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SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice
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Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 16:02:32 MDT Print View

I have begun taking more solo hikes and my wife wants to make sure I can get help if needed. She would love to be able to track my progress as well but getting help is her main concern. The previous discussions that I could find on BPL on SPOT vs ACR or another company are all from 2010 or earlier. Any advice on which unit I should consider? All of the technology talk makes my head spin. I just want something I can open up and use as needed.

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 16:16:48 MDT Print View

It depends on your wife's concern- does she want you to check in with her specifically? Or merely have a way to call for help?

SPOT
Usually less expensive to purchase but has annual subscription costs for full feature
Allows you to check in with "Ok" messages whenever you like
Allows you to have a non-emergency "I need help" message as well as call for a rescue.
Can track your progress, which people can follow online.
Operates on AA (original SPOT) or AAA (SPOT2) batteries, changeable by the user
Uses the Globalstar sat system which isn't reliable at high latitudes
Has had some recent bad press for having unreliable service

PLB
Usually slightly more expensive to buy but no annual subscription costs
Has one function- to call for a rescue
Uses the SARSAT system, and activation is tracked by gov't rather than private entity
Requires registration with SARSAT, renewable every 2 years (no fee)
Battery must be changed by the mfr
Unit must be reset by mfr after deployment

I opted for PLB because the only feature I wanted was to be able to call for rescue if necessary, but I've heard from my guy friends that their wives love to be able to see where they are and also the check-in messages.

You might also consider the Delorme InReach system, if you use a GPS.

Edited by EagleRiverDee on 09/10/2012 16:35:45 MDT.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: SPOT vs ACR? ACR. on 09/10/2012 16:20:59 MDT Print View

Steven,

I had a SPOT (so that expense was done) but switched to ACR 6 months ago.

- No fees. No fees this year. No fees next year. Etc.

- Better reception in the north due to the use of multiple satelite networks (SPOT doesn't use any polar-orbit satelites).

- An EPBIRB or PLB is pretty good at doing what it promises. SPOT is not. Messages don't get out, or go to the wrong person. Telling your wife she'll be updated and then that NOT happening is worse (for her, for you, for your marital happiness, and permission to go on future hikes) than not offering those updates at all. Some spouses can understand that "no news" = "no news" and DOES NOT = "bad news". But a spouse who wants you to carry a PLB is probably less likely to get that, emotionally, however much she'll say she does.

So focus on the "getting help if needed" aspect and explain that the ACR does that better in extreme lattitudes or terrain. Then you're off the hook for the updates and you avoid SPOT's technical limitations causing problems in your house. Plus the financial aspect greatly favors ACR.

If you want a SPOT (or if anyone else does), I've got an older unit in great shape, off contract. Whatever's fair - I think they are about $30 on ebay - or free if money's tight and this lets you hit the trail more often. But you'd have to pay the annual fee.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
It's Unanimous. on 09/10/2012 16:24:16 MDT Print View

2 out of 2 Alaskans surveyed recommened ACR for their friends who carry a transmitter.

Dena: Do you chew sugarless gum? I don't. Or maybe that advertising reference predates you?

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 16:34:15 MDT Print View

We're not twins yet, David. :) I actually bought the McMurdo Fast Find, rather than an ACR. At the time it was the most compact unit (2 years ago). I think ACR might have the most compact unit now though.

I forgot one feature of the PLB's for the OP- you have to register them with SARSAT, and you you have to renew the registration every two years. It costs nothing. The batteries are also internal, and have to be changed every 5 years (at least on my unit) by the mfr. However, I see that as a non-issue as in 5 years the technology is likely to have changed so drastically that I'll be using something different then. If not, all I'm out is the postage to mail it back for a new battery.

I'm going to update my original post to include that info.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Batteries on 09/10/2012 16:48:34 MDT Print View

Dena: Good point on the battery change. That's also true for 10-year-old Garmin recievers. Without an internal battery, you lose your waypoints which makes it only good for short trips.

I always put lithiums in my SPOT because I didn't want to have it on a winter trip having left the aklalines in from summer. I wonder in 5 years, if there will be a aftermarket for battery replacement like there is for iPhones (expensive from the manufacturer, cheap in the aftermarket).

The next place my ACR PLB is going is Adak next month. Which is set a new personal best for westernmost location for me and for it.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife
Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 17:26:23 MDT Print View

The SPOT and the Delorme have NOTHING on the ACR 406 devices!!

It is like comparing rotten fish meat to filet mignon.

The ACR ResQLink 406 is absolutely one of those devices that every hiker should have - along with a RoadID.

Even if you have a family member that feels you should have a Spot/DeLorme inReach with you to give an 'all is ok' message every so often... by all means carry it for their sake! But than make sure to have the actual 130 grams of the ACR 406 that can save your life if you really need it too.

The 406 devices are the only devices out there that are viable for hikers and that utilize the three primary and international services that nearly all SAR organizations in the world utilize.

One is for making the wife or mommie feel good - the other is there to save your life.


