PLB (Personal locating beacon)

Stumpalump

Expedition Leader
Just like having a winch on your vehicle a PLB gives you the guts to travel further and deeper.
My old McMurdo Fast Find battery is 8 years old and still working but instead of paying $130 to get it replaced I noticed the new ones got cheaper at $208. I think this is the best one because the old one lasted so well, there is no subscription service to buy and the battery is rated for 6 years. Push a button and it goes to the Government for rescue. Pick any flavor of one but do carry one for stress free adventures wherever you are on earth.

https://www.solutiononemaritime.com/plb/11-mcmurdo-fast-find-220-gps-free-shipping-to-lower-48-states.html
 

jgaz

Adventurer
Great minds think alike Mike.
I recently took advantage of the Costco deal ($248.00 including tax and shipping), so we should be covered this season.

I’m going to try the subscription route based on the experience of @GB_Willys_2014 and others. My wife feels better about my solo hiking already
 

moabian

Adventurer
Subscription-free PLBs may be the cheapest option for rescue by satellite, but as a member of one of the busiest SAR groups in the U.S., I highly recommend a device that allows 2-way communication with rescuers. Both SPOT and Garmin now produce such devices. If we receive a distress signal from a device that is incapable of 2-way communication, we might sometimes send a very expensive (well into 5 figures) helicopter in lieu of a ground crew (most likely zero dollars for the rescuee). Maybe the situation or injury warrants a helicopter. Maybe it doesn't. We have no way of knowing that with a one-way signal. We also cannot control whether or not the helicopter company bills the subject.

We recently had a backcountry mountain bike race in Moab where contestants were all given SPOT Gen 2 devices. They are a one-way device. At least 4 contestants activated the emergency signal on their devices. Two of them only needed water, but because of the remote locations and ambiguity of the situatiion, we sent a helicopter to each activation. That's pretty darn expensive water. Please make sure that if you ever activate the emergency signal, it truly is an emergency.

Two-way devices also allow you to communicate with family members and friends when cell signals are non-existent. Several of our members, including myself, have started carrying Garmin InReach devices for communication in the many areas around Moab where radio or cell communication is impossible.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
It's a wonder anyone survived outdoors prior to 2018. I know, I know, quite a few didn't. But saying a 2-way satellite device should be a minimum level, I dunno, just makes me sad to realize just how impossible it is for people to unplug and relax.

I think receiving a call from the USAF via SARSAT PLB is gonna mean you should send the helicopter. These have worked for decades and they mean your trip S has gone full HTF. But they will work to get you help if you need it.

Getting a call from GEOS via SPOT and InReach I guess must be frustrating. SPOT in particular (which I have now, a Gen 3) I suspect must not do a very good job explaining the levels of severity that each button represents and that the SOS is going straight to 11 when perhaps just the custom or SOV message to someone would have been sufficient. Just my $0.02, but if someone pushes SOS for something non-life threatening they should be charged the cost of the call out.

People don't seem to understand (1) taking care of yourself and (b) that GEOS/SARSAT/911 may not agree that your emergency quite fits the definition. Some numb nut told his kid to call 911 recently for math homework help, for example.
 
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GB_Willys_2014

Active member
It's a wonder anyone survived outdoors prior to 2018. I know, I know, quite a few didn't. But saying a 2-way satellite device should be a minimum level, I dunno, just makes me sad to realize just how impossible it is for people to unplug and relax.

I think receiving a call from the USAF via SARSAT PLB is gonna mean you should send the helicopter. These have worked for decades and they mean your trip S has gone full HTF. But they will work to get you help if you need it.

Getting a call from GEOS via SPOT and InReach I guess must be frustrating. SPOT in particular (which I have now, a Gen 3) I suspect must not do a very good job explaining the levels of severity that each button represents and that the SOS is going straight to 11 when perhaps just the custom or SOV message to someone would have been sufficient. Just my $0.02, but if someone pushes SOS for something non-life threatening they should be charged the cost of the call out.

People don't seem to understand (1) taking care of yourself and (b) that GEOS/SARSAT/911 may not agree that your emergency quite fits the definition. Some numb nut told his kid to call 911 recently for math homework help, for example.
Firstly, I agree with the spirit of your post. A PLB is not a substitute for common sense and preparation.

A PLB as a security blanket also need not always equate to priority level 1.

