I am considering gett8ing a PLB for myself. I have looked at SPOTs and similar, but I am not a big one for texting even with my phone, so not sure I would use the check in feature enough to justify the annual fees.

So am leaning towards a PLB. Must be waterproof, as I would keep it attached to my PFD and I surf, rock garden, roll, swim, etc. Prefer small.

Suggestions? Anyone know of a review of PLBs?

Antennae issue ?

– Last Updated: Oct-25-12 12:44 PM EST –

Seems like the transmit issue is still a problem
once you are in the water and/or boat is upside down.

The units appear to need long antennas
to reliability transmit on very low frequencies
that the satellite system uses.

I have a basic SPOT
Gen 1. It does not have a text feature but over some 300 nights it has sent OK reliably. It can be rented if the use is short term. I subsribe to the most basic service

It is definitely for family ashore. I also have a Mc Murdo Fast Find… It does not seem difficult to activate. Reviews of activations of course are hard to come by…especially failed activations. I got the PLB as its power is far superior to that of SPOT.

I believe even with your latest SPOT the basic service relies on message you have downloaded into your computer and SPOT account settings. All that “texting” is done in the comfort of your home before your outing.

non issue for most
I have a SPOT and it transmits just fine. With a weak transmitter I’m sure it has to retry at times but my wife can follow my track on trips and get messages I send for change of plans (“winds up, delaying return trip”). Generally the unit isn’t under water much for that to be a transmission issue.

Sorry, no info on other types of units. Some like traditional EPIRBs are more sure fire for rescue anywhere in the world. But for those in less remote areas the ability of other PLBs to let friends follow you on a map or get less urgent messages can be a bonus.

The two most compact PLB’s …
… currently seem to be the ACR ResQLink and the even newer McMurdo FastFind 220. They are very close in size and both are waterproof.

These are both 406 MHz GPS PLB’s that use the dual, worldwide/military COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. All 406 PLB’s must meet stringent technical standards, including a battery that must last at least 5 years. This battery requirement is the reason that true 406 PLB’s have either no or limited messaging/tracking capabilities. PLB’s have no fees beyond the initial hardware purchase. Rescues in the US are coordinated via the US Air Force rescue network.

SPOT is not a 406 PLB. It is a locator beacon that includes significant tracking and messaging features. For that reason, the replaceable batteries can easily be depleted and must be closely monitored. SPOT uses a the satellites of the Globalstar phone company. There are annual fees, and additional fees for enhanced messaging and tracking features. Rescues are coordinated via a private company.

If all you want is “SAVE ME NOW” capability, a PLB is what you want. It has a much more powerful signal to reach satellites, with much more redundancy, and uses the most sophisticated satellite system available, the same one the military uses.

If you want tracking and messaging sophistication, SPOT can give you that in addition to a less reliable (but perhaps reliable enough) rescue message capability. There seem to have been a lot of recalls and technical problems with the various SPOT models, but I’m not an authority on what they have been.

Many outdoors people get both a SPOT and a PLB.

I purchased the previous McMurdo model, the FastFind 210, two years ago for a discounted price of about $150. It gives me peace of mind when paddling alone, as I almost always do, and even on local hikes or car trips.

Here are descriptions and videos of the ACR and McMurdo products:

You can find reviews of PLB’s and other survival gear here:

Dissecting this little bit
from an otherwise accurate post

“Rescues are coordinated via a private company.”

It would be more accurate to say that the Rescue Me Now is received by a private dispatch center and then relayed to the appropriate search and rescue team. Not private; it may well be the military as in the two SPOT rescues I personally know about.

Dissecting the two products
Looking at the specs, it appears that the ACR ResQLink is a little bit smaller and lighter and is more expensive. The FastFind 220 appears to have a six year battery life instead of a five year battery.

Neither float. When paddling, I keep my PLB in one of my PFD pockets and also secured by an inexpensive detachable camera lanyard.

Need to define what definition is used

– Last Updated: Oct-25-12 4:11 PM EST –

The emergency locator transmitters use 406Mhz signals
so look for that notation when buying EPIRBs and PLBs .
Since Feb. 1st 2009 the 121.5Mhz devices
are no longer active.

No one has mentioned EPIRBS

Rent an EPIRB ?

PLB has limited life once activated
--perhaps 24 hours or less depending on battery

Willi and others…the Fast Find uses
both frequencies. The 121.5 frequency is still used for honing in on final approach by rescue aircraft. Of course it is not the primary frequency.

The 406 uses the satellite system so that rescue can be activated.

Its true that PLB’s using 121.5 only are obsolete.

Agree with Glenn
I have a SPOT, but not a 406 MHz PLB.

SPOT is required equipment on the three different Yukon River races (1000 miles, 460 miles, 360 miles) for tracking and emergency “help me”. The normal tracking mode is definitely handy for family and friends, as well as for race officials. “Text” messages available in the second generation model are preplanned text only.

