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eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F - M
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 B.
(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 B.
(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.