No one likes to think about their boat going down and ending up in the water far from shore. However, if it happens, you need to be prepared. While a well-stocked ditch bag containing traditional signaling devices (flares, mirrors, horns, VHF) is a great idea, you can virtually ensure your rescue by purchasing a personal locator beacon, or PLB.
A PLB uses satellites to alert and lead rescuers to your position anywhere on earth. In coastal waters of the Northeast, help will usually arrive within 30 minutes of the PLB being activated.
The major PLB manufacturers are ACR and McMurdo. Both companies offer basic models ranging from $250 to $400, but you can sometimes get them cheaper through close-out deals. Most new PLBs are remarkably small and have a battery life of 5 years, after which you need to have the device serviced by an approved service center.
Unlike an EPIRB, which is registered to a particular boat, a PLB is registered to an individual, so you can take it with you on other boats, camping, driving or anywhere you might need to be rescued. When the device is activated, it provides rescuers with your location and contact information. You can even update your profile and file float plans online via a NOAA website.
The main thing to remember if you buy a PLB is to keep it readily accessible (near the helm is a good spot) or even your body, as you don’t want to be rummaging around in a locker or cabin trying to find the thing as your boat is going down.