-Abela

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
Spot tracking on 09/10/2012 17:39:38 MDT Print View

The tracking feature of the Spot can be useful. It was recently used to determine what happened to a sailboat in an off shore race (the track showed the ran into an island). For hikers it helps keep family notified of your progress. Useful as feel good information and for arranging a pickup at the trail head. Unfortunately, the yearly subscription is pricey ($150 with tracking) and the reliability isn't what it should be.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Spot tracking on 09/10/2012 17:57:44 MDT Print View

I know pilots who use the tracking feature, in part for THEIR OWN peace of mind that a record of bread crumbs is being recorded. But pilots are out of the canyons and above the trees (until the very end) so they have better luck leaving those bread crumbs.

Editted to add: I've also seen a charter service with multiple planes use it to track pilot/plane locations not for emergency use, but for dispatch, rerouting, and weather tracking reasons. In that context, $150/year is cheap, cheap, cheap.

Edited by DavidinKenai on 09/10/2012 17:59:42 MDT.

Michelle A
(mauhler31) - F
ACR "I'm OK" on 09/10/2012 18:34:44 MDT Print View

I just wanted to point out that most of the ACR devices are also capable of sending "I'm OK" messages, with a subscription. Check out 406link.com for the details and prices. They are much cheaper than the other subscriptions. The cheapest one is $40/year. But since they are primarily designed for emergancy use, the number of "I'm OK" messages is limited, especially GPS messages.

Steve Meier
(smeier) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Excellent advice! Suggestions for a specific model? on 09/10/2012 19:35:47 MDT Print View

John, thanks for the advice on a specific ACR model. Anyone else have a specific model they would recommend?

Dena & David, thanks for the quick education!

Edited by smeier on 09/10/2012 19:36:45 MDT.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
The SPOT Usage Model is Superior to a PLB on 09/10/2012 21:22:25 MDT Print View

Here's a writeup that explains SPOT really well - https://sites.google.com/site/hobbyhintstricksideas/Home/spot-messenger-information

The key is that SPOT's usage model is far superior to a PLB.

A PLB is the better choice if you don't have loved ones that care where you are, how you are doing, and won't get in a rush to find your body.

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
re SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/10/2012 22:05:20 MDT Print View

"A PLB is the better choice if you don't have loved ones that care where you are, how you are doing, and won't get in a rush to find your body."

That's quite a statement, there.

PLB's, EPIRB's, etc. have been in use for aircraft, boat and now personal use for many years and have saved many lives. Search and Rescue responded to them long before SPOT existed. I don't knock SPOT, I think it's got its place for folks who like the multipurpose design, but there's no need to knock PLB's either. Both items have their strengths, and weaknesses, and both save lives every single year.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
- on 09/11/2012 09:36:30 MDT Print View

98% of my hiking is solo. I do some off-trail stuff too. I carried a SPOT2 for a couple years. Switched last year to an ACR resqlink for all the reasons listed in earlier posts.

My first priority is a reliable rescue response. A PLB absolutely rules that. My next priority is sending an "I'm OK" message to prevent unnecessary rescue callouts. The 406Link subscription service does that well for me.

I am quite satisfied with the ACR unit. They are so much smaller, lighter, and cheaper now that it was a clear choice for me.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: The SPOT Usage Model is Superior to a PLB on 09/11/2012 10:20:59 MDT Print View

"A PLB is the better choice if you don't have loved ones that care where you are, how you are doing, and won't get in a rush to find your body."

If I wanted to be as inflammatory, I'd say, "A SPOT is a better choice if your loved ones (1) want you on a short leash or (2) your loved ones are better at performing SAR then the Coast Guard, Civil Air Patrol, Sheriff's Rescue Squad and the National Guard. But absolutely, for some, SPOT is a better fit and worth the added costs.

For me, at my lattitude, and in rough terrain, the better reception of some PLBs trumps SPOT's other capabilities.

The SPOT "Help" button is, in my mind, more useful than the "okay" button. (although, each, obviously, only means what you tell your phone/email list it means). The thing is, it is hard to compose those one or two help messages in advance. I do know pilots who have good contingency plans in place (and often are utilizing the tracking function), but mostly I think of the "help" button as the "send beer" button.

Paul Magnanti
(PaulMags) - MLife

Locale: People's Republic of Boulder
SPOT and PLB on 09/11/2012 10:33:07 MDT Print View

To me the short hand description is that a SPOT is better for the family back home. Sending out "I'M OK" and being able to be tracked real time really gives people a piece of mind back home. Just emphasize that the SPOT is not perfect and that sometimes the device is not 100% be it due to the SPOT itself or user error. Don't panic and call the SAR folks right off the bat. :) (Has happened!)


A PLB is better for emergencies due to the reasons listed in the above posts.

Both have their uses and pros/cons.

Edited by PaulMags on 09/11/2012 10:34:16 MDT.

Craig Rowland
(craigr) - MLife

Locale: Pacific NW
SPOT on 09/11/2012 16:27:09 MDT Print View

I had an ACR and sold it. I found I preferred having the tracking feature of the SPOT.

I volunteered with a search and rescue group in the past and a device like the SPOT that leaves "bread crumbs" in the area where you last were is a huge help to get rescuers to you if there is a problem. The PLBs are fine as well, but you need to activate them specifically. If you are incapacitated then nobody knows your last known position.

