Image of the February 2022 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
February 2022 Issue
Home / Articles / Gear Guides

2022’s guide to personal locator beacons

A personal locator beacon takes the ‘search’ out of search and rescue. They’re compact, lightweight and, when compared to the potential cost of not carrying one, inexpensive. 

GPS and 406MHz

All modern beacons transmit a 406MHz signal, but some also transmit the older 121.5MHz signal to help searchers home in on your location once they arrive in the vicinity. Your chosen PLB should also be GPS-enabled so it can send your exact location to searchers.


It is a legal requirement to register your PLB with the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ). There is no charge to do this and once completed, your PLB’s distress signal will be linked to your personal information – name, address, emergency contact phone numbers, medical conditions – that can offer clues to your specific needs as well as speed rescue response time. 

When to activate?

Distress beacons should be used in life-threatening situations and where self-rescue is not possible. RCCNZ advises people to err on the side of caution and to activate their PLB with plenty of daylight as it’s easier and more convenient to search during the day than at night. Once activated, keep the beacon turned on and in one place (if possible, find a clearing and remain there until help arrives).

How they work

Within a few minutes of a PLB being activated, the signal is picked up by a satellite and sent to RCCNZ, which uses the data to determine the exact location of the beacon. RCCNZ will then contact the people listed on the beacon’s registration details to determine such things as your intentions, the number of people in your party, and the equipment being carried. When the position has been determined, RCCNZ will launch a rescue operation.

Types of beacons

Most beacons work as an emergency device only – sending a signal when you need help. Satellite messengers allow users to send and receive text messages and link to social media accounts so others can follow your progress. These devices are popular among people walking long-distance trails. 

Satellite messengers have rechargeable batteries, an advantage over PLBs which require replacement batteries following activation, or every five to seven years. Message-capable devices require users to pay a monthly or annual subscription fee in order to send and receive messages. 


Keep your device on you rather than secrete it in your pack. Ensure everyone in the party knows where the beacon is and how to operate it. When possible, have more than one PLB in the group (though only activate one beacon during an emergency). Make sure your PLB is waterproof and can float (or comes with a flotation device).

McMurdo Fast Find 220 $599

406 and 121.5MHz PLB, LED SOS light, 50 channel GPS and GNSS Galileo receiver provides access to all 72 satellites, protected under-lid antenna, waterproof to 10m, minimum 24hr operation, six-year battery storage life, self-test, battery use indicator, lanyard, flotation pouch. 152g.


ACR ResQlink View $679.99 

Built-in buoyancy, digital display with live status and GPS coordinates, 406MHz and 121.5MHz transmission, strobe and infrared strobe, global coverage, five-year battery life, 28hr operational life, ACR skins for beacon customisation. 148g. 


ACR ResQlink 400 $529.99

Built-in buoyancy, strobe and infrared strobe, global coverage, 406MHz and 121.5MHz transmission, five-year battery life, minimum 24hr operation, multi-function clip system. 148g.


Garmin InReach Mini $599 

Palm-sized device, global connectivity, two way messaging, interactive SOS connected to New Zealand-based response services, rechargeable lithium battery provides up to 50hr run time. 100g.


Ocean Signal rescueMe PLB1 $529

Single-handed operation, 406MHz and 121.5MHz transmission, seven-year battery life, seven-year warranty, 66 channel GPS, minimum 24hr operation, flotation pouch, mounting clip, bright strobe light. 116g.