5 Best Personal Locator Beacons for Boating (Reviews Updated 2021)

A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a must-have tool for those that like to have a little thrill in their life of exploring remote, difficult-to-reach areas. Your cell phone network can turn out to be a hit or miss in such situations, so should you land in an emergency situation, you need to have something that can allow you to seek help.

And a PLB device is designed to do exactly that. These devices are not to be mistaken for something like emergency radios, as they tend to serve a very specific purpose of connecting you to the region’s emergency government service directly using the satellite network.

If you’re a boater, you must get a reliable PLB device to get you and your family the required peace of mind. So go ahead and choose one of the 5 best personal locator beacons for boating that we have reviewed below.

Best Personal Locator Beacons for Boating

Here are our boating personal locator beacon reviews.

1. ACR PLB 400

Acr Plb 400

The ACR PLB 400 isn’t the most advanced PLB device out there, but it does a great job without you having to pay for an annual subscription. This makes it one of the most economical ways to keep yourself connected to emergency services while boating.

It allows you to quickly connect to the 406 MHz Emergency Distress Signal when you need it. It comes with LED and infrared strobe.

No subscription doesn’t mean a compromise on your safety coverage in any way, though. This device offers global coverage, which is pretty impressive for something without any kind of subscription. You would need to register with the US government which is free and this device comes with well-written instructions to help you do so.


  • One of the few true PLB devices with no subscription
  • Global coverage
  • Offers peace of mind to boaters with no extra costs
  • Detailed instructions for free registration


  • No bells and whistles like with some of the more expensive options like some Garmin models
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2. ACR PLB-425

Acr Plb 425

If you’re after a more functional and advanced PLB device without having a subscription cost, then the PLB-435 would hit the spot for you. It does everything that the above device does – without charging you a single penny in subscription costs too – but it comes with more features that make it an even better option for adventurous outdoor activities.

The battery life is a solid 5 years, and it comes with global coverage too. The self-test feature is available for the lifetime, and the battery life still turns out to be great even with regular self-tests.

It’s easy to use, compact and very portable with a good build quality.


  • A more advanced PLB device without any subscription cost
  • Solid battery life of 5 years
  • Lifetime self-test feature
  • Portable and easy to use


  • There’s a bit of a problem with some units being dead on arrival, but a self-test is all you need to find out and ACR is quick to replace them
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3. McMurdo FAST FIND 220

Mcmurdo Fast Find 220

This is another one of the cheaper PLB devices on the market, and another one that doesn’t force you to buy a subscription. However, it too does a good job of giving you the peace of mind you need as a boater, offering all the necessary features including a high brightness LED light.

It’s portable and easy to use as well. It requires you to do a GPS verification to make sure it’s working, which is great for your peace of mind and safety.

You need to register it with NOAA, but the registration is quick and easy.


  • One of the cheaper PLB devices on the market
  • No subscription required
  • Portable and easy to use
  • Quick and easy registration with NOAA


  • Comparatively shorter battery life
  • Instructions aren’t perfectly clear, but you would do just fine with some searching around
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4. Garmin in Reach Explorer+

Garmin In Reach Explorer+

If you’re a regular explorer and tend to go into unknown and super remote areas of the sea on a regular basis, chances are something basic won’t cut it for you. And that’s precisely where this Garmin PLB device comes in.

It’s one of the most advanced PLB devices on the market, but also one of the more expensive. In addition to the basic feature that offers you the peace of mind of being able to connect to the emergency service at any time, you have a two way messaging system, ability to send SMS and email to any of your contacts, ability to pair with your mobile or tablet device and more.

It does require a subscription though, but it goes well beyond the basic devices we reviewed above, and it’s totally worth it for advanced explorers that want more features.


  • One of the most advanced PLB devices with lots of impressive features
  • Ability to send SMS and emails to any of your contacts
  • Ability to pair the device to your mobile or tablet device
  • It also allows you to share your exact location with family and friends


  • Requires a subscription
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5. Garmin InReach Mini

Garmin Inreach Mini

If you’re looking for something ultra compact and portable while still having impressive overall functionality, you would be hard-pressed to find anything better than the Garmin InReach Mini. It’s super small and lightweight, but rugged and durable. If you’re a Ham, you would easily be able to carry this device with your handheld Ham radio.

It comes with many of the same advanced features as the other more expensive Garmin PLB device we reviewed above, but in a tiny, durable body.

In addition, you can also download accessible maps, NOAA charts and much more, optional weather forecast (only if you buy a weather package) and more.


  • Super compact and portable
  • Comes with a lot of advanced features like the bigger and more expensive Garmin models
  • Ability to download useful data like maps and charts from NOAA
  • Optional weather forecasts


  • Relatively poor battery life
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Boating Personal Locator Beacon Buyer’s Guide

While the application and functionality of a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) don’t differ much no matter the purpose you buy it for, boaters may want to look for some specific features. This is particularly if you’re an adventurous boater and tend to go into deeper areas of the sea that may call for a bit more in terms of functionality than what the basic models offer.

Please do note that PLB devices are not supposed to offer any features of something like a marine VHF radio.

Basic Models

For boaters that just want to have access to some help should they encounter an unfortunate situation, a basic model may be more than enough for them as easily offer the peace of mind they would need. Basic PLB devices like the two ACR PLBs we reviewed at the top are not only cheaper, but also don’t require any subscription which basically mean that they are free to use forever.

Advanced PLB Devices

It’s not the same with advanced PLB models like the Garmin ones we discussed, though. They are not only more expensive, but also require a subscription, and even an additional package if you want some more advanced features like weather forecasts. For something like that we would just recommend you to carry a weather radios though and save on some costs.

But as we said, if you’re an adventurous boater you may need the advanced features like the ability to communicate with your family and friends even in areas of the sea where your cell phone network would be long gone. Similarly, being able to send your exact location to your family can be a great peace of mind to have for your family as well, while also allowing you to find directions easily without relying on your cell phone network which can be highly unreliable in such situations.