Are you using the Correct PLB?

Submitted: Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 08:31
ThreadID: 91878 Views:3419 Replies:2 FollowUps:10
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Hi All

Over the last weekend, there was a tragic boating accident in the south east of South Australia, resulting in the death of 2 people and the other 2 clinging to the hull of the boat for a long time before being rescued.

The delay in the search party was a result of them using an old and outdated EPIRB, with the signal being picked up by a passing overhead aircraft.

These type of safety detection devices were taking out of use at least 2 years ago or even longer and replaced with the new and updated safety beacons that now are picked up by satellite.

If you still have one of the older style devises, please dispose of it correctly and make sure that you have the latest type of devise, as you are putting all at risk in the event that it has to be used.

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Reply By: olcoolone - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 11:16

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 11:16
Very sad event and one that could of been easily avoided.

From the response on this forum over the last six months there seems to be a number of EO forum users who think there old PLB/EPIRB will work when needed and why should they buy a new one.... something about hate government..... getting forced into it!

The biggest advantage is the some of the new PLB's have GPS capabilities lower response times and increasing accuracy.

We also have SPOT but unlike many who uses SPOT only; our first port of call in an extreme emergency where we can not use our sat phone or HF radio would be our PLB..... the SPOT is a bit of a toy and is good at tracking for other to follow.

As I have said before some value life cheaply and others like you and myself value life a bit more seriously.

This debate about PLB's and other forms of emergency comms will go on for years to come.... some agreeing and others WELL not agreeing.

Us humans need to get out of this STUPID "I'm Invincible he man" attitude.

Good post Stephen and if you bring this problem to one persons attention and they act on it you've done well and hopefully saved a life.
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Follow Up By: ExplorOz - David & Michelle - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 13:03

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 13:03

Just so there is no miss-understanding there is a
Memorandum on Understanding between The Australian Maritime Safety Authority and International Emergency Response Coordination Centre which details specifically the usage of the SPOT devices. See this link to the specific NATSAR Search and Rescue Manual Appendix P which details the process of activation of the SPOT 911/Emergency button (the red one). You will notice that it states clearly that SAR (the same group that handles EPIRB activations) will mange/handle the response at the same level as any other emergency (or EPIRB) activation.

The main difference is more that you need to have non flat batteries in a SPOT wheras dedicated PLB and EPIRBs are purpose built. But make no mistake pressing the Red SPOTbutton is basically the same and activating your EPIRB.

Of course have a dedciated PLB is a better solution as being purpose built and not having a possible battery issue is ideal however the SPOT device is more than just a gimick for tracking and is an ideal solution if you do not have a PLB/EPIRB. Certainly for boating as in this post a water proof device is also needed and in this exact case the SPOT is not suitable.

David (DM) & Michelle (MM)
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 14:15

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 14:15
Hi David and Olcoolone

It is just as olcoolone has put it, many have the "She will be alright" attitude and when ones' life is at stake, you have no second chances.

Seeing it is still very early since the tragic accident and if they had a new unit, no one will ever know it would have saved those 2 peoples lives, but one thing is for sure, the response time would have been far quicker and they would have know who the devise was registered to, with emergency contact phone numbers.

It is also another clear example of we all spend thousands on our pride and joys and for the sake of under $500, many do not bother about an emergency back up.

We also had our GME rep in this morning, and I was talking about this very post. He said that GME will give any of their customers a new PLB/EPIRP in the event that they have to trigger their unit in a true emergency situation.


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Follow Up By: Andrew & Jen - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 16:38

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 16:38
Hullo Olcoolone

I do not agree with you that SPOT is a "bit of a toy"

It is used by many organisations - private and Govt - as a recognised means of ensuring the safety of employees working in remote locations and complies with OH&S requirements.

As David said, its use in Australia is covered by a Memoradum of Agreement with AMSA and response times are comparable.

In both cases, there are protocols to establish the authenticity of the alert.
Don't assume that just because you have an EPIRB, that all's sweet.

There have been a number of well documented cases where SAR have decided not to respond to an EPIRB signal, with subsequent loss of life - 2 that immediately come to mind were off the west and north coast of Tas.

David, the "flat battery" issue is readily solved - we carry a spare set of AAA alkaline batteries which have a long shelf life. [In any event, we always have a stock of AAA,AA, C and D batteries with us for the great variety of electrical stuff that we seem to accumulate - from volt meters to GPSs]

Stephen, I would not use SPOT if I had an emergency in a boat unless that was the last resort. Why? Because it is highly likely that after sending the SPOT signal with GPS coords, the boat would continue to drift and by the time help arrived, the coords would be out of date. In this case an EPIRB is the way to go as it has a beacon to home in to. But on land, an emergency situation is likely to be at a fixed location and the coords will remain constant.

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 19:13

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 19:13
Hi Andrew

You have mentioned a valid point of why you should spend the extra money and purchase the GPS enabled EPIRB, or PLB which will transmit its co-ordinates every 60 seconds.

