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Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby rlown » Sun Nov 03, 2013 1:34 pm

PLB or SPOT.. either way you have to press it.

SPOT with it's known vulnerabilities gives you a last known good position (maybe.) Missed "ok's" are a training exercise with the immediate family.

Solo, that becomes the issue for either choice. PLB more-so, as you still really have to press it. I'd personally like to see a settable deadman's switch that autos on and sends location. if you forget to reset and override, well. At least they know where you are. A red button you hit and goes green and it doesn't go off, while you are actually alive.

We could inject Sat phone here again, but it'll have the same issues.



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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Sun Nov 03, 2013 2:17 pm

rlown wrote:I'd personally like to see a settable deadman's switch that autos on and sends location.

Doubt you will ever get a "dead man switch," but if you choose SPOT as your rescue beacon, you might get the "dead man" part.
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 rlown » Sun Nov 03, 2013 2:21 pm

you miss my point. you have to actually be able to hit the PLB. same with spot. or maybe you're just ignoring and thinking you'll be able to hit it.

i'm guessing here, but no one has hit a PLB for rescue.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby maverick » Sun Nov 03, 2013 3:11 pm

Knew Rlown would interject the "has to be push or activted issue" which is a
totally valid issue and why everyone who carries any of these devices should
understand that there is no such thing as 100% sure thing, and why our HST
2.0 ReConn Form should be used as a back up for any of these devices, this
will at least in the worst case give SAR a better chance of finding ones remains.
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 ondafringe » Sun Nov 03, 2013 4:07 pm

rlown wrote:you miss my point. you have to actually be able to hit the PLB. same with spot. or maybe you're just ignoring and thinking you'll be able to hit it.

i'm guessing here, but no one has hit a PLB for rescue.


My apology. Did not mean to ignore that at all. In fact, I'll do you one better. On my PLB, you have to deploy the antenna first before you can activate the unit. So that's two things that have to be done. However, the design of the ACR Res-Q-Link is such that both can be accomplished with only one hand. Now if you carry the unit in a pouch or pocket, that would add to the activation issue, which is why I carry mine on my left shoulder strap.

Granted, if you are knocked unconscious and/or break both arms and/or are wedged in a way where you are unable to reach the device, you will have a serious activation issue that you may not be able to overcome. But even with the activation issues you are concerned about, and the additional ones I have raised, if you choose to carry a rescue beacon, you should still carry the one that is most reliable and will give you your best chance at the shortest signal-to-rescue time possible. And that, most definitely, is not a SPOT.
Last edited by ondafringe on Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:03 pm

And just because SPOT is notoriously unreliable under any type of canopy doesn't mean SPOT can't be useful for its tracking and messaging capabilities, and even as a backup rescue beacon.

Four or five years ago, the National Forest Service (NFS) evaluated a number of SPOT units to determine whether they might be of use in just that capacity, as an "auxiliary safety device" for their field employees. Although they could not test the "rescue" aspect of the device, they did test the other features with mixed results, generally finding SPOT to be unreliable and that it should not be used in a primary role.

According to the NFS report, in "open areas," the "Help" feature worked 100% of the time, but under "medium tree canopy," it only worked 46% of the time, and under "heavy tree canopy," it only worked 31% of the time. Those numbers are a direct result of SPOT being a low-power, high-frequency device and would give me pause if I were contemplating SPOT as my primary rescue beacon. For some reason, check-in messages fared much better than "Help" messages in their tests, which shows some inconsistency, either with the unit or with the testing.

The NFS also found that orientation of the SPOT device had some impact on the success rate of the device, finding a horizontal orientation much better than a vertical orientation, especially with the tracking feature, due, I'm sure, to the fact the SPOT antenna is under the face plate and works best when facing skyward. But even though the NFS field personnel already carried cell phones, sat phones, and, I believe, PLBs, a few years after their tests, the NFS bought 6,000 SPOT units for their field personnel to be used, I assume, in an auxiliary role as their testing indicated.
Last edited by ondafringe on Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:06 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:12 pm

DaveB wrote: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.


Thanks, i appreciate your comment. And, yes, battery replacement is a negative when it comes to ACR beacons. But even at $150 every five years, that is only $30/year, which is not bad at all. Of course, after emergency use, the batteries have to be replaced, as well.

However, before you decide to buy new, check Comment #6 on This Thread. This individual says he has an ACR ResQFix and was able to replace his own batteries for $10. Maybe it will give you some ideas to try with your MicroFix.

When it comes time to replace the batteries in my Res-Q-Link, I intend to give it a go myself before paying $150.
Last edited by ondafringe on Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby ondafringe » Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:18 pm

maverick wrote:Knew Rlown would interject the "has to be push or activted issue" which is a
totally valid issue and why everyone who carries any of these devices should
understand that there is no such thing as 100% sure thing, and why our HST
2.0 ReConn Form should be used as a back up for any of these devices, this
will at least in the worst case give SAR a better chance of finding ones remains.


Just wanted to say thanks for the new ReConn form. Never really thought about listing gear information to help SAR until I joined this forum. That is an excellent idea I intend to do from now on.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby Buford » Mon Nov 18, 2013 5:52 pm

Another option not mentioned yet is the InReach SE. It has advantages and disadvantages like everything else.

Advantages include 2 way text messaging/email with anyone, tracking, SOS, and it runs on a supposedly more reliable satellite network than the spot devices. It can connect using blue tooth with a smartphone to make messaging easier and for GPS purposes. It lets you know if your last message or tracking point was sent successfully, no hitting the button like on a spot and wondering. If you hit the SOS button you can communicate and let the responders know what the emergency is.

Disadvantages as I see it is that it is still not a PLB, monthly subscription fee, and battery. I think the InReach SOS signal is weaker than a PLB when activated.
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby The hermit » Mon Jul 14, 2014 8:28 pm

I just saw a plb at west marine. I Believe it was the rescue Link+. At about $270 - $50 rebate seems within reach. Still don't know eNough to pick the coRrect model. But ACR seems to be the best.
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Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby Jimr » Mon Jul 14, 2014 9:11 pm

Another option is Fastfind
What?!
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Re: Locator Beacon: PLB or SPOT?

Postby Hobbes » Tue Jul 15, 2014 7:50 am

I ended up getting the DeLorme InReach SE. There was a good discussion over at the WZ, with a few SAR guys adding their comments & observations.

The two factors that made me decide in its favor were both the two-way communication feature - which means you can confirm a message was sent, and/or someone else can initiate/confirm contact with you, and tracking ie bread crumbs.

Actually, as some have noted, while a PLB has to be activated, tracking is automatic (assuming you turn it on at the beginning of your hike). Considering some of the incidents that have occurred over the last few years, tracking would have helped narrow searches and perhaps saved lives.

I know in my solo outings that the most likely scenario would be a slip/fall that would render me unable to initiate action. My wife would be able to see that I wasn't moving (or responding to her inquiries), and would then be able to provide GPS information to where the last transmission was made. That sold it for her - and me.
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