Now that we have purchased our Tartan 41, we have the issue of getting it home. Currently in Annapolis, we have to bring it back to Lake Champlain. I’ll be posting about that trip very soon, but this post is about emergency beacons, PLB’s and SPOT devices.
I want to get one for the trip, but which one?
In just over a year, I’ll hopefully be doing the Carib 1500 to the BVI. At that point I will absolutely be getting a Marine EPIRB. But at prices over $1000, that’s not money I want to splash out for a quick trip up the NJ coast and then being in an inland lake for a year.
So, I want to get some kind of device that I can send an SOS from and is just a few hundred dollars. After a very quick search, it becomes apparent that there are three main choices:
|SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger||DELORME inReach 2-way Satellite Communication||ACR Electronics ResQLink+ Personal Locator Beacon|
Now what exactly are these and how do they work?
Basically, you press a button, and then (hopefully) get rescued. How this happens, however, is very very different. There are many posts on the web that seem to mix myth with fact, so I found one that seemed reliable. A description by the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group:
Personal Locator Beacons
Upon activation of the emergency mode, PLBs send a 5 watt signal to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network on the standard emergency radio frequency of 406 MHz. For inland emergencies in the U.S., the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center is the RCC that receives and processes the signal. Lacking any other information (i.e, GPS coordinates also transmitted), the 406 MHz signal can help the RCC locate the signal to within 2-3 miles. In addition to the 406 MHz satellite signal, modern PLBs also transmit a homing signal on 121.5 MHz and some are also equipped with a GPS. The 121.5 MHz homing signal is for field teams equipped with radio Direction-Finding (DF) technology to more easily find the beacon. The most effective PLB will have 406 MHz, 121.5 MHz and a GPS. Note that some very old “PLB” units only transmit on 121.5 MHz and do not transmit on 406 MHz. Other devices use the name “Personal Locator Beacon,” but are not COSPAS-SARSAT compliant.
If you get a PLB, we strongly recommend that you purchase one that is COSPAS-SARSAT compliant, has a GPS, and transmits on both 406 MHz and 121.5 MHz.
SPOT and Satellite Communication/GPS Only Beacons
The SPOT system uses a higher frequency (1610 MHz) to communicate with its RCC, which is operated by Globalstar (a NASDAQ-listed for-profit company) [Me: inReach uses GEOS]. The SPOT does have a GPS, but does not transmit a homing signal on 121.5 MHz. While the 5 watt 406 MHz signal used by PLBs can be used to get an approximate location (within 2-3 miles), the SPOTs 1610 MHz signal is transmitted at weaker power and cannot be used for an approximate position. Therefore, in emergency communication, the SPOT relies solely upon the GPS for transmitting location information.
The SPOT must have a line-of-site to the sky both to acquire position with the GPS and to send a message to satellites. This reduces their coverage as compared to the PLB. (In light forest they might work, but in heavy forest in a deep canyon they may not.) It is possible that a SPOT might send a distress alert without a location, or with an inaccurate location, illustrating the importance of leaving trip itinerary information with a trusted emergency contact known by SPOTs RCC.
So, there you have it. It seems you would want a PLB. Much more reliable, and not dependant on a private company’s satellite system.
The biggest different between a PLB like the ACR Electronics ResQLink+ and the SPOT or DeLorme inReach is that the latter two satellite messengers can send messages, hence the name!
The PLB sends just one message, “help!”
The satellite messengers can send pre-made messages via the satellite system to email accounts or as texts to phones. Now “Honey, I forgot the milk” is not that useful when 5 miles off the coast, but I can see that “we are OK, but won’t get to our float plan marina” could be very useful.
The differences between the DeLorme inReach and the SPOT seem to be that the SPOT is less expensive, but the inReach has better messaging capability and reliability, including the fact its on a more robust world-wide (Iridium) network.
Speaking of costs, the ACR ResQLink is by far the cheapest. The others have annual plans. When you consider the most basic plan over three years, the costs are:
- SPOT GPS Satellite Messanger = $399 (tracking additional $149)
- DELORME inReach 2-way Satellite Communication = $608 (tracking additional $0.25/waypoint)
- ACR Electronics ResQLink+ Personal Locator Beacon = $286 (no tracking)
If you don’t want to be “found” unless you’re in serious trouble – the ACR Electronics ResQLink is the way to go.
If you want to keep loved ones informed during your adventure and have a PLB backup or are budget conscious, the SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger is the best.
If you want two-way communication and more reliable messaging, get the DeLorme inReach.
I’ll be getting the DeLorme inReach and will plan to use it in the next year, and then buy a full EPIRB for our trip. One thing that decide to get the more expensive messenger is that Vermont has very spotty cell phone service (we have none at home), so we can actually make use of it simply driving around or at home if we need to send a message in an emergency! Now we can switch to Vonage!
Just for laughs and giggles, the image at the top of this post is an actual boat built to look like its sinking. Check out the video!
Love-love is the permanent and mobile image of a wrecked ship that has become a functional and safe leisure object.