PLB vs. SEND

PLB vs. Spot Tracker
There have been a number of threads in recent times on PLBs that have gravitated to a discussion on the merits and differences of PLBs and Satellite Messengers.
It prompted me to read further on the topic, as I am often prompted to do following threads on EO, and I came across this article. It is brief and concise and it was written by a group that I have respect for, Outdoor Gear Lab.
Bearing in mind, it is a review by Outdoor Gear Lab, not me!
Our pursuits are varied, from mountain and rock climbing in Alpine regions, to remote area desert travel via four-wheel drive, and coastal kayaking. Safety and communications is always at the fore-front of mind and consequently we carry a suite of communication and safety devices, including.
> PLB
> Spot Tracker
> Iridium Satphone
> HF Radio
> UHF Radio
Our reason for having a suite of communication and safety devices is simple, none are mutually exclusive.
I'll leave you to read the review...
Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 08:19

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 08:19
I don't know much about inReach, but it is another Spot type option Baz.
Might as well add it to the list if you can, maybe this page could be a place to work towards a total list of outback comms options.

Of course add any / all of the sat Phone options, they all have their own little idiosyncrasies . . . if people can put up a sort of personal analysis, maybe the end result could be a sort of chart with pros and cons of each of the phones, radios, and tracker options . . .

The end result could be something very handy to give anyone a balanced look at what the outback comms options are, and what option (or combination of options) suits THEIR travel situation best.
Otherwise it will just end up 100 answers all over the place.

I had a thought about adding mobile phones and the different antenna options, providers coverage, plans etc, but really the above are generally the main outback / 4WD travel comms options, and phones could have their own thread !
Plus phone tech and plans are changing so rapidly !!
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 09:04

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 09:04
Hi Les

Unfortunately I can’t change the thread title.

However the article discuss’s Satellite Emergency Notification Devices (SEND) and people should feel free to discuss the range of devices available.

But what the article does is highlight the differences between PLBs and SEND by looking at Spot, which is a SEND.

Cheers, Baz
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Reply By: HKB Electronics - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 11:05

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 11:05
The statement:

"but they also let you communicate key details to help the rescue. You can't do that with the ACR or SPOT devices."

As far as I could see in my quick scan of the above article they treated all spot devices the same, my spot has the ability to send user defined messages, though it my not be able to communicate directly with the emergency service provider you can send a text message to your predefined contact group which could contain information to help with your recovery.

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Reply By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 14:56

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 14:56
.
Baz, in your referred article........."there have been many documented cases of the SPOT 2 not transmitting an SOS successfully, and / or transmitting an SOS message without a GPS lock, which tells authorities and your contacts that you're in trouble, but not where you are."
Yep, that sure sounds just what I am looking for to save my life.... LIKE HELL!!!!

There is no question...... PLB for me. Backed up with a satphone which doubles as the social communicator.
No Dinky Toys thanks.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 14:59

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 14:59
.
Oh, and I never did get a reply to my question in the earlier Thread which was .....


I'm confused......

If a SPOT device is "the same as" or "as good as" a PLB, as some are claiming, then why are some people carrying both?


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Allan

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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 15:21

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 15:21
Hi Alan

From my perspective I don’t see these devices as being mutually exclusive. They do share similar functionality, however in an emergency a PLB will almost certainly outperform a Spot device. I’m reluctant to say 100% of the time, but my money is on the PLB 99.9% of the time.

And is what I will rely on in need.

The Spot does have other functionality that a PLB does not have and these functions are described on the Spot website.

For me, I have both as the Spot has a tracking function and ability to transmit pre-populated messages with an added ability to serve as a back-up to a PLB for emergencies.

Cheers, Baz
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Follow Up By: Member - David M (SA) - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 17:31

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 17:31
I spend a lot of time solo and carry a GME PLB.
If I get into a situation where I have to activate it I don't want to communicate with anyone. I don't want to inform the people at home I'm in trouble. I want a helicopter to come over the hill in the shortest time.
Had to renew it this year and as my trips are about to taper off I thought " do I really need it " Then I noticed a little man by the name of Murphy on my shoulder. Money well spent.
Dave.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 19:24

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 19:24
Hi David

I carry a PLB as I have great confidence in its ability to quickly and efficiently notify authorities that I need urgent assistance. And I have this confidence due to how it works and monitored.

Like you I spend a lot of solo time in remote locations and the Spot enables me to send a message at day’s end that I am “travelling okay”... I can’t achieve that with a PLB.

Neither is mutually exclusive, but if you only want something for an emergency I’m in agreement with you, carry a PLB...!

But as always, each to their own...

Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:02

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:02
Allan,

I never thought a SPOT was as good as or better than a PLB, but your cry in the wilderness made me feel bad, so I answered your question :-)

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:14

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:14
Hi Allan

The report must be quite old, as the SPOT 2 has not been on the market for a few years and was replaced with the SPOT 3.

When we were away in August, I would send home to my contacts every day a pre set message that is transmitted via satellite and the messages went through every day. The SPOT transmits your GPS location every 5 minutes.

One time when we stopped for lunch and then went for a walk taking photos, my dad thought we must have had car trouble, as we were stopped in the same location longer than we usually do.

If this was the situation and we were away from the car, on foot and had we have been in trouble, dad could have told authorities our exact location without us having to press any help buttons on the SPOT or our PLB.

As we carry both, both do compliment each other and for me the SPOT is great to let people exactly where you are within 5 minutes of real time travel



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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:36

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:36
Hi Stephen,

We were both typing our replies at the same time and we both pointed out that the SPOT does not require activation. The tracking feature really is a great safety feature particularly if you have friends who know your plans and are following you.

Chris
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:45

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:45
Hi Chris

Great minds think alike.

That was how we knew you were In a spot of bother when you were rain in at Neale Breakaway and if it was not for following your daily movement, we would not have known you were stranded.

Cheers


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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:14

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:14
Hi Stephen

The article is current, it does refer to both Spot 2 & 3. It does highlight many cases where Spot 2 did not transmit an SOS message.

My experience is similar to both yours and Idler Chris. And hence why I carry both.

The article does highlight that if it was just used for an emergency than you might go the PLB, but it depends on your requirements and that a SEND device may fit the requirement better.

What the article does is highlight the differences in the various devices.

Cheers, Baz
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Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 16:48

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 16:48
Terrible review.
To not compare ongoing cost in the Price / Value comparison, hmmm.
And pick one of the highest cost PLBs too, not that it matters too much, as it will likely go for at least 7 years waiting for its calling.

inReach better than a sat phone ?
which sat phone are they comparing to anyway, that is such a erroneous statement, this comparison by Outdoor Gear Lab wasn't even covering sat phones (or HF) in the comparison, 2 very capable forms of outback comms for emergency.

The bottom line is, you want a Spot / inReach type for special reasons besides a full blown emergency response / search, like remote access to tracking, basic messaging, etc . . . and maybe, just maybe get it a little less expensive than a sat phone.

A Sat phone can arguably better enable the most versatile comms for all situations, with direct person to person voice contact.

With either option sat phone or tracker type device, you will pay.
A whole lot more than $25 a year for a PLB, or in my case with a 2nd unit bought recently, $22.015 a year.

Everyone has different levels of need both from a risk aspect and personal resilience.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 19:47

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 19:47
Hi Les

A recent thread on EO was on “Which PLB” that gravitated to a discussion on the merits of different devices. And there was a lot of discussion, some more informed than others.

The thrust of the succinct Outdoor Gear article was too demonstrate differences between Emergency Devices rather than a cost based analysis of what is available.

Armed with information on how these devices differ will hopefully enable others to form a view on what might suit them best.

Highlighting the EO site has an in-depth article on PLBs.

Cheers, Baz
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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:22

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:22
They put the Price vs Value chart in the review / comparison, they didn't do it right and include ongoing costs.

A big error for people looking at that.
Eg. over the life of a PLB, say 7 years min (with some like KTI being 10 or 11 years), it works out roughly thus . . .

PLB $250, max $35.70 a year, mine will be eqivelent of $175 for 7 years.

Vs.

Spot $ 239 cost
Batts $ 80 based on 4 sets of 8 good aaa batts per year (4 trips)
Subs $ 1995 based on $285 a year (7 yrs) for full service with track, messages, sos etc.

Total $ 2314

Vs

inReach $ 500
No batts (lithium recharge)
Subs $2150 inc sign up, 7 yrs, Expedition level, 1000 track points, then 18c ea . . . allowed 4 months connected, and 8 mths standby rate
Total $2650

All info gleaned as best possible for Australian market.
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Follow Up By: Idler Chris - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 23:16

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 23:16
Hi Les,

You have gone to a bit of trouble there and I am sure it will be helpful to some.

However in the Price v Value stakes I would point out the "value" in this context could be your life. I would hope that readers use your post to make a purchase budget, not decide what they should buy.

BTW I am only paying $215 AUD pa ($165 USD) at todays exchange rate for the Spot service.

Cheers,

Chris
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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 23:41

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 23:41
Absolutely Chris, that's the point . . . the PLB is both the best value option AND the most reliable / fastest acted on emergency service option.

For best value comms all round a Sat phone would be first pick, possibly HF radio (which is almost defunct now considering it is a little restricted and takes a bit of knowledge to use).

Spot and inReach with the right package is good for the tracking for family and messages.

