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Personal Locator Beacon

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby BrianF » Fri Nov 02, 2012 7:12 pm

WD, I like the idea of being able to rent from the FS or NPS: pick it up when you get your permit.
I go on a number of trips a year that I carry mine so the cost doesn't seem too bad for the Spot subscription. I only pay the basic fee of $100; no tracking or custom emails.
I have not found that having it and using it to send the OK takes away from my wilderness experience, though I have to say that a Sat phone would detract. When I send a signal I have a couple of minutes of thought about loved ones at home, but heck that happens anyway. It is along the lines of showing pics when you get back - it's just a "Here I am" thing. My wilderness experience has never been about me against the wilderness so I am happy for a little added safety. After all, it won't save you from a mishap - thats still up to you- it just helps you get through the aftermath
The direction you are moving in is what matters, not the place you happen to be -Colin Fletcher



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Personal Locator Beacon

Postby ironmike » Fri Nov 02, 2012 7:28 pm

There is precedence for the rental model. On Denali, climbing parties are given radios (not sure of the frequency) to maintain contact with the park rangers. It's included with the climbing fee. Seems like a worthwhile option to offer backpackers/hikers/climbers in SEKI/JMW/InyoNF/etc access to PLB's as an add-on fee with their permit. Maybe this would be a worthwhile comment/suggestion to the draft SEKI WMP currently up for public review/comment...
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby LMBSGV » Fri Nov 02, 2012 8:02 pm

I've been a SPOT user since they came out - my wife said "you need to have one if you're going solo." I've posted enough on this subject so I won't repeat myself.

The idea of being able to rent a SPOT or PLB sounds great. However, with the SPOT at least, I suspect there would be problems. First, I'm sure there would be a lot of people who would have trouble using one. They work fine if you follow the instructions. But the number of people I've run across in the backcountry of the years who are incapable of following even the most simple instructions is staggering. I've run across people who have trouble coping with something as simple as a Garcia bear canister.

Then there's who would be the email contacts? I won't bother to elucidate further on this. I think most of you understand the potential problems.

Then there are all those who push the panic button. One of the reasons rangers have mixed or negative feelings about a SPOT is the number of false alarms.

I think the problem of false alarms would be the same with a PLB.

However, the idea of a third party doing rentals or a few people who live nearby enough to each other who pool the cost might work. I've loaned my SPOT to friends a couple of times. They give me the email contacts and I change my profile. When they return, I change the profile back. A few people pooling the cost could do the same thing.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby rlown » Fri Nov 02, 2012 9:14 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
The low-tech old fashioned "personal locators" are screaming neon gear and clothing, a signal mirror, ability to build a smoky fire, a detailed travel itenary that you stick with, and going with a buddy or two, or your dog. Even with a PLB, you need to have some old fashioned backups.

...

So far I have used the "low tech" methods. I ALWAYS take one or two items of really bright clothes or bivy sack, reflector, and leave a very detailed route plan (I identify several options of routes and destinations of which I choose a few to actually do and also identify any alternate bail-out routes). I am now really torn about taking the leap to high tech SPOT or PLB. Now that they are down to the 5oz range in weight, the cost is the only thing holding me back.


I'm not torn at all; I like low tech. If you can't touch the device when you need to, you already have a problem. I'ts nice to send the ok message everyday when you hit camp, but how many miles between your last "ok" and the next? I guess it at least gives a radius. Some here do lots of miles in a day.

It really comes back to basics.. If you're gonna be off your itinerary, you've already thwarted rescue and that's ok if your family is agreeable to that game. Leave an itinerary, and potential areas of interest, both in your car and at home.

What I'd like to see is a PLB or SPOT mode where if you don't hit the button on the device in a specified amount of time, it sends an alert to someone who can vet out the potential problem.. Some marine PLB's have this where when it's soaked in water, there's obviously a problem.

I can see the value of sharing a device in a group, if the person with the device isn't the lost one.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Steve_C » Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:49 am

I've loaned mine out, too, several times.

As for "Then there's who would be the email contacts?" I just don't give any.

A rental setup would need some sort of central contact, or else someone would need to actually update the Findmespot site.

