Photo hiking in the Australian bush – make sure you have a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

Written by Gary on January 30th, 2010

If you are like me and love to go walking in the Australian bush and forests with your cameras, there is something else you need to take with you – a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) – a smaller, lightweight version of a marine EPIRB device.

If you get lost, injured or bitten by a snake in the bush, you may not be able to get to help in a timely manner and if you are like me and become spontaneously inspired to walk on some remote track, you may not have given your family exact details of where you will be walking so rescue teams may have no hope of finding you either.

After some research, I have just purchased a GME MT410G 406 MHZ PLB with GPS signalling.

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This model weighs 250g, measures 135mm x 71mm x 38mm, sends your GPS location to within 100m to ensure there is minimal search phase of your rescue, and has a strobing light to assist with the search. The signal will emit for at least 24 hours after activation which should be plenty of time given the GPS coordinates and can be deactivated within 60sec of activation without a distress being sent.

By law, these units must have their batteries changed by the manufacturer, and for this model that is after 7 years or after activation.

The main negatives are that whilst the unit does float, it does so horizontally and the antenna will not emit unless it is held out of the water, and like all GPS devices, it needs a clear view to satellites to determine your location – this may be an issue if you are inside a car, underground or at the bottom of a steep valley.

There is a good discussion forum thread here comparing the current Australian models – unfortunately, the KTI Mini-Sat-G model is still struggling to get certification from the authorities, and thus availability has again been pushed back, this time to May 2010 at the earliest.

Once you purchase your unit, this one costs ~$A549 online on Ebay, you MUST register it with your local country authority, for Australia, this is the Beacon Registration Section, AusSAR, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) which is based in Canberra. If you activate your beacon in another country, that country’s authority will contact your local authority.

As of Feb 2009, only 406 MHz beacons are detected by the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system – you can’t use older 121.5/243 MHz beacons.

Better to be prepared – and I am guessing that your family may not appreciate you dying needlessly, let alone your life insurance not paying up because they couldn’t find your body!

And, of course, I would take a compressive bandage in case you were bitten by a snake, warm clothes, water bottle, sun protection, and if you are the allergic type, your EpiPen and asthma spray. You never know when a bee sting or ant bite might give you a life threatening reaction!

As mentioned in a previous post, hopefully all future Micro Four Thirds cameras will have a battery-efficient GPS built-in which may help you avoid getting totally lost in the first place, although it will not be a substitute for a full personal GPS map device such as a Garmin, etc.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jeff says:

    These are an awesome idea, and I’ve been researching them myself (particularly since I snowboard and geocache as well). So when I proposed the idea to my other half, the response surprised me (perhaps chillingly) – it would appear I’m not worth the asking price (“too expensive” she told me…)

    Now that I think about it, she said the same thing about a better motorbike helmet I wanted… am I missing a hidden message here?? 😉

    Until the KTi comes out, I might have to go location scouting with you!! J