Personal Locator Beacons

We are planning to do Pukaskwa this summer and are looking for advice on personal locator beacons. Our marine radio has a GPS distress button, but we have told to get SPOT or another PLB as well. Thoughts? Experiences? Advice? Thanks in advance for your input!

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there are minor differences (what satellite system they sue, etc.), but a major difference is that SPOT, DeLorme, and other Satellite Messenger systems cost an up front fee ($100 and up) and then an annual subscription. PLBs just have an up front fee ($250 and up).

Depends what your requirements are

– Last Updated: Jan-20-14 3:22 AM EST –

SPOT is not the same as a PLB.

The article on REI that Peter-CA linked to is very good. Read it a few times to make sure you understand it.

SPOT gives you features that a PLB doesn't such as the ability to send messages to shore contacts and post your journey to a website. However, it is not as effective or reliable as a PLB as an emergency signaling device.

The main differences in an emergency for me are:

SPOT signals are routed to a privately run coordination centre who then relay your details and location to the emergency services. PLB signals are monitored directly by the government agencies responsible for maritime SAR. Who would you rather rely on in a life or death situation?

The PLB is only used for MAYDAY type emergency comms. As long as the battery is in date you can pretty much guarantee it will have a full charge if you ever need to deploy it. SPOT can be used for non-emergency purposes so the battery state will depend on how much you've used the device since last charge. Murphy's Law will apply here if you ever have an emergency.

Finally, PLBs have to be type approved and certified to meet certain international standards. I don't believe this applies to SPOT.

I carry a PLB as I currently have no personal need for SPOTs non-emergency features. If I ever decide I would like to have a SPOT I will still carry a PLB.

We (my wife and I).
have both a PLB and a SPOT.

If you just want it for an emergency then just get a PLB.

If you want it for tracking your trips, and letting other people see where you are then get a SPOT.

The SPOT has an annual fee while the PLB just has the initial cost and is good for five years

If I were to just get one. it would be a PLB. It is nice to know that a rescue or a medical emergency help is just at the push of a button

jack L

I carry a PLB
I carry a PLB for true life and death emergencies. I do not carry a SPOT but I have been tempted. The thing about SPOT is this. If you tell loved ones that you are going to contact them occasionally and that they can track you and then something goes wrong with the SPOT and your communications stop working, your family will flip out and experience unnecessary fear and stress. I don’t want to do that to my family. All this tech stuff is great but I am not 100% confident in its reliability. Also, there is no denying that communication devices, especially sat phones, have the effect of taking the “wild” out of the wilderness. It depends on where you travel. If you are traveling in populated areas then its not such a problem because there are other ways to communicate. But if you are truly out of range of people and communications for an extended time then my concerns can become an issue. Might depend a bit on your loved ones. Talk to them about how they will react if they expect to hear from you and then days go by with no communication. After I had that conversation with my spouse I made the decision not to carry the spot and if I have a sat phone it is made clear that it is just for emergencies, not for daily calls home or to conduct business as some people do.

Marine radio in Puk

– Last Updated: Jan-20-14 8:28 AM EST –

Good idea , except there is no one to listen to it.
Weather radio very useful for wind info down to North Swallow River. Then the station received is Whitefish Bay which is not your area and winds can be different,

Be aware that whether you carry PLB or SPOT (We carry both) rescues can be delayed for days. Fog will interfere. And sometimes when it comes in its there for days (three for us last trip)

Fellows that flipped at the mouth of the White River activated SPOT last August. Weather was good, waves were high. SPOT worked, but the actual rescue was 90 minutes later even though the rescue boat was deployed from a location less than 10 miles away. One died in that hour ahd a half. A signalling device is no guarantee of a safe rescue there.

On that coast, nothing can be taken lightly.

You are likely to see no one and no boats on the water.

because there will be pauses in your trip for wind and wave and fog conditions, if you get a SPOT, everyone at home has to be trained not to panic if you do not move everyday. They have to believe what they see on their computer.

Spot Messenger or Spot Connect?
The Connect seems to offer the opportunity to send a greater variety of messages. But the reviews for the system are not good…Any thoughts from the group here?

The trip the OP is planning
is 10-14 days with no electricity enroute. If he uses a smartphone he needs a charging system. In that area solar might work but we had two weeks of rain and fog.

my brother is a yacht delivery skipper

– Last Updated: Jan-21-14 9:33 AM EST –

--editing to correct - next poster is right, I am confusing EPIRBs and PLBs - sorry---
and he uses both EPIRB (not PLB) and SPOT. He says that EPIRBs (not PLBs) are set off by mistake a *lot* and that response is anything but instantaneous because the CG has to try to weed out the false alarms, because that is what the vast majority are. SPOT's primary purpose for him is for buyers and sellers of the boats he is delivering to track his progress, but he also has it programmed to be send a distress message to friends and his adult children if he selects that. He thinks the CG would respond quicker if they get a call from someone insisting this is no false alarm.

I find that hard to believe !
and I don’t believe it. You are passing along wrong information.

