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What’s the best personal locator beacon? FastFind ReturnLink vs ResQLink View RLS

What’s the best personal locator beacon (PLB) for you? 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.

best personal locator beacon RLS

How do you choose the best personal locator beacon? Fortunately, not many people that have actually used them in anger – at least not in my local yacht club anyway – so it’s hard to find out which model is right for you. Scrolling through an online supplier, or steaming up the glass cabinet perusing the assortment of PLBs on offer at our local chandlery doesn’t offer many answers.

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).

We 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.

Personal Locator Beacons with Return Link Service

Fastfind ReturnLink Personal Locator Beacon with RLS

x x

ACR ResQLink View Personal Locator Beacon with RLS

x FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon front x
x Front view FastFind

Both unit sizes are comparable.
The FastFind has a rubberised bumper around the bottom and feels reassuringly robust.

x x 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.

x
x FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon side view x
x Side View 1 FastFind x x Side View 1 ResQLink

The black antenna can be seen wrapping around the body of the unit.

x
x  FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon back view x x  ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon back view x
x Rear View FastFind

Lanyard loop is visible at the bottom rear.

x x  Rear View ResQLink

Lanyard strap bridge loop is visible at top and bottom rear.

x
x FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon side view x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon side view x
x Side View 2 FastFind x x  Side View 2 ResQLink x
Mcmurdo fastfind plb return link service in hand best personal locator beacon x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB best personal locator beacon in hand
x Size of unit in hand x x Size of unit in hand x
x

FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon antenna deployed

x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon antenna deployed x
x Antenna deployed

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.

x x Antenna deployed

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.

x
x FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon top cap removed x x x
x Fusible top cap with plastic ring remaining behind screw x x x
FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon test button detail x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon test button detail
x Test button

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.

x x Test button

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.

x
x FastFind ReturnLink PLB personal locator beacon selt test light x x ACR ResQLink view RLS PLB personal locator beacon self test message x
x Self test activated x x Self test activated x
x x x
x Neoprene pouch x x x

Summary

Fastfind ReturnLink Personal Locator Beacon with RLS

The Good Bits
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.
The Not So Good Bits
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.

Rating: 4.5 /5

Price: £353

Buy from: Global Telesat Communications

Buy from: Marine Superstore

Buy from: Cactus nav and comm

ACR ResQLink View Personal Locator Beacon with RLS

The Good Bits
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.
The Not So Good Bits
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. We worried about 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.

4.5 /5

Price: £365

Buy from: Global Telesat Communications UK

Buy from: Global Telesat Communications ROW

Buy from: Amazon.com

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

emergency beacon signal graphic

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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