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Personal Locator Beacon

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby RooPhillip » Sat Nov 03, 2012 8:43 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 9:15 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 9:29 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 11:13 am

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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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby BrianF » Sat Nov 03, 2012 11:33 am

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.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Steve_C » Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:22 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 1:02 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 5:19 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 7:40 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 8:32 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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