When planning and setting off on any outdoor adventure the thought of not being disturbed by phone calls and social media is most appealing, but many of us are also nervous at the thought of not being able to contact anyone if we were to need urgent assistance.
Armory specialists, Palmetto State Armory, state that it is imperative to make sure that there is some way to get help if you need it. There can simply be no cost on human life, so even if you can’t afford the top of the line, get something that will do what you need.
For that sense of security either a PLB or a Satellite Messenger would be a wise choice.
What is a PLB?
If your only concern is to be able to send an SOS in case of an emergency then a PLB could be the one for you.
A PLB which stands for Personal Locator Beacon is a satellite-synced device which can send an SOS signal to rescue agencies along with your location.
Some of the advantages of this device are that it works in remote areas worldwide and has a multi-year battery life.The device has no subscription fees but also has no facility to be able to send messages or cancel an SOS call.
A PLB also has a stronger signal than a satellite messenger. PLBs are the smaller land based cousins of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs), which are used by boaters.
When activated a PLB transmits a powerful distress signal that is received by a global system of satellites. In the US the distress signals are monitored by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), when it receives your transmission the satellite system relays the distress call to a network of response agencies which results in your plea for assistance reaching a local search and rescue organization.
PLBs also utilize another satellite network in order to get a location fix. Most PLBs today can provide rescuers with GPS-provided coordinates to pinpoint your location precisely.
A PLB with a strobe light can aid rescuers even further. Because the satellite system and response agency alliance are part of a global network a PLB works worldwide. Responses obviously won’t be as robust in countries where search and rescue resources are limited, and a small handful of countries don’t permit their use. If you do purchase a PLB it is imperative that you register it (free of charge) in the NOAA SARSAT (Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking) database.
Your PLB unit’s distress signal will then be associated with vital personal information such as name and address, emergency contact phone numbers and any medical conditions that would help speed the response time for your rescuers. It is a requirement to update your data every two years and if you sell or transfer ownership of your PLB you must report this information in the database and the next user must then register their personal information.
A PLB comes with a long-lasting lithium battery, the battery will remain dormant until you flip the switch to activate the PLB.
Government regulations require a PLB with a class 2 battery (the type of compact PLBs sold for backcountry use) to be able to transit at 20’F (-28.9’C) for 24 hours. Such cold temperatures do represent worst case scenarios and most PLBs will be able to transmit for more than 30 hours in milder conditions.
As its sole job is to facilitate an SOS transmission and it remains dormant until you flip the switch to activate the distress signal a PLB battery can last for five years and will not require re-charging.
The downside of this is that battery replacement will require the unit to be sent to a dealer and replacement costs can be substantial. The battery will need replacing after any activation, although PLB makers typically replace the entire unit free of charge if you have activated it for a life-saving rescue.
What is a Satellite Messenger?
Although Satellite messengers are very similar to PLBs in that they allow you to send an SOS distress signal from remote areas they also have additional features such as GPS navigation and the opportunity to exchange texts from home.
Satellite messengers are devices which rely on GPS satellites for location information and commercial satellite networks for communication. Emergency distress signals are routed to the privately run GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center with headquarters near Houston.
The center coordinates with local search and rescue agencies and can communicate with you via text as your emergency response progresses.
Satellite messengers similar to PLBs rely on global satellite networks so they work worldwide, although responses won’t be as robust in places where search and rescue resources are limited.
It is advisable to double-check that using a GPS device is permitted in the country where you plan to travel as there are a handful of security obsessed states that have banned the use of GPS over the years, and it is also wise to obtain a current worldwide coverage map from the manufacturer of your device to enable you to check whether you will be able to get a signal where you plan to visit.
Satellite messengers are frequently being updated and some of the additional features now available are:-
- Waypoint tracking and the facility to report your progress to people at home
- Topo-map navigation
- Altimeter and barometer functions
- Weather reports
- Sending and receiving customised messages
- Bluetooth pairing with a phone for added functionality
- Ability to sync and be controlled by some fitness watches
- Social media posting
Prices will vary depending on the type of features you may choose and a subscription plan is required to be able to use a satellite messenger. The major manufacturers Garmin and SPOT do offer a variety of options, usually requiring an activation fee together with a monthly fee.
Different brands offer a different projection for the battery life, ranging from a couple of days to between 10 and 20 days, depending of course on the number of features you will be using on your device.
It is important to remember that an SOS distress signal should only be sent when you are in imminent danger of loss of life or limb, and when there is no means of getting yourself to safety.
Many states have passed laws against misuse of rescue calls as these place a great strain on the rescue groups and impacts’ their ability to respond to genuine emergencies.