I thought there might be some better deals on annual subs for the trackers, so over 7 years, if dong 4 trips a year with new batteries, your Spot would be around $2300 inc unit cost.

Cost is certainly something to consider, if there is a fail proof emergency option available for about 7.5% to 10% of the cost.
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 07:21

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 07:21
Hi Les

As Chris has pointed out the pricing for the SPOT is not quite right.

Firstly no one would pay that price for a SPOT, as when I looked around 18 months again, I payed only $175, the new SPOT 3 is very good on battery use and even on 5 weeks of use this year, the batteries are still very good, or if you do not want to use batteries, you can connect it to a power supply using a USB lead, or you can use recharable batteries and also the yearly fee is not that high on the lowest 5 minute tracking.

Also with the PLB on our previous trips, on one at home ever knew where we were when travelling if I never gave them a call on the sat phone.

Now within 5 minutes of real time travelling I can be tracked by anyone that is following me. Like I have said, both units are different and both compliment each other and I like the fact that my family can see where I am without have to press either the SOS button or activate my PLB.


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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 09:51

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 09:51
You don't need to buy spot batteries, get a couple of battery tabs from Jaycar, cut yourself a plastic card about the same size of the batteries a attach the battery tabs to the card, the car mounts inside the spot unit where the batteries usually go. Purchase a 3V DCDC inverter off Ebay and connect it to the card using a flat cable, and to the vehicles power. All up will cost about $5 and no more batteries required. If you need or want to take the spot out of the car then simple remove the card adaptor and fit batteries.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 10:13

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 10:13
Stephen, thanks for the info, it figures pricing for the unit itself could be less than the official page occasionally through retailers.

The point is there is an ongoing cost involved that make a Spot or inReach quite expensive for the service, a sat phone is a small step up in cost and offer similar ongoing costs for smart plans and use.

Spot Pricing

The Basic Plan is AUD$290 or so, according to that, paying the annual subs, paying monthly = $383.90/yr.

Over a min 7 yr PLB lifespan, that is $2030 by annual payment, if comparing to a 10 yr PLB, $2900.
That is no small amount.

It's just something for people to be aware of when comparing PLBs and tracking devices.

HKB, yes easy enough, and a good idea.
But that kind of makes the easy portability a bit too much trouble for real life, after a while many would just go for a walk from camp without worrying, just human nature.

***** If tracking (by family) was important to me, I would definitely consider a Spot or inReach, and weight it all up.

***** For sure, one place the trackers would be good is for total incapacitation, but in reality, it may be still some time before it is noticed by home.
You obviously leave your tracker on 24/7 on trips, to get the full benefit of them I expect you would have to.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 11:26

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 11:26
Hi Les

Whilst cost will be a consideration in the choice people make PLB vs. SEND, it is perhaps more important that people understand the unique differences between the alternatives.

And there are some key differences in the way they operate.

Equally they have different functionality.

A PLB has one function; advise authorities I need urgent assistance. SEND devices have other functionality which will come at a price, similar to the ongoing cost of owning a phone, for example.

That was the thrust of the Outdoor Gear article and the intention of my post in the first instance.

Value propositions on emergency devices will always be somewhat academic to the point that one needs to place a value on "having the best chance of survival in an emergency". People will value that differently.

Notwithstanding, your input on costs does highlight another differential between devices that people might need to consider...

Cheers, Baz
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:01

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:01
As has been pointed out they each have there own benefits, we never take the spot out of the car so portability is not an issue, the spot is purely for tracking or sending the occasional message. We have a PLB and sat phone for emergencies.

One aspect we did consider when taking up spot was having a PLB is fine if you can use it, same for sat phone or the HF we carry all. I have though read of instances, one for example was a couple of guys doing mineral exploration, they had a very well setup vehicle and all the safety and recovery gear etc. The vehicle caught fire and burned so quickly they had no time to get the PLB etc out of the car or anything else for that matter out of the car.

Another was a vehicle rollover where the occupant was to badly injured to be able to use the emergency contact equipment, with spot we are always being tracked by our family etc, if we stop at a place for a few days and don't send a "where at our camp for the night and all is well" they know something is wrong and can try the sat phone etc if still no response then they can advise the appropriate services.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:33

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:33
Yes, I think the obvious differences in them has been covered well enough.

There is no need "to place a value on having the best chance of survival in an emergency".
A PLB will do this no probs, for a minuscule amount in comparison.

If you need a messages back up for mech breakdown, tracking for family at home to see your progress, or send regular messages etc, then great, a Spot or inReach (and maybe others out there) can be used at a price to do this.

I would certainly be comparing prices for sat phone in such a case, as they are plentiful (even second hand) at much more reasonable cost and plans etc now . . . they can even send emails and messages to normal mobiles back home.

