PLB vs. satellite communicator

Questions about equipment and supplies to bring on a trip (including reviews).

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backwoods doc
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PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by backwoods doc »

After years of doing without, I've decided it's time to pick-up a personal locator beacon or a satellite messenger. After reading some reviews, I'm trying to decide between an ACR ResQLink View and a Garmin inReach Mini. Both run $350.

The ACR unit is attractive since there is no satellite subscription fee, although apparently it will cost about $150 every 5 years to have the battery changed and unit checked, unless I just buy a new, updated unit. And the ResQLink View now has the capacity to receive a message confirming that the rescue request has been received.

I can't see using the messaging on the Garmin for non-emergencies (my wife is happy to have my son and I incommunicado when we're in the backcountry) and have never needed a GPS to navigate. Messaging back and forth in an emergency situation might be helpful though. The rechargeable batteries are attractive. We only make one wilderness trip a year, so it looks like the flexible plan that Garmin offers would cost us $25 for activation + $15 for a one-month plan every year.

Any thoughts?
Midwest Ed
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Midwest Ed »

If you are strictly looking for emergency rescue then a EPIRB is going to be the most reliable when you absolutely need it to work for you. But that's all they do. The downlink confirmation you mentioned sounds like a nice feature but it appears it is only something that happens after you trigger it. Triggering an EPIRB is a BIG deal. You have no way of adding any additional information to the transmission that would qualify your condition or the type of assistance you actually need. Essentially they send the cavalry in full force and depending on the situation you might get stuck with a pretty large bill. Before dispatching help they will make every effort to contact your contact person or persons via phone, mostly to avoid false alarms. Your contact person would confirm that you indeed are in the general vicinity of the signaling information, etc. If they cannot make contact with your family then you will be "rescued". My knowledge of EPIRBs is generic from boating so I have no personal opinion of the ACR ResQLink View.

Units like the InReach (and others) rely primarily on your family to decide what rescue steps, if any, to take. You would either text them more specific information but there is also a "panic" button incase you are severely incapacitated, but it still requires a manual activation on your part. Some EPIRBs automatically active when they hit the water but it looks like the ACR ResQLink View would also require manual activation. The InReach has additional features well beyond an EPIRB. You've mentioned the two-way texting but they also can upload your position at a programmable interval. You are provided your own webpage (or Facebook embedding) where anyone with the credentials can follow your track in somewhat real time. The upper tier unit has mapping and orienteering as you hit on.

I own the first generation InReach and like it quite a bit. As you noted there is a modest annual fee and then it can be enabled month by month before you depart and disabled upon your return. The GPS on my first generation unit is a bit lacking though as is the satellite communications. It does not work indoors in a wooden frame single story house. My old Samsung S5 smartphone has a much more sensitive GPS receiver. My older InReach does not work reliably under very heavy tree canopy. Modest canopy doesn't present a problem. I am assuming this has been improved on the newer models but I suggest you verify this. As you have probably already realized through research, the monthly fees to enable vary based on number of text messages, GPS upload refresh rate, etc. Garmin also offers more complete (and expensive) plans that include more comprehensive rescue insurance plans where they will provide a couple of different levels of rescue and remote assistance efforts. I don't do much wilderness hiking anymore but I still feel comfortable driving my truck into areas where a walkout would be a real headache and potentially dangerous so if I experienced a breakdown and needed a tow or a tire change I feel reassured.
8 trips, 1975 x 2, 1976 x 2, 1978, 1985, 2000, 2013
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by johnhens »

I have the 1st gen Inreach also. I like being able to text in general and more so in an emergency so I can relate specifics to the emergency (ie what kind, help needed, better location ID ect,). I was helpng with a Piping Plover survey at another NP, and was checking out other areas for Plovers. The NPS wanted me to carry a radio as I was solo in a closed area. I told them I had the Inreach and I could text. They were fine with that and it worked well-and I did not have to carry a heavy radio. My plan allows me to activate when I am going to use it, so I am not paying for it while not being used.
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Montana »