Your personal observation of charging users for less than life threatening calls gives me pause, however, because the phrase "life threatening" requires some clarification and context.

Garmin establishes criteria for an acceptable SOS call. I will have to find the exact conditions but if memory serves it is reasonable threat to life, limb or vision.

I called an SOS earlier this year. Details can be found in the linked thread in post #3 above. The NPS lead medic and Park Ranger both confirmed my emergency situation.

In my case, my daughter's ankle injury in and of itself was not life threatening, but environmental conditions combined with the injury had life threatening potential.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
@GB_Willys_2014, I follow your logic and will note that I didn't say immediately life threatening. A trivial medical, supplies or equipment issue may become so, as you rightly highlight, if weather, location or time factor in. Running out of water on a supported race probably isn't (I've done plenty of supported endurance racing even before SPOTs, which were a game changer). Having no water will be very serious if you're solo 20 miles walking from a source and no one knows to look for you.

Might only argue that a broken ankle in your party may require evacuation but at the same time if prepared it may also not require a helicopter and full blown SAR response either. Lots of people have done this, fashioned a splint, hobbled to a place to call an ambulance. Before cell phones that meant you had to make it to a trail head or road to flag someone down, too.

I fully agree there's a lot of grey on the scale between a heart attack and a stubbed toe for medical evacuation. Of course we should use all options available to us. The problem is there's no easy way to define yes/no, so there's gonna be a lot of marginal situations that could be argued either way. It's not a simple answer.

I might suggest that if every call out got charged (or at least partially) to the individual rather than come (usually) from a publicly funded entity people might consider how critical it really is. What I'm driving at is individuals have no perception of cost. Dial 911 and people show up. To the end user there's barely any difference between having a fire extinguisher under the sink and having 2 engines and 8 firefighters come put out a kitchen grease fire. Since there's no real negative consequence to a decision why wouldn't I always just call 911 or push SOS?
 

vintageracer

To Infinity and Beyond!
I find it interesting that the statistics for "Terrestrial PLB Rescue Incidents" are almost as high as "Rescues at Sea Incidents" in both 2017 and 2018. Maybe there is a lot more need for these PLB's for "Terrestrial" users than one might think!

Since 1982 over 20% of ALL worldwide COSPAS-SARSAT Rescues have been in the good ole USA!

From the NOAA website:


COSPAS-SARSAT Rescues through Oct 5, 2018

Number of People Rescued in Calendar Year 2018 in the United States: 280
  • Rescues at sea: 168 people rescued in 55 incidents
  • Aviation rescues: 30 people rescued in 14 incidents
  • Terrestrial PLB rescues: 82 people rescued in 53 incidents
  • Worldwide – Over 43,000+ people rescued (since 1982)
  • United States – 8,603 People Rescued (since 1982)
Number of People Rescued in Calendar Year 2017 in the United States: 275
  • Rescues at sea: 186 people rescued in 66 incidents
  • Aviation rescues: 15 people rescued in 8 incidents
  • Terrestrial PLB rescues: 74 people rescued in 58 incidents
 
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moabian

Adventurer
To expand on the stats theme, the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, the recipient of emergency messages for SPOT and inReach, has handled more 49,000 incidents since it was created in 2007. That averages out to over 4000 per year, about 4 times the rate of PLB activations through NOAA/AFRCC.

The first question I ask dispatch when they relay a device activation to us is, "Who called you?" If it was the AFRCC, I know it was a PLB and we will have no information other than the location. If the call came from the IERCC, I know that I can call them and possibly establish 2-way communication with the person who activated the device. When the IERCC receives the signal, their system indicates whether it came from an inReach or a SPOT device. They even know which generation of SPOT device it came from (1, 2, or 3) and if it came from the new SPOTX, the only SPOT that allows 2-way communication.

If the activation came from a 2-way device, the IERCC should have 2-way communication with the subject, unless that person is incapacitated. The IERCC can send a message to that person asking them to send a message to a phone number or email address we will provide. Once we receive a message from the subject, we are able to text back and forth to determine the severity of the situation and the resources that should be sent. While communication must usually be initiated by the device holder, inReach also allows the subscriber to configure his/her online MapShare page to allow messages to be initiated from that page.

