Personal Locator Beacons legalised for hillwalkers

Hebrides Search and Rescue Team training

Hillwalkers and climbers will be able to legally carry Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) from 12 January following a change in UK regulations. Previously the devices, which send out a distress signal identifying the user’s exact location when activated, could only be licensed for use on boats and planes.

Some mountain rescuers have expressed concern following a potential rise in call outs from PLBs because the devices do not allow two way communication so there is no way for the rescue services to check whether the device has been activated in a genuine emergency and therefore allowing the call to be priortised. This Christmas Day saw a call-out on Cairngorm involving a PLB which had been activated by mistake by a walker who was fine and had also been recently using his mobile phone. Some mountain rescuers also believe that PLBs will serve a useful role in real emergencies as the location of the party will be known, thereby reducing searching time for mountain rescue teams. Mountain Rescue advises walkers to use a mobile phone for an emergency call out if at all possible, as the Police and Mountain Rescue will then be able to get more information to prioritise and inform the call out. PLBs should only be used in emergency situations when no other method is practical.

A PLB sends a distress message to a control centre and from there the message is passed on to the UK authorities and a mountain rescue may be organised. Most PLBs can be activated manually as well as set to activate automatically if the user is incapacitated or on a set “panic day” if the device is not re-set. PLB’s are regulated by OFCOM who recommend that each device should be notified to the Emergency Position-Indicating Rescue Beacon Registry operated by the Coastguard.

Beacons are available for sale on Amazon.

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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.