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Reviews > Health & Safety > Emergency and Survival Gear > Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1 > Owner Review by Kerri Larkin



OWNER REVIEW BY KERRI LARKIN

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TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kerri Larkin
EMAIL: kerrilarkin AT yahoo DOT com
AGE:
53
LOCATION: Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia
GENDER: Female
HEIGHT:
5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 253 lb (113 kg)

I've been a car-camper and bushwalker for thirty years. Mostly I do day hikes as my passion is photography, which means I walk very slowly! I've returned to walking after some years away due to injuries and I'm learning to use Ultralight gear (and my hammock!). I've traveled most of eastern Australia, walking in landscapes as diverse as tropical rainforest, snow fields, beaches and deserts. My fortieth birthday was spent trekking in Nepal which was a truly life changing experience.




PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS



Manufacturer:

Ocean Signal
Year of Manufacture: 2014
Manufacturer's Website: www.oceansignal.com
Country of Manufacture:
United Kingdom
MSRP: $399 AU




Specifications
Type: 66 Channel GPS Equipped Personal Locator Beaon
Operating Modes:
406.040 MHz Satellite transmission
121.5 MHz Homing transmission
Output:
5 Watts (406 beacon)
50 mW (121.5 homing)
Run Time:
> 24 hrs at -20 C (-4 F)
Battery Life:
7 years

Operating Temperature Range:
-20 - 55 C (-4 - 131 F)

Weight:
PLB: stated 116 g (4.1 oz)
Neoprene case
Plastic Cradle

114 g (4 oz) measured
29 g (1 oz)
10 g (0.3 oz)

Dimensions (stated are same as measured)
75 x 51 x 32.5 mm
(2.95 x 2 x 1.28 ")

Waterproof:
15 m (49 ft) 1 hour

Warranty
7 years

What's in the Pack?
PLB1
Neoprene flotation Pouch
Cradle
Lanyard
Instruction booklet
Registration card



INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I’ve never carried a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) as up until now they’ve been both heavy and bulky. Now there’s no excuse. The new Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1 is light enough to carry in a small pocket, clip to a backpack harness, or keep in the car as part of a survival system.

Personal Locator Beacons are, in some ways, old-school technology in that they only send a signal out: they can’t receive a response like some of the newer systems (think Spot Communicator for example). The beauty of a PLB is that it’s a direct feed to a search and rescue centre and in a survival scenario, minutes matter.

So how does it work? The PLB is basically a simple radio transmitter that transmits a regular, but unique, beep signal. The signal can be picked up by one of the many satellites overhead and is then forwarded on to a monitoring centre. Once the signal is received the monitoring centre will initiate their procedures to see if the signal is accidental or genuine. It’s astounding how many false signals are sent each year either from accidental activation of the beacon or by people just curious to see if it actually works. The good news is, PLBs do work.

The monitoring centre will attempt to verify details of the PLB’s owner and this information is obtained from data entered by either an online registration or snail mail registration card. Information may include; name, address, contact telephone numbers, and other pertinent information. The signal from the PLB contains a unique identifier that allows the monitoring centre to know exactly which PLB has been activated and who it belongs to. Once they receive a signal they will try any and all methods to contact the owner. If this fails, rest assured, they send out the search party.

For my money, a PLB is a better choice in an emergency as I know the signal is going to a centre which will be active 24/7, rather than sending a signal to someone who may have their phone turned off, run out of battery, or be asleep. Cellular phone to cellular phone communications are simply not as reliable as a PLB.

The rescueME works on the 406 MHz frequency which is the current gold standard. Older PLBs worked on the international distress frequency of 121.5 MHz and that frequency is no longer monitored by international search and rescue organisations as it was effective over a far shorter range and didn’t include positioning information. This beacon also includes GPS data which will allow rescuers to pinpoint my position, usually to within a couple of metres (2 yards). An 121.5 transmitter is also included for search parties to home on this short-range signal.

Measuring just 75 x 51 x 32.5 mm (2.95 x 2 x 1.28“), the rescueME PLB1 is tiny! The top of the unit contains information on the battery expiry date and a small knob which is turned to retract the extendable antenna. The top left side of the unit has a small black plastic part which looks like a switch but is actually the antenna. Pulling on the black part extends a length of flexible metal which looks a bit like a tape measure but without markings. Fully extended the antenna is 25 cm (10”).

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The rescueME PLB1 is small enough to fit in my hand.
Here, the antenna is in extended position, ready for use.


The front of the PLB has a large spring-loaded plastic flap which protects the On/Off switch from accidental activation. Under the flap are two switches - one for activating the distress beacon and one for testing the beacon. A small LED indicator light shows results for various test modes while a much larger strobe light begins flashing once the PLB has been activated.