One word of caution: If you buy a used PLB, make sure it is capable of sending your coordinates and is not one of the older units that relies on very slow and inaccurate triangulation by satellite. With the 406MHz signal, triangulation is accurate to within about 28 square miles. That's pretty ambiguous. Those units will also send a 121.5MHz homing signal that we can locate with our Vecta2 Direction Finder, but that is a difficult and time-consuming process. Units that send the GPS coordinates are accurate to within a few meters. All PLBs now on the market will send your coordinates.

And one short explanation for those who may be confused about the difference between Personal Locator Beacons and satellite communicators like SPOT or inReach. PLB signals go to satellites monitored internationally by governments. They are strictly one-way devices. I believe some of the newer PLBs are capable of sending one-way "I'm OK" messages." Signals from SPOT devices go to the private Globalstar satellite system monitored by the commercial GEOS IERCC. Signals from inReach go through the Iridium satellite network and are also monitored by the IERCC. SPOT and inReach devices also allow either one or two-way communication with friends and family, which can either be reassuring or annoying depending on your perspective.
 
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jgaz

Adventurer
@moabian-Thank you for the perspective of what happens behind the scene when a PLB is activated.

IMO the info is very valuable to someone considering any of these devices.
 

Stumpalump

Expedition Leader
I did not want or recommend the text versions. I like a brick that does not need to be charged or batteries replaced for 6 years. I do not want the complication of a monthly or annual bill that could cut service if not paid.
I like the one time $208 purchase that I won't worry about for 6 years. I do have to fill out the free registration online but it's free. In 6 years if paid annually the Delorm is $1185 plus tax for the unit and service. I'm not saying the text is not nice or that you personally do not want it but I do like the stupid simple brick that will bring the Calvery to me now or in 6 years with nothing else to ever think about.
With that said I know the adventure bike riders or those going remotely for days in the mountains find the text mandatory due to the risk and family concerns. Is that worth the extra 1000 bucks and complication? I just want to know if I blow my knee or fall and bust a hip when I step off the trail to take a crap that somebody can find me. The gadget part of the texting models....I know this is a gadget site and it's cool. Just remember there is a very cheap, reliable, stupid simple and easy to carry $208 model that will save your arse with the pull of one lever. McMurdo fast find 220. Is it frustrating that it does nothing else but weigh down my pack? Yep. At least the fancy models do somthing else and if for that reason alone it gets you to carry one then get it. It really does free your mind when you have to make a decision to travel into the places that otherwise would seem dangerously remote.
 

GB_Willys_2014

Active member
@GB_Willys_2014, I follow your logic and will note that I didn't say immediately life threatening. A trivial medical, supplies or equipment issue may become so, as you rightly highlight, if weather, location or time factor in. Running out of water on a supported race probably isn't (I've done plenty of supported endurance racing even before SPOTs, which were a game changer). Having no water will be very serious if you're solo 20 miles walking from a source and no one knows to look for you.

Might only argue that a broken ankle in your party may require evacuation but at the same time if prepared it may also not require a helicopter and full blown SAR response either. Lots of people have done this, fashioned a splint, hobbled to a place to call an ambulance. Before cell phones that meant you had to make it to a trail head or road to flag someone down, too.

I fully agree there's a lot of grey on the scale between a heart attack and a stubbed toe for medical evacuation. Of course we should use all options available to us. The problem is there's no easy way to define yes/no, so there's gonna be a lot of marginal situations that could be argued either way. It's not a simple answer.

I might suggest that if every call out got charged (or at least partially) to the individual rather than come (usually) from a publicly funded entity people might consider how critical it really is. What I'm driving at is individuals have no perception of cost. Dial 911 and people show up. To the end user there's barely any difference between having a fire extinguisher under the sink and having 2 engines and 8 firefighters come put out a kitchen grease fire. Since there's no real negative consequence to a decision why wouldn't I always just call 911 or push SOS?
What we have here is another example of "tragedy of the commons", unfortunately.

There are social costs no matter how we load the scale. Too lose, and people will summon helicopters for trivial matters, as you note. Too restrained, and people will attempt to self rescue with possible disastrous results.

I like to be prepared and try to be self sufficient. I think most here on this forum do too. Although, unfortunately, this is a small, very small, demographic. Of course, the inverse - majority opinion (PLB as an alternative to planning and preparation) is the symptom underlying trivial 911 or SOS calls.

FWIW, I was fully aware of the possible financial risk/cost of calling my SOS.
 
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