Personal Locating Beacons

Everyone doing any sort of bushwalking should have atleast one PLB within a group or carry one if hiking alone, as seen by recent events by amatures aswell as experienced hikers. By the time some one has missed you and a search has taken place, hyothermia or snake bite can make it too late. By carrying a PLB the time factor is reduced. I used to prefer the KTI brand before they changed the analogue to digital formats. Now every brand on the market looks like some thing out of a cereal box. The KTI may have a slightly longer battery life but the GME is the only model that still looks like a PLB and not a yuppie toy. The standard model without a GPS will narrow the search grid down to 5kms but the GPS model will bring that search grid down to minus 100 metres. lets face it if you have to use a PLB and they havent found you within 2 days, your screwed anyway.

By Nicko

EPIRB – 406Mhz Emergency Beacon compare (PLB)

There are 5 406Mhz Emergency Beacon manufacturers represented in Australia, GME Electrophone, Pains Wessex, KTi, ACR and Kannad. of those two are Australian, GME Electrophone and KTi. This review is for the PLB, Personal Locating Beacon and not the EPIRBs used in a boat, or rather attached to the boat. PLBs you have tied to your Life Jacket or if you wanted to, in your pocket.�

The current 121.5/243 MHz a n a l o g u e COSPAS SARSAT service will be terminated in February 2009 and only the 406 MHz digital beacon signals will be processed thereafter. Consumers have for some time recognised the major benefits of a 406 MHz over a 121.5 MHz device in faster, more accurate detection, personal identification of each beacon, reduced search area resulting in a faster more targeted response in a life threatening situation. However the prohibitive cost of 406 MHz beacons has always been an issue.�

I have a problem with buying anything that is not Australian, or at least buy Australian before I buy products from overseas. There is a hierarchy of course, but anything past New Zealand are thrown into the pot and decided upon from price, quality and support etc. In saying that the Australian manufacturers, based on this review, are not second to anyone, but world class leaders, however, you have to read this review to come to your own conclusion.�

As I am not in the market to buy a unit and I am wanting to give an unbiased report on the models, thus expect me to be reasonable in my judgement.�

If I was to buy a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) I would buy it based on what it was designed to do, save my life. Based on this I would want to ensure a few things first, the battery won’t be flat when I go to use it, it will last long enough for Search and Rescue to find me, and is not going to suffer from being lost.�

You may ask, what do I mean by “being lost”, well many of you know that over the years GPS technology has improved in particular sensitivity and tracking. The newer GPS engines (for example SiRF III & MTK32) are far more robust than their predecessors by a huge amount. Anyone who has any of the older handheld and newer handheld GPS will testify this. �

The first thing I look at is the battery life, which ties in with warranty. First number represents battery life in years whilst second is warranty in years.�

Battery Life�
KTi 20/10�
GME 7/7�
Kannad 5/5�
ACR ResQFix 10/5�
Pains Wessex 5/5

The second thing I look for is if it has a GPS. The difference between a unit with or without a GPS is many many square kilometres. Some suggest a 2km radius without GPS and 100 metres with. I feel far more secure knowing that if I am injured or in freezing cold water the extra accuracy means extra quick location of my position, thus make it to the hospital in time. It is interesting the accuracies that they all quote, however, I suspect the KTi Mini-Sat-G 406Mhz PLB specification is no better than the others. There spec sheets states CEP50, which basically means 50% of the time you will be within the stated accuracy. No one in the GPS world really works on 50%, they typically look at 95% with a stated accuracy of typically 10 metres for a GPS engine. In any event I do see no obvious differences between them all, however, I do want to know what GPS engines are in all of them. Why? Well, even though you only need 3 satellites to get a position (4 if you want height as well) the older engines may have issues with various extreme environmental conditions such as satellite signal scatter, location in a canyon, in forested areas etc. I do not know which 16 channel engine GME are using but I suspect it is either a Nemerix or the Starfire from Navcom (John Deere company). Either way, they will have better specs than any 12 channel GPS engine typically in the vicinity of 25db which is a lot in real life terms. So, based on what I know the following data is prioritised correctly. The locating accuracy is limited by COSPAS-SARSAT system because they have not kept up with the times and maintain a GPS location accuracy within 124 metres (4 seconds of arc). Anything below 124 metres is a furphy.�

