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Demystifying PLBs

The Mountain Safety Council recommends carrying your PLB on your person, where it can be easily accessed
The benefits of taking a personal locator beacon (PLB) out on the trail are well known, but what’s the best way to use it? Wilderness asked the Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) and Mountain Safety Council (MSC) for their tips

Who should carry a PLB in a group, the person who has the most experience, or the least experience?

RCCNZ training manager Kevin Banaghan says there’s no formal advice on who is best to carry a PLB, but he recommends the most experienced person carry the device.

“The more experienced person has more situational awareness and will be better at recognising danger,” Banaghan says.

The group leader may also want to make the other members aware of who’s carrying it, where it’s located and how to operate it before they set it off, he says.

Mountain Safety Council (MSC) communications manager Nick Kingstone says the most important thing is to get consensus from the group.

“Some people like to give the strongest, most proficient/experienced person the PLB as they are likely to be leading the trip either formally or informally,” Kingstone says. “However, some groups give it to the ‘tail-end-charlie’ who is sometimes more aware of the location of all members.

“Regardless of who takes the emergency communication equipment, what’s important is that there is a consensus and understanding amongst the group members where equipment like first aid kit, emergency supplies, navigation equipment, PLB, shelter and cooking gear is stored/carried amongst the group.”

Where should you carry your PLB?

Kingstone recommends carrying the PLB on your person.

“Our discussions with Police, NZSAR and LandSAR suggest that carrying the PLB on your person is ideal as you may become separated from your pack for a number of reasons, like river crossings for example.”

But Banaghan warns against carry the PLB in your hip pocket.

“We have a lot of inadvertent activations and a high percentage is from people carrying them on their hip and accidentally hitting the button.”

Register your beacon

Make sure the beacon is registered at www.beacons.org.nz and the contact details are up to date. If a PLB is activated, the first thing the RCCNZ will do is contact the registered owner. “This can prevent us calling a helicopter if its a false alarm,” says Banaghan. It is a legal requirement to register a PLB, but according to RCCNZ, about 40 per cent of beacons are unregistered.