EPIRB, SPOT, PLB, etc.--summarize diffs

Not tending to be an early adopter of electronic gizmos, I have some questions about the differences between the following, regardless of specific brands or models:




I do have a VHF radio but would like a summary of what each of the above devices offers that makes people want to add one or all of them to their kit. Thanks for your help.

I have a PLB and a SPOT.
With the PLB it is a one cost deal, and the battery last five years. You register it at no cost with the federal government with all your pertinent information.

If you initial it they notify the nearest rescue organization with your coordinates, and help is dispatched to you.

The SPOT is much more versatile, but after purchasing it you have to pay to get registered, and then there is an annual fee for as long as you want to keep it. It has an SOS button that operates similar to the PLB, but in addition you can use it on your daily trips so that people that you designate can track where you are by logging on to the SPOT site with a password that you supply to them. it also will retain your tracks so that you can see them after your trip. Another feature is: you can inform the people that you designate that you are OK any time you want to.

I got my PLB last January and will be doing my first battery check in a few weeks.

We recently got the SPOT only because it is required for an up coming event that we are doing, and my wife who is the techie of the family has been doing a lot of experimenting with it, and so far seems quite happy with the results.

My thoughts are if it is just for an emergency rescue, the PLB is the way to go and is much cheaper.

Jack L

EPIRB out of the equation
PLB can be used anywhere,not just in marine enviroments. PLB’s are for emergencies only and will bring SAR. They transmit a more powerful signal than SPOT. Yes they are a single use item then have to be repacked. The battery has to be changed every five years and. PLBS require no other payment other than to purchase the unit.

SPOT requires a subscription service and also a way of doing messaging to chosen subscribers. I could send a HELP message to an appropriate party that does not bring the whole SAR operation if I merely broke a boat. I can also send OK messages to those at home who want to know where I am.

Watch the subscription service for SPOT though. At the end of the contract period they simply charge you without asking if you want a new contract.That is oily practice IMO.

Been using SPOT for four years and have two OK messages out of some two hundred sent not go out and have had the PLB one year.

I usually trip where there are no others for multiweeks. I just write down a good float plan and leave it with someone for day trips.

Spot v PLB
PLB is 99.9% reliable for what it does - which is to get help to you FAST. You pay the initial price and that is all the charges you have until battery replacement in 5 years or so.

Spot I am not so sure re reliability - I understood at least a few years ago it was using the Globalstar system which at the time was sketchy - especially up north. Cheap initially but monthly charges for some services. Provides a tracking system for folks back home which can be fun but which can cause high anxiety if there is a tech problem and data stops. I have come to the point that DO NOT use any tech solution that is intended to give family regular contact because my family then comes to expect the communication and if it does not arrive in timely way they flip out. Better, imho, to let family rest assured that you have the ability to get help fast - ie. - plb. Even sat phones mess up in certain areas and have failed me on some trips.

one more
DeLorme inReach


you are overgeneralizing about family
I have taken some multiweek trips near the treeline and I spent a good bit of time training my family on SPOT.

They all work in Emergency Medical Services and are not prone to “flipping out” if they fail to get messages every day. As a matter of fact I reinforce in the OK message that it might not be one a day,

Its good to point out at home training of family is essential as well as a Float Plan (SPOT does NOT absolve you of doing that) Just taking off with the SPOT is a bad idea.

"you are overgeneralizing about family"
Probably true. But in my family there is absolutely no doubt about it. My tripping generally involves 1 - 3 weeks in fairly remote locations. I am lucky to have a family that will tolerate me. I don’t want to blow it with them by sending them into the stratosphere because an expected message does not get through. Tried training them but they are not particularly receptive. Grizzly bear country really freaks out my wife. Used to be Globalstar was very unreliable up in the areas along the arctic ocean. Probably fine in other locations - I don’t know. But there is no way I personally would rely on it - I always carry a PLB.

My researched comparison of PLB and SPOT

Yes Globalstar sucked
I spent wayy too many hours sitting on a tussock near Hudson Bay trying to get a signal for the sat phone on the Globalstar system.

But the SMS system is entirely different. I would surmise though that your family is trained too not to panic.

