If you have never heard of the McMurdo Fast Find Ranger PLB, then let me give you a little insight. It is a small, handheld, fast finding personal location beacon unit designed to pinpoint your exact location through the worldwide 406MHz frequency SARSAT (Search and rescue satellite system) whether you are on land or at sea. It needs to be immediately registered once purchased with a unique identification number and if an accident/emergency was to occur you would activate with a simple press of a button and within minutes the rescue services would be notified of your GPS location. Emergency services are then able to use the rangers 121.5MHz transmission to zone in and find you!

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Over the last month on every trek, scramble, climb, and outdoor activity I have participated in I have had the Fast Find Ranger PLB  in my backpack, from being in the majestic Welsh Mountains in Snowdonia to the wild, high peaks in Scotland. Luckily, I didn’t have to use the device for a real emergency but the extra reassurance of having a lifesaving gadget on me felt very good indeed.

After completing the self test of the PLB at home, verifying all the key functions such as battery life and transmitter operation worked correctly, I decided to complete the GPS signal acquisition test for the first time within a remote part of Snowdonia where there is no phone signal at all. This became clear to me whilst I was climbing in a gully. “What better location to complete the GPS signal test,” I thought. The weather was quite extreme with gale force winds and temperatures well below freezing.

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I held down the ‘TEST’ button for 30 seconds, ensuring the area highlighted as the ‘GPS zone’ was not obstructed by anything and it had a clear view of the sky. The unit started to slowly flash, while searching for a GPS signal. It took approximately 3-4 minutes before a series of long flashes indicated the GPS signal had been found.

After completing this test three times in different locations, I can confirm the acquisition of GPS signals was found successfully each time with no fails.

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Pros

  • A built in SOS flashlight feature which assists with a night time rescue
  • The device floats within the optional yellow floatation pouch – great for water activities
  • The unit is waterproof down to 30ft (10m)
  • Worldwide usage and satellite coverage
  • No subscriptions fees or annual extra costs
  • 6 year battery life
  • Can be easily be worn on yourself with the included lanyard – great if kayaking or sailing
  • A small, light, rugged looking, compact unit
  • Bright yellow in colour, hopefully standing out and being easy to find in a hurry in your bag

Cons

  • There is no function to be sent a small, short confirmation text message of how long a rescue is going to take or even that it has been initiated. You only get confirmed GPS signal by a flashing light. In an emergency panic can set in quick and a I think maybe a small message of communication could be very crucial if your boat is sinking or your stuck on an exposed cliff face
  • Although the device has a six year battery life (a pro), once this battery life has expired it is non replaceable by the user and has to be sent away to be replaced. This would incur additional parts and labor costs
  • I feel the initial cost of the device is slightly high for the UK market, but this is a one off cost
  • The unit is advertised as ‘waterproof’ and states down to 30ft (10m). Although waterproof at this depth, it’s only valid for five minutes which I discovered in the smaller print. So if you where to drop it out of your boat you would have to be extremely quick to retrieve it and for it to be still working. If you were to have a quick fall in to the water on the other hand it’d still be OK. I believe the information ‘to 30ft (10m)’ shouldn’t be provided as can be slightly misleading

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Personally, I believe the McMurdo Fast Find Ranger PLB should be an essential part of any outdoor enthusiasts kit. Whether your a mountaineer, sailor, skier, pilot or kayaker it should be carried on you at all times or in the bottom of your bag dependent on the activity. I would like to highlight that this device is especially useful in remote areas where your emergency call function on your mobile phone wouldn’t work and you have no other option to contact help.

It’s a simple to use, practical device, although it does worry me that you get no confirmed message that someone has actually located you until they appear. You clearly need to have trust in this gadget!

Though I believe the cost is slightly high, if that emergency/accident was to occur where you need the rescue services immediate attention, this small piece of safety equipment could become priceless and save your life by cutting out the search time element of the rescue and allowing teams to focus on the rescue itself straight away.

Tech Specs

Manufacturer: – McMurdo Ltd – Orolia group company

Manufacturers website: – www.fastfindplb.com

Model Tested: – Fast Find Ranger PLB

RRP: – $299  (£229.00 inc VAT)

Warranty: – 2 year

Weight: – 164g (5.8oz)

Sealing Depth: – Immersion to 10m for 5 minutes

Operating Temperature: – -20 to +55°c

Altitude: – 12,192m (40,000ft)

Battery Type: – Lithium Manganese

Battery Replacement: – Service centre

Frequency: – 406.037MHz (alert) / 121.5MHz (homer)

GPS Type: – 50 channel, ceramic patch antenna

Size (D x W x L): – 36 x 50 x 112mm

Indicator Light: – High brightness LED signal light

SOS Flash Light: – Morse code SOS flash pattern, 30 operations

Activation: – Manual, three stage

Self Test: – Tests transmitters, battery and light

Standard Compass Safe Distance: – 1m (3ft)

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