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PLB's vs SPOT/SEND devices

Hey Team,

Due to recent events I have questioned the emergency reliability of the SPOT devices and after communicating with the Rescue Team and reading what is available on the internet I have come to the following conclusion.

In an emergency (as in I need a helicopter now) a dedicated PLB is the only way to go.

Please read the review/explanation below and consider your options. Im happy to discuss further if you wish.

Link to the review - http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Personal-Locator-Beacon-Reviews/buying-advice
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PLB’s (personal locator beacons) vs SPOT/SEND (satellite messenger) type devices

1. COSPAS/SARSAT, non-profit network which supports PLBs like the ACR ResQLink and McMurdo F220 Mini.

This satellite constellation is the largest and most complete, and is essentially military. It has provided the satellite support used for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs), which are designed exclusively for marine use, for more than 30 years. Over 33,000 people worldwide have been rescued as a result of this network since the program’s inception. COSPAS/SARSAT now also supports PLBs, which are essentially EPIRBs for land-lubbers. It is very important to understand that a PLB is not a SPOT! This network covers the entire planet.

2. Globalstar, a for-profit communications network that supports the SPOT devices:
The Globalstar corporation launched 52 satellites by 2000 to support a satellite phone communication network. It currently does not cover polar regions or sub-Saharan Africa (map: http://www.globalstar.com/en/index.php?cid=101&sidenav=85);
A series of problems with satellites from its first constellation launch was supposedly addressed in 2011 and 2012 with the launch of several additional satellites, but the total efficacy of their current network is still widely questioned.

3. Iridium, a for-profit communications network that supports the DeLorme InReach:
The Iridium network contains approximately 77 satellites that cover the entire planet, including polar regions. Its track record over the past 5-6 years has been less blemished than that of Globalstar’s, but whether it still outperforms Globalstar is a matter of debate (For the record, the Iridium-supported device worked more often than the Globalstar-supported devices).

Now that we have a basic understanding of the satellites, let’s talk devices:
PLBs

A PLB does not require a paid annual subscription to send an SOS message. It transmits an SOS message with GPS coordinates via satellite, and in addition to that, emits a homing signal on the 121.5 MHz emergency frequency, at a power level 5 to 10 times higher than a SEND (SPOT or InReach) device. Furthermore, the PLB is much more likely than a SEND device to acquire the satellites necessary for a GPS coordinate lock.

A PLB emitting a distress signal in these two manners absolutely represents your best chance of being located and at this most basic level is a better device than anything operating on Globalstar or Iridium. That is to say, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty and you press that SOS button, a transmitting PLB is far more likely to get you rescued than a SEND device. Don’t forget this.

SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification Devices) (SPOT & DeLorme)
These devices require a paid annual or monthly subscription and transmit on a higher frequency (1610 MHz) to a commercial Rescue Coordination Center operated by Globalstar or Iridium. If you don’t pay, you don’t get rescued (It’s interesting to note that even when you don’t pay your mobile phone bill, you can still dial 111).

If all I cared about was getting rescued when I pressed the SOS button, I would not have written this review because choosing a PLB instead of a SPOT would be a no-brainer, and I would be encouraging all of my friends to ditch their SPOTs and get a real PLB device. But it’s more complex than that, and the additional features available with the SPOT and DeLorme devices reviewed here make them worth considering.

SEND devices transmit your GPS coordinate location only, and not all of the time. The SPOT 2 transmits its signal at one-tenth of the strength of the ResQLink, and there have been many documented cases of the SPOT 2 not transmitting an SOS successfully, and / or transmitting an SOS message without a GPS lock, which tells authorities and your contacts that you’re in trouble, but not where you are. SEND devices do not emit the additional homing signal on 121.5 MHz. Also, the 5 watt 406 MHz PLB signal emitted by a PLB can be used by rescuers to establish an approximate location, whereas the SEND device’s less powerful signal cannot be used in that way. If your SEND device can’t get your GPS coordinates out due to line-of-sight obstructions, you’ll wish that you’d bought a PLB instead.

In summary, in pure SOS terms, a PLB such as the ACR ResQLink or McMurdo F220 Mini is a far superior choice. The SEND devices offer some very interesting and useful additional features, however.