I’m OK Message with PLBs - not reliable
I know that ACR recently added an “I’m OK” message sending function to some of their PLBs. However, my experience with this feature is not good. I tried to send 5 I’m OK messages with my ACR PLB. None of them got through. I did hear recently that they have made some tech changes and so maybe the problem is addressed which would be wonderful. I’d love to be able to send an I’m Ok message if I am overdue for some reason.

Still, I am in favor of carrying a PLB as my primary SOS system even without the I’m Ok. It works. Period. Push button and helicopter arrives where ever you are in the world - quickly.

kinda why I carry two devices
I think of SPOT as “for them” and if I break something (embarrassing for the whole army to show up)

And the PLB for me when I do something really dumb.

I hope ACR will address the issues you had with your particular unit. Its one thing to find they may have solved a bug but another issue when its your bug you are still dealing with.

Worth reading re problems with plbs

Well I read it and there is NO problem
with PLB’s but the clueless users are the problem.

I can’t figure out how you can say any way blunter than now is indicated on the packaging that the PLB is for emergency use only and it has to be registered.

When we can mandate sales to thinking people maybe there will be progress.

It was inevitable that with the advent of gadgets there would be misuse. It used to be that when cell phones came out people would climb in the Whites, get lost, call 911 for directions as duh they never took a map. Now there are potential fines for that misuse.

I totally agree

– Last Updated: Dec-27-11 12:35 PM EST –

still the worry is that the high percentage of false alarms may significantly blunt the usefulness of the product which would be a shame. I think the author makes some good suggestions for ways to improve the products so that false alarms are less frequent.

Of course there is also the troubling and more fundamental question of whether the prevalence of these devices is contributing to the destruction of the few remaining truly wild places on earth by making such places more accessible to more people. I struggle with this one all the time.

As usual…
…all it takes is a few idiots to ruin a good thing. Hopefully, it will get sorted out, but false alarms are still going to happen, mostly because people are too lazy to read the directions, but there will inevitably be some accidental alarms, too.

Even without registration, a PLB can be identified by a unique code, right? It would seem that one option is to create an online list of PLBs that have triggered ghost alerts so that rescue organizations can just ignore them.

can’t ignore it
No emergency service can know in advance whether a distress call is fake or not. Even when some device has been known to be triggered with false pretenses a few times before.

Blame it on lawyers, if it makes you feel better.

“Blame it on lawyers, if it makes you feel better.”

Not a question of blaming anyone. The question is how to create a system that won’t have a 98% false report rate. If it really is 98% and stays at that rate of false reports the PLB will quickly become virtually useless. Communities cannot sustain the expense.

re what
I see a short explanation is in order.

Let’s just assume that miracles do happen, and a person needed to activate the PLB for real, not just making a dumb mistake of calling it an Avalanche Beacon. For a simple example - dude was ripping up some slopes, ran into a tree, got ripped. Fortunately his head started working due to that dope slap from a tree, and he realized that the box he was using for an avalanche beacon/transponder was, in fact, a bonafide PLB. Well, he pushed the button, sats recieved it, but since his device had been activate irritatingly many times, no SAR was dispatched. Now, this was a true miracle week, and non-related SAR party ran across our outdoor enthusiast a couple of days later, with the obvious med-evac, thanks to the Lord, and a lawsuit for the folks who ignored his cry for help.

Clear enough?

PLBs are not designed by idiots, unfortunately idiots can get their hands on them.

Thanks for the info
I’ll try to stay better abreast of developments with emergency devices.

IF I were buying now, I’d stick with the PLB (KISS). The simplicity and lack of requirement to subscribe makes the decision very easy.

By the time I might buy one, I’m sure things will have changed at least a little. So I’ll just watch how things develop, for at least a few more months.

I understand your point…
…but as far as I know, NOBODY is LEGALLY bound to answer a PLB alert. If a PLB is being abused, there is no reason it can’t be “black listed”. It’s a classic case of “the boy who cried ‘wolf’”. The way I see it, if you’re too lazy or too stupid to read the directions and understand the use of the device, you should have no expectation that anyone will answer an emergency call after you’ve sent a bunch of false alarms.

I agree that PLBs need to be smarter and allow for two-way communication even if the only difference is a “confirm” signal sent after the initial alert.

One thing I’m curious about is how many false alarms are caused by the water-activated PLBs used on boats, vs. the cited examples of people setting them off on land.