Monthly Archives: March 2012


My last post was about the EPIRB fiasco, so that seems a logical place to start to get things rolling again.

I called ACR Electronics about our little problem and they told me our unit was outside the 5-year warranty, but I could send it in and have it “repaired” for a $250 fee.  Repair in this case meant replacement of the electronic parts.  I thought this sounded better than what I thought at the time would be $700 for a new one, so I boxed it up and sent it back to them.

It later occurred to me that I no longer knew the state of the battery since I didn’t know how long it had been going off.  When ACR received the unit, they called and made the same point.  It seemed that the prudent thing to do would be to replace the battery, and the “repair” was no longer economical.  Some very good pricing through a wholesale account, and a promotion they’re currently running would get me into a new GlobalFix Pro unit for under $500.

But they offered me an alternative.  ACR Technical Services happened to be sitting on a big stack of surplus TerraFix PLBs (Personal Locator Beacon) that had been superseded by a new model.  These were the 2798.4NH model with onboard GPS receivers, and they were being unofficially offered at only $120 each.  That was a pretty good deal, so I bought two, and for now we’ll go without an EPIRB.

What is the difference between a PLB and an EPIRB?  Very little it seems.  

EPIRBs are designed to transmit for 48 hours, while PLBs only 24.  But the design temperature is -4F, so actual PLB operating life is more like 31 hours.  Transmit power is the same, so the difference is really just the size of the battery, which makes PLBs "personal" sized and wearable.  By getting two, we have the same effective total transmit time.  Plus we have the flexibility to set both off at once (for emphasis), put one in the ditch bag, carry one in the dinghy, or attach it to the person on night watch.

EPIRBs are designed to float free from a sinking vessel and transmit best when in the water.  PLBs float only as a convenience against loss, and should be held for best transmission performance.  PLBs are activated by pressing two buttons simultaneously and don’t have any of that silly out-of-the-bracket-and-in-the-water activation nonsense.

Bottom line:   If you’re going far enough offshore that help can’t reach you in 24 hours, get an EPIRB.  If you have a boat that can sink and want the beacon to float free and self-activate, get an EPIRB.  Otherwise, I think PLBs are the way to go.  They transmit the same signals to the same satellites and are handled by the same rescue services.  While the TerraFix was marketed toward hikers, the only difference from the marine-oriented AquaFix is the color of the holster.

I just did this last week and ACR said they had lots of these units and they were happy to sell me as many as I wanted.  They said the units had been sitting around for a while, but the ones I received indicated battery replacement wasn’t due until 07/2017.  So if you’re in the market for a PLB, you should give ACR a call.