So just something to consider.

I posted an extensive review of my SPOT device in this video. The crux of it is that it works reliably in northern and southern hemispheres:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kj8HoOgmOwY

If ultimate reliability under all weather is desired, the ACR PLB is probably best. If you want the tracking feature more with pretty good chance of emergency signals also making it out the SPOT device seems fine as well.

IMO. The people watching you on SPOT need to be educated about it. For instance if the device stops working on you, they shouldn't panic and send out the calvalry. I would still use fixed dates of return, etc. and advise them that not seeing any tracking progress could mean a malfunction and not that you're in trouble. They should only get concerned if you are not back at your scheduled date and use the information to contact the authorities of last known coordinates on the map.

Edited by craigr on 09/11/2012 16:35:10 MDT.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
SPOT vs ACR on 09/11/2012 17:32:53 MDT Print View

>> The thing is, it is hard to compose those one or two help messages in advance <<

I found pre-composing a message really easy and a single message covers me in almost all situations... "I'm going to be late". Kind of open ended as it could mean hours or days! ;)

I would agree with those that see a Spot as providing a completely different service than a PLB. If I were an avid adventurer that was blazing new trails for extended periods of time in the wilderness or hanging off mountain tops, I'd have a PLB.

Since I'm wandering mostly on well defined trails when hiking and am only a bit more of a risk taker when fishing, I don't need a PLB but the Spot's SOS button can provide a "better than nothing" chance of rescue and allows me to send the less critical "I'm going to be late" message. I really like the casual contact that Spot can provide, that's a valuable service to me and if they could only improve their service to the point that the messages went to the right people, I'd be reasonably happy with the service.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Well, I tried on 09/11/2012 22:46:57 MDT Print View

David Thomas: I posted a nice writeup that thoroughly explains the SPOT usage model. If you don't understand the usage model, ask and I will be glad to explain it to you. The writeup also provides links to the Coast Guard showing that they take SPOT notifications just as seriously as a PLB - no difference to them.

There are good reasons to choose a PLB over SPOT, but emergency response is not one of them.

By the way, most people carrying a PLB have no idea if it will work or not, whereas SPOT users can easily test their unit and the notification system before heading out.

Most of us are "tethered" to loved ones and that is usually taken seriously by responsible adults. If nothing else please be nice to SAR who will have to do the search and make the recovery. Life is full of harsh realities.

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
PLB's do indeed have a self-test feature. on 09/12/2012 10:41:05 MDT Print View

"By the way, most people carrying a PLB have no idea if it will work or not, whereas SPOT users can easily test their unit and the notification system before heading out."

Zorg-

I know your response was to David, but feel compelled to respond because your info above is incorrect. PLB's do indeed have a self-test feature, a simple button that runs a quick self-diagnostic that will let us know if the unit is functioning correctly or not. And SPOT's themselves are not immune to failure, as recent news stories have demonstrated. Both units are electronic, both work most of the time, both save lives, and both can fail.

Which brings us to the most important thing and that is to continue to leave a trip plan with a loved one so that they know when you will be overdue, what area you planned to travel in, etc. Electronics are all fine and good, but I still leave a detailed trip plan with my husband (or someone else, if he's going to be with me) so that if I am overdue they know where to look. Just as David pointed out that no news isn't necessarily bad news, no news can also be bad news with either device. Neither device will work well (or at all, depending) in ravines or canyons, due to not having a good view of the sky, just as one example. Having a trip plan in place remains a necessity that no electronic device can replace.

I'm not trying to talk you out of SPOT because I think they are a good device with a mostly good track record, but I think you are grossly misinformed about the functionality of PLB's and their efficacy and that doesn't help the OP when he's trying to make a decision.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Re: Well, I tried on 09/12/2012 10:57:50 MDT Print View


There are good reasons to choose a PLB over SPOT, but emergency response is not one of them.


from one of the BPL reviews months after the actual review came out ...

Fourth, I have now had two SPOT-2 devices COMPLETELY FAIL while on hiking trips, one in May2011 and the other in Oct2011. The GPS chip stopped working, and the devices were dead-weight. In both cases SPOT replaced the unit. However, this level of reliability is a huge problem. This is one reason I think it's critical that the home-base knows that an absence of messages does not necessarily mean there is a problem. I'm still a fan of the SPOT concept and functional design. However, the reliability problems I've had make me eager to see some other company offer a competitive product.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
ignorance on 09/12/2012 12:42:02 MDT Print View

Zorg, if you wish to be ignorant then that's up to you, but please stop spreading your cluelessness online where others could be affected by it. Most PLBs can be tested thoroughly, including full feedback from the satellite system. You may have to pay a fee to keep that test function active after initial purchase, but how the flock is that any worse than SPOT's mandatory subscription fee?

Emergency respone is THE reason to choose a PLB over SPOT.

