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Personal Locator Beacon

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby BrianF » Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:33 pm

Larry"s search is a great case in point. There is no way of knowing if he would have been able to send an sos, but if he had sent an ok signal (which includes GPS coordinates) at some point in his trip, SAR would have known at least whether he turned South or North and lessened the radius of search.
The direction you are moving in is what matters, not the place you happen to be -Colin Fletcher



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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Steve_C » Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:22 pm

BrianF wrote:Larry"s search is a great case in point. There is no way of knowing if he would have been able to send an sos, but if he had sent an ok signal (which includes GPS coordinates) at some point in his trip, SAR would have known at least whether he turned South or North and lessened the radius of search.

This is a primary reason a PLB is not as helplful as a Spot unit. Occasionally sending your position, and, if heading through more risky terrain, sending a line of tracking coordinates, is something a PLB cannot do.

If Larry had been carrying a PLB, but he suddenly slipped in an exposed location so he was incapacitated, the PLB would be worthless. No check-in locations, nothing.

PLB's were developed so groups traveling through avalanche territory could activate their units, and then if buried, could be dug out by others in the group. A PLB on a solo backpack doesn't quite fit the need.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby paul » Sat Nov 03, 2012 2:02 pm

Steve_C wrote:
PLB's were developed so groups traveling through avalanche territory could activate their units, and then if buried, could be dug out by others in the group. A PLB on a solo backpack doesn't quite fit the need.


Steve - actually I think you are confusing PLB's and avalanche beacons here. PLB's were developed primarily for boating use, so Coast Guard or other rescuers could find a boat in distress on the ocean. As they became smaller and lighter they have been adopted by hikers and such. Avalanche "beacons" - more properly called transponders - are used to locate a victim buried by an avalanche. They transmit over a very small range, and each device can be set to transmit or receive. In normal travel, all members of the party have their devices set to transmit; if an avalanche occurs and someone is buried, everyone not buried switches over to receiving mode and the search begins. Very different device from a PLB, they have no capability to send a signal to any distance.

Your point about the performance differences between PLB's and SPOT is well taken -and I agree that the tracking and check-in features are excellent IF they work. My only personal experience with a SPOT was not good, but it was the first generation unit, not the current one. It seems to me that for SPOT users, keeping up a a steady flow of OK message or using the tracking feature is the way to use it, given the possibility that the signal might not get through when you need it most - at least, as you said, you have left a trail, so it is far better in the situation where you are in trouble but cannot send a signal for whatever reason.

If cost and weight were not issues. I would take a satphone over anything else. Two-way communication could make a huge difference. But of course cost and weight do matter, so I carry my PLB.

My expectation is that before very long, a device will be available that does allow reliable two-way communication at a lower cost and lighter weight than a satphone. Given all the communications technology that exists and is being developed, it seems likely.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby gary c. » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:19 pm

Here is a link to a company that rents PLBs.
http://www.plbrentals.com/default.asp
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby windknot » Sat Nov 03, 2012 8:40 pm

RooPhillip wrote: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?


I carried an ACR ResQLink with me on my last three trips this past season. My father purchased it and insisted that I bring it along with me; I probably wouldn't have bought it for myself (I have no family to provide for and reasoned that if I happened to fall while performing a cross-country traverse with exposure, I likely wouldn't be in any shape to activate a device anyway), but it certainly does give one a certain peace of mind. Can't attest to how well it works, since I never had to use it, but my dad did a ton of research and decided that it was better for my/our backpacking purposes than the SPOT.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby paul » Sat Nov 03, 2012 9:32 pm

I rented from plbrentals.com the first time I took one in 2008. I found the process worked smoothly. Looks like they are now renting the McMurdo Fastfind, which is the one I now own. Only 5 1/2 oz.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby ckm554 » Sun Nov 04, 2012 12:43 am

87TT wrote: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.

This wouldn't work because it would discourage people who actually need a rescue from requesting one because they would be afraid of the bill. This is exactly why SAR generally does not charge for rescues.

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby cloudlesssky » Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:29 am

SandStorm wrote: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.


Batteries: The battery never ran out on me. I turned the phone off while not in use and my total talk time was probably <2 hrs during the trip. Basically a short call to my family each night. I carried a spare battery that wasn't needed.

The phone weighs 9-10oz. A little more, but comparable to the Iridium 9555. As for bulky, it certainly won't win an industrial design contest, but it fit into my top pocket with no concerns.

It does seem fairly rugged, certainly rugged enough to ride in my backpack and then get used in camp. I put it in a LokSak between uses just to make sure it didn't get wet.

I don't have anything to compare the signal strength to, but once it connected to the satellites (which takes a few minutes when you first turn it on) it worked well. There is a noticable slight delay between talkers due to the satellite relay, but I've read thats true of Iridium as well.

As for the satellite networks, I've read a lot of pro/con stuff. I don't think it matters in the Sierras.

Truthfully I wouldn't hesitate to use Isatphone again, OR an Iridium. I'll probably go with the one that is cheaper on my next long hike.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby SandStorm » Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:52 am

Many thanks.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby The hermit » Tue Nov 06, 2012 6:44 am

I would probably go with a plb. I already pay for my cell phone im not willing to pay an ongoing fee for a spot.(I was able to text my coordinates to my family). I know this is very rare but not unheard of.Many of us carry our phones anyway. Has anyone else used their phone to check in?
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Nov 06, 2012 7:59 am

There are three places that cell phones work in my local mountains. One of them is Yosemite Valley, and the corridor of trails going up the Merced River (they put a tower on Glacier Point). Another is Huntington Lake - there is a community up there and, yep, they put up a tower on one of the hilltops. You can also sometimes get a bar if you are in line of site of Three Rivers - there are places in Sequoia NP where even though you are higher elevation this is possible.

The rest, you don't get a signal til the drive home, sometime, and there are dead zones in between.

Nope, I don't call anyone. Not why I am there. I avoid areas where cell phones work unless I am on a search.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby The hermit » Tue Nov 06, 2012 12:49 pm

I agree it really bugs me when people use their phones in the wilderness.That said I was able to reassure my family that I was ok(xc on the silver divide).I was solo with no definite return date. At least they would have known where to search.
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