Personal Locator Beacons

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Personal Locator Beacons

Postby neverwashasbeen » Tue Mar 19, 2013 6:38 am

I know there has been a lot of discussion on this topic in the past, but I thought some of you may find these recent reviews as interesting as I have. ... ing-advice ... cs-Reviews
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Postby Myth » Tue Mar 19, 2013 8:36 am

Those are really useful reviews! Thanks for finding & posting them.

I carry that neon yellow ACR in my hip belt pocket when I'm out and about in the backcountry. I dithered about getting a SPOT for about a year before I bought the ACR. In the end I didn't want to spend the money and the subscription for something that was flaky, so that turned me away from the SPOT. The additional functions of the SPOT is attractive, but then again, I go into the backcountry to get away from stuff. I don't want to have to remember to send "I'm OK" messages and then wonder if they went out.

I might get the DeLorme in future. For now I don't do anything exotic enough to require the messaging capability. If I am ever fortunate enough to realize my dream of tackling the PCT and CDT, I might double my PLB weight on the CDT and go for the DeLorme. The PCT has enough cell coverage that I feel a SOS only PLB like the ACR is fine. The messaging on the DeLorme is $$$, so I'd need to be doing something serious enough to warrant that kind of layout!

For now, the ACR is great for what I do, it is super light and it supposedly works best of bunch for SOS. I'll see how I feel once I have to cough up $150 to get the battery replaced ;-)
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Postby wb » Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:50 pm

Very good article - thank you for putting up the link.
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Postby OtherHand » Tue Mar 19, 2013 2:14 pm

The article really didn't "test" the PLBs, because if they had, the helicopters would have shown up. So it was a bit superficial in that respect. And I certainly wouldn't have rated an Iridium based text message device (the InReach) over a PLB. That's just nuts. Unless you want to do text messaging, Twitter updates, and oh, by the way, maybe I'd like to send out an SOS. In that case, fine.

They also didn't mention the McMurdo Fast Find 210, the ACR's competitor. Either the McMurdo or the ACR ResQLink would be an excellent choice and it's hard to say if one's better than the other. I'd rate them both quite a bit above the InReach.

BTW, ACR is having a rebate of sorts, where if you buy a ResQLink you get all sorts of free "Safety gear" (Strobe, headlamp, first aid kit, etc). Might make the difference over getting a McMurdo. Both of these are pretty small and only weigh about 5 ounces. I wouldn't worry about the battery, as it's certified good for 5 years (but should last longer). At that point instead of buying a new battery for an old unit you'll just upgrade to a subcutaneous PLB the size of a stamp.

Here's the rebate info:
ACR Rebate
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Postby Florian » Tue Mar 19, 2013 6:11 pm

I go round and round on this in my head debating to get a PLB. But between cellphone and my ham radio there are few places i could not contact someone. Of course a PLB does have two big points going for it ... 1, it sends my location automatically and 2, i just have to be strong enough to turn it on and it does the rest. Phones and radios require me to be in a condition to know whom to call and describe where i am. However phones and radios, assuming i can talk and make a connection, have the advantage of letting me explain my situation. I suppose all 3, phone/radio/PLB, is the real solution. But so far i've never had to call for help.

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Postby OtherHand » Tue Mar 19, 2013 9:09 pm

You have a very good point. But I would add it depends on where you are doing your hiking and also if you tend to do it solo or with others. If most of your hiking is in the San Jacinto or Palm Springs area, then what a cell phone can't hit a ham radio likely can (if you know how to use it and what repeaters are around).

But if you're doing a multi-day trip into the Sierras or even four wheeling in the middle of Nevada, that's a different dynamic. You're in the sat phone, SPOT or PLB realm then.
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Postby Myth » Wed Mar 20, 2013 7:46 am

OtherHand - good point about the testing. I'd like to think they had arrangements with the various providers so the signals from the specific devices they tested were being ignored, and they later matched up what was received with what they sent, but the article doesn't state that, so they didn't.

And NOW ACR give out free stuff, just a couple months after I bought my ACR.

I often hike with a partner, but I do hike alone way out in the sticks just enough that I think it is worth it to carry a real PLB. Plus, I am trending towards wanting to hike more and more, which is way above my spouse's threshold, so I'll probably be going out alone more and more, too.

