacon.

Also, its registration is easy and straightforward as the user just needs to visit the registration webpage on the manufacturer’s website, and then choose a country, and thereafter register the PLB with the relevant government agency.

This model belongs to the ARTEX series of PLBs, its model code is ARTEX PLB, and the product number is 8110.

Like its counterpart, the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB, the obvious redundancy of this model is its ability to provide location data using two methods – GPS coordinates and Doppler shift trilateration.

Also, its 121.5Mhz homing signal is blasted at 50mW. However, unlike the ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ model, the GPS antenna in this PLB is a microstrip patch that is housed in the PLB casing and it uses Lithium Manganese Dioxide batteries.

Even so, these are non-removable Class 2, non-hazmat rechargeable batteries whose battery life exceeds 24 hours at -20°C. The battery shelf life of ARTEX PLB is 7 years, and this means that it needs to be returned to the manufacturer for a battery replacement after a lapse of 7 years without use.

ARTEX PLB 8110 is more compact than ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB. This PLB-8110 model weighs about 4.1oz/116g. It is 7.7cm long, 5.1cm wide, and 3.25cm thick.

Its front panel features a spring-loaded flip cover that protects the SWITCH and TEST buttons from being pressed inadvertently.

The strobe light and test indicator light are located to the left of the SWITCH (or activation) button. On the left top edge is a black tab that one can use to pull the antenna out and place it in vertical polarization.

To rewind the antenna back to its housing, one uses an antenna rewind knob that is located at the top of the PLB. The PLB casing is made from high-quality, UV-resistant and impact-resistant plastic. Its color scheme is orange and black.

The manufacturer lists only 2 steps to operating this model: deploy the antenna and then press the SWITCH button. The antenna must be pointed to the clear sky.

Like ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB, the GPS receiver in this PLB has 66 channels which increase the accuracy of location coordinates and minimizes the margin of error to 100m.

This model comes with a warranty of 7 years. Like ACR PLB-375 ResQLink+ 406 PLB, it is preprogrammed with US code, though this serialized code can be reprogrammed (in a service center) to conform to the nationality of registration.

Pros of the ARTEX PLB 8110 PLB
  • Manually activated PLB that comes with a GPS receiver and can broadcast 121.5Mhz homing signals
  • Easy to use as it only requires 2 steps to operate.
  • Comes with test mode that allows user to test both GPS functionality and the 406Mhz beacon.
  • 66-channel GPS allows for the location of PLB by GEOSAR satellites to within a margin of error of 100m.
  • MEOSAR compatible.
  • Waterproof for up to 15 meters underwater.
  • It can float on water if it is placed inside its buoyancy pouch.
  • Audible data burst.
  • It comes with a long-lasting and fail-resistant Class 2 non-hazmat, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
  • The battery shelf life is 7 years.
  • Supported by a 7-year warranty.
The Cons
  • Category 2 buoyant PLB that only floats when it is inside its buoyancy pouch.
  • Requires users to ensure that its antenna has direct line-of-sight to SAR satellites for optimal performance.
  • Model not well suited for use in marine environments, or during underwater exploration.

Bottom-line

ARTEX PLB 8110 is a category 2 buoyant PLB that is compact, MEOSAR-compatible, and rugged. This manually-activated 406Mhz PLB has an inbuilt 66-channel GPS receiver and can broadcast the 121.5Mhz homing signal.

It is designed to be strapped to the waist or bag, and it features a mounting clip, lanyard, and mounting band for securing it to the body or bag.

It also comes with a flotation pouch. It has inbuilt redundancies; and features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and power-efficient programming module.


4. Garmin inReach Explorer+

This is a premium-grade, well-designed and rugged handheld satellite messenger (SM) that combines basic smartphone features with PLB functionalities.

It is a satellite communicator that allows for 2-way text messaging through the Iridium® Satellite Network (ISN), which is a subscription-only network.

Evidently, unlike PLB whose COSPAS-SARSAT program provides SAR services for free, this satellite messenger uses subscription-only services and one needs to pay subscription fees in order to be connected to its satellite network.

This makes its usage to be expensive as compared to PLB, and when this is considered alongside its purchase price, then this model becomes a premium satellite messenger.

Even so, it can transmit distress signals that can be picked up by RCC and SAR parties sent to rescue the victim.

This SM model is designed and manufactured by Garmin Ltd which was founded in Kansas but is now incorporated in Schaffhausen in Switzerland.

This model is part of the inReach series of SM, and it is designated as the Explorer+ model. This SM needs to register with the relevant authority and a subscription plan purchased before it can be used.

The manufacturer website provides a portal that makes these processes easy and straightforward.

This model comes with a stable hardcoded operating system that allows the manufacturer to preload it with Garmin Yarmouth (formerly DeLorme TOPO maps) and Earthmate app, as well as support onscreen GPS routing.

