Personal Locator Beacon review: We take a hands on look at the McMurdo FastFind Return Link launched in late 2020 and the ACR ResQLink View RLS, launched at METS in late 2021.
Fox Morgan takes you through the two best PLBs currently available on the market.
Personal Locator Beacons with Return Link Service
Fortunately, not many people have actually used PLBs in anger – at least not in my local yacht club anyway – so it’s hard to find out which model is the right choice, which one is the best? Which one suits your individual type of boating or adventurous activity?
Scrolling through online suppliers, or steaming up the glass cabinet perusing the assortment of PLBs on offer at our local chandlery doesn’t offer many answers. This is where I can help you with my hands on review of the latest beacons on the market. See my video demonstration too, showing how to activate and deploy one of these fitted to a lifejacket.
McMurdo was the first company to adopt the much awaited and frustratingly delayed Return Link Service (RLS) system, integrating it in to their FastFind PLB. The next to arrive, roughly a year later, was the ACR’s ResQLink at the 2021 METS trade show, winning a design award for manufacturing and engineering (DAME).
These are the only two beacons currently offering the Return Link Service (as of Spring 2022). RLS is a major development which gives anyone who has activated a PLB a reply confirming that their beacon signal has been received and help is on its way (see below).
In this Personal Locator Beacon review I gave these two nifty units a bit of a prod and a poke to see how user-friendly they are and hopefully save some head scratching if you’re in the market for a new personal locator beacon.
Fastfind ReturnLink Personal Locator Beacon with RLS compared with ACR ResQLink View Personal Locator Beacon with RLS
Personal Locator Beacon review : side by side
Front view FastFind
Both unit sizes are comparable.
The FastFind has a rubberised bumper around the bottom and feels reassuringly robust.
Front view ResQLink
The body of the ResQLink is texturised hard plastic. The semi transparent plastic gives the unit a feeling of fragility. It’s probably not fragile, but I don’t want to drop it to test that out.
Rear View FastFind
Lanyard loop is visible at the bottom rear.
Rear View ResQLink
Lanyard strap bridge loop is visible at top and bottom rear.
Side View 1 ResQLink
The black antenna can be seen wrapping around the body of the unit.
Personal Locator Beacon Review : what are they like in hand?
The size of both units in hand is virtually identical.
Antenna deployed FastFind
The FastFind has the antenna neatly coiled away inside the cap. To deploy it you have to lift the red tab and pull the cap off. This breaks a fusible weak plastic link, rendering the cap surplus to requirements and you will need to replace it with a new one. (you get a spare one in the box)
This method allows you to use the neoprene holster. Deploy the aerial and put the device back in the holster for hands free operation, assuming you can get the position right for the antenna to face skyward.
Removal of the cap exposes the ON button to activate the unit for live distress signal transmission.
Antenna deployed ResQLink
The ResQLink unit wraps the antenna around the base of the body, leaving it exposed but easier to deploy. Simply slide the lug out of the body and it will ping into a straight antenna. It can then be rotated on the dual purpose hinge to the position required for a sky view.
The rotation of the antenna mount hinge reveals the red power button to activate the unit for live distress signal transmission.
Test button FastFind
The test button on the FastFind is soft rubber which makes finding the sweet spot a bit fiddly but the flashing acknowledgement is easy to see.
Test button ResQLink
The ResQLink is very easy to test, maybe too easy if it’s stowed in a tight lifejacket case. The test message plus flashing light at the base is also very easy to see.
Self test activated McMurdo Fast Find
Self test activated ACR ResQLInk
Personal Locator Beacon Review : practicalities
Fastfind ReturnLink Personal Locator Beacon with RLS, fusible capThe McMurdo Fusible cap
The McMurdo unit has a snap-off top cap that enables the antenna aerial to be unfurled from the maim body housing. The unit is supplied with a spare top cap to screw on as a replacement.
The FastFind comes with a small neoprene pouch with belt loop.
Personal Locator Beacon review: Summary and verdict
Fastfind ReturnLink Personal Locator Beacon with RLS
Reasons to buy
The FastFind is a reassuringly sturdy unit. It feels like a quality bit of kit in the hand, the rubberised sections make it easy to grip. It comes with a wide array of alternative fitment options to fasten this to your life jacket or onto a belt or harness, plus it comes with a neoprene belt pouch.
Reasons to avoid
A negative point on this unit is the snap off cap. Surely there must be a way to “lever open the hood” so to speak without having to throw the whole cap away? I don’t suppose you’ll care in an emergency, but it’s a small design flaw I’d like to see changed if we are to make improvements to our plastic footprint on this planet.
Fastfind ReturnLink deals
Buy from: Global Telesat Communications
Buy from: Marine Superstore
Buy from: Cactus nav and comm
ACR ResQLink View Personal Locator Beacon with RLS
Reasons to Buy
The ResQLink is a really smart unit with an equally smart antenna stowage and deployment. We really liked the multifunction hinge which enables users to activate the beacon easily and without any damage to the unit or needing any replacement parts. It comes with a whole load of attachment plates and a wide strap to fasten it in a multitude of ways. We really like the message window on this beacon which is next level up from a flashing RLS confirmation light, but in a real distress situation I don’t know how likely you are to be able to actually read the message.
Reasons to avoid
A negative point on this unit is that it does feel a bit slippery and little bit fragile without any rubberised sections and being able to see through the casing is a little disconcerting. I wonder how it would stand up over time to being regularly knocked about when attached to a lifejacket. It would be nice if it came with a little padded pouch.
ACR ResQLink View deals
Buy from: Global Telesat Communications UK
Buy from: Global Telesat Communications ROW
Buy from: Amazon.com
Buy from: West Marine
Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence. Where indicated, items have been tested or inspected independently of manufacturers influence.
Return Link Service via the Galileo satellite system
For the last decade or so, when we found ourselves in grave and imminent danger, we would reach for our personal locator beacon (or any other emergency position indicating radio beacon we might have to hand) and then go through the activation procedure: find some open sky, deploy the antenna, point it skywards, make sure the unit is attached to us by lanyard, press that activation button and then, if we had done it correctly, we’d hear it beep and flash as confirmation that it was actively sending our radio signal into the great beyond.
Then we would wait and hope. We would have to keep our cool, manage our rations, tell a few jokes, reassure those we are with that help is probably on the way, and just hope that it really is.
At the turn of the decade, in 2020 the Galileo satellite system Return Link Service finally became accessible, allowing beacon manufacturers to get their latest devices through the rigorous testing and out to market.
The Return Link Service is essentially a confirmation message or visible and audible signal to acknowledge receipt of your distress signal. The guess work is taken out of it and we now know that rescuers are indeed working out a way to rescue us. Where there’s hope, there’s increased survival odds. So RLS just upped the chances of survival if the worst should ever happen to us, whether off piste in a massive avalanche or offshore and in dire straits.
Further reading on emergency beacons
Best personal locator beacons and AIS units: 7 top options for boating
Pip Hare’s choice of EPIRBs, PLBs and other man overboard aids that could just save your life
How a PLB saved my life when I was knocked overboard
Best EPIRB: 4 emergency beacons for leisure sailors
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