I might carry a satellite phone if they weren't so expensive and bricky. But I can't justify stuffing 2+ pounds into a backpack with a 13 pound base weight just so I can jabber away in the backcountry. I'll jabber when I'm back ;)
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A "real PLB" ?

Postby Actively Curious » Wed Mar 20, 2013 6:02 pm

[quote="Myth"][b]OtherHand[/b] -

... I think it is worth it to carry a real PLB.


(UPDATED POST: after reading the linked articles, I now understand what "real" means.

I read you post somewhere else about the SPOT not being a "real" PLB, OtherHand.

Care to expand on that?

I've used SPOT, first generation, for several years now and tested it routinely with its "I'm OK" feature. It performed as marketed most of the time. I found the times it did not perform, that is fail to transmit my "OK", was when I attempted to allow it a minimal window of time to perform before I shut it down & left the area. i.e. it seemed to always deliver as promised with at least a 10 minute blast.

And, as the manufacturer says, its use under heavy canopy, in deep canyons, and without a doubt... from the bottom of the mine shaft that you just fell into ... is "iffy." I believe them on this aspect of their marketing.
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Re: A "real PLB" ?

Postby OtherHand » Wed Mar 20, 2013 7:47 pm

Actively Curious wrote:I read you post somewhere else about the SPOT not being a "real" PLB, OtherHand.

Sure....PLBs must meet Federal certifications as to minimum transmit power, battery life and durability. There are all sorts of standards they have to meet. With a SPOT it's whatever the manufacturer feels like doing. As an aside I have opened up my SPOT once and I was a little appalled at the workmanship and quality of the circuit board.

When you press the Help button on a SPOT it goes to a private company, I think in Texas, that then decides what authority to contact, if any. With a PLB the emergency signal goes to an Air Force Rescue facility in Virginia. They then begin to activate standard rescue channels. It's their job and they know what to do.

The satellites listening for PLBs are SARsats, dedicated search and rescue satellites operated by the US and other governments. SPOT uses the Globalstar satellites which are privately run for the purposes of sat phones and the like. And until recently, the Globalstar constellation sucked donkey balls as compared to the Iridium satellites, but SPOT can't use those (the DeLorme InReach does though). Globalstar has got better with more satellite launches, but for a variety of reasons it's not extremely reliable.

A SPOT has a transmit power of 400 milliwatts. A PLB has a transmit power of 5 watts. That's 12.5 times more transmit power. But there's even more to it than that. SPOTs use a frequency of 1.6 GHz, while PLBs use 406 MHz, a much lower frequency. This lower frequency penetrates things (like forest canopy) MUCH better than 1.6 GHz. This lower frequency has about 4 times the penetrating power of the SPOT frequency. Combine this with the much larger transmit power and you have a device much more likely to hit a satellite in marginal conditions than a SPOT.

PLBs have multiple ways to signal for help. In the event they can't get a GPS fix, they still emit the 406 MHZ signal that the SARsats can locate to within a few kilometers with doppler techniques (takes a couple of orbits though). PLBs also emit a signal on 121.5 MHz which is an international aircraft frequency (as in ELTs) and can be tracked by rescuers. If a SPOT can't get a good GPS fix....well, you're out of luck.

Finally, the PLBs with their SARsat coverage of the globe is essentially 100%. The things will work anywhere on the planet, except maybe at the bottom of a deep mineshaft. SPOTs are limited to the coverage are of the Globalstar satellite constellation, which is only parts of the globe.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing SPOTs (well, I guess I am). I have one myself, but I no longer use it. SPOTs are great for what they are, a way of letting people who want to follow what you are doing know where you are in a non mission-critical way.

The way I usually put it is like this: If you press the button on a SPOT you will probably get help. If you press the button on a PLB you WILL get help.
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Postby RichardK » Wed Mar 20, 2013 8:58 pm

I took Other Hand's advice from the Bill Ewasko thread and bought a ResQLink for our trip to Death Valley last week. PLB's are like health, homeowners and car insurance. You buy them and hope every penny is wasted.
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