Personal Locator Beacon Can Save You Bacon

We go into the wilderness to unplug from the real world. I enjoy getting away from Facebook, text messages and the constant need to stay connected. I love subjecting my smartphone to camera only duties.  But what happens when the proverbial “shit hits the fan”?

#AddNYSRangers.

New York State Department of Conservation (NYSDEC) publishes a weekly Forest Ranger highlight bulletin showcasing rescues made by their Rangers. Some of the rescues are due to people over estimating their abilities and being unprepared.  But others are honest to goodness accidents that could happen to anyone.  They range from broken bones to head and neck injuries to heart attacks and seizures.  Mother Nature is relentless and even the most prepared adventurer could be caught in a situation needing a rescue.

Thank goodness for Forest Rangers  And thank goodness for modern technology.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) and Satellite Messengers make it possible to contact emergency rescuers even when we do not have cell service.  These devices directly access an emergency network of rescue personnel to save lives in true emergencies.

PLBs are intended solely for those interested in being able to send an SOS in an emergency.  Whereas, Satellite Messengers have more capabilities like sending text messages and GPS locations to loved ones.  This added functionality comes with a monthly subscription cost.  Spot and Garmin are the two best known services and range from $12/mo to $30/mo in addition to the price of the unit.

Image Source: REI


PLB vs. Satellite Messengers

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

  • Works in remote areas worldwide*
  • Multiyear battery life (replacement requires sending it in and could cost money to replace)
  • No subscription fees
  • No ability to send messages home or cancel an SOS call
  • Stronger signal than a satellite messenger (unobstructed view of sky works best)

Satellite Messengers

  • Works worldwide, though coverage varies by brand*
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Requires a subscription (plans/fees vary widely)
  • Can also send/receive non-emergency messages home (some only send them)
  • Some models allow two-way texting to coordinate with rescuers after SOS calls; this also allows you to cancel an SOS call
  • Unobstructed view of sky is needed for a good signal
  • Offers a range of GPS navigation features, varying by model

*PLB and satellite messenger brands don’t all use the same satellite networks for SOS signals; all networks work fine in the U.S., but global reach varies. If you’re going to a remote area, check the coverage map for the device(s) you are considering. Source: REI

Which One is Right for Me?

I struggled with the decision on which device to choose. I really did not want to incur another monthly bill, but I also did not want to compromise mine and my family’s safety. Being able to communicate with my wife is a nice to have feature, but not absolutely essential. I knew that no matter which device I choose, it would be better than not having any device.  

After doing some research on the available options and viewing Outdoor Pursuits extensive review of The 6 Best Personal Locator Beacons Reviewed [2019], I arrived at the ACR ResLinq+ PLB.  The ACR ResLinq+ PLB is priced at $289 and more importantly it does not carry a monthly subscription.  It is a relatively cheap and reliable insurance policy.

Cost

5 Year Price Comparison

*Spot and Garmin offer Flex & Freedom month-to-month  plans. This is a $25 annual fee service with $15/mo fee when you activate.

Another cost to consider with the ACR ResLinq+, is that the lifespan of the battery. After about 5 years it requires a certified service location to replace.  Replacement will cost about $120 and will be good for another 5 years.  Even with this extra expense, still quite a bit cheaper than the more intelligent Satellite messengers.

Reliability

Reliability and simplicity were also considerations along with price.  ACR ResLinq+ PLB has a battery that has a lifespan of 5 years. You do not have to worry about recharging it or draining it with non-essential use like GPS breadcrumbs or texts. Bottomline: I want it to work when I need it.  

Anecdotally, several sources including Amazon Review, REI and The Hiking Guy seem to question the reliability of the Satellite Messengers. REI states that the ACR ResLinq+ had a stronger signal then Satellite Messengers in general. Lack of 4 and 5 star reviews and negative comments about Satellite Massagers indicate the some lack of reliability:

  • “Poor reception. Poor customer service” -REI Reviewer
  • “I cannot count on it. It’s that simple” – Amazon Reviewer

The Verdict

I can deal with knowing that if I needed to push the button, there was no “calling off the dogs”. Activating the ACR ResLinq+ would be the last action after exhausting all other options.  I will rest better knowing that the message will get to the “dogs”. Reading  about the many rescues assisted by the ACR ResLinq+ assures me that the product will work if I ever needed a rescue. 

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