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Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

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Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:53 pm

In early 2012, I made the decision to buy a personal locator beacon (PLB). Prior to making that decision, I did a lot of research into the differences between a SPOT and a true PLB, which lead me to choose a PLB. Since buying my unit, I have fielded a lot of questions from other hikers about my decision-making process. This past summer, I finally got around to writing up the results of my research and posting them in an article on my blog.

If any of you are contemplating the purchase of a locator beacon, there are major differences between a SPOT device and a true PLB you should be aware of, not only technical differences but also differences in the rescue-response protocol. So if any of you have a locator beacon on your Christmas list, and you wish to avail yourself of my research, you can read my blog article at the following link, and I hope you find the information useful in your decision-making process, as well.

Why I Bought a PLB (or... Why I Didn't Buy a SPOT)
Last edited by ondafringe on Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby Jimr » Thu Oct 31, 2013 9:12 am

Nice write-up. I came to the same conclusions when researching SPOT vs PLB. I bought the McMurdo Fastfind 220 operating at the same wavelengths and wattage. 6 year battery life.

My wife wanted the SPOT abilities to send o.k. info, but I did not like the annual fees or the fact that if an o.k. signal or two did not reach it's intended target, there becomes undue cause for worry. I chose to have her go with my original planning and not worry unless there is an emergency, period.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:28 am

Thanks, Jim, appreciate your comment. And good to hear that someone else arrived at the same conclusion.

And I hear you about the fees associated with a SPOT device, as well as the undue alarm that would be created if an "OK" message didn't get through. However, IMO, the biggest negatives about SPOT: It is a low power, high-frequency device, which is just the opposite of what you need in the back country, and the escape clause contained within their user agreement. IMO, that escape clause is completely unacceptable.
Last edited by ondafringe on Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby maverick » Thu Oct 31, 2013 12:08 pm

Great write up George. The "My Satellite Network and Rescue Protocol Is More
Sophisticated Than Your Satellite Network and Rescue Protocol" and "I Got No
Power" sections are some of the reasons, after doing my own research, that I
would not trust SPOT. Read an article that Globalstar is just trying to stay afloat
and SPOT was developed for this very purpose till they can relaunch a viable
satellite network, if this is the case, I for one have no intentions of buying any
safety device with Globalstar backing.

PS Welcome to HST!
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby Phil B. » Thu Oct 31, 2013 3:29 pm

Great article and information. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:24 pm

Thanks for your comments, Mav and Phil. And appreciate the "Welcome," Mav.

Hadn't heard that about GlobalStar but don't blame you for being leery of that operation. And agree totally that SPOT should not be used/trusted as a rescue beacon.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby maverick » Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:38 pm

Quote from the article:

Globalstar. Globalstar never ceased operations. After filing for bankruptcy in
2002, the company was re-organized and got under control of an investment
company Thermo Capital Partners LLC. The new Globalstar has been financially
troubled since 2006-07 when most of its first generation satellites experienced
degradation of service due to effects of radiation in space. As a result, Globalstar's
Satellite Phone Service has been hardly available, but the company, although
unprofitable, managed to stay afloat in part due to success of its personal
satellite messenger SPOT. They managed to fund building and launching the
new satellites (the last 6 were launched in February 2013), which will let Globalstar
fully restore their voice and data service by summer or fall 2013. Financial prospects
for Globalstar are still uncertain, since the company will have to spend a lot to
acquire a sufficient customer base.

To summarize, the initial projects failed in part due to high expectations, lack of
specialization, lavish spending and unwillingness of their huge parents to support
the ventures after initial problems. The new companies (especially Iridium) managed
to find their market niche and focus on it, fully exploiting the existing infrastructure
(which they didn't have to build initially).
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Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Thu Oct 31, 2013 6:44 pm

That's interesting, Mav. I read somewhere that SPOT has 250,000 customers, so no wonder it helped them stay afloat while redoing their satellite network.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby Jimr » Fri Nov 01, 2013 12:33 pm

"However, IMO, the biggest negatives about SPOT: It is a low power, high-frequency device, which is just the opposite of what you need in the back country"

Exactly! those were the "same conclusions" I referred to. The undue worry over missed "O.K." signals and annual fees just sealed my decision.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby freestone » Fri Nov 01, 2013 8:22 pm

I used the Gen3 SPOT on my last trip into SEKI in a variety of conditions and locations. All my messages were confirmed as sent, and were received and plotted onto a map for the recipients. No complaints, or regrets.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Sat Nov 02, 2013 11:21 am

It's not that SPOT doesn't work. It's that SPOT is unreliable for numerous reasons already noted.

And SPOT's "unreliability" tends to come when the unit is operated under some type of canopy, such as trees, rain, snow, clouds, etc. The more dense the canopy, the more unreliable SPOT becomes.
Last edited by ondafringe on Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby DaveB » Sun Nov 03, 2013 11:22 am

Very interesting and informative! Thanks for the write-up. I do an awful lot of hiking and skiing by myself (well, with my dog) and my wife and I both like the added safety margin of a PLB. I think you've nailed the key issue with SPOTs - they "work" but there are enough documented reliability questions that I'm not comfortable with it as a critical life-safety device. I have an older ACR MicroFix 300 PLB that is due for battery replacement. Since battery replacement would cost almost 50% of what a new ACR ResQLink would cost, and the new model is half the weight and much smaller dimensionally, I'm leaning towards it.
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