UPDATE: The fine people at Datrex sent me a Rescue PLB1 to try for myself.   I loved it.  It handled well – even in some pretty chilly water.  Full report up soon; but in this case, I consider smaller – very, very good.

Ocean Signal and Datrex recently introduced the world’s smallest Personal Locator Beacon, the rescueME PLB1.  Almost immediately, reviews of the product have been positive.  How could smaller not be better? The miniaturization of electronics has made lots of safety equipment easier to carry and use.  However, this particular product is making me think about the diminishing returns of “small.”

A press release from the company says this about the design, “the rescueME PLB1 has been carefully developed to fit onto any lifejacket and is easily activated by one hand in even the most challenging conditions.”

Friends – I’ve been out there in “the most challenging conditions” and I’m telling you – first hand – the word “easily” has no place being associated with any task; particularly removing a tiny box from a pocket, or reaching across an inflated life jacket, pulling out an antenna, and pushing a button.  There are any number of circumstances (cold being responsible for many of them) that might make using something this small all but impossible (or at least unreasonably frustrating.)

When considering whether smaller is better – think of the environment first.  If I was a hiker and it was summer I would think small would be beneficial. Space is at a premium in backpacks and lighter is always a good thing.   But, out to sea in the kind of conditions that have you overboard with nothing but your life jacket and it’s contents to rely on, ease of use (in that particular environment) is most important.  The rescueME is 30% smaller – but until they make these things small enough to be integral to the life jacket and water activated, I’m reasonably certain that handheld PLBs have gotten as small as I am comfortable with.

First of all, handheld PLBs need to fit in your (…wait for it..) hand.  For that matter, they need to fit in your cold and shaking hand. And even if they are mounted on your life jacket in a handy-dandy mounting bracket – you are really not going to perform a “single-handed activation” as the manufacturer suggests. Note in the video below that the single-handed activation is done with the device sitting firmly on a table. Unless you are planning to go overboard with the chart table, you’re going to end up using two-hands.

Another reason I liked the current “smallest” PLBs  (thank you ACR) is that they weren’t so small that I couldn’t add a swatch of Velcro to the back for quick mounting to the upper-shoulder of the life jacket. I don’t like using the mounting brackets these devices come with because permanently mounting something on your shoulder makes it very hard to see when you are in the water – and I want to see things work (verify that they are on.) Also, I am reasonable sure that I will need both hands to turn on electronic devices when I am in the water. I feel that way because for 15 years it was part of my job to get into the water and turn electronic devices on; EPIRBS, strobes, and radios are two-handed devices. trustME.

So 30% smaller? You are scaring me a little. I’ll wait until I get my hands on one and try it out (in the water – not on the chart table, thanks) – but for now I am going to pass on calling it “better.”

UPDATE: See above.



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