As said, the tracking type of benefits would be good for incapacitation, IF someone at home was monitoring.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 13:16

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 13:16
"There is no need "to place a value on having the best chance of survival in an emergency".
A PLB will do this no probs, for a minuscule amount in comparison."

I would not agree with that statement, it depends on the emergency, a couple of years ago I was listening to VKS provide assistance to a woman who's husband had a stroke, she was in a caravan, she did not know how to hitch up the van, only had a minimal understanding of how to use the radio, and couldn't get her husband into the car.

If they had been relying on a PLB he would have been dead by the time help got there. VKS was able to give her medical assistance working with the flying doctor service. A person from a nearby cattle station travelled to their location and helped provide first aid as well as transport the womans husband to the station where the royal flying doctor could meet them.

I would not put a price on my or my families safety, PLB are good in a life threatening situation if the authorities have the necessary time to act and you can activate them.

Spot devices allow others to keep an eye on you as well as basic communications.

Sat phones are good again providing you have time on your side and know who to contact to provide the assistance you need.

HF radio has the advantage that the remote end can arrange help or recovery for you if you can't. It also has the great advantage that there maybe someone in the area who can provide you with assistance before the situation becomes life threatening, neither a PLB or a Sat phone can to do that.

From my perspective the cost is insignificant compared to my life or that of others, if your going to rely on one form of emergency contact equipment because of costs concerns them maybe you should seriously reconsider travelling to places where your life or someone else's might depend on it.

Unfortunately these days too many are more worried about the cost than safety factor of having multiple redundancies, in other words they are relying on someone else to get them out of trouble they most likely wouldn't have gotten into in the first place if they were well prepared for what they were doing. Yes crap does happen even to those that have planed carefully, in those situations it is nice to have multiple backups.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 16:27

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 16:27
Yes HKB, the only thing that would help in that situation you mentioned is HF or sat phone, tracker messages would be next to useless.

I'm not worried about cost personally, but I won't throw $$$ away on something that would be a limited benefit to me, with features I don't need.

I think all has been said here that can be said, otherwise it'll be repeat of the same old stuff.

I've already said some people might find the services of tracking devices good for them, and if so theyr should compare all the benefits or those, sat phones, even HF.

If they only need a full blown emergency type tool at minimal cost, that's easy to use, then a PLB will do the trick.

As long as they haven't just got a GSM mobile and UHF to rely on.
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Reply By: Idler Chris - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:30

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 21:30
Like most others I carry both because while they are both able to summon sos help they have other useful functions. Quite apart from that if you have a real emergency you do not want the device to fail, but they are electronic devices so performance cannot be guaranteed 100% of the time so having a backup is a wise move.
The article makes much comment about the possible unreliability of the Spot network. Over many years now I have followed friends tracking all over Australia. Plots sometimes may take a little longer than the usual 10 minute plot time, but in my opinion and experiance the Spot tracker is extremely reliable.
Lastly, the Spot device has one extremely important feature that a PLB does not have. A PLB requires it to be activated, that is you must be conscious and physically able to activate it. It is not like an EPIRB which will automatically activate if it is in water. A Spot device is constantly transmitting your position. Consider a situation where you are on your own and had a heart attack, fell over a cliff, or encountered some other situation where you physically could not get to the PLB in your backpack or where ever you carry it. Eventually someone is going to notice you are missing. They either get on the internet to see where you are and if you are moving, or use a satellite phone to ring someone who does have an internet connection. Knowing where you are could save days of searching and if you are badly injured could make the difference between life and death.
I recently ran into 2 Queensland Fisheries inspectors who were in a boat on the Cooper Creek checking for illegal fishing. They both had a Spot device hanging off their belts. They told me the reason was so the Fisheries Department could monitor all their employees in remote locations as part of their OH&S responsibilities. Sounds very sensible to me given that many of the people they catch breaking the law are likely to also be armed.

The bottom line is what is your life worth. To me my life is worth a lot more than the cost of a PLB, a Spot, and a satphone so it a no brainer to have all three.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:16

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:16
Agree...!

Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Reply By: Les - PK Ranger - Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:32

Tuesday, Dec 05, 2017 at 22:32
One thing I noted on the Spot / inReach pages was batteries !!

Spot, 8 x aaa = $$$

inReach has inbuilt litium rechargable, about 100hrs in 10min spot mode.
The inReach didn't state in pages about recharge time.

Both use batteries at roughly double the rate when not a totally clear sky.

Both need to be turned on to use them, eg. if you conserve Spot batteries once stopped, or through the night, it of course ceases to function.

PLB switch needs to be thrown, and antenna put up, so not much in it there for ease of use in an emergency.