Other than some notches around the edge of the beacon to accept the mounting cradle, that’s it for interactive features! As mentioned above, each beacon has a unique identifier code and this is printed on the back of the unit. A small clear adhesive label is included to stick over the code number to protect it from the weather. This is the number that should be quoted when speaking to a monitoring centre about the PLB.

Also included in the box was a neoprene pouch with a large belt loop. The beacon was pre-attached to this pouch by a lanyard. This pouch is a flotation sleeve for the PLB and will stop it becoming an expensive sinker should I drop it in the water. Another lanyard is included to secure the unit to clothing to prevent it being lost. Finally, a yellow plastic mounting cradle is included and the PLB easily snaps in to the cradle with a loud click. A rubber strap attaches the cradle to whatever is required; a life jacket, bike frame, backpack or almost anything.

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Contents of the box: PLB, neoprene flotation sleeve, cradle and lanyard.


The beacon appears to be well made with excellent fit and finish.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

A comprehensive fifteen page instruction booklet is included and although it contains a fair bit of technical information, is fairly easy to read. The first page contains simple information on how to activate the unit in an emergency. A brief explanation of how the satellite system works, how to test the unit, specifications, information on registration and various international approvals are also included. The information is clear, concise and easy to read. It also appears to have been written in English rather than being poorly translated from another language. That’s a refreshing change!

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Operating instructions are located on the side of the unit.


It’s worth noting that this PLB does not float. I know of a number of pilots who have had their PLB in an emergency kit which they couldn’t reach when ditching in the sea. It would be heartbreaking to watch one’s PLB sinking, so when operating around water (kayaking, pack rafting, etc) it would be worth making sure the PLB was in a flotation device.

TRYING IT OUT

Obviously, I’m not able to do a full test on the PLB as it is an offence to set one off unnecessarily. There are, however, two test modes to determine if the PLB if functioning properly and they are very easy tests. The first determines correct functioning of the unit, and the second determines GPS functionality.

Testing the PLB’s operation is a simple matter of extending the antenna and pressing the Test key for one second. If all is well the small indicator LED will flash green. A table in the instruction booklet explains what the various colours which may flash and the number of flashes means: yellow indicates how long the PLB has been used for and red indicates various failures. The recommendation is that this test should be conducted monthly.

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Safety tab closed.
Safety tab open and ready to activate the unit.


The second test checks the GPS functionality and drains a fair amount of battery. To complete this test the unit should have a clear view of the sky. Extend the antenna then hold the Test button for ten seconds. A successful test results in the LED indicator flashing green. The number of flashes indicates how many more times this test can be performed without draining the battery and eight tests is the maximum. A successful test will also result in the strobe commencing to work.

Two registration forms were included in the box which were specific for my country, Australia, but the online registration was very quick and easy so I went with that option. Registration took about ten minutes and I received a confirmation email almost instantly.

I tested the PLB in water without the sleeve and found it sank to the bottom of my sink. When tucked in the sleeve, the PLB floated upside down on the surface. It is not usable in this position and the instructions state the PLB must be out of water to work properly, however, it sure would be easier to find on the surface of the water than at the bottom of the water.

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Out of the neoprene sleeve (left), the PLB will sink, in it the unit will float upside down (right).


IN THE FIELD

I've owned the rescueMe for approximately six weeks but I feel that's enough time to get to know this item; there's really not a lot to get to know here. I’ve not used this piece of equipment and hope I will never have to, but it is great insurance for people like myself who hike and four wheel drive alone. I don’t see the PLB as a license to do stupid things, it’s more of a last resort should things not go well.

Although it’s easy to clip the beacon on to a backpack, I prefer to keep it on my person. That way if I fall and get separated from my pack, I’ll still have the beacon. After all, it’s not much use sitting on my pack when I can’t get to it.

The cradle makes it easy to mount this beacon almost anywhere (the grab bar of my 4x4 is a favourite). I’ve found the neoprene sleeve to be a bit bulky for pocket use, but works just fine for attaching the beacon to a belt. Using the sleeve is important for water-based activities as it will allow the PLB to float.

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The PLB in the supplied neoprene flotation sleeve.
The PLB mounted in the cradle. The rubber clip allows fixing to a variety of places.



SUMMARY

The Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 is an amazingly small safety device which I hope I’ll never have to use. It is compact, light, and is easily affixed to a variety of clothing or machinery. It’s best chance of saving my life is by having it on my person rather than fixed to anything and the very small footprint of the beacon means this is now possible. In terms of cost, this unit is no more expensive than the larger units and performs just as well. Is it a justifiable expense? I see this as an insurance policy really, but ask me again after I use it!


Read more reviews of Ocean Signal gear
Read more gear reviews by Kerri Larkin

Reviews > Health & Safety > Emergency and Survival Gear > Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB1 > Owner Review by Kerri Larkin



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