Ken Rubin
(ken.rubin) - F
Not sure if this is a third choice or a subset of the other two, but... on 09/13/2012 08:32:50 MDT Print View

What about the DeLorme? It is available from REI:

http://www.rei.com/product/840417/delorme-inreach-2-way-satellite-communicator-for-apple-ios-and-android

I didn't even know this stuff existed until I read this thread yesterday, so pardon my ignorance. I think they are a good idea and now want to get one. I am hoping this is somewhat equivalent to the spot devices, but perhaps does not suffer spot's occasional failures.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
OK, I'm game - tell me how your ACR can test the satellite path on 09/13/2012 09:02:00 MDT Print View

James: Tell me how your ACR can test the satellite path? I wasn't aware of such capability.

With SPOT you can test the satellite path and message network anytime you are in cell phone range.

My contention to PLB users is that you ASSUME your PLB is working and you ASSUME PLBs have a meaningfully higher reliability than SPOT. You are ASSUMING because you don't actually test your PLB. You carry it around like a talisman.

SPOT has had some well publicized quality problems. None of us are privy to data showing the observed failure rate of SPOT. What we have are a handful of forum posts which get spread around and around and around on forums over and over again (one failure becomes the standard carried by the anti-SPOT crowd). By the way, the GPS chip failure wouldn't stop the unit from sending a help or 911 signal - SPOT will send them with or without GPS coordinates.

Here are some reasons NOT to use SPOT:
If you are sailing or sea kayaking an EPIRB is a better choice. If you are messing around on either pole then a PLB is a better choice. If you are in extreme Arctic cold then a PLB is more likely to work than SPOT. If you are doing something where you will likely smash equipment then a PLB should be, (hopefully), a better choice. It is possible, (but I'm not aware of any), that there are places in the world where only the Cospas-Sarsat system can route emergency services. COST - SPOT dings you for $162 yearly for full-features plus rescue insurance. Secrecy - if you really don't want anyone to know where you are unless you have an emergency.

There is no comparable solution to SPOT and it is silly to compare the low-end PLB because a PLB doesn't offer the same features. SPOT is a better mousetrap. SPOT is a good product and I hate to see it disparaged by non-think on a forum. There are a zillion happy SPOT users, and I'm one of them.

A good read: https://sites.google.com/site/hobbyhintstricksideas/Home/spot-messenger-information

Jim MacDiarmid
(jrmacd) - MLife
Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/13/2012 09:07:15 MDT Print View

I was actually all set on getting a Spot for my upcoming trip after reading Alan Dixon's glowing review" from just under two years ago, I thought my decision was made, but now I'm in that same place as the OP. I leave in two days so it's too late to get the ACR for this trip, but I don't want to get the Spot just to 'have something.' Usually I travel all on trail, and popular trails at that, so I don't worry to much about being lost for days in need of rescue, despite traveling solo. This trip, I'll go cross-country a bit, though still in pretty popular areas, but I was thinking of getting the Spot 2 to make my girlfriend more comfortable, and I thought it'd be useful as well on my trip to South America this spring, for days when I don't want to locate an internet cafe or phone just to check-in. When you figure in the yearly subscription, the ACR really isn't any more than the Spot 2 over time, and it seems you can subscribe to a global satellite test, which can perform this same function as the "I'm Okay" Spot 2 message, with more reliability, according to what I'm reading here.

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - M

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/13/2012 10:16:04 MDT Print View

"My contention to PLB users is that you ASSUME your PLB is working and you ASSUME PLBs have a meaningfully higher reliability than SPOT. You are ASSUMING because you don't actually test your PLB. You carry it around like a talisman."

Zorg, please do not make false statements. I carry an ACR ResQLink 406 PLB and I test it monthly. As others in this thread have posted before me, there is a test button that you can push and it lets you know whether or not everything in the device is working properly.

I have not seen any information posted in this thread as to the methods used by each device to summon help. My PLB sends out a 406 MHz satellite signal which can narrow my location to within 2-3 miles. Additionally, a 121.5 MHz local homing signal is also transmitted which helps field teams find the beacon more easily. Finally, my GPS coordinates are also transmitted. The PLB will let me know if my distress signal is being transmitted and if it was able to successfully download and transmit my GPS coordinates.

According to http://www.rockymountainrescue.org/about_PLBs.php, "The SPOT system uses a higher frequency (1610 MHz) to communicate...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."

So yes, I suppose a GPS chip failure will not stop a SPOT unit from sending a help or 911 signal. I do not know how the help or 911 signals are sent by SPOT, but it looks like they may be sent in some way and possibly without any current information about your location if the GPS chip fails.

I went with my PLB because I decided that if I am conscious and can activate it, then my PLB will be more likely to be successful in calling for help. It would be very nice to have the tracking and "OK" features of the SPOT, but these are not as important to me as a higher probability of working when in an emergency. And as mentioned before, the 406link.com addition to my PLB can some what emulate the check-in feature of the SPOT.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: Re: Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/13/2012 14:45:10 MDT Print View

John: When you push the test button, you do not test the satellite path. You have to buy a subscription for that according to the ACR information. You are just running a little self-test otherwise. If you sign up at www.406link.com for the basic service @$40/year you can test your PLB.

Nobody uses 121.5Mhz - at least I'm not aware of SAR carrying a receivers - maybe civil air patrol.

