[ View menu ]

Sneak Peek – ACR ResQLink PLB – Smallest PLB Yet

UPDATE: July 21, 2011: FCC approval granted, now available for purchase.

(3D CAD images provided by ACR – click for higher resolution images – the images are an accurate representation of the new PLB I examined.)

ACR ResQLink in HandIt’s been a long time coming, but I just got a firsthand look at ACR Electronics’ answer to the popular McMurdo FastFind 210 PLB. The new ACR ResQLink 406 MHz PLB (model PLB-375) is ever so slightly smaller and lighter than the McMurdo at 3.9″ (99mm) x 1.9″ (48.3mm) x 1.3″(33mm) and 4.6 oz (130 g). That compares to the FastFind’s 4.17” (106mm) x 1.85” (47mm) x 1.34” (34mm) and 5.3 oz. Enough for them to lay claim to the “world’s smallest and lightest” PLB title.

The price is not yet finalized, but expect it to be competitive with the McMurdo’s $250 street price.

This First Look is based on ACR provided information and my short opportunity to get some hands-on experience with a pre-production unit. It appears to offer some clear advantages compared to the FastFind, beyond the small difference in size and weight. What ACR have done, essentially, is to put their SARLink PLB on a severe diet, while keeping its desirable features.

As with all previous ACR PLBs, the ResQLink has a flexible blade antenna wrapped around the case that is very easy to deploy one-handed. Just slip the tip from the retaining clip and rotate it up into position. It has detents at both the perpendicular and horizontal points for flexibilitywhile in a pocket or some such arrangement. Its design configuration is to be set down on its back with the GPS antenna oriented to the sky and the antenna perpendicular to the body of the PLB. I like that ACR have added a retainer on the side of the PLB opposite the antenna pivot that the antenna slips into, addressing one of the minor annoyances of prior models of ACR PLBs, the antenna sliding away from the body while stowed. This one is much more secure when in the stowed position.

ACR ResQLink ButtonsThe activation and test buttons are covered by the plastic encased base of the antenna when stowed. Rotating the antenna away from the stowed position gives access to the two buttons on the side of the device. That’s very neatly solves the need for two separate physical actions required by the regulations and keeps the buttons safely protected from inadvertent activation when stored.

The ResQLink uses a 66-channel GPS for very quick acquisition of location, like its previous generation brethren that had very quick time to first fix, and has a full GPS self-test, which I prefer. It can also be used with ACR’s 406Link.com subscription-based web site for through system testing and limited messaging with GPS location. Two days of free testing are included so that the new owner can assure themselves that the PLB is working by testing it up to the COSPAS-SARSAT geostationary satellites and back down to an earth station.

ACR claims that the ResQLink will always exceed 5 watts output, which they claim to be better than the McMurdo’s measured nominal 4.6 watts. They are claiming typical battery life of 30-40 hours at -4 degrees F (-20 C), considerably more than the minimum 24 hours requirement.

ACR ResQLink in HandThere’s a flashing white LED “strobe” that automatically activates when the PLB is turned on that is visible through the clear plastic front of the body. Results of test mode operation are enunciated via this LED as well. A good size lanyard attachment point is provided, along with a lanyard to secure the PLB to you.

it is not inherently buoyant, so a float pouch will be an available option. ACR rate it as waterproof to 33 feet (10m) for 10 minutes.

ACR plans to keep the exiting AquaLink models in production as they feel there is a market for an inherently buoyant PLB, even if it is larger, plus they will keep the digital display “View” versions of the existing models around since they feel the display provides a compelling feature set for some purchasers.

From my point of view, I prefer the smaller, lighter new ResQLink for all uses. As I always say, “if it isn’t with you, it can’t save you™” and you are much more likely to carry the small ResQLink than a larger PLB. For marine uses or where you might end up in the water inadvertently (aircraft ditching, for example), as long as the PLB is connected to you by a lanyard, which you need to do regardless of whether or not it is buoyant, you are good to go.

The new ResQLink is small enough to easily fit into a pocket or can be carried in an appropriate-sized cell phone holster on your belt.

I found the ergonomics of the ResQLink to be very good. It is easy to grip securely, there’s enough exterior elements on the case to assist in that, and very easy to operate one-handed. Both are definite advantages over the McMurdo FastFind.

Notwithstanding some non-obvious issue, which given ACR’s reputation and past experience I don’t expect, the new ResQLink incorporates enough notable advantages over the McMurdo FastFind that it appears to be the next must-have PLB. Expect availability of the new ResQLink in the first quarter of 2011.

We will have a full report and images of the real PLB, along with side-by-side images with the McMurdo FastFind 210, as soon as we can get our hands on one for more than a few minutes.

UPDATE: July 21, 2011: FCC approval granted, now available for purchase.