Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Learning more about the new Return Link distress beacons.  

Orolia Maritime (better known as McMurdo or Kannad Marine) is now able to supply its long-awaited upgrade of their highly successful and widely adopted Kannad Solo and FastFind 220 PLBs, with a new FastFind Return Link PLB, the world’s first to include RLS technology. Here we discuss how RLS works and why it is important to upgrade to benefit from this new generation of safety technology.


How does Return Link Service (RLS) work?

The FastFind Return Link PLB’s RLS signal will be confirmed by the activation of a blue light on their new range of beacons. The signal activating the flashing blue light is sent around 10- 15 minutes after confirmation that the distress signal has been detected and the beacon’s location has been known. The use of a light confirmation ensures the fisherman is aware of the RLS confirmation, even in low light or harsh water conditions and does not require any action from the user – such as removing from its pouch or lifejacket to review which could endanger the user.




What is the benefit of RLS in rescue beacons?

The FastFind Return Link PLB, utilises the Return Link Service to send a signal back to the beacon confirming the PLB users 406MHz ‘distress’ alert has been received and their location coordinates are captured.  Knowing that others are aware of your situation can greatly improve your mental strength for the challenges you are facing. Return Links reassurance signal will also reduce the chances of rash decisions taken by those who feel they have nothing to lose, like leaving the life raft or attempting to swim to safety. Knowing that SAR professionals know your situation and location will be an invaluable support and makes the beacon a two-way communication tool for the first time.



How Does the PLB differ from one I may already have onboard?

For fishing crews one of the major benefits is the familiarity of the technology, with its look and feel remaining largely unchanged from the McMurdo 220 and Kannad Solo PLBs. The unit has the same 3 step activation to prevent false alerts and the same basic shape and weight.

What has changed is how it interacts with the user. After activation the traditional PLB displayed a range of flashing lights to confirm dispatch of the 406 MHz signal and confirmation of GPS lock, this now has the addition of a blue flashing light which activates when a confirmation signal is send back to the PLB, confirming the call for help has been heard and location is known. It is this two-way interaction of the beacon which reassure PLB users, both that it has activated successfully, and the search and rescue community are aware of their situation, hence the FastFind’s marketing line to ‘Look for the blue’.

The overall effectiveness of the new PLBs, working with the new search and rescue satellites (see Meosar below) has greatly accelerated distress detection and location confirmation times. In 2015 detection was on average 90 minutes, but latest independent testing (Operation Sharkbait) has confirmed location in less than 10 minutes.



If I have an existing beacon with Galileo GNSS will it now have access to RLS?

The components required to provide RLS are not backward compatible and will require an RLS enabled beacon, such as the new FastFind ReturnLink, to be accessible. The existing Orolia Maritime range of EPIRBs and PLBs with Galileo still offer incredible accelerated detection capacities but do not have the reassurance signal.


What is Galileo?

Galileo is the European Union’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS – often known by the US brand name GPS), allowing technology with a Galileo-enabled receiver to use signals provided by Galileo’s for positioning. Galileo’s development is part of the EU’s upgrading the international search and rescue coordinating organisation COSPAS SARSAT’s under the MEOSAR program, which requires new earth-based antenna and a network of 72 satellites, made up of the US GPS, EU Galileo and Russian Glonass satellites.


What is MEOSAR?

MEOSAR is the next generation of the Cospas-Sarsat international search and rescue satellite system that has helped to save over 43,000 lives since 1982. MEOSAR will increase the speed and accuracy of distress beacon signal detection and location with new MEOSAR ground antennae and additional MEOSAR satellites. A MEOSAR-compatible beacon can be located with an accuracy of location within 100 meters (328 feet), 95 percent of the time – and within five minutes of distress signal activation, all without reliance on GNSS.


What Impact will Galileo have on search and rescue?

Galileo’s immediate impact on Search and rescue (SAR) has been the addition of 26 new satellites, allowing greater global coverage, with faster detection of the 406MHz distress frequency used by distress beacons in EPIRBS and PLBs. Coupled with Galileo’s precision GNSS capabilities, distress beacons with Galileo receivers greatly accelerates location detection.

The Second major impact is the Return Link Service (RLS), a re-assurance signal back to a beacon to inform the user that their distress signal and location have been detected. This new capability is unique to the Galileo satellites and was activated and declared operational in January 2020 by the European Commission and the world’s first RLS enabled PLB, the FastFind Return Link will be on the shelves in March 2021.

For more about Orolia and its range of maritime solutions, please visit www.oroliamaritime.com or email maritime.sales@orolia.com