And if you have a non-GPS PLB, the location accuracy is incredibly poor. +/-2 miles at best. That's a lot of area to search.

Unless you didn't test SPOT before leaving, SPOT was leaving electronic bread crumbs during your journey (track feature or pushing OK button). If the GPS chip failed, and you pressed 911, the unit would send a 911 message without GPS coordinates. Rescuers would have you last "bread crumbs" to start their search. Between the "bread crumbs", trip plan filed with people on your contact list, SAR should find you pretty fast.

Obviously in normal operation SPOT's accuracy is measured in tens of feet.

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - M

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: Re: Re: Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/13/2012 15:21:30 MDT Print View

Yes, I have a subscription to 406link.com and test it monthly so I am confident it is working. You are correct that without the subscription the self-test just verifies the unit is capable of working according to spec.

My question would be how does the SPOT send out its 911 messages? And is whatever method SPOT uses as reliable as that used by PLBs?

Larry De La Briandais
(Hitech) - F

Locale: SF Bay Area
How Spot processes "911" on 09/13/2012 15:35:42 MDT Print View

SOS: Use this function In the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency to notify emergency services of your GPS location and that you need assistance. The GEOS International Emergency Response Center alerts the appropriate agencies worldwide – for example contacting 9-1-1 responders in North America and 1-1-2 responders in Europe.




HOW IT WORKS:
Once activated, SPOT will acquire its exact coordinates from the GPS network, and send that location along with a distress message to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center every five minutes until cancelled or until the batteries are depleted. The Emergency Response Center notifies the appropriate emergency responders based on your GPS location and personal information – which may include local police, highway patrol, the Coast Guard, our country’s embassy or consulate, or other emergency search and rescue teams – as well as notifying your emergency contacts about the receipt of a distress signal.

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Even if SPOT cannot acquire its location from the GPS network it will still attempt to send a distress signal – without exact location – to GEOS, which will still notify your contacts of the signal and continue to monitor the network for further messages.

9-1-1 EMERGENCY SERVICES POWERED BY GEOS Search and Rescue

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - M

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: How Spot processes "911" on 09/13/2012 16:25:29 MDT Print View

Well, that is what SPOT does, not how it does it.

PLBs send out a 5 watt 406 MHz signal. From what I have been able to find (http://www.energyindustryphotos.com/a_guide_to_personal_locator_beac.htm), SPOT sends out a 0.4 watt 1610 MHz signal for its 911 calls.

The higher wattage and lower frequency signal used by PLBs translates to more reliable coverage (important when cloud and tree cover are involved or in a canyon or near a cliff).

I have considered using a SPOT and think they have their place, but this information might be something to consider when deciding between the two.

Dena Kelley
(EagleRiverDee) - M

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
Delorme InReach on 09/13/2012 16:45:05 MDT Print View

"What about the DeLorme? It is available from REI:

I didn't even know this stuff existed until I read this thread yesterday, so pardon my ignorance. I think they are a good idea and now want to get one. I am hoping this is somewhat equivalent to the spot devices, but perhaps does not suffer spot's occasional failures."

I am a Delorme customer. I have the PN-60W which is compatible with the InReach but I don't have it (yet). Delorme used to be partnered with SPOT, and so it had SPOT CONNECT with the Delorme. Recently Delorme came out with InReach, and frankly it's basically the best of all worlds- you get all the features of SPOT with all the reliability of SARSAT and GPS. The downside is that it is very expensive in comparison to SPOT or a PLB. A Delorme PN-60W with the InReach is $600. InReach is also available for use with your Smartphone so if you don't need a GPS then you can just get the Smartphone compatible unit. Some of the benefits that make it a "better mousetrap" (to quote someone here) is that it confirms that your SOS has been received, and it allows 2 way text messaging so that you aren't limited to a preset message. You can actually provide information regarding being late, an injury etc. Like SPOT, there are fees associated with the services, and different plans are available.

http://www.inreachdelorme.com/product-info/inreach-smartphone.php

Edited by EagleRiverDee on 09/13/2012 16:49:03 MDT.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: Re: How Spot processes "911" on 09/13/2012 19:53:04 MDT Print View

Power is misleading and should be ignored. What is important is the frequency of transmission to the satellites. The lower frequency (which requires more power) is better at passing through tree cover. Neither the PLB or SPOT are going to cover any terrestrial distance - this is not ground to ground communication. Neither are effected noticeably by weather. Both require a clear view of satellites, but it might be possible to bounce a 406Mhz signal off a canyon wall - maybe (but there won't be any position information). A non-GPS plb needs to see more than 1 satellite to determine position. Spot satellites move in and out of view.

I have tested SPOT in Rain, blizzard and under a foot of fresh snow and it works. I know that it can't get a good GPS lock under canopy, but I don't know if it can still get a help or 911 message out. GPS-equipped PLBs will have the same issue with obtaining a GPS lock.

