Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) regulation change

Ofcom have announced that Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) that work with the COSPAS/SARSAT distress and alert system will become legal to use on land in the UK from Thursday 12th January 2012.

I’m not suggesting everyone runs out and buys one, on the contrary I think they may be of limited value in the UK, except in some very out of the way locations in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Mid Wales.

For info on the announcement see:-


Just a few things as my Personal opinion from an MR team member (not representing my team).

  1. As with mobile phones on the hill, anything that potentially speeds up rescue is a good thing.
  2. The downside will be people carrying these and using them to get help inappropriately (“I’m a bit tired and hungry” or “I’m late” types of call).
  3. Unlike mobile phones this is “one way” so SAR resources can’t assess urgency, so will end up treating everything as risk to life.
  4. If you carry one of these, please try your mobile first to dial 999 and ask for Police, then Mountain Rescue - much better to speak to someone if at all possible. You may get advised to set off the PLB as well to help with location if it is at all uncertain.
  5. REGISTER THE PLB! Even though OFCOM only recommend it, the registration details held include your name and contact details and that of several emergency contacts who may be able to provide information about your plans, party size, etc. Registration forms and methods are included with every PLB sold.
  6. MAKE SURE IT IS A MODERN GPS ENABLED PLB. This transmits an accurate (well usually accurate!) position from the GPS receiver. The older non GPS enabled devices can only be used to find approx. positions, often no better than an area measured in square km’s. Then an aircraft has to use direction finding to try to home in on your precise location, which wastes time.
  7. Don’t forget to follow the manufacturers test procedures (which don’t include actual setting off of the PLB) at recommended intervals and get the batteries replaced (usually done by the manufacturer) at the recommended interval.

I have one of these, which I carry on overseas expeditions. As with all equipment, if used properly it can make a big difference when you need it!