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The Wilder Blog

Understanding the Importance & Use of Personal Location Beacons

by Alissa Ward 27 Apr 2022

What is a PLB? 

PLBs or Personal Locator Beacons are emergency distress radio beacons that allow you to alert

 search and rescue authorities in the event of an emergency. They are affordable, compact, lightweight, and easy to carry in your pack or running vest. Whether you are just getting into wilder places or have been for a while, a PLB is an important item to consider owning. 

As much as we try to prevent accidents from occurring, we know that they do happen. We want to help educate this wilder community on what to do if you find yourself or someone else in your party needing to be rescued while you are out doing the activities that set your soul alive. 

What to do if you need to activate your PLB

  • Find shelter (if possible)
  • Activate your PLB
  • Stay in one place once the PLB has been activated
  • Apply first aid if possible/appropriate
  • Layer up - hypothermia is one of the biggest risks in Tassie 
  • Consider having spare thermals in a dry bag that are only accessed in this situation - we talk more about this in our essentials blog here
  • Lay out reflective items/clothing if you have them to spare.
  • When you can hear Westpac Rescue Tasmania:
    •  Turn your light sources on (ie. phone, head torch, match, lighter, etc.)
    • Adopt a human stance to attract attention, eg standing and waving (if possible)
  • Know that once your PLB has been activated, help is on the way.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Tasmania and our Find Your Feet team strongly recommend that everyone carry a PLB on all of your wilder adventures in Tassie. The crew want to remind you to not hesitate to activate your PLB in an emergency. The sooner a PLB is set off to the incident, this gives the search and rescue crew more time to respond (especially taking into account daylight hours). Rather than wait until the last possible moment to set off the PLB, if you feel you are in some form of danger, it’s better to activate the PLB sooner rather than later. 

Before setting off on each adventure, remember to check the battery and the expiry date of your device. Additionally, make sure everyone in your party knows where the PLB is located and how to use it if it needs to be activated. 

If you don’t already have a PLB, consider investing in one. A PLB may just save your life.

Types of PLB’s 

There are two main types of PLB’s: one-way communication and two-way communication. 

With a One-Way communication device, once the SOS button has been pressed, a signal is sent to the appropriate response team and then they begin the search for you. The authorities are then unable to contact you via the emergency device. 

With devices that use two-way communication, once the SOS button has been pressed, the authorities are able to trace the device and send a message to you. Messages could include what the injury includes, how many people are in the group, if you have food, water, shelter, etc. This is particularly helpful in situations when visibility is low as the first mode of transportation for rescue is the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. If flying conditions are unwell, then the crew set off on foot and conduct the search and rescue mission this way, but being able to have two-way communication initially helps to determine the severity of the situation. Another benefit of having a Garmin Inreach Mini is that it can be paired with certain Garmin watches, meaning you can activate the SOS from your watch. 

We hope this helps clear up information surrounding PLB’s, why it’s important to have one, and what to do if you activate one.

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