The Earthmate app allows the SM to be paired with a smartphone so that the SM can access downloadable maps, color aerial imagery, and U.S. NOAA charts.

Its hardware also features an inbuilt digital compass, Bluetooth chip, accelerometer, and barometric altimeter.

It also allows the user to send text messages to friends and families at home, and it can also track and share its (SM) location with them.

Like PLBs, this SM has inbuilt redundancies, and it also features high quality, reliable, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and a power-efficient programming module.

This Bluetooth-enabled SM allows one to pair it with a mobile device through a Bluetooth connection. As expected, it should be able to store data such as maps and text messages, and this is provided by a 2 gigabyte (GB) memory.

This may seem a small amount of storage space, but for this SM device, this is more than enough because most of its data is stored and retrieved from cloud storage servers operated by Garmin Ltd, its subsidiaries, and providers of app services.

Therefore, the user needs to constantly exchange data with Garmin servers. This requires the SM to connect to Garmin servers through its preloaded Garmin Express app before one can use its internet-based proprietary services.

Even so, distress signals can be transmitted and they will be picked up by GEOS which will plan and coordinate the SAR operation with local SAR agencies. Even so, not all countries support GEOS and thus this SM cannot well in all countries.

This SM is shipped in a package that contains the SM unit, a Carabiner clip, a USB cable, and documentation.

This lightweight model weighs about 7.5oz/213g and is 16.4cm long, 6.8cm wide, and 3.8cm thick. Its front panel features a transflective color TFT display with a resolution 200 X 265pixels and measuring 4.7cm by 3.5cm.

Below this display 5 push buttons arranged around a central circular push button. On the left side between the buttons and the display is the status LED indicator that shows that the SM is on, and working properly.

On the top panel is the ISN antenna to the left and power key to the right. In the top right-side panel is the SOS key that is covered by a protective cap to prevent inadvertent broadcasting of distress signals.

The back panel features a mounting spine. A micro-USB charging port is at the bottom, and it is covered by a weather cap. This SM comes in 2 color schemes – red and orange.

It is evident that the user can recharge its rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The battery life is usually 100 hours if the SM is used in its default 10-minute tracking mode.

This mode supports waypoint tracking and compilation of reports that can be sent via the MapShare® portal to friends and family members.

Even so, this SM has a water rating of IPX7 which means that it is not waterproof and must not be submerged in water.

This SM allows the user to add up to 500 waypoints and 20 routes. It also allows the user to send and receive text messages via email and SMS, as well as exchange messages and location data with fellow inReach users.

A virtual keyboard on the display allows the user to compose these messages. Additionally, the user can request for the weather forecast of the location (s)he intends to visit.

Furthermore, if MapShare is embedded to a social media account, then the user location can be shared via social media posting.

Pros of the Garmin inReach Explorer+
  • SOS function must be manually activated.
  • Has an inbuilt GPS receiver.
  • Features an inbuilt digital compass, accelerometer, and barometric altimeter.
  • Users can recharge the battery.
  • Preloaded with Garmin Yarmouth and Earthmate apps.
  • It allows the user to add 500 waypoints and 20 routes.
  • Supports Bluetooth pairing with mobile devices.
  • Provides waypoint tracking and reporting to friends and families.
  • Allows for sharing of location data with fellow inReach users.
  • Easy to use
The Cons
  • Not waterproof.
  • Like PLBs, this SM requires the user to ensure that its antenna has direct line-of-sight to clear sky for optimal performance, and it cannot work well when the user in some countries outside the occident.

Bottom-line

Garmin inReach Explorer+ is a premium-grade, well-designed and rugged handheld satellite messenger (SM) that combines basic smartphone features with PLB functionalities.

It is a satellite communicator that allows for 2-way text messaging through the subscription-only ISN. This easy-to-use model has an inbuilt GPS receiver, and the user can recharge its battery.

It also features an inbuilt digital compass, accelerometer, and barometric altimeter; and comes preloaded with Garmin Yarmouth and Earthmate apps.

Moreover, it allows the user to add 500 waypoints and 20 routes, and provides waypoint tracking and reporting of SM location to friends and families. These aforementioned features make this inReach Explorer+ SM the best premium SM in this review.


5. ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37 2844 EPIRB

This is a well-designed, professional-grade, rugged and reliable 406Mhz ELT/PLB that has an inbuilt 16-channel GPS receiver, and can broadcast the 121.5Mhz homing signal.

It is a Category II EPIRB that comes with a manual release bracket and can be activated either manually or automatically.

This model has inbuilt redundancies and features high quality, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and power-efficient programming module.

It can blast distress signals at 6.3W and continuously send these signals for 48-70 hours. Compared to the 4 PLBs reviewed above, this PLB is a heavyweight model as it weighs about 3 pounds and it makes it ideal for boaters and cyclists, rather than hitchhikers.