I found this overview very informative:

https://www.adventurealan.com/best-sate ... h-vs-spot/
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Base654 »

i have the ACR ResQLink. during my research I found that the ACR ResQLink is a direct connection on specific frequencies for distant notification and a localizer beacon for close in location finding on a world wide system. The InReach and others of the sort operate very much as a satellite phone sans voice. While the latter would be perfectly functional in the broken leg situation where everything else is ok, I travel by kayak or raft and may continue to move after my initial issue. The sat phone versions (by my research) do have dead zone around the states and world. I travel to "get away" and sending messages is not a desire of mine. I would only activate my unit if I was near death. As noted above the EPIRPs have no idea what is going on, so the cavalry is coming. If you push that button because you ran out of fresh socks, you get a bill for the entire rescue effort. There was a story a number of years ago where a man was fined $30,000.
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Midwest Ed »

Base654 wrote: Tue Oct 27, 2020 8:18 pmThe InReach and others of the sort operate very much as a satellite phone sans voice. While the latter would be perfectly functional in the broken leg situation where everything else is ok, I travel by kayak or raft and may continue to move after my initial issue. The sat phone versions (by my research) do have dead zone around the states and world.
The first portion of that is true. They use the Iridium low earth satellite telephone and data network (in text mode only) originally created by the older version of Motorola Inc. (side note: This was a large contributor to Motorola almost going bankrupt.) It is a private network. They do though claim 100% coverage as of 2019 with several "spare" satellites in orbit. One interesting point is Iridium devices are illegal in some countries (or at least used to be illegal or must be approved for ownership and you can fairly easily guess which ones).

By contrast, the EPIRB system is operated by the U.S. government (N.O.A.A.) and similar national agencies in many/most other countries. The initial notification happens at the UHF frequency of 406 MHz while a VHF channel at 121.5 MHz is used for the local homing/direction finding. It also has a doppler feature to assist with determining distance (so multi-receiver location using triangulation is not needed) although the addition of GPS information in modern units has made this largely redundant or used as a backup/adjunct.
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backwoods doc
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by backwoods doc »

Thanks, everyone! Helpful comments and resources.
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Ingo »

I picked up an inReach Mini a few years ago for a solo trip, and it's been useful a couple times. I pre-programmed a couple msgs and send the "All's good" to my wife each night, but no conversations. It was also nice to let her know when the boat was delayed by a day (even though she knows to check). Unless you pair to a phone (which I don't usually bring), texting is one letter at a time and not very practical, so some thought as to the pre-programmed msgs for an emergency is necessary. e.g. One of my msgs is Please ask Y/N questions. The other thing I've done is hang it from the mirror of the car on the road, so family can follow me--Google maps doesn't always do so well, like driving across the U.P.
79: worked RH, 01: BI-DB-RH, 02: MC-LR-WL-CH, 05: MI-CI-MB-DF-RH-TM-RH, 09: MC-BI-DN-RH, 11: WC-HC-WC, 12: MC-CB-HL-TH, 13: RH-PI, 14: BI-ML-CI-CH-MB, 16: RH-CI-TI-RH, 17: WI-IM-SB-FL-WC, 18: MC-PC-BI-DB-RH-DF
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by JerryB »

I agree with all that Ingo said. I reach does have an emergency button, not dependent on family to decide how to react to an emergency. Because of that, i have one pre-programmed message that i could send after activating the emergency button for another hiker’s benefit: I am fine. Emergency for someone i just assisted. This way, if i come across a hiker with. broken leg, my wife won’t be scared to death.
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Ingo »

JerryB wrote: Wed Nov 11, 2020 1:48 pm I have one pre-programmed message that i could send after activating the emergency button for another hiker’s benefit: I am fine. Emergency for someone i just assisted. This way, if i come across a hiker with. broken leg, my wife won’t be scared to death.
Good idea!
79: worked RH, 01: BI-DB-RH, 02: MC-LR-WL-CH, 05: MI-CI-MB-DF-RH-TM-RH, 09: MC-BI-DN-RH, 11: WC-HC-WC, 12: MC-CB-HL-TH, 13: RH-PI, 14: BI-ML-CI-CH-MB, 16: RH-CI-TI-RH, 17: WI-IM-SB-FL-WC, 18: MC-PC-BI-DB-RH-DF
backwoods doc
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by backwoods doc »

I decided on the Garmin inReach Mini. On sale now for $100 off, which is nice.
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Re: PLB vs. satellite communicator

Post by Midwest Ed »

Please report back on your impressions during setup and first usage.
8 trips, 1975 x 2, 1976 x 2, 1978, 1985, 2000, 2013
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