There was a case a few years ago off of the Queensland coast where a boat went down. The EPIRB was activated and attached to one of the boats crew.

The end result all hands from the boat lost their lives, except the person that had the EPIRB. From memory he had drifted over 10 kilometres from where the boat went down, and because it was GPS enabled, they were able to pinpoint the sole survivor exact location.

As I say each to their own. I never head out to sea, only bush walking and on fresh water inland lakes and rivers, and of course in our four wheel drive. I know that if I need genuine help, my GPS enabled PLB with let the search team know of where I should be with around 5 metres accuracy.


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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 20:52

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 20:52
I am in no way saying the SPOT is a bad thing, but what I am saying is I have a GPS enabled PLB that was bought well before SPOT was a household name among travellers here in Australia.

To me a SPOT is a bit of a toy compared to the PLB and no matter what anyone says a PLB will always out do a SPOT due to the simple fact a PLB is monitored hear in Australia and the people who monitor it are the ones who respond.... with a SPOT you are still going through a second proprietary company before SARS in Australia are notified.

The more complex something becomes the more chance there is of something failing.... this could be a delay, inaccurate information or system failure.

You can not beat local knowledge.

I'm sure SPOT will work great and SPOT is a very well organised organisation but I don't want to be the one who finds out if it works or not.

A quality PLB is made to a higher standard with longer battery shelf life then a SPOT hence the price difference.

BTW I think you will find SPOT doesn't meet the requirement for off shore boating as it has no strobe light, is not water activated and will not float the right way up.

I look at it this way.... a SPOT is like have handy a packet of bandaids if you cut your self bad... a quality PLB is like have proper gauze bandages.... both will work but ones better then the other.

If SPOT was available when I bought my PLB I still would of bought the PLB.

The last thing I want to do is use my SPOT for 4 days logging my travels then have to use it for an emergency only to find the batteries have gone flat.... and if it was a life threatening emergency the last thing I would want to do is fumble around and try to find the spare batteries, insert them, turn the SPOT on and wait until it picks up a satellite.... The PLB I know the batteries are OK and it's simple to activate.

Now the good thing SPOT has done..... made it affordable to the masses who didn't want to spend the money or think they needed a PLB.

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Follow Up By: Andrew & Jen - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 22:55

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 22:55
Hullo olcoolone and Stephen

I think we are agreeing in a lot of this discussion. In some respects, though, we will have to agree to disagree! :-)

As I stated above, a SPOT is not suitable for use at sea. BUT, if I found myself in a life threatening situation at sea and had no other choice, I would use one to a) alert the authorities that I was in trouble and b) send my position at the time of transmitting. Local knowledge could then be used to estimate my later position based on local conditions - tide, winds, etc. It would certainly be better than nothing. [BTW, my boat has an EPIRB which I regularly test]

olcoolone - the shelf life of a lithium AAA battery is approx 7+ years - EPIRBs require battery replacement every 7 years. I do not use mine for creating a bread crumb trail, albeit I acknowledge that this could be useful in some circumstances. If I am in a remote location out of mobile range, I send one message (All's well) when I set up camp at the end of the day. [I also usually log on to VKS737] In the last year, I have probably used my SPOT for this purpose - logging on at the end of the day ~25 times. As a matter of course, I replace my batteries every 2 years, probably only 10% used, and put them in to a non-critical device.

For me, SPOT has one major advantage cf an EPIRB and that is, you can send a situation specific message to designated persons, namely (for me) All's well; need help with vehicle; need medical help but not life threatening; and finally, a life threatening emergency that goes to SAR. An EPIRB, OTOH, is either off or on.

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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 at 08:33

Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 at 08:33
Andrew this is why we have a SPOT as well as a PLB, the SPOT is a fantastic device and has many functions and uses over a PLB...... a PLB has one and that is to be a stand alone safety device.

Yes you can get batteries that last seven years and yes the PLB does need the battery replaced every seven years but the seven year replacement being a true safety device would be very conservative unlike standard consumer batteries that it doesn't matter if they are semi flat at the end of their use by date..... nobody is going to return $10 worth of batteries 6 years after they bought them.

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Reply By: Member - Josh- Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 14:10

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 14:10
Thanks Stephen, this reminded me to update my registration as I now use it more on the water than for travel.

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 14:19

Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 at 14:19
Hi Josh

It is a timely reminder to us all to make sure that we all have the correct type of emergency beacon/devise. Those poor people that went out fishing last weekend would never have thought that the day would end the way that it did.

Great to see you are prepared.


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Follow Up By: Diesel 'n Dust - Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 at 01:34

Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 at 01:34

After reading this post I have now updated my details on 406 Beacon Register!

Now I must mention this to the boss too.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.


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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 at 08:00

Thursday, Feb 16, 2012 at 08:00
Hi Matthew

Great to hear that this timely post was of help to you.


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