Westpac Marine Services, Inc.

Should I buy an EPIRB or a PLB?

This is a question customers ask all the time without a simple answer. Both beacons will get you rescued if they are able to transmit properly and they both work off of the same satellite system which is owned and operated by governments, not private businesses. First let's look at a comparison of the two:

Activation Water or Manual Manual
Floats? Yes, upright with the antenna out of the water No
Battery life at -20°F 48 hours 24 hours
Registered for use Marine environment Anywhere
Registered to Vessel Person
Integral GPS Optional Standard
Size Large (by comparison) Fits in a pocket

My thought is if you are cruising around the world, buy an EPIRB. The fact that it is water activated and floats upright with the antenna pointing to the sky means it can be used even if you are floating in the water next to the beacon.

If you are using your boat locally but also go cross country skiing, mountain biking, snowmobiling or hiking I would choose a PLB. For installation in a life raft, a PLB is the correct choice.

What do I own, a PLB. I am in that second category where boating is not my only pastime. There is a much larger chance that I will get in to trouble on my bicycle than on the family boat. Still I am covered when boating by owning a PLB.

While I would like to think that life safety decisions are not driven by cost, budgets come in to play. PLB's are less expensive than EPIRB's, especially if you look at an EPIRB with integral GPS. A PLB will save you hundreds of dollars which might make the decision a bit easier.

revised 1/2021