It is next to impossible to set of my PLB by accident

Here is the procedure:

  1. Flip up the red pull handle, pull the cover off. The antenna cover is an anti-tamper seal

  2. Hold the antenna. Unwrap the antenna until it stands vertical.

    3 Press the ON button - there is a note here that says that there is a delay here of fifty seconds which in case of an accidental or false activation the user to turn off the Fast Find

    After all the above, it is next to impossible to activate it unless it is done on purpose, or if some kid is playing with it.

    Jack L

I don’t believe any of Optimi’s post
either,unless he can back it up with credible sources.

To add to what Jack said the PLB is a one time use only. It cannot be reused. You have to buy a new battery and have it serviced which is not a DIY project.

Most boats larger than paddlecraft are equipped with EPIRBS which I don’t know if they can be reset. OptiMistic suggests that paddlecraft are out there misusing their small PLBs in numbers. Most paddlers don’t even HAVE one.

If the misuse of rescue requests was coming over channel 16 you can bet your bippy we would all have to be licensed as radio operators to use our marine radios which many paddlers do have.

You are right - confused EPIRB with PLB
I edited my original post. Hopefully I didn’t cause anyone to make a poor purchase decision…

supported a friend using Delorme inreach
I was one of two safety support for a friend who paddled the entire California coast (OR to Mexico) over 7 weeks back in October-November. He had a Delorme inReach and we used it to send messages back and forth (weather reports, helping with other logistics, etc.). Connection seemed good, except for a couple of minor burps:

  • On one day, he moved the unit inside his hatch, and the bread crumb signal didn’t work as well (supposed to be a bread crumb every 30 minutes, but only about 1 in 3 made it through). We yelled at him, not just for making the connection dad by moving it, but for not having it on his body should he get separated from his boat.

  • on another day, he landed and sent his “off the water” text to us. His device said it went through, but it didn’t. He then shut off the device to save batteries while he went around making dinner and setting up camp. Only when he re-checked in before going to bed did we find out he was fine.

Local knowledge?
I suggest contacting local authorities and guides for their recommendations about what works in that area and how local rescue responds to the choice of devices. You might be able to rent that gear there too. Parks Canada has a basic guide with some trips and points of contact for the area. See

I do recall reading something recently from a reliable source indicating that false alarms is becoming a huge problem with PLBs that is beginning to threaten their usefulness even for responsible users. Millions have been sold mostly not to people like us and they are being fired off in the middle of cities form time to time. That sort of thing. Can’t recall where I read this but it was concerning to me. I operating on the assumption that if you leave your destination on the web site and with your loved ones and have to fire it off in a wild area where you are supposed to be according to your trip plan you are going to get help quickly.

Sorry you can’t rent PLB or SPOT

– Last Updated: Jan-22-14 9:03 AM EST –

local to your trip.
Naturally Superior adventures actually rents some gear and is the local contact. But those devices are not among what they rent.

You can rent from other sources online before your trip.

Hopefully that guide will be changed a little. I contacted Pukaskwa after our trip last summer to point out some safety hazards need to be highlighted more than they are in that guide.

also re marine radio. In Canada operation of one requires a license. I don't have that license and use my radio as a weather radio. However in the case of a true emergency I wouldn't hesitate to use it if I saw another boat around or had seen one in the last two hours ( in the Puk area)

True about PLBs
PLBs are compact EPIRBs. There is really no difference other than size, and duration of signal. Also some EPIRBS (Class 1) deploy themselves automatically when the reach a certain distance under the surface.

Epirbs can be turned off, just like PLBs, and Epirbs need serviced after use, just like PLBs.

The differnce with PLBs (and spots) is that they can be bought and carried by any shmoe, so they have resulted in an increase in rescue calls, by people who either aren’t really in a life-threatening situation, or who made a trip they shouldn’t have made only because they had a “save me button”.

That said, they’re great resources, and hopefully they will be used responsibly, so we don’t see user fees, licenses, or rescue costs charged for legitimate users.

VHF with DSC button
The original post states “Our marine radio has a GPS distress button”, and I just wanted to point out the difference between a VHF with a DSC button, and a VHF with built-in GPS and a DSC button.

If a DSC equipped VHF does not also contain GPS capability, it is NOT capable of sending a DSC distress signal from a kayak. Some radios have DSC, but no GPS, which is fairly useless for kayakers (these are intended to be integrated into a larger yachts nav system).

I’d hate for someone with a red DSC button on their radio to falsely believe they are carrying a DSC distress transmitter when they’re not!

while confused, it does seem correct
Here is an article:

quoting a figure of 98% false alarms with PLBs. So while I was confusing PLBs and EPIRBs, it appears they have the same problems. Most go unregistered and are triggered when people think they are just powering them on or whatever. But the article says they are following up on them particularly in back country situations.

I don’t want to quibble with you
but how did you come up with data that said most are unregistered?

Registration is free!

And I have learned of several rescues triggered by SPOT and PLBs and none of rescues not attempted.

I worked in EMS for many years. When someone called 911 even if we knew it was unwarranted (like in frequent fliers situations) we had a duty to respond. Or face firing and loss of our careers due to our registration being suspended.