In fact, unlike the 4 PLB models discussed above, this GlobalFix model is designed for marine activities, and it comes with a mounting bracket that allows the user to securely fit it in the boat.

Because it can be used as a vessel ELT, this model is designated as a vessel EPIRB. It is shipped along with a LowPro™ Category II (manual release) Bracket, though one can still use the SeaShelter™ Category I Bracket with Category I HydroFix™ HRU. The LowPro™ Bracket features a 2-part design that allows for easy mounting and removal.

Registration of this PLB is easy and straightforward as the user just needs to visit the manufacturer’s registration webpage, and then choose a country, and thereafter register the PLB with the relevant government agency.

This PLB model is designed and manufactured by ACR Electronics, Inc; and it belongs to the GlobalFix Pro series of PLBs, and it is 2844, Class II model which uses a manual release bracket, unlike model 2822 that uses automatic (category I) release bracket. Its model number is RLB-37, and the product number is 2844.

This well-built, durable, and long-lasting EPIRB uses the FastACQ GPS engine in its GPS receiver which allows for the acquisition of location data.

Likewise, it can withstand falls and submersion into water. As expected, it is waterproof, but this is limited to 10 minutes at 10 meters below the water surface.

Therefore, the EPIRB needs to be fitted inside the boat at a cool and dry space. Even so, it is buoyant and will quickly float after being submerged in water.

Additionally, it comes with a test mode that allows the user to test whether battery power and voltage, GPS functionality, and the 406Mhz beacon.

Like other PLBs made by ACR Electronics, Inc; this EPIRB features redundancy in the way its location data is acquired.

Also, its 121.5Mhz homing signal is blasted at 50mW. It also comes with a non-removable Class 2, non-hazmat rechargeable lithium batteries whose combined shelf life is 6 years.

As expected, the PLB needs to be returned to the manufacturer for a battery replacement after a lapse of six years without use. It also features an electronic battery witness seal.

Unlike the other 4 PLBs reviewed above, this EPIRB can automatically turn on if it loses contact with its bracket and comes into contact with water. It is for this reason that one is advised to secure it on the vessel so that it does not inadvertently transmit a distress signal.

This ergonomic model with marine-tough design weighs about 20.5oz/580g without accessories and brackets.

It comes with a non-tangling lanyard and its antenna projects at the top of the PLB. This compact EPIRB is 17.7cm long, 10.7cm wide, and 9.1cm thick, which makes it the largest PLB in this review.

Its top panel features the FLIP SWITCH which when turned on first performs a basic self-test, as well as tests the strobe light to notify the user that the PLB is in good working condition before sending out a distress signal.

The PLB casing is made from high-quality, UV-resistant and high impact polycarbonate polymer plastic. It has a lime-green color scheme.

The manufacturer lists only 1 step to operating this model: turn the flip switch ON. As expected, the PLB antenna should be pointed to the clear sky.

Its GPS receiver in this PLB has 16 channels but its margin of error is estimated to be 100m. This EPIRB model comes with a limited warranty of 60 months.

Pros of the ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37 2844 EPIRB
  • It can be activated manually or automatically.
  • It comes with a 16-channel GPS receiver and can broadcast 121.5Mhz homing signals.
  • Can blast 406Mhz distress signals at 6.3W, and can continuously send these signals for at least 48 hours.
  • Easy to use as it only requires a user to either flip the switch on or throw it into the water for it to start sending distress signals.
  • Comes with test mode that allows user to test battery charge, GPS functionality, and the 406Mhz beacon.
  • It comes with a manual release bracket for securing it to a boat or marine vessel.
  • A buoyant model that can float on water.
  • Waterproof up to 10m below water for 10 minutes.
  • Audible data burst.
  • It comes with a long-lasting and fail-resistant Class 2 non-hazmat, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries whose battery life is 48-70 hours, and shelf life is 6 years.
  • Supported by a 5-year limited warranty.
The Cons
  • Not suitable for carrying around on a bag (by hitchhikers or walking adventurers).
  • It requires users to ensure that its antenna has direct line-of-sight to SAR satellites for optimal performance.
  • Model not well suited for use in marine environments, or during underwater exploration.

Bottom-line

ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37 2844 is a well-designed, professional-grade, rugged and reliable 406Mhz ELT/PLB that has an inbuilt 16-channel GPS receiver, and can broadcast the 121.5Mhz homing signal.

This Category II EPIRB comes with a manual release bracket and can be activated either manually or automatically.

This model has inbuilt redundancies and features high quality, long-lasting and fail-resistant power source, antenna, transmitter, GPS receiver, switch, and power-efficient programming module.

It can blast distress signals at 6.3W and continuously send these signals for 48-70 hours. It features a marine-tough design which makes it suitable for marine activities, and it comes with a LowPro™ Category II (manual release) Bracket.

This model is the best PLB in this review to be used in marine vessels.