One thing to remember though, SPOT doesn't rely on one bullet-proof message. The SPOT usage model is to leave lots of bread crumbs.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 09/13/2012 21:14:04 MDT Print View

Zorg, you correctly referenced 406link.com above, which pretty much eliminates the statement "you can't test your PLB through the satellite system". Yes, it costs $40-$60, but that is a lot less than SPOT's mandatory fees for basic coverage plus tracking (bread crumbs).

"One thing to remember though, SPOT doesn't rely on one bullet-proof message. The SPOT usage model is to leave lots of bread crumbs."

Only if you pay extra for tracking, and only if the SPOT units keeps working, which has proven to be quite suspect for a number of users.

The PLB doesn't rely on one bulletproof message. It continues to transmit until the battery is exhausted (which is 12-24 hours for most ACR models) or the unit is turned off. IIRC the SPOT quits after 3 tries, but I am not 100% on that.

Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: How Spot processes "911" on 09/14/2012 00:26:50 MDT Print View

It was posted in another thread, but I think Practical Sailor's writeup of the Aegean incident is worth mentioning again.

In that case, GEOS followed their procedure for when no location was transmitted by leaving a voicemail for the emergency contact and then waited for further messages. (I.e. they didn't look at tracking data and emergency services weren't notified until many hours later when other sailors reported debris.)

It is mentioned in the article's comments that GEOS has since updated their SOP to have the duty officer take a look at the track.

While it does seem the the reliability of SPOT units is increasing, the lack of initiative on the part of the duty officer in what is supposedly an emergency situation is very troubling to me.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: _ on 09/15/2012 09:34:46 MDT Print View

James: The basic SPOT service includes the "OK" feature. You simply push the OK button whenever you feel like it. The unit will try 3 times to send the OK message over a 20 minute interval. You don't have to be stationary for this to work. Just leave the unit on, (so it can constantly update it's GPS position), and push the "OK" button every once in a while and you'll be leaving "bread crumbs". Your "OK" contact list can receive both email and text messages with your location - which they can plug into Google Earth (or maps) and check out your progress.

The tracking feature, which I use, is very convenient. I leave it on all day and turn it off when I've made camp. Very easy on batteries - I get more that 2 weeks solid use (80hrs +) per set.

My "bulletproof message" idea is based on the fact that nobody knows where you are with a PLB until you have an emergency. And if you are unable to activate the unit - well, nobody knows where you are. The SPOT usage model is much different in that folks should know where you are because you've been "Track"ing or "OK"ing. If you are unable to activate 911, SAR still knows pretty much where you are.

If there is a downside to the SPOT model, it is that it does rely in some cases on your emergency contact list. So it is important that you don't put stupid people on your emergency contact list as they could tell GEOS that it is a false alarm when it really isn't, etc.

SPOT doesn't eliminate the need for a trip plan communicated to folks on the emergency contact list. I set up a "where am I?" webpage and I email them the link (although they've all bookmarked it) and a brief description of where I'm going and when I will return. The webpage gives them a breakdown of agreed upon conditions. (See https://sites.google.com/site/hobbyhintstricksideas/Home/where-am-i ).

Personally, I'm happy that we're having this thread because I'd like to see more folks carrying a PLB or SPOT in the backcountry. Makes SAR's job much easier and the outcome more pleasant.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: Re: How Spot processes "911" on 09/15/2012 09:52:01 MDT Print View

Jeremy: A couple of problems jumped out at me from reading the Aegean incident.

First, no sailor should use SPOT as their primary emergency locator. Why? Because the ocean is an ultra-nasty environment with a history of middle-of-the-night nastiness that has claimed many a boat. An EPIRB was the correct choice as it would have activated once in the water (nobody has to push a button) and there is no questioning the alert (unless it isn't properly registered - the false alarm rate is 97% and the Coast Guard in Greece isn't going to fly out on every one).

Second, your SPOT emergency contact list should have more than one person. GEOS will call down the list (I know from experience). Third, your contact list should have their cell phones programmed to recognize the GEOS number and play a distinct ring-tone. The emergency contact list is very important and people on that list need to understand their responsibility.

Lastly, note that SPOT addressed the issue head on. That should be comforting to know that they take this seriously.

Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: Re: How Spot processes "911" on 09/15/2012 16:38:14 MDT Print View

Zorg:

Agree, especially on the EPIRB. I'm still waiting for the final report, but it sounds like they didn't have one on board. (Yes, exactly.) This was near North Coronado Island, off San Diego.

I like that SPOT seems to be improving at a decent rate, but I still don't think it's ready to play the "primary emergency locator" role on land either. Some of that comes from its not using SARSAT, and some is the GEOS issue. While they fixed the process gap, the fact that it happened in the first place is very reminiscent of the "growing pains" I've seen with outsourced work in other places (and thus my concern).

Third, your contact list should have their cell phones programmed to recognize the GEOS number and play a distinct ring-tone.

This is a really good idea that might not occur to many. Are the numbers easily available, consistently used, and do they show on caller ID?

Now, I don't currently take a PLB backpacking; I'm not traveling to sufficiently remote or dangerous areas. A custom message of "I'm delayed but OK, don't call SAR" combined with breadcrumbs for friends and family provides more value for my particular use case, and the SOS button is an added benefit. Owning both would be ideal, but costly. Unless a particular trip forces my hand, I expect I'll give the market a few more years to mature.

