by John Curnow
Since arriving on the scene, Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) have had a significant impact on the offshore sailor’s kit and made the shore crew feel even more comfortable about waving the crew goodbye, as they embarked on yet another journey.
Now since being mandated for all Category One and Two blue water races and making the change from 121.5 to 406MHz, PLBs have become more effective and significantly cut down the time required to locate the subject. Registration with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has not only assisted them work out where you are in the broad sense, it has helped them, race officials and emergency authorities contact the relevant parties in a more appropriate timeframe, as well.
The more recent addition of Global Positioning System (GPS) inside the units has meant that the area in which they are looking for you has decreased from an entire suburb to a city block and now just a suburban back yard. That’s really good to know when you’re the one bobbing around out there and even better when you’re the ship or aircrew trying to get to you!
However, there was one thing that remained somewhat large out of all this, and that was the size of the unit itself. Originally, people had them in the pockets of their offshore jackets and then they made the move to the harness of your Personal Flotation Device (PFD). They were a little bulky and sometimes a bit heavy, but the upside far outweighed any drawback or minor infringement on your space and manoeuvrability.
That is until the new ACR-ResQLink appeared on the market. As the world’s smallest PLB, it has certainly become the hot favourite, so we got a chance to talk with InMarine’s David Clancy about the unit. ‘The ACR ResQLink is not only small at a mere 3.3 x 4.8 x 9.9cm, it is also very light – just 130g!
Accordingly, it fits into the palm of your hand, so is far less bulky than the others and this means it is not only easier to carry, it is actually attracting new users from activities like kayaking, camping and bushwalking. Additionally, it is waterproof to 5m. When you also consider that these sorts of items used to be something like $600 or $700, but the ACR ResQLink sells for under $450, it is little wonder that they have become the hottest ticket in town.’
‘We are having a little trouble keeping up with the supply at the moment, because they’re so popular. We literally cannot get enough of them. They are a little like candy in a candy store, which is great. Given the expanded market, some of our retailers are seeing people in their stores that have never had before’, David said.
‘I used to do an awful lot of bushwalking and my wife still does. You can set off in to the wild and disappear for ages, so to speak. Having an ACR ResQLink makes it a lot easier if you do run in to trouble, however.
Authorities tell me they have had more land rescues as a result of PLBs than offshore ones, as they become more popular and affordable. Given the small price, size and weight of the ResQLink PLB, you can understand why they are becoming more and more popular.
‘I think a lot of outdoor people are starting to realise that if it all goes a little sideways on you, with a GPS capable PLB, you can effectively take the search out of Search and Rescue (SAR). Considering the ResQLink also has a homing signal, once the crews are in the area, they will be guided straight in to your location.’
Moving back to the water, you do not have be taking on any of the country’s blue water yachting events to see how a PLB can save your life, even if you intend to operate in somewhat confined waters. ‘We’ve noticed that the marine safety authorities in Victoria and New South Wales have now put recommendations out on their websites and in retail stores that anyone in a kayak or sea kayak should be carrying a PLB at all times, because there have been a number of deaths from hyperthermia’, David informed us.
Just recently, there was an example of where PLBs being utilised could have allowed AMSA to ensure that two kayakers survived on Melbourne’s Port Phillip. David explains, ‘It has been estimated they were in the water for something like nine hours, but if they had a ResQLink, they would have been rescued within half an hour, as they were only a few miles off the entrance to the Paterson River, on the South East shores of the Bay. There are SAR assets stationed right there, but no one saw them and no one heard from them. This is not the ocean, so it just goes to show how important it is, especially as these type of craft grow in popularity.’
So then, ensuring you have a GPS capable 406MHz PLB is something that can only be described as absolutely essential. Right. Tick the box - you bought one.
Congratulations. Now, before you rush out anywhere from Mount Kosciuszko to Bass Strait, or Katherine Gorge to Lord Howe Island, please take the time to register it.
David explains, ‘AMSA send me information regarding PLBs. In the last five months, there has been increase of PLB responses across Australia to 510 incidents. Now of that, a full third of the PLBs where never actually registered. Yes they know where you are, but if you are registered and if you are partaking in an event, they can significantly cut down the required time to notify all the relevant parties and work out exactly what kind of assistance you are likely to require.
‘When you consider that time could be the difference between you surviving and them arriving to find you no longer with us, the few minutes it takes to keep your PLB details current and valid will seem very much like small change.’
Out at sea again, in manner of speaking, for the last two years Australian authorities have required vessels operating two or more nautical miles out to sea to carry an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).
The good news is that ACR has a host of great new products under final development including a new EPIRB with GPS.
' It is a very exciting time’, said David. ‘The consumers are loving the products InMarine is bringing to market and our retail outlets are enjoying the new customers that are coming in to buy them.’
So there aren’t any excuses. It just makes good sense to not only have an ACR ResQLink PLB, but to have registered with the correct authorities. That way, they’ll not only know where to get to from the lat/long data embedded in the five Watt distress signal, once the SAR team is close, they’ll be guided right in via the inbuilt homing signal.