Having done the 1000 miler twice and the 460 once, I can say that tracking mode is extremely handy for my pit crew to know where I was with a transmission every 10 minutes, and for them to be able to project future locations on our race route (especially the time to finish). The few gaps from the 10 minute interval were likely due to satellite blockage due to high mountains on the southern exposures.

Many of the people who reported problems with SPOT simply did not understand how to use the immediate send function button. It takes several minutes for a manual “I am ok” location message to be sent out, up to 20 minutes. If you press the send button before the previous message has been sent, it cancels the original message and the clock starts again. Keep pressing the send button and a message will never get out.

I have the "Fast Find"
and it is completely water proof.

I keep it in my PFD pocket.

The battery lasts for five years. You test it once a year.

I like it since there are no annual maintenance fees and you are registered with the Feds.


Eliminate obsolete purchases

– Last Updated: Oct-25-12 8:13 PM EST –

Just didn't want someone to get a "killer deal"
on a unit that was obsolete, that's all :-)

I’m hoping people don’t
buy their PLB’s on eBay…or a NYC street vendor…

Fast find 4 me…
Peter, I had my “fast find” with me last Sun. while we were out at Goat Rock. If you want more user info,(though I think Glen did a nice overview), check out some of the posts over on,(the search function sucks but the subject has been talked to death). In my decade involved in SAR we had some less than optimal results with the Spot. I’m told their system works better now but for a rescue beacon the PLB’s are superior IMO. One drawback to the PLB’s is the antenna needs to be deployed above the water so could be probematic but not impossible if out of your boat. Feel free to pm me if you care for any further details on the info I provided., AKA tOM

I have res q link
I am a plb fan. Not a fan of spot as a primary emergency services contact method but I know for many people it is great. My issue is this - if my wife is expecting contact from me when I am on a trip and she doesn’t get it she will hit the panic button. Its better just to have it understood that I won’t be able to contact her but that I have a way to get emergency help if I need it. I find this is best for her piece of mind when I am on a trip in the far north. Also, not sure if this is still true, but in the past if you traveled up along the arctic ocean you were in the fringe area of the spot (globalstar network) territory and since I do go up there I don’t feel I can rely on it. The res q link is cheap and small, waterproof and it does one thing very well. It reliably brings in the helicopters if you are in a life threatening situation. That is what I am looking for. I do sometimes carry a sat phone as well but I do not call home on - just use it for emergency assistance if needed and to call for the flight out.

To clarify…
…my invitation to PM me was to Peter, someone I know. I guess it was bad formto post it the way I did on a public forum. Apologies to all.

I agree with Glen’s info & RPG’s assesment in this thread. I will not recount any specifics concerning SAR incidents, but I feel I can offer more food for thought on the contrast between PLBs & Spot units/service based on my experiences.

PLB-most complete satalite system/coverage available, shortest comunication path(travels through dedicated official channels)to responders, SOS only comunication, once purchased and registered the battery is the only item in need of maintainance.

Spot-inferior satalite system/coverage, coverage also dependent on subscription(there have been cases where Spots did not work because they were outside of the “subscription” zone), SOS comunication path has had issues with providing complete accurate information(IME), requires a subscription & batteries for maintainance, is capable of multiple types of comunication(when coverage is available).


follow up question
Ok, sounds like PLB is what I want. Something I can activate in an emergency.

Follow up questions: The batteries have a life of 5 or so years. can they be replaced after this? or do I need to buy a new unit?

Also, once activated, is that unit now dead for life (guess this goes back to whether the battery can be replaced, but also whether it can be reset)? I heard report of someone who activated theirs as a way to tell the Coast Guard their location (even though they were in VHF contact). I’d like to know this should I be helping someone else in distress - if it isn’t life threatening and it will cost me the PLB, then I may not offer that option.

Muchas gracias.

Battery life and replacement
The international specs for 406 beacons (PLB, EPIRB, ELT) require that the device be able to transmit the SOS signal for at least 24 hours when activated even after five years of age.

Some PLB’s say they can broadcast for more than the minimum 24 hours, and McMurdo is apparently now advertising a battery that has this capability for six years.

After the battery life period, you need to send the unit in for a new battery. Same thing if you activate it (and live). You must send it in for factory replacement. But who knows, maybe they will have user replaceable batteries in the future.

I have seen unofficial chat forum statements to the effect that a PLB manufacturer may replace a battery for free after a successful rescue because successful rescues reflect well on their product. I don’t know if this is true.

Self test after deployment,
I’ve secondhand info that the mcmurdo can be repacked and the cover “resealed” with duct tape, then the battery test performed & if good you’re set to go again. This is not a factory authorized procedure. After deployment they instruct you to send the unit in or take it to an authorized service center where they will test the battery, replace if needed and place a new cover on the unit. The cover is suposed to be a one time use; the primary reason for the cover is to prevent accidental deployment.

So bottom line for me is, if I need to deploy it, I won’t hesitate. I’ll self test the battery and reseal it myself if the battery still checks out strong.

to answer one question
the rules are that you are not to use a plb except in a the event of imminent threat to life. The reason for the rule is that you are summoning helicopters and it is very very expensive and puts others at risk.