A weather event, a freak accident or even a criminal attack can turn a pleasurable adventure into a life-threatening nightmare. Outside the safety of more populated areas, calling 911 is simply not an option. When danger strikes when you’re away from civilization, having distress survival beacons can mean the difference between a bad day and your last one.

Many who spend time in the outdoors consider distress radio beacons mandatory safety devices. Whether on a long wilderness hike or fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, be- ing able to summon assistance in a crisis is critical to survival.

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When activated, a distress radio beacon transmits a signal that can be detected by satellites. The signal information is then relayed to a center that coordinates a search-and-rescue response. Depending on the technology used in the beacon, the positioning of satellites and the location of the emergency, it could take several minutes to a couple of hours for a satellite to receive the distress signal and forward it to an emergency search-and-rescue center that can respond.

Some beacons only provide an automated emergency signal, while others incorporate other functions that enhance the user’s general capabilities in the outdoors. When buying a distress beacon, carefully consider your needs and find the unit that will best serve you. Here are four of the best rescue devices currently on the market to consider.

ACR Resqlink
ACR Electronics makes a number of waterproof personal locator beacon (PLB) devices that are great for anyone spending time on the water, as well as hunters, hikers and campers. The ResQLink PLB is light- weight— only 4.6 ounces— and smaller than most smartphones. A built-in strobe light will also help rescuers find you during a night-time search. Similarly, the ResQLink+ PLB is a solid choice for anyone who spends a lot of time on the water, as the unit is buoyant in addition to being completely waterproof. (acrartex.com; 800-432-0227)

Briartek Cerberus
Most rescue beacons only offer a way to send out a distress signal, but the BriarTek Cerberus system adds the ability of two-way text messaging through a connected smartphone. In a non-emergency, this is a convenience. In an emergency, however, you can give rescuers detailed information about your situation and location. Additionally, the system can alert you to any dangerous weather conditions, geopolitical events or other hazards that may appear in your area. The Cerberus system also tracks you via GPS, allowing you, family members and rescuers to see exactly where you are and where you’ve been. (cerberus.briartek.com; 703-548-7892)

Mcmurdo Fastfind 220
A handheld unit, the McMurdo FastFind 220 is a lightweight, water-proof rescue beacon that can be used in the air, on land or at sea. An antenna is securely stored to prevent damage when handled, but deploys quickly when activated. The FastFind 220 comes with a buoyancy pouch that will keep the device afloat. A bright LED emits an SOS signal that can also help rescuers locate you in dark or low-light conditions. (mcmurdomarine.com)

Spot Gen3
The SPOT Gen3 adds custom messaging and GPS tracking features to the unit’s fundamental ability to call for assistance in an emergency. In conjunction with Google Maps, the SPOT Gen3 will regularly update your location so that family members or rescue workers can track your progress. Rescue assistance can be summoned through the use of an easily accessible button; a second button can be used to summon non-emergency assistance. The company even offers very affordable search-and-rescue insurance. Weighing only 4 ounces, the device runs off of four AAA batteries. (findmespot.com; 866-651-7768)

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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