GPS accuracy�
KTi up to 1 metre* (16 channel GPS engine StarFire III) suspect same as all others of around 100 to 150m.�
GME <100m (16 channel GPS engine)�
Kannad <120m (12 Channel)�
ACR <100m (12 Channel)�
Pains Wessex <150m (12 Channel)

*Detection accuracy (CEP50).�

The next issue is strobe, I love strobes because even though the unit may or may not have a GPS a strobe is an added cost effective feature that I can’t go without. It is certainly mandatory with the none GPS unit but even so at night time with a 150 metre radius (GPS version) a chopper with a spotlight searching in rough seas at night still may struggle to locate you. A nice bright little strobe light blinking every 3 seconds is worth the extra few dollars.�

Additional features�
KTi both units have a strobe plus signalling mirror & retro reflector�
GME both units have a strobe but no mirror/reflector�
Kannard No strobe/mirror/reflector�
ACR No strobe/mirror/reflector�
Pains Wessex no strobe/mirror/reflector

User replaceable battery is a nice feature, however, not allowed in Australia. Only one of the manufacturers (Pains Wessex) quotes this but is quoted on the UK web site. Personally to me it’s like packing your own parachute for the first time FPRIVATE “TYPE=PICT;ALT=”Your browser may not support display of this image.

I don’t know about you but one day of battery usage? Even though the Search & Rescue mob can take off from the base and pick you up within 24 hours, as KTi said, what happens if you are in the middle of a cyclone? Somehow my instincts tell me I won’t be seeing that chopper for quite a while. As with the Kannad your battery will only last 24 hours or so, but you may have drifted well and truly away from the last reported signal.�

Usage time is as follows:�
KTi 4 days�
GME 2 days�
Pains Wessex 2 days�
ACR min 1 day +�
Kannad 1 day +

Size may not matter, depending upon where you have to put it. Clearly the KTi will best fit my pocket!�

KTi: 125mm x 84mm x 35mm�
GME: 135mm x 71mm x 38mm�
Kannad: 132mm x 88mm x 45mm�
ACR: 149mm x 56mm x 36mm�
Pains Wessex : 146mm x 79mm x 54mm

price is to me last on the list but Pains Wesse x did say their unit is to military specification MIL-STD-810

What the spec means is it is going to cost the manufacturer and thus the end user a lot more money for the privilege of having that MIL -spec on your product. Not to say it is an over the top requirement but certainly pushes the product above the others especially in price.�

Following prices are RRP and for the GPS kitted version.�
KTi $649�
GME $699�
Kannad $699�
ACR: $699�
Pains Wessex $1,099


Well, sad fact of the matter is, although to me the KTi Mini-Sat-G 406Mhz PLB stands out against all others the model is not available until around August 2008 (pushed back to June 2009). So, if you need a unit between then and now quite clearly the GME Electrophone MT410G is the next in line.�

What surprises me is the Kannad is dearer than either of the Australian products but is inferior to them as well. The 24 hour + battery life is a stinker and I would not even consider it a worthwhile investment on my life. Kannad is now distributed by Next Destination, the current Magellan Distributor for Australia.�

Just a note, you must register the 406 MHz beacons as they are programmed with a unique identifying code which is transmitted by the beacon in an emergency. If you don’t you can get fined.�

After you purchase a 406 MHz beacon you MUST register this unique code with your local rescue co-ordination authority (see below for details) so that, if an emergency occurs and you need to activate your beacon, the authorities will have immediate access to your name, your emergency contacts and the type of vessel or craft you are in.