What’s the best personal locator beacon (PLB) for you? We take a hands on look at the McMurdo FastFind Return Link launched in late 2020 and the ACR ResQLink View RLS, launched at METS in late 2021.

How do you choose the best personal locator beacon? Fortunately, not many people have actually used them in anger – at least not in my local yacht club anyway – so it’s hard to find out which model is right for you. Scrolling through an online supplier, or steaming up the glass cabinet perusing the assortment of PLBs on offer at our local chandlery doesn’t offer many answers.

McMurdo was the first company to adopt the much awaited and frustratingly delayed Return Link Service (RLS) system, integrating it in to their FastFind PLB. The next to arrive, roughly a year later, was the ACR’s ResQLink at the 2021 METS trade show, winning a design award for manufacturing and engineering (DAME).

These are the only two beacons currently offering the Return Link Service (as of Spring 2022). RLS is a major development which gives anyone who has activated a PLB a reply confirming that their beacon signal has been received and help is on its way (see below).

We gave these two nifty units a bit of a prod and a poke to see how user-friendly they are and hopefully save some head scratching if you’re in the market for a new personal locator beacon.

Personal Locator Beacons with Return Link Service

Summary

Fastfind ReturnLink Personal Locator Beacon with RLS

The Good Bits
The FastFind is a reassuringly sturdy unit. It feels like a quality bit of kit in the hand, the rubberised sections make it easy to grip. It comes with a wide array of alternative fitment options to fasten this to your life jacket or onto a belt or harness, plus it comes with a neoprene belt pouch.
The Not So Good Bits
A negative point on this unit is the snap off cap. Surely there must be a way to “lever open the hood” so to speak without having to throw the whole cap away? I don’t suppose you’ll care in an emergency, but it’s a small design flaw I’d like to see changed if we are to make improvements to our plastic footprint on this planet.

Rating: 4.5 /5

Price: £353

Buy from: Global Telesat Communications

Buy from: Marine Superstore

Buy from: Cactus nav and comm

ACR ResQLink View Personal Locator Beacon with RLS

The Good Bits
The ResQLink is a really smart unit with an equally smart antenna stowage and deployment. We really liked the multifunction hinge which enables users to activate the beacon easily and without any damage to the unit or needing any replacement parts. It comes with a whole load of attachment plates and a wide strap to fasten it in a multitude of ways. We really like the message window on this beacon which is next level up from a flashing RLS confirmation light, but in a real distress situation I don’t know how likely you are to be able to actually read the message.
The Not So Good Bits
A negative point on this unit is that it does feel a bit slippery and little bit fragile without any rubberised sections and being able to see through the casing is a little disconcerting. We worried about how it would stand up over time to being regularly knocked about when attached to a lifejacket. It would be nice if it came with a little padded pouch.

4.5 /5

Price: £365

Buy from: Global Telesat Communications UK

Buy from: Global Telesat Communications ROW

Buy from: Amazon.com

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Where indicated, items have been tested or inspected independently of manufacturers influence.

Return Link Service via the Galileo satellite system

emergency beacon signal graphic

For the last decade or so, when we found ourselves in grave and imminent danger, we would reach for our personal locator beacon (or any other emergency position indicating radio beacon we might have to hand) and then go through the activation procedure: find some open sky, deploy the antenna, point it skywards, make sure the unit is attached to us by lanyard, press that activation button and then, if we had done it correctly, we’d hear it beep and flash as confirmation that it was actively sending our radio signal into the great beyond.

Then we would wait and hope. We would have to keep our cool, manage our rations, tell a few jokes, reassure those we are with that help is probably on the way, and just hope that it really is.

At the turn of the decade, in 2020 the Galileo satellite system Return Link Service finally became accessible, allowing beacon manufacturers to get their latest devices through the rigorous testing and out to market.

The Return Link Service is essentially a confirmation message or visible and audible signal to acknowledge receipt of your distress signal. The guess work is taken out of it and we now know that rescuers are indeed working out a way to rescue us. Where there’s hope, there’s increased survival odds. So RLS just upped the chances of survival if the worst should ever happen to us, whether off piste in a massive avalanche or offshore and in dire straits.

 


Further reading on emergency beacons

Best personal locator beacons and AIS units: 7 top options for boating

Pip Hare’s choice of EPIRBs, PLBs and other man overboard aids that could just save your life

How a PLB saved my life when I was knocked overboard

Best EPIRB: 4 emergency beacons for leisure sailors



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