Hamish McHamish
(El_Canyon) - M

Locale: USA
_ on 09/15/2012 18:00:33 MDT Print View

"And if you are unable to activate the unit - well, nobody knows where you are. The SPOT usage model is much different in that folks should know where you are because you've been "Track"ing or "OK"ing. If you are unable to activate 911, SAR still knows pretty much where you are."

Very true. This gets into the grey zone between the PLBs and the SPOT, where you could go either way depending on your perspective and what feels risky to you.

Remember, I started with the SPOT-2 then swapped to the ACR PLB. Here was my reasoning. I don't claim it is valid for everyone else.

I began to have serious concerns about my SPOT when I saw the reports roll in of intermittent communications and failing SPOT units. I also personally had a disturbing number of OK messages fail to make it through. I had to decide what to rely on.

I spent a number of years working in emergency and wilderness medicine. I don't do it professionally anymore but I have kept all my certs current. What I found was that most of the mishaps I felt I would face would leave me either 1) dead or 2) able to set off the PLB, even if that meant doing so after waking up after getting knocked out. If I suffered a mishap that would permanently stop me from setting off the PLB, I would be dead immediately or would likely die before rescue could arrive anyway.

Are there holes in that thinking? Perhaps. Maybe I could physically lose my PLB, then get into trouble. That's where days of previous SPOT crumbs would save the day. So I keep the PLB in my waist pack and secured with cord. That's my compromise. I would note, however, that the breadcrumb example brought up earlier still resulted in the death of the sailors. Not because of their SPOT, but because the incident itself sent them to the deep.

I am willing to give up SPOT's breadcrumbs in exchange for (IMO) improved hardware, a better satellite system, and a more reliable incident management infrastructure.

You buys your ticket and you takes your chances.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/15/2012 18:25:26 MDT Print View

Hey, guys, this is a great thread. I'm an old GPS guy, but I have only pondered these various products that shoot to a satellite the other way. It is also good that several users here have completely different perspectives of what makes one product good, and a lot of that comes from what the expectations are. So, when you say that Product X is the best, you need to state how you've used it and what you expect. Some backpackers just like their toys, you know.

--B.G.--

John Harper
(johnnyh88) - M

Locale: The SouthWest
Re: SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 09/15/2012 19:03:33 MDT Print View

"What I found was that most of the mishaps I felt I would face would leave me either 1) dead or 2) able to set off the PLB, even if that meant doing so after waking up after getting knocked out. If I suffered a mishap that would permanently stop me from setting off the PLB, I would be dead immediately or would likely die before rescue could arrive anyway."

James, you about perfectly summed up why I chose a PLB. Additionally, if hiking with a group, I figure that at least one of us is likely to be conscious and able to turn it on. I've gone through with my hiking partners where the PLB is in my pack and how and when to use it.

One additional reason I chose the ACR ResQLink 406 PLB is that with the 406link.com subscription, I can send out test messages which get e-mailed and texted to my emergency contacts. I have told them that if they receive a test message from me when I'm on a trip, it basically means "I'm OK, but will be late coming back - do NOT send out any one to look for me." They will not know the cause of my late-ness (an injured ankle which slows me down, a big storm I had to sit out, got lost, etc), only that I am OK and self-rescue is possible/under-way, thereby preventing an unnecessary search.

The DeLorme inReach system sounds very interesting. According to the excellent recent trip report on the Sierra High Route (http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=68276), it seems to have worked great and proved useful for at least one hiker already.

Randy Nelson
(rlnunix) - F - M

Locale: Rockies
SPOT on 09/15/2012 20:32:14 MDT Print View

I've posted this before but here goes again. I have the original SPOT and as AFAIK, it's only failed to get OK messages out twice. I don't send a lot of them on a trip and have not logged them but do check when I return and I've seen what I expected. Both times they didn't get through was at the TH for CT segment 4. Which is strange as the trees are not dense there. No idea why those failed. But 2 failures in 3 years isn't bad. I'll just make sure I don't need help at that TH. :)

I've tested it multiple times where I was in dense (by Colorado standards anyway) tree cover. Then I sent another message from a relatively open area nearby. They've all gone through.

I do use it to signal deviations from my planned itinerary which is very helpful. I don't want to be tied to a fixed plan so I leave a detailed itinerary and go over possible options. If I deviate from the proposed plan, I leave a series of OK messages showing the deviation.

Here's an example. I leave in the morning for a week long trip. My proposed itinerary involves some off trail travel. I've had some knee issues recently and while they feel good now, if they give me trouble, I'll stay on trail or return to the TH if they really act up. BUT, my wife is instructed that no OK messages don't mean anything. Any electrical device can fail. She's only to call for help if I don't notify her by the end of the trip. If I'm not out by the stated time but continue to send OK messages, then I'm just delayed. My help message says, I'm not in a life threatening situation, but I can't proceed and notify authorities.

I like the Inreach concept very much as you can provide a lot more information and get confirmations as well. But I think they have a lousy services plan. I want to be able to send all the OK messages I want but they limit that. They should really re-think their offering.

