We often talk about the importance of being well prepared when we travel into remote areas. These days, having a personal locating beacon (PLB) is not something reserved for the wealthy. Prices have reduced considerably in recent years. But you may not be aware that – with advances in technology – it’s not just the price that has reduced. So has the size of these devices. And you may be surprised just how small they now are. So we thought we’d take a closer look.
While size does matter, the most important thing about a PLB is that it works. So a device meeting the Australian and International standards and approved for use on the COSPAS-SARSAT system should be relied on. The brands that come to mind straight away are GME, ACR, Fast Find, Ocean Signal – but what else is out there? After all, to be approved for use on the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system (the only dedicated search and rescue satellite system) the product needs to undertake elaborate and exhaustive tests to very explicit performance standards.
When we started looking for a device that was leading edge for its compact size, we soon found Kinetic Technology International Pty Ltd (KTI). This is a wholly Australian owned company and its palm sized SA2G PLB is also Australian designed and made. That’s something that should make us all look twice.
Looking deeper, we found that the KTI SA2G is the world’s smallest PLB that has a 10 year battery replacement. While Ocean Signal makes a smaller PLB, its battery replacement is scheduled after seven years. Other similar sized devices have five year battery replacement and warranty.
While the issue of battery replacement may seem relatively minor, when it comes to PLBs, it’s an important consideration. For PLBs, battery replacement can cost in excess of $200.
There are some other features of the KTI SA2G that we particularly like:
It provides GPS position updates every five minutes whereas some others only update every 20 minutes (or not at all!). Being able to update your position is important if, for example, you’re in a current or if the original signal was corrupted (which can occur for many reasons).
The whip antenna has a 360 degree swivel – currently the only PLB available which has this feature. Why this is important is that whip PLB antennas need to be vertical for reliable satellite detection. So if you’re trapped upside down in a vehicle roll over, or in the ocean, you can point the KTI’s antenna upwards at all times
It’s self-buoyant where others require a floatation jacket. It also has a 10 year warranty where competitors offer only five to seven
Another market differentiation for KTI is that its PLB uses two batteries, each comprising two lithium cells. We always reckon a system that has in-built back-ups is a good thing. Each battery has a nominal capacity of 9W hours once activated. But you need to remember that the device only draws less than ½ a watt an hour – so you should be okay for up to 24-48 hours (provided the battery is fully functional).