Using the basic subscription without tracking, there IS a cheap-o way to use tracking: Use the Help button. It sends out a signal every 4 to 8 minutes for an hour. That would establish your location AND your direction. I have used that mode, and just told everyone that the "Help" is nothing more than the cheap tracking mode.

in any rental situation, people should always be told: Use the SOS/911 mode ONLY IF YOU CANNOT GET OUT ON YOUR OWN.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby 87TT » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:17 am

How about if when you rent one, that you sign an agreement that you are obligated to pay for your rescue if you hit the 911 button.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby AlmostThere » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:58 am

If you read the (substantial) information presented on SEKI's website about preparing for a backpacking trip and safety, you'll find that they state that electronics are NOT to be relied upon in the wilderness, period. I tend to nod my head to this. I've talked to people who insist that their GPS replaces a map and think that gizmos will be "the future." I of course will tell them not to count on that.

When I say things like this, I'm then accused of being a Luddite (which is hilarious, because my life has revolved around computers since they became consumer items) or backwards at least, but, all my training in SAR we have been repeatedly trained to use map and compass despite having a GPS per person. GPS units log information plus we use them to navigate. But we have been steered wrong by them plenty of times. Just yesterday I spent way too long driving AROUND my destination because a GPS "rerouted" at every single corner I turned.

Sat phones, SPOT, and other PLB devices are handy electronics and I'd say they do increase the margin of safety considerably, as long as they work, and you haven't left the thing sitting on a rock somewhere. (which has happened.)

There was a thread on another forum where a lady posted questions - she wasn't a backpacker, but her dad was on the High Sierra Trail and his SPOT check ins ceased. She wanted to know when to worry. Then a couple days later she posted that she got a message from someone who from the message was NOT her father, it seemed to be from someone trying to use the device to get in touch with someone else entirely! (clearly not someone who understands what the device does)

Theft or leaving the device in the last campsite? Who knows. But whenever a conversation about electronics comes up, I think about these things, and the ways people manage to increase the worry of the folks at home while trying to do the opposite. All this to say that I hope that no one decides that having a SPOT or PLB means they don't have to take the usual safety precautions that you always should do anyway no matter what.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby cloudlesssky » Sat Nov 03, 2012 7:53 am

SandStorm wrote:Slightly off-topic, but in the spirit of the thread: Anyone carry a sat phone? I've used an Iridium in the past and it worked well. Heard good things about the Inmarsat IsatPhone. They're expensive and heavy but worth their weight in gold in the hinterland.


I carried a rented Inmarsat Isatphone on a solo JMT this past summer. I picked it over Iridium primarily because battery life was reported as 2x while having comparable weight and features. Trees and very steep and deep canyons can block the signal. Overall I thought it worked satisfactory and it provided my wife and 11yo daughter some peace of mind.

I believe the newest Iridium phone includes a GPS tracking function and an SOS feature, but am not sure how it functions.

I carry a Spot on all my outings and put it in tracking mode while hiking. Batteries have always lasted at least 4 days. Spot uses the Globalstar satellite to uplink messages. I've read (but not confirmed) that Spot can send messages including SOS without a GPS coordinate if it can't get a GPS lock for some reason (e.g. you only turn it on when you need to send an SOS and don't wait the up to 20 minutes required to get a lock). My thinking is that an established track would help someone find me if this happened.

I agree with the thinking that you shouldn't rely on any electronics in the backcountry. And you need to have a plan thought out and communicated in case they break ("If you don't get my checkin message don't report me overdue until..."). Electronics shouldn't encourage riskier behaviour. But that doesn't mean I won't increase the odds in my favor.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby RooPhillip » Sat Nov 03, 2012 9:43 am

Thanks everyone for your input. I'm going to buy one of these things this weekend. I'm comparing the Spot II (about $100) and the ACR ResQ+ 406 ($287 on Amazon). I like the idea of no annual subscription for the ACR, but it appears you have to subscribe to an optional annual service to "self test" the unit. There seems to be a lot of negative reviews for the Spot II. Does anyone have any experience with the ACR ResQ+ ?