Looking at the basic packages for Spot and inReach, I'd say for most inReach would be better value, you can go down to $29.95 / mth when on trips, $5.95 / mth suspension fee between trips.
this has some basic messages allowance (10)
All pricing here . . . inReach pricing

inReach you still have to pay something for all messages on all plans.
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Follow Up By: gerard m2 - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 01:17

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 01:17
Great series of posts about PLB’s and Spot and very timely as I am looking at adding to our “safety kit”. We currently have most the usual suspects ie mobile phones, UHF and a Sat phone.

My view is that as a pure safety item it is the PLB all the way, if we have an emergency in a remote area then our first item used would be the Sat phone followed by the PLB. I don’t need to be sending txt messages etc I just want to know an alert has been sent and will be actioned.

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Reply By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 09:59

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 09:59
.
As an aside to this discussion, the AMSA website contains Search & Rescue Incident Reports which may be of interest to some.
They are buried somewhat deeply within the site and can be found here. They cover the years 2013-14, 14-15 and 15-16 only, and are subdivided into groups of Marine and Aviation / Land.

There are far less 'Land' incidents which suggests it is perhaps safer if you can keep your vehicle's wheels firmly on dry ground. lol
Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 10:40

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 10:40
Very interesting reading Allan, thanks.

Surprised to read so few land based that were full on emergencies, or associated with what most of us do out there in the course of 4WDn or bushwalking.
Quite a few accidental type activations, like the one where a PLB was found in the container of recycled aircraft part at Bankstown airport !!

Saw a couple of Spot activations in there too, good to see in one it had a positive result in being able to track the moving party.

This would happen with a PB too of course, but you'd be better staying put, as the battery will probably expire within 24 - 48 hrs.

Ok, there were a couple of very poor PLB uses in there, mostly due to poor planning, but good to see it handled well by authorities.

There were a few in 2013 / 2014, some Simpson Desert ones.
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Follow Up By: gbc - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:17

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:17
The 24 hr broadcast guarantee on a plb is at -20 degrees c. Run time in Australia would be a whole lot longer.
I disagree with staying put with a plb. There is no reason to. It transmits gps positions every 50 seconds and broadcasts a homing signal on two low frequencies which will punch through cover on channels that searchers are monitoring.
No communicator comes close to that.
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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:40

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 12:40
Yes gbc, it is an unknown, my instinct says if you've set off a PLB, then stay there.
(At location it was set off, not leave the plb, but I think you meant take plb with you.)

Moving might add to confusion for rescue parties eg. like one example in the post by Allans link to AMSA incidents, the fellow that caught a ride with some locals into town.
Rescuers might be on the way, and at great cost sometimes.

Of course every situation may require different actions.

It was interesting reading some of those incident comments, where AMSA actually got station owners to go out and take a look.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 14:38

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 14:38
gbc,

I'm interested in knowing what situation do you foresee as being desperate enough to set off a PLB but then not worried about making it harder for the emergency response people by going walkabout?

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 15:06

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 15:06
.
Yes HKB, or may I call you 'H'?

I can offer a "situation".

I am travelling alone and 50k from Birdsville I am bitten by a snake. I set off my PLB and manage to apply appropriate compression bandage, then a passing traveller offers to drive me into Birdsville to medical assistance.

Do I say.... "No thanks, I'll just wait here until AMSA organised assistance arrives"?

Huh?
Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: gbc - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 15:53

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 15:53
Yep, keep flying the plane until impact as they say. Same with vessels, keep fighting until all hope is lost and then step up into the life raft.
With a plb running there is little to no chance that the rescue team will not know your actual position at any given time so improving your position, getting to open ground where a chopper can land, running the boat ashore rather than waiting for it to sink ( you’d be amazed at how many don’t look at that option), and being pro active about saving yourself is not frowned upon. Back to the farmer who was gored by the bull. He helped save his own life by cutting down the time it took to get first aid. The chopper landed right next to his Ute.
Obviously there are just as many scenarios where staying put is the smartest thing to do as well. Each one on their merits and keep thinking is the key.
Interestingly the motorcyclist was using spot and the rescuers went to the coordinates phoned in from the USA. Not exactly real time. Communicators are for telling people you are ok. Plbs are for telling people you aren’t.
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Follow Up By: Shaker - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 16:44

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 16:44
I agree, never step down into a life raft!
I don’t think that you should be able to buy an EPIRB or a PLB without some basic training in their use, to prevent unwarranted use, a bit like people calling 000 because they can’t get a pizza delivery!

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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 17:04

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 17:04
Allan,
Sounds reasonable but if your unable to drive the 50Km, by the time the responder gets to you you'll probably be dead anyway in that situation:(

One thing I would be interesting to find out is the failure rate PLB's?

