Gear, Reviews, Tips

Best personal locator beacon and emergency GPS device in the UK

best-personal-locator-beacon-and-emergency-gps-device-in-the-uk

If you are like us and love going on adventures to remote places, then you need to think about what you would do in an emergency situation. Off-grid locations don’t generally have reception, so calling for help using a mobile phone is out of the question. Luckily there are several different types of emergency GPS devices out there that are available to the public to purchase and can possibly save your life if you find yourself in an accident. A personal locator beacon, satellite phone or satellite messenger are probably the most common form of emergency GPS trackers in the UK for the general public. They are all good options for your outdoor trips, but before you make a purchase you need to consider which one would work best for your needs. Although they serve a similar purpose, there are differences between them in terms of price, size and function. This article helps you understand what is a personal locator beacon and how it is different from the other types of emergency locator beacons. It explains important terms you need to know, compares some of the best devices from each category, and gives you tips and reviews about how to use them. I highly suggest you add a satellite communicator to your wild camping equipment or expedition kit.

We bought our Garmin device for our multi-day canoe trip in Scotland, and have used it on many of our other adventures since. 

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Table of Contents

Best emergency GPS device for different needs

Best for kayak/canoe and marine adventures: OceanSignal rescueME PLB1
Best for backpacking/hiking: Garmin inReach Mini
Best for big expeditions: Garmin GPSMAP 66i
Best on a budget: McMurdo FastFind 220
Best for travelling: Thuraya Satellite SatSleeve +
Best for natural disasters/war zones: Iridium 9555

Types of satellite GPS trackers

Personal locator beacon

Also often referred to as PLB. They are designed to locate you in a life-threatening emergency, and then report your position to rescue agencies, who will perform a search and rescue operation to find you. Important to note, that they are very basic compared to satellite communicators, as there is no two-way communication. It just transmits an SOS message with the push of a button. They operate using satellite technology, so they will work where there is no mobile reception. Registration for beacons is required by law. You will need to give vital personal information (eg. name, emergency contact number, medical conditions, etc) which can help speed up your rescue. If you sell on your device, then you need to report that and the new owner will have to register themselves. The battery normally lasts for many years, but you will need to send it in for replacement when the time comes. The biggest advantage of a personal locator beacon over satellite messengers is that you can save on costs, as they don’t require a subscription. 
 
 

Satellite Messenger

Satellite communicators can also be used to send an emergency distress signal to alert authorities, but they surpass PLB’s ability with some additional features. A satellite messenger is able to do two-way communication, meaning you can exchange texts with family or emergency services. This way you can go into more detail about your situation, which helps rescue services decide how urgent your case is and what equipment they might need to get you. Satellite messengers rely on global satellite networks so they work worldwide. Some other features allow you to get weather updates for your location, navigate your route and track and share your journey with your family and friends. The battery life can range from a couple of days to around 20 days. So you need to be mindful of the features you use in order to maintain battery life. A big drawback to these devices is that after the initial cost you will also need to pay an activation fee and a monthly fee that varies based on the level of usage you choose. Some companies allow you to get a plan for ad hoc trips.  
  
 

Satellite phone

Mobile phones require cellular towers. These often run out of signal in remote areas or if a cell tower goes down during a natural disaster or in a war zone. As the name suggests a satellite phone gets data from the satellites orbiting the Earth, so it enables you to make calls from pretty much anywhere in the world. You can get sat phones from many retailers. Sat phones’ features are quite basic compared to some satellite messengers. They focus on placing calls or sending short text messages. You will need to add either a monthly plan or use a pre-paid card to operate it. Battery life is generally a few days.

Satellite Messenger Comparison Chart

  • SPOT Gen3
  • Spot X
  • Garmin inReach Mini
  • Garmin GPSMAP 66i
SPOT Gen3Spot XGarmin inReach MiniGarmin GPSMAP 66i
£
££
££
£££
Size6.76 x 8.83 x 2.36 cm 7.37x 16.61 x2.39 cm5.17 x 9.9 x 2.61 cm6.6 x 16.3 x 3.5 cm
Weight142 g198.4 g100 g241 g
Power OptionNon rechargeable Takes 4 AAA batteriesRechargeable Lithium batteriesRechargeable lithium-ionRechargeable lithium-ion
Battery LifeSend 1250 Messages on a Single set of Lithium batteries10 days of battery life in 10-minute tracking modeUp to 90 hours at 10-minute tracking; up to 24 days at 30-minute tracking (power save mode)Up to 35 hours at 10-minute tracking; up to 200 hours at 30-minute tracking (power save mode)
2-way messaging
WaterproofIP68 -Submersible up to 1.5 m for 30 minIP67 - Submersible up to 1m for 30 minIPX7 - Submersible up to 1 m for 30 minIPX7 - Submersible up to 1 m for 30 min
SubscriptionSPOT service subscription requiredSPOT service subscription requiredGarmin subscription requiredGarmin subscription required
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Satellite Messenger Reviews

I am reviewing 4 devices. There are quite significant differences between them in terms of price, size and features, so make sure you have a good think, which one might suit best for your needs.

