Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)

PLBs - for Bushwalkers

PLB stands for Personal Locator Beacon. It is a device carried by a bushwalker which, when activated, transmits a message which is received by satellites orbiting the Earth, and is then relayed to emergency services. In the case of an activation by a bushwalker this will usually be a rescue helicopter. The helicopter then goes to the coordinates the beacon transmitted (or uses radio direction finding to home in on the beacon) and can then rescue the distressed bushwalker.

The system is the primary emergency communications method for remote areas as the system works world-wide - which is why it is also used extensively by ships and aircraft. Beacons are available which are small and cheap enough to be practical for bushwalkers, so these pages will give you an introduction into what they are, what types are available, how they work and how to use them effectively.

How Do PLBs Work?

What Types of PLB Are There?

How Do You Use a PLB?

BWRS encourages people bushwalking in areas without mobile phone coverage to carry a PLB. They are available for bushwalkers either at a nominal cost or for free from the following locations:

Area Serviced Where From Contact Details Cost
Blue Mountains Katoomba Police Station 217 Katoomba St, Katoomba No Charge
Blue Mountains Springwood Police Station 4 Jerseywold Ave, Springwood No Charge
Blue Mountains Blackheath NPWS Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath No Charge
Snowy Mountains NPWS Visitor Centres Jindabyne, Perisher Valley, Khancoban or Tumut. Phone Snowy Region Visitor Centre on 02 6450 5600 for details. $20 deposit, $10 hire fee
Budawangs/South Coast IGA Supermarket, Milton On the highway in the middle of Milton - you will have to ask for the store manager $100 deposit, $10 weekly hire fee
Anywhere in Australia! EPIRB Hire Web site or phone 0415 263 750 or 0410 506 709. Minimum charge $88 for 7 days.

As well as being available for hire, PLBs can also be purchased at most quality outdoor stores (such as Alpsport or Paddy Pallin) and ships chandleries (such as Bias Boating or Whitworths).

Think Before You Trek

Think Before You TrekThink Before You Trek is a bush safety initiative between the NSW Police Force and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. BWRS supports the TREK initiative. It encourages bushwalkers to TREK:

  • T - Take adequate supplies of food, water, navigation and first aid equipment.
  • R - Register your planned route and tell friends and family when you expect to return.
  • E - Emergency beacons (PLB's) are available free of charge from the NSW Police Force and NPWS.
  • K - Keep to your planned route and follow the map and walking trails.

As part of this programme it can provide bushwalkers and adventurers in the Blue Mountains with a free loaned Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). These PLBs are available from Springwood and Katoomba Police Stations and Blackheath NPWS office. Click here to read more.

Dispose of Old Beacons!

In February 2009 the satellite monitoring of the older style 121.5MHz and 243MHz beacons was switched off (the reasons why are discussed here). While monitoring of these frequencies will still be continued by land based stations, shipping and aviation the lack of satellite monitoring of this system means it is unreliable as an emergency system and therefore is not recommended.

This means all 121.5MHz and 243MHz beacons should be disposed of. Please note they should not be thrown in the rubbish as the batteries are hazardous. Old beacons can be disposed of at no cost at Battery World shops.

For further information about the shut down of the old 121.5MHz and 243MHz beacon systems read below or visit the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) beacon information page.

BWRS appreciates the assistance of Steve Langlands, AMSA, in preparation of these pages.