Most PLB devices will live their life in a vehicle never having been used or tested, i wonder what the failure rate would be if all units were tested at the end of the battery life, after all they are only a $300 unit or so?

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Follow Up By: Shaker - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 20:05

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 20:05
In 20 years of yacht brokerage, I came across plenty of mainly EPIRBs, that were well out of date & never found one that didn’t test OK.
Same with flares, we had many that were literally years out of date & never had one that didn’t go off, we had special dispensation from the emergency services to fire off the flares over a 15 minute period, after midnight on New Years Eve.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 20:22

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 20:22
'the failure rate PLB's?'

Probably no more than with other well constructed electronic devices, I'd guess almost nil.

Failures probably occur more so in devices that use disposable batteries, or that need recharging.
Human error is far more unreliable than the sort of electronics PLBs use.

You can easily tell if a PLB works by using the test function, you get a 'reply' back from a satellite almost immediately.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:10

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:10
Alan,

I believe your wrong with regards to the PLB test confirming reception of the signal by a satellite:

"The self-test function performs an internal check and indicates that RF power is being emitted at 406 MHz and at 121.5 MHz, if applicable. The beacon will provide an indication of the success or failure of a GNSS self-test. The self-test mode signal is not processed by the satellite equipment."

As far as I'm aware PLB's can't receive messages; it also does not confirm receipt of the emergency signal, in other words a test pass does not necessarily indicate the PLB will actually do as required if activated, only that it thinks it will.

Doing some research shows PLB's may not be as reliable as people may believe they are.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:25

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:25
Alan didn't post that HKB.

From the KTI GPS test instructions . . .

"Before testing ensure beacon is positioned outdoors in an open area with a clear unobstructed view of the sky to maximise satellite visibility."

Not sure why they'd say that if it didn't communicate with them.

Wow, find a case anywhere of a PLB failing and post it here, don't just make such statements, post up what you found regarding "Doing some research shows . . ."

If you post up anything interesting, it'll be good to read and glean any reasons for a failure, short of user (human) error which can happen with any electronic device.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:32

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:32
,
Leigh (HKB),

You seem to be addressing me, however I said nothing about "testing".
You possibly mean Shaker or Les.

But I would agree with you regarding the test function of PLBs. No rational transmission is made from the PLB to a satellite. The test function is limited to a procedure which does not transmit a valid protocol signal and is not processed by the satellite.

Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:41

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:41
Sorry Alan, should have been PK Ranger, apparently from recent reading at least one brand does transmit a valid test signal, you can use their app to check that the signal was received by the satellite and the location of the beacon. My GME unit does not have that functionality.

PK Ranger, as for the requirement to be outdoors, probably to test the GPS functionality, as far as I'm aware PLB transmission is one way only with regards the emergency signal.

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:52

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 21:52
There must be a way for a PLB GPS test to tell if it has contact with a suitable satellite.
The simple beacon test takes 1 second, the GPS test takes about a minute, and they recommend no more than two of these tests a year, it uses battery.

I have tried in the past to find info on PLB failures, not easy, I would think it would be the same for Spot and other such.
Even if you found cases, it is unknown if failure is due to someones misuse, or a genuine failure in design, waterproofness, etc.

I think you'd be looking at failures of less than a small fraction of 1%, with any of them.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:07

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:07
Information is out there if you search, I was reading on case in which 100% of US airforce failed to work.

Another was a bad bunch of GME units that were recalled. I'm sure like any electronic equipment it can fail especially after being thrown around in a vehicle for a few years. I have seen plenty of very expensive equipment that was regularly tested to ensure its functional yet fail to actual work when it was needed.

If the beacon received a signal form the satellite it wouldn't need to keep re-transmitting the signal unless for instance the position changed. To simply the circuitry ie not need a receiver it just keeps transmitting the location a a regulary interval.

From the AMSA website:

"The self-test function performs an internal check and indicates that RF power is being emitted at 406 MHz and at 121.5 MHz, if applicable. The beacon will provide an indication of the success or failure of a GNSS self-test. The self-test mode signal is not processed by the satellite equipment."

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:40

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:40
The airforce "100% failure" rate, totally irrelevant to land PLB use in Australia.
If you read the report (and not try to write something into it that isn't there), it is very clear on the reasons for the failure of the specially developed units for the USAF.
"5 years of the temperature swings, vibration and shocks the beacon would experience on an aircraft." . . . fighter aircraft and placed into injector seats.

I am aware of one case where a GME PLB malfunctioned and sent a signal out (for one minute) unintended, not really a failure to operate when needed, but this was in a marine environment (it leaked !) where an EPIRB would have been more suited.

