Is It Best to Buy an EPIRB or a PLB?

You might want to have both

Ship Sailing In Sea
Marc-Antoine Kikano / EyeEm / Getty Images

Boaters who are considering buying an emergency beacon have an important decision to make. Do you need an EPIRB or PLB? You can purchase either or both to cover you in the event of trouble. 

Either One Is Better Than Nothing

First, any type of EPIRB or PLB is better than having nothing when you're faced with the unfathomable situation of falling overboard, capsizing, taking on water, or any other potentially life-threatening situation on the water. The good news is that there are options to fit every budget.

Every boater should have a personal locator beacon, preferably for each passenger, and an EPIRB for the vessel. They're as much a priority as life jackets. Although EPIRBs are not required safety equipment, they could be just as instrumental in saving your life as floatation devices. 

Coast Guard Recommendations 

If your budget allows for it, the Coast Guard recommends purchasing a Category I EPIRB with an integral GPS navigation receiver that you can properly mount to your vessel. These Category I models come with special brackets designed to break free and float to the surface when they sense six feet or more of water pressure. They can transmit a signal from the surface in an emergency. Some EPIRBs are GPS-enhanced, and some are "smart." They can self-check before you head out, tell you whether the battery is running low, and—perhaps most important—let you know that your distress signal has been received in an emergency.

Personal Category II EPIRBs and PLBs are available, but they must be manually activated. This can be a problem if you or a passenger become incapacitated so you can't flip the switch.

Consider Buying Both

The drawback with having a Category I EPIRB is that it won't do much good in a man overboard scenario unless the entire vessel capsizes or sinks. That's why it's a good idea to buy both if you have the budget for it. You can cover most potential scenarios.

If you have a Category I EPIRB mounted to the vessel, an emergency signal will be generated automatically to rescue agencies, transmitting the owner, vessel and vessel location information. This can save lives if something should happen to the boat and you're unable to flip the switch manually. And you can manually activate the switch of the personal locator beacon or EPIRB as well to send help to your location, increasing your chances of survival if something were to happen where you are separated from your boat. 

The Bottom Line 

While an EPIRB or a PLB can add an element of safety to your boating adventures, it can't keep you afloat while you're waiting to be rescued. You should always choose and wear a life jacket at all times while boating. Used together, a life jacket and an EPIRB or PLB will significantly increase your odds of survival. You'll far much better than you would if you used just one or the other.