PLB Shopping

I performed the “Beacon Test” last night in my backyard - which has a very good view of most of the sky. I’ve meant to do it sooner, but every time I thought of it I was far off from the first five minutes of the hour. Finally I looked at the clock last night and it was just about turning over, so timing was good.

The unit did what the manual said it would. It flashed this way and that, and indicated that everything was ok. I did the GPS test as well and was happy to see that it completed with success in less than a minute.

The best part was the email that I found waiting in my inbox when I came back inside - not more than 5 minutes after performing the test! In less than 5 minutes, the satellite registered the test signal from my device, bounced the signal back down to earth, routed it to the correct Rescue Coordination Centre, and fired off an email to my registered address. Pretty darn cool if you ask me. Infinitely better than the VHF for the purposes of last-resort emergency rescue signaling.

I should get be getting paid for this plug…

I’ve had it in the water a few times since adding it to my PFD contents and have unfurled the antenna after returning home to dry it out. We’ll see how it does over time, but I think just drying things out completely from time to time should keep it from oxidizing.

I do a lot of outdoor activities, including long wilderness whitewater kayak trips, backcountry skiing, hiking, and hunting. For many years I carried a satellite phone during all four seasons. I’ve had both Iridium and Globalstar. The advantages of a satellite phone are that you can call a friend to let them know where you are and that you are OK, or you can call a public safety number or a friend to tell that that you aren’t OK, and what the nature of the problem is. When I’m near home I can call a friend for help, and let them organize assistance. Once you contact somebody, you can exchange information back and forth very quickly. The disadvantages of using a satellite phone are that the subscription charges are expensive, in some areas it may be difficult to find a 24 hour public safety number, and in many situations it can be difficult to explain where you are, and how to get to you.

I recently cancelled my satellite phone service and bought a Garmin Inreach Explorer+, and am about to use it for the first time on a 10 day kayak trip. It seems to me that a big advantage of the Garmin Inreach Explorer are that when you send a message, it includes a topo map and GPS coordinates., which would make it very easy for somebody to find me if I was in trouble, and it is less expensive than satellite phone service. If the poop really hits the fan, I can punch the SOS button and let the GEOS emergency center in Houston figure out how to contact emergency services. For situations where I need help but don’t want to hit the SOS button, when I’m near home I can send text messages and e-mails to friends, and they can get them 24 hours a day, if they are awake. One disadvantage of the Garmin Inreach is that when I’m away from home, it may be hard to find a public safety e-mail address to which I can send a message, if I don’t want to send out an SOS. I suspect it is going to be difficult to find 24 hour e-mail addresses or mobile phones to which I can send messages. And while the recipient of my messages will know exactly where I am, communicating at 160 characters a whack will be slow and cumbersome.

I’ll give you a report on how the Garmin Inreach works for routine communications during my kayak trip. I don’t expect to need emergency assistance, but I’ll also give you a report on what kinds of emergency numbers I am able to find in the area of the trip, for use if I don’t want to send out an SOS…