It looks like ACR is also running a promotion on this unit with some freebie gear, for what it's worth:

Edited: Oops, thanks mshields, I missed your post about the ACR unit. Does anyone else have experience with this unit?
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Steve_C » Sat Nov 03, 2012 10:15 am

> There seems to be a lot of negative reviews for the Spot II.

Yeah, I keep seeing people say that. But I am very happy with mine. For the reasons others have given: Your "track" shows people which way you are headed. You can "check-in" any time you want. A PLB can ONLY be used when you need a rescue, so the rest of the time, family have no clue that you are ok.

Not sure why people complain so much. True, they don't get a signal out very well in forested areas or deep canyons. But if you set it down and let it run for 30 minutes, the signal will most likely get out. (Just think of how often a satellite is overhead -- sometimes they're not!) It is pretty freakin' amazing that such a tiny unit can send a signal to a satellite 100 miles away, and then the signal gets back to someone's computer. If the signals only get out some of the time, so what? ...as long as you understand that limitation, why worry?

As for people putting the unit down and walking away, I always attach mine twice to my backpack shoulder strap. One with a camera wrist strap in case I fall and it falls out of the second placement -- that has happened to me several times. The second attachment actually holds it in the correct position on my shoulder. Then I never remove it from the pack, so it never gets left behind.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby SandStorm » Sat Nov 03, 2012 10:29 am

Thanks for the input, Cloudlesssky. Couple quick questions for you. How long did the batteries last? I'm assuming you kept it turned off most of the time. How heavy/bulky is the phone itself? Supposedly it can be carried comfortably in a cargo pocket but it looks too chunky for that. On the other hand it does seem ruggedly constructed. How was the signal strength/clarity when you did have reception? I'm not sure, but it certainly seems like a fixed satellite constellation (which Inmarsat uses) would improve the signal and reduce dropping out.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby paul » Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:13 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
The impetus for me to use a PLB would be to save SAR from the kind of effort they have had to do the last 10 days and to save my family from grief. I personally would be willing just to take the risk of meeting my end in the mountains (who would not rather die of a quick heart attack dropping a fly into your favorite high remote alpine lake over rotting in a nursing home), but realistically, if I go missing, they WILL search for me and MY FAMILY will go through much agony. I cannot control that.


EXACTLY! I used to have the attitude that Rogue Photonic expresses in his earlier post, that I was willing to take the risks of traveling solo and comfortable with the idea that if I break my leg, I'd better crawl out because no one is coming for me, and if I die, I die. More recently, and because I now have a wife and kids, I have carried a PLB on trips where I knew that no one would come by and find me if I got hurt (backcountry ski trips in particular) But after following the amazing SAR process that is going on in the search for Larry (still have my fingers crossed), I realize that carrying some means of identifying your location is an obligation that we have to the people who WILL be searching for us if we do not come out on time. The astounding amount of resources - human, material, and every other kind - that go into a search like this make me realize that if I can save most of that by being able to give my position, I would be cutting way back on the risks that others would have to take (not to mention the expense, or the environmental cost of all those helicopter flights) in order to find me. If I can take the search out of search and rescue, and simply make it a rescue, that makes a HUGE difference.

For me this is a big realization, and changes my attitude towards PLBs, and other devices such as the SPOT or a satphone. While I understand and appreciate the desire to be completely untethered and to be completely self-reliant no matter what the cost to myself might be, and have made that choice in the past, I now feel that I owe it to the SAR personnel to carry some means of signalling my location if I get in serious trouble. Having carried a PLB previously, I know that it does not change my trip at all - I ignore it, it's just there in the pack.

Of course there are situations where it will not help you or the searchers - if you are incapacitated to the point where you cannot operate the device, or if it is damaged by the same incident that injures you, but I have to think that that situation is far less likely than one in which you are unable to get out under your own power but able to operate the device.

And of course, WD's other point about the old school methods is well taken also, and one reason why my ski touring shelter is bright orange.

So for me, this means I will always take my PLB on any trip where I won't be on well traveled trails in the prime season. Not so much for my sake but for the sake of those who would come looking.
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