No piece of kit like a PLB or spot should be 'thrown around in a vehicle' for years, that is pure and simple equipment abuse.
If you know the KTI unit, you would know it has a beaut hardcase cover that is excellent protection, fluro yellow with long neck lanyard same fluro colour, perfect for the vehicle console or backpack.
I have no idea what a GME or other units include with theirs.

There is no valid reason to call in doubt the operational reliability of a PLB on land, it's intended use.

You can find anything to support your argument if you google enough.
I just tried > Spot failure < finds one relative topic only, so it is pretty rare for any of these beacons or trackers to not work.

Anyway, and this topic on imaginary unreliability is far too minuscule to pursue further.
If people feel the need to have a way to contact authorities in dire circumstances, use a plb, use a spot, inreach, whatever you like after researching properly, some will like the tracking and simple messages, and weight up pro, cons, and costs to get what they feel best for their needs.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:43

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:43
From the ASMA website:

"The self-test function performs an internal check and indicates that RF power is being emitted at 406 MHz and at 121.5 MHz, if applicable. The beacon will provide an indication of the success or failure of a GNSS self-test. The self-test mode signal is not processed by the satellite equipment."

Yes it transmits a signal, but it is not processed by the satellite nor is it capable of receiving a signal from the satellite nor does it need to, if it could it could be beneficial in saving battery life but it would make the circuitry and firmware more complex. This really is a rudimentary test, without actually being able to see it has reached the emergency service provider it only gives an indication the device thinks its working ok. Only real time testing like the fire brigade actually proves the system is working and them it only confirms it is working at that time.

Failure rate info is not easy to find, if you activate it and it doesn't work your probably not going to be in a position to compIain about it! I also imagine the manufactures would prefer you don't know. I found one case of the US airforce detecting a 100% failure rate in ejector seat units. Another of 40%-60% in other units, and a case of GME doing a recall of one unit stating "though a low failure rate had been detected they decided to recall the units as they are designed as a safety device" very kind of them!

I'm sure like any electronic equipment it is built to a price and some failures are to be expected. I have seen plenty of very expensive equipment that was tested regularly and always pass only to fail to operate when it was required to do so.

Personally I would never rely on one form of emergency communications, we always carry multiple backups. On a recent trip we went to use the HF radio and found the auto tune would not work, the radio had been used daily for scheds for over four months and not missed a beat, but when we actually needed it to work it didn't, Murphy's law strikes again!

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:49

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:49
You take a higher risk driving to work HKB.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:59

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 22:59
Retired in my case:)

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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 23:01

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 23:01
To the community mens shed then :D Lol.
Good night to you HKB.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 23:48

Wednesday, Dec 06, 2017 at 23:48
I did find the following stats from an Irish tradgety:

The company (GME) has advised the department that it sold over 150,000 EPIRBs between 2004 and 2012 with a failure rate of 0.11%. No bad stats as long as you don't have one of the 150 that failed to work.

Also GME 2005-2008 Recall:

"After exhaustive testing we have identified a fault in the microprocessor of certain units that effectively shuts the beacon down. We are concerned that the beacon may not work in an emergency situation."

That's just one manufacturer, I'm sure others also have had issues.

A comment form GCAPTAIN

"To date the investigation continues. What we have found so far raises concern. While there are independent test reports on why GPIRB and EPIRB might fail to some degree. There is very limited follow up when they do actually fail. Again the reasons are many and they include, the lost of the GPIRB/EPIRB during the incident at sea or a waterway and the lack of a formal reporting procedure or failure data base. More frightening still, is how many mariners never make it back to report or relate what happened."

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 00:16

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 00:16
.
.
Yes, of course, anything can go wrong. Which is why it can be wise to have a back-up.

In my case it is a satphone. If I need to use my PLB I have no way of knowing if the necessary signal has been transmitted or received by AMSA. So I will also dial 000 on my satphone. And maybe gain an extra benefit of being able to speak with people who can render assistance whilst I await The Cavalry.

Of course, a SPOT or SEND or any other similar satellite beacon device will serve as a redundancy communicator. But as a bonus, the satphone serves as a general communicator for convenience or social purposes. HF radio also serves but with limited targets.

One other function of a satphone is that others can call you if urgent need arises. I have had one such event which was supremely crucial. I know of no other device that can perform this duty.

It is interesting that when I asked why some people carry both PLB and SPOT, no-one offered that it was for critical redundancy, only that they were "complimentary" with differing features.
Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 06:57

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 06:57
Hi Alan

I alluded to it being "critical redundancy" for me in the OP, although perhaps I didn't state it as such. I have stated it elsewhere in EO Blogs.

But for sure, that is a major factor for us and the reason why we have always carried HF, Satphone, PLB, and a Spot. The Spot serves as a back-up emergency communicator to the PLB, but for the most part I just use it for tracking and sending a pre-populated message at day's end.