Edited by rlnunix on 09/15/2012 20:34:01 MDT.

Rich J
(PNWhiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Any changes since last year? on 05/04/2013 11:56:36 MDT Print View

Hi,

Any updates on this topic? I’ll likely use my May REI coupon on one of these.

Although the SPOT usage model matches my needs perfectly, I’m leaning heavily towards the ACR. The main issue is the horrific business policies of SPOT. I wonder if they have improved at all?

By the way, from a statistical perspective I consider them to provide equal amounts of protection. Assume that SPOT works ‘most’ of the time (i.e. the probability of it not working at any given time is small). Now, assume that the probability of needing an SOS is very, very small. Assuming these are independent (that is, there is no relationship between an emergency situation and the SPOT not working) then the probability of you needing SPOT and it not working is the two probabilities multiplied together. That will be a very, very, very small number. That is traded off with the breadcrumb feature of SPOT that gives protection for the situation where you can’t push the button when you need the help (you are unconscious, the device was damaged in the fall that incapacitated you, etc.). So, I’d SWAG that as a wash.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Zorg Zumo
(BurnNotice) - F
Re: Any changes since last year? on 05/04/2013 18:41:47 MDT Print View

SPOT is not like REI's return policy. Maybe that is what you mean by "horrific". I guess the best way to think of SPOT is that you are buying a "service" - you've already bought a chunk of hardware. The hardware can come and go but the "service" is a specific contract.

SPOT is easy to test, so if it doesn't work - pitch it in the trash and get another.

This is pretty much the reverse of PLBs where you spend your money on the hardware to use a free service.

From a cost perspective, PLBs are getting to be a better deal. There are some shortcomings of course, but you can buy a service and send an OK message. Delorme is also scrambling to release it's latest gadget - looks pretty cool. My point is that there is now some feature & price competition with SPOT which I think is healthy.

$99/yr and a $99 piece of hardware that lets you wander around and keep loved ones in the loop - seems hard to beat right now.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
SPOT vs ACR? Need some advice on 05/05/2013 00:48:32 MDT Print View

>> Although the SPOT usage model matches my needs perfectly, I’m leaning heavily towards the ACR <<

If the SPOT usage model matches your needs perfectly, why would you buy an ACR? A Spot is a messaging device and ACR a locator beacon. I state the obvious but think about it... an ACR you buy and hope you never use it. That's a poor value proposition if you look at it in terms of hours of use for the price paid. Spot on the other hand, is made to use constantly, so you are paying more for a subscription but you receive hours of enjoyment from it. To me an ACR is like my bear spray. A last chance option that I hope I never need to use.

I have a Spot and an inReach (and have pre-ordered the new inReach SE) and I see these messengers for what they are... a way to communicate to family and friends when off the grid. It's a bonus that it can also send a distress call in the very unlikely event I should need assistance... that's a big bonus!

It sounds to me that you like the idea of the Spot but have heard some bad things about them. Don't condemn all messaging devices just because one company has failed to deliver, check out the competition to get what you really want.

J R
(JRinGeorgia) - F
REI coupon? on 05/05/2013 06:22:27 MDT Print View

"I’ll likely use my May REI coupon on one of these."

Are you sure it's valid for a PLB purchase? Usually REI coupons exclude PLBs and GPSs.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Use? on 05/05/2013 07:10:28 MDT Print View

"think about it... an ACR you buy and hope you never use it.... ... Spot on the other hand, is made to use constantly,..."

With SPOT you constantly Hope it is working. With a PLB you Know it will work.

Priceless.

Edited by greg23 on 05/05/2013 07:14:18 MDT.

Rich J
(PNWhiker) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Comments on 05/05/2013 09:15:34 MDT Print View

Thanks for the comments.

> Usually REI coupons exclude PLBs and GPSs.

Yikes! I’ve never checked. That would be a bummer.

‘Horrific’ business practices was probably a poor choice of words. I have no grudge against SPOT; I’m just reacting to what I have been reading here on this forum and in the REI and Amazon reviews. First, according to the reviews, SPOT makes it overly onerous to cancel your subscription. If you call in 1 day late and cancel then you are charged for the entire year of service. That’s just plain rip-off in my book. Second are the hidden fees people complain about. It’s equivalent to, “oh, did you want wheels on that car?” People indicate that once you are done with necessary services and pre-purchase of a few messages your yearly fee is well north of $99. These kind of things show me that the basic ‘customer philosophy’ of the company is primarily adversarial. And, well, yes compare that to REI. These folks will just bend over backwards to make sure you are satisfied. That’s the type of business I like to deal with. Perhaps SPOT has read the reviews as well, realized these practices are costing them business, and have changed?

> check out the competition

I know of DeLorme. Are there others?

Thanks.

Rex Sanders
(Rex) - M

Locale: Central California Coast
Re: Competition to SPOT and DeLorme inReach on 05/05/2013 09:52:33 MDT Print View

"I know of DeLorme. Are there others?"

Yes.
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/satellite_communications_sotmr_part3.html
See the comments for recent updates.

Also:
http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/satellite_communications_sotmr_part1.html