Never Underestimate the Power of the PLB

Blog Image with USCG Vessel, Airplane and McMurdo's PLB


As a seasoned product manager at McMurdo – and an engineer on ships around the world for years before – I appreciate the global search and rescue (SAR) ecosystem that helps protect the lives of our customers every day. Recently, I was reminded of the strength of one of the smallest parts of that ecosystem: the personal locator beacon (PLB). It’s easy to underestimate the power of little things. When the U.S. Coast Guard selected McMurdo’s FastFind 220 PLBs to protect their deck crew and rescue swimmers, I was inspired to reflect on the powerful punch built into these compact devices.

A Powerful Punch in a Small Package

Military and homeland security personnel put their lives on the line every day to save the lives of others. They operate in the most rugged environments and harshest conditions around the world. When life-threatening emergencies arise, they charge in. They have to know, without question, that they have the best equipment, training and support to save those in peril while preserving their own lives.

The mighty PLB is one essential component of their safety packages. Designed to fit in a pocket, these handheld devices are deceptively small, light and comfortable to carry. Some come with neck lanyards and flotation pouches with Velcro attachments, to ensure they stay close at hand. Yet, PLBs are not fragile. They are built to endure remote locations and high-risk conditions on land, sea and in the air. Each personal lifeline device is backed by a robust SAR ecosystem. When activated, a PLB distress signal attracts the same urgent attention from responders as signals from larger transmitters attached to ships and aircraft.

Proven Technology Backed by a Global Ecosystem

PLBs, in some form, have been around for years. Over time, they have incorporated technology advancements and improvements to meet real-world military and commercial requirements. The first step in the SAR process, PLBs relay essential information needed to find personnel in distress. Without the signal, it’s extremely difficult to find personnel in remote areas or on rough seas.

PLBs such as our FastFind 220 are used to notify emergency personnel using the 406MHz frequency, which is protected and exclusive to SAR traffic. Once activated, the PLB distress signal transmits unique beacon identification and location data to the international Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. From satellite ground stations, the signal is directed to regional mission control centers that alert rescue coordination centers to rapidly dispatch local emergency responders.

For homeland security, military and other armed forces personnel, PLB devices harness unseen powers that seamlessly guide rescue teams to identify, locate and navigate to their locations.

Trusted to Keep Rescue Personnel Safe While They Save Others

I am inspired by rescue personnel who risk their lives so others may live. I’m also proud to be part of a company that’s built a reputation and culture on SAR excellence. McMurdo is the only PLB manufacturer that also develops satellite ground stations and rescue coordination systems. We get to test our beacons through infrastructure we’ve built, giving us confidence in the PLB end-to-end performance. We trust that our PLBs work; so our customers can entrust their lives to McMurdo. That’s the power of our PLBs.