Out of interest, and following on from some of the commentary above on failures. I had a Barrett Auto-tune antenna that was failing - it was one of about 100 in a batch that were prone to failing (and was replaced by them!).

"Critical Redundancy" is something everyone should consider because history suggests when "Murphy strikes, Murphy's Law" can see it all going pear-shaped on a number of fronts.



Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 07:23

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 07:23
I had an incident in the Vic High Country where we came across a bike rider who had a nasty fall. We picked him up and drove around 10kms to Davies Plain Hut where it was clear and flat for a helicopter landing. We didn't know that he had activated a PLB at the accident scene and called help on my satphone from the hut. Anyway, the helicopter went right past us to the location of the initial PLB signal. It took a bit of convincing the emergency services that the fellow we had assisted was the same fellow that had activated the PLB, and that was taking to them direct. In that case, keeping the PLB active would have been a good thing. I never saw his PLB, perhaps it was on the bike? The guy wasn't making much sense at the time.
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Follow Up By: gbc - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 08:31

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 08:31
If the epirb was at the crash site it stands to reason that the chopper would follow its 121.5 MHz emergency tone directly. If it was on his person it would have been turned off otherwise they would have flown straight to him. A functioning plb is its own locator once the emergency services are in range. It doesn’t need a ‘last fix’ to be phoned in from the USA.
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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 08:52

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 08:52
We were totally unaware of the beacon until the emergency services told us about it on the satphone. Then we quizzed the guy, who confirmed he had set it off. He was under a lot of stress.
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Follow Up By: HKB Electronics - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 09:14

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 09:14
Hi Alan,

Don't forget you can also have a telephone subscription for HF radio these days, personally I haven't ever used it for that purpose, but then neither have I found a need to use the sat phone either yet.

On a recent trip when we were trying to find the co-ordinates of a Meteor crater I was tempted to try using the Satphone to access the internet but the cost consideration put me off it. We waited till we could raise VKS737 and they found out the co-ordinates for us.


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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 09:40

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 09:40
.
Hi Leigh,

I subscribed to the VKS737 Radio-telephone service once several years ago and made a couple of outgoing calls. In short, it was hopeless. The reception was poor and the recipients could not cope with the simplex communication where it is necessary to wait until hearing "over" before responding. Fortunately, they were only social calls.

I originally adopted HF as a communicator for emergency events but found it fell short of my expectations so added a satphone to my equipment. Eventually, I dispensed with the HF radio and subscribed to the VKS737 satphone service. This provides all the VKS services but via phone, not radio. I have since terminated membership altogether. At $100pa it was not good value for me and I have other options.

Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: gbc - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 10:10

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 10:10
We used to book radphone calls on the trawler back in the 80’s. Woeful.
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Reply By: Baz - The Landy - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 07:11

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 07:11
Thanks to all who have contributed with their thoughts and personal experiences to this thread in which I have endeavoured to “tease out” the differences between PLBs and SEND devices (Satellite Emergency Notification Devices).

Hopefully it gives some food for thought to those deliberating on what to purchase; or whether they may need more than one type…!

Whilst there are differences in the way both PLBs and SENDs operate and the functionality each offers, one thing is clear and the message should be shouted long and hard – if you travel remotely take some form of communication device that enables you to summon assistance in an emergency, your life may depend on it.

Bear in mind, you can be “remote” within sight of a major city; remote isn’t the sole domain of the Australian Outback, or the middle of the Simpson Desert.

And too highlight, the EO site has some great information on communication and safety devices - just run a search...

Once again, thanks – plan well and be careful when Out and About…!

Cheers, Baz – The Landy
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Follow Up By: Member - David M (SA) - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 14:55

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 14:55
"Bear in mind, you can be “remote” within sight of a major city"
Can you give me some co-ords Landy,will save me a lot of diesel. :)
Dave.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 15:26

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 15:26
33.9484° S, 150.1617° E

;)

Cheers, Baz - The Landy
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Follow Up By: Member - David M (SA) - Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 16:34

Thursday, Dec 07, 2017 at 16:34
Cheers Baz. Only work in UTM so I'm lost. C/Van is in for repairs with means to convert on board so will have a look at a later date.
Dave.
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Reply By: Motherhen - Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 23:59

Saturday, Dec 09, 2017 at 23:59
I have scanned the lengthy replies, but not read Baz's linked article (it has been a busy day). I don't think this has been mentioned yet.

While your PLB sends a signal to the Emergency Services in Australia, Spot Messenger sends it to Emergency Services in USA, so having one more place in the loop has the potential to cause have a time delay, but also has scope for errors.

Motherhen

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