Personal 406 Beacons: ACR ResQLink+ is Tops

Even with a 406 MHz ELT, there’s a place for a PLB. If all you have is a legacy 121.5 MHz ELT, then something that gets the satellite’s attention is a must.

When we last looked at Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) in 2008, the global satellites were still listening on 121.5 and the cost of a fancy 406 MHz ELT could hit $4000. Today the only people who might hear your cry for help on 121.5 are CAP patrols or a passing airliner, and 406 MHz ELTs can be had for $600-$1400. (See the June 2010 Aviation Consumer for the most recent review of these units.)


Is there still a place for PLBs the cockpit? We think so. Not everyone has or wants to upgrade to a 406 MHz ELT. Even if the hardware cost isn’t off-putting, the bill for the required rewiring might be. If you end up in the water, the PLB can stay with you even if the plane sinks. If you’re in remote territory, you can let the ELT activate on its own and have your own PLB to activate after the ELT battery runs out. It’s almost always best to stay with your downed aircraft, but you can easily take the PLB with you if need be. And you can take it on a hike even if you didn’t crash.

PLB technology has also evolved. Today’s devices are feature-rich with GPS positioning and built-in strobe lights, while simultaneously costing less than they did four years ago.

ACR is part of Cobham, who also owns Artex and is a well-known name in beacon systems. ACR’s latest PLBs are the ResQLink and ResQLink+. The “plus” version’s only difference is that it floats (both units are waterproof). Buoyancy makes the ResQLink+ an ounce heavier, half an inch thicker and about $10 more expensive. Or you can get the regular ResQLink and buy the $20 flotation pouch to both store it in and keep it above water. Either way, the total cost will be around $280 and weight about five ounces.

PLBs are different from ELTs in that they require manual activation. Activating the ResQLink requires unhooking the antenna (which lives wrapped around the device), flipping the antenna up and then pushing the activation button. We had a non-transmitting unit for review and could do these steps one-handed with a non-dominant hand. Remember, the good arm could have been broken in a crash.


The activated PLB should be placed face up for the GPS to get its coordinates. This can take some time with any of these units, but the 406 MHz signal will transmit immediately. Both ResQLink PLBs include a strobe in the face of the device to help rescuers pinpoint you at the end of the search. The ResQLink+ actually floats partially facedown, so you’ll want to get it out of the water for the light and GPS to work properly.

The only other button on the device is a test button to make sure it has sufficient battery life and all circuits are working. There’s a service (see below) that actually tests the signal reception at the satellite if you’re so inclined. The battery should be replaced after five years (or if actually used). These batteries aren’t user-replaceable, so you must send it off to an authorized shop.

ACR also has a product called SARlink, which has a bit more transmit power and an optional view-screen to show you your GPS position and battery life remaining. But given a cost of $375-$475, we think there are better options if you want extra battery life.

GME AccuSat
The AccuSat MT410G by Australian company GME, was our top pick in 2008, and it’s still a solid choice. Plusses in its column are rugged construction, two strobes for better visibility (and it floats stobes-up), and the simplest activation of all the PLBs. To turn it on, you release a lever on the back and swing it 180 degrees. This deploys the antenna and turns it on in one motion.

The MT410G also has an audible alarm, but we’re not sure whether this is a plus or would just drive us nuts while waiting for help.


While the MT410G used to be one of the lightest PLBs, it’s now one of the biggest and heaviest. This is relative, of course, as it’s about the size of two iPhones strapped together and weighs less than nine ounces. The price is a bit heavy as well: $400 for the MT410G and $350 for the MT410, which is the same unit but without the built-in GPS.

Unit and battery testing is done using a plastic pin that is attached to the unit’s lanyard. You can test the basic unit, or the GPS as well. The battery lasts seven-years, the longest of any PLB here, but must be replaced by a service center.

Kannad is also a well-known name in aviation beacons, but their newest aviation PLBs are actually McMurdo FastFinds. There’s no price or feature advantage that we can see to buying it under one brand name or another.

The Kannad XS-ER is the only Class 1 PLB in our lineup. Class 1 PLBs guarantee 24 hours of operation down to -40 degrees C. All the other PLBs here are Class 2, which only guarantee 24 hours of operation down to -20 degrees C. Most of us non-Alaskans wouldn’t make it 24 hours at -20 anyway.

The better battery does mean the XS-ER guarantees to transmit for 48 hours, whereas most of the PLBs only guarantee 24 hours and in practice don’t go much past 30 hours. This could be an important feature if you’re downed in seriously remote country or where weather might prevent rescue for days. This battery is also user-replaceable.

Kannad’s activation is three steps: Lift the red cover, pop off a second cover that allows the antenna to pop out, and then push the activation button. This can be done one-handed if you use your teeth to pull off that cover in step two.


As you might imagine, the bigger battery life comes at the expense of size, weight and, well, expense. The XS-ER is 10 ounces and almost six inches long. Street prices run just under $500. Kannad also offers the shirt-pocket sized, strobe-equipped XS-4. It and the ACR ResQLink (non-plus) tie for the smallest and lightest PLBs, and cost about the same. The XS-4 has a three-step activation with that internal cover, however. Both units are waterproof, but only the XS-ER floats.

Microwave Mono
Microwave Monolithics makes the other 48-hour PLB we looked at. It’s significantly smaller and lighter than the Kannad’s XS-ER and has been shown to transmit in the field for as long as five days.

 That said, it’s weaker in features in not having an internal GPS, strobe or buoyancy. You can connect an external GPS with the right cables, but we don’t relish the thought of trying to find the cable and get it working in a survival situation.

Activation starts with removal of a cover that frees the antenna. We actually couldn’t do this one-handed, but banging the thing on a rock would probably break the cover and free the antenna. Turning it on requires pulling a pin hand-grenade style. Teeth work well for that.


It also costs $758. Maybe that’s why it’s a favorite of the military, but we think there are better options.

Messaging Via PLB
PLB test signals are normally ignored by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. But ACR runs a website called where you can pay $40/year to get an email or text message that your PLB was received by the satellite. If that level of confidence is important to you, check the website to see if your PLB is on the compliant list. All the units reviewed here are.

For $60/year, you can customize the message and recipient list to turn your PLB into a one-message global text service. We don’t think this is worth it for two reasons. One is that better tracker/messenger options are out there (see December 2010 Aviation Consumer for Spot and Spidertracks, and coming coverage of DeLorme InReach). The other is that it drains the PLB battery, potentially requiring early replacement.

Best Bets
Our top pick in this lineup is ACR’s ResQLink +; it floats, it flashes, it’s got GPS, it’s one of the smallest and it’s less than $300. If you want the smallest and lightest, the non-floating ResQLink and Kannad’s XS-4 are equal picks.



For travel into the hinterlands, we’d consider Kannad’s XS-ER because of the extended battery life—doubly so if terrain was both remote and frigid. Our impression is that the AccuSat would also last well beyond the guaranteed 24 hours—and it’s about $100 cheaper than the XS-ER—but it’s not certified as Class 1.

It really pays to shop around. For example, the AccuSat MT410G MSRP is $450. We saw prices online ranging from $380-$790. Our chart shows the typical prices we saw in our research, as these were universally lower than MSRPs.

Whatever you choose, we think it’s money well spent even in a plane with a 406 ELT. Just remember to register your device after you get it so the rescue teams know whose name to call out.

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