Spot Gen3

The Spot Gen3 satellite GPS messenger is one of the most basic one in its category. It can send pre-written custom messages to family, but it can’t receive any texts. It is also able to send out an SOS signal to GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) in a life or death situation. They will then activate a rescue to your location. Alternatively, you can also use the HELP feature in a non-emergency, which will notify your personal contacts that you need help. All Spot satellite trackers need to have a subscription plan in order to operate. The Spot Gen4 is a newer version of this tracker, that has very similar features.

Pros

  • Small and lightweight
  • Affordable
  • SOS feature

Cons

  • Poor customer service from Spot
  • Tracking is not always accurate
  • No two-way messaging
  • No navigational features
  • Non rechargeable – uses AAA batteries

Spot X

It has the same SOS feature as the Spot Gen 3, but this version also has a 2-way messaging system. You can connect the Spot X to your smartphone through Bluetooth. You will need to download the Spot X app to then communicate with your contacts. Each device has its own dedicated U.S. mobile number, so others can message you as well.

 

Pros

  • 2-way satellite messaging
  • In built keyboard: able to send messages without a phone.
  • Built-in compass and programmable waypoints for navigation.

Cons

  • Poor customer service from Spot
  • Slow, outdated software

Garmin inReach Mini

It does all the important things that an emergency GPS device on the market should and is one of the smallest and lightest products available. It allows you to do 2-way communication, gets the weather forecast, maps for navigation and tracking. Garmin also has some good subscription plans, which allows you to only pay for one-off trips. Great for those who are not on adventures super frequently. The battery can last quite a long time if you only use the device for minimal communications and save it for an emergency. The tracking feature can drain the battery very quickly. 

 

Pros

  • Small and lightweight
  • 2-way satellite messaging
  • Pairs with your phone for texting, maps, location sharing, etc

Cons

  • Texting on device is very slow 
  • Poor battery life

Garmin GPSMAP 66i

A very powerful GPS device, that is highly customisable. It has many features, and getting this device for casual walkers is probably a bit of an overkill. But if you adventure regularly at remote areas, then it is certainly worth the investment. It’s possible to plan and navigate extremely complex routes. on the built-in topo map- But you can also load other maps onto the device. The Garmin GPSMAP 66i allows you to download third-party apps. This device is surprisingly fast and doesn’t lag. 

Pros

  • Big, clear screen
  • Rugged for harsh elements
  • Pairs with your phone for texting, maps, location sharing, etc
  • Great battery life even when tracking

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Bulky and heavy
  • Takes some time to learn how the device operates, as it has many features

Personal Locator Beacon Comparison chart

  • McMurdo FastFind 220
  • OceanSignal rescueME PLB1
  • acr ResQLink View
McMurdo FastFind 220OceanSignal rescueME PLB1acr ResQLink View
££
££
££
Size4.7 x 10.6 x 3.4 cm5.1 x 7.6 x 3.2 cm5.2 cm x 11.5 x 3.8 cm
Weight152g116g148 g
Battery TypeLithium ManganeseLithium PrimaryNon-hazmat Lithium batteries
Battery Life6 years7 years5 years
Operational Life24+ hours24+ hours28 hours
2-way messaging
WaterproofUp to 10 m and supplied with flotation pouchUp to 15 m and supplied with flotation pouchUp to 5m for 1 hr and 10m for 10 min; Built in buoyancy
SubscriptionNo subscription neededNo subscription neededNo subscription needed
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Personal Locator Beacon Reviews

I am reviewing three personal locator devices. They are actually quite similar. You will only notice a few small differences in price or size. They are all SOS-only devices and have 121.5MHz Homing Beacon and a 406MHz Satellite Transmitter.

McMurdo FastFind 220

It has high brightness LED SOS light. Quick and easy to activate. The safe stow antenna automatically deploys when the unit is activated. This is the best backpacking emergency beacon if you are on a budget.

Reason to buy

  • Most cost-effective SOS device

OceanSignal rescueME PLB1

The most compact PLB on the market. It can easily be activated with a single hand. Simple to fit to a life jacket. Probably the best personal locator beacon for kayaking and marine expeditions.

Reason to buy

  • Smallest and lightest PLB on this list

acr ResQLink View

The only buoyant Personal Locator Beacon on this list. It comes with great attachment points, so works well for various expeditions.

Reason to buy

  • Only device that floats on its own on this list

Satellite Phone Comparison Chart

  • Thuraya Satellite SatSleeve +
  • Thuraya XT-LITE
  • Iridium 9555
Thuraya Satellite SatSleeve +Thuraya XT-LITEIridium 9555
££
££
££££
Size7 x 14 x 4.2 cm5 x 13 x 3 cm5.5 x 14.3 x 3 cm
Weight256 g116 g266 g
Battery Type3.7V Li-ion, 2440 mAhLithium Polymer2200 mAH lithium-ion battery
Battery Life3 hours of talk and data usage, 70 hours standby with Wi-Fi turned off6 hours of talk time and up to 80 hours of standby time4 hours talk time and up to 30 hours of standby
2-way messaging
SIM CardThuraya SIM card or GSM SIM cardThuraya SIM card or GSM SIM cardIridium Prepaid SIM Card
CoverageExcludes North and South AmericaExcludes North and South AmericaWorldwide
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Satellite Phone Reviews​

Satellite phones are quite expensive compared to other emergency GPS locators. Satellite phone rental can be a good alternative if you don’t want to splash out on such a device, especially if you are not a frequent traveller.

Thuraya Satellite SatSleeve +

Note, that this is not a satellite phone on its own. But it is a great alternative, as it can transform your phone into a satellite smartphone.  It comes with a universal adaptor, which is compatible with most iOS and Android models.  You can connect the unit to your smartphone via Wi-fi. Just make sure you have the free SatSleeve+ app, which you can download from the App Store or from Google Play. Then you are able to access phone calls, emails and even social media apps as long as you have the appropriate SIM card. The unit also has an SOS button, which works even if the smartphone is not connected. You will be able to make and receive phone calls from predefined numbers.

Pros

  • Budget friendly
  • 12 languages
  • Access to your mobile apps

Cons

  • No worldwide coverage

Thuraya XT-LITE

This is the best-value satellite phone on the market. You can make phone calls and send SMS messages. Important to note, that it doesn’t offer worldwide coverage. The phone doesn’t work in North and South America. On their website they have a detailed map of countries in which it can be used – take a look before purchasing. It works well in the UK, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. Simple to use. Just make sure the phone is charged and the SIM card is working.

Pros

  • Budget friendly
  • 12 languages
  • Small and lightweight

Cons

  • No worldwide coverage
  • Sound quality is not great

Iridium 9555

The Iridium 9555 is one of the most reliable sat phones out there. For that reason, it comes with a hefty price tag. It works over the Iridium network of satellites, so has worldwide coverage. To set up the phone you will need to remove the battery to access the SIM slot. The phone is not waterproof, but the keypad is weather-resistant and the jack and ports are covered by rubber flaps to protect the internal components from dust and water. The phone has two-way SMS and short email capability. The internally stowed antenna can be swivelled at an angle of 45 degrees to get better reception. The voice calls are generally very clear with no noticeable delays. The phone can store up to 100 entries (names, phone numbers, email addresses and notes)

 

Pros

  • Worldwide coverage
  • 21 languages
  • Clear voice calls
  • 200 character illuminated graphic display

Cons

  • Expensive

Additional survival kit

A GPS distress beacon is great to alert emergency services in an accident or life or death situation. But it can often take some time until the rescue unit gets to you, especially if you are in a very wild area with harsh elements. So it is essential to carry some survival kit with you. Also don’t forget to pack extra layers, food and drink!

AA 3 in 1 emergency beacon

A must-have rescue tool for your car! Acts as a flashing beacon, torch, glass hammer and seatbelt cutter.

 

90 Piece First Aid Kit Bag

This bag has a lot of essentials for any accidents. You should keep at home, in your car, caravan or boat. Also fits into a suitcase for travel. 

Pocket First Aid Kit

A compact, pocket-size first aid kit, which is specifically designed for hiking and the outdoors. The contents are all good quality and CE Certified.

Emergency Thermal Blanket

Great for camping, hiking and surviving in the cold outdoor. Comes 6 in a packet. They are waterproof, windproof and reusable. They can keep in people’s body heat well. 

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6 Comments

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