Sat phone or PLB for remote rivers?

I didn’t realize you can rent satellite phones for about $10/day, plus a couple of dollars per minute for calling. I’m sure there are some hidden fees as well.

Is that a better alternative than a PLB for emergencies since you can relay information about your particular situation as well as receive advice about what to do till help arrives? I only need it for emergencies during a week-long desert trip; usually I have cell phone coverage.

Has anyone had experience with using/renting satellite phones and associated services? Do you prefer it to a PLB? Who do you call on your sat phone for an emergency? 911?

I’ve done both…
I’ve rented the Sat phone and own a PLB. I typically use my PLB for mini back-country trips, when I know I won’t be too far out of pocket. If I go deep back-country for over 14 days or so or if it’s winter then the Sat phone comes along. Depends on the conditions and so on I suppose.

depends on the provider

– Last Updated: Mar-10-16 9:36 AM EST –

I've used Globalstar and Iridium Sat phones.

They rely on the presence of a satellite for communication and that is not always possible all the time

Its been a while. I waited four hours for a Globalstar sat to get in range to make a call. We were trying to alter a plane pickup in Canada

Iridium has fewer delays and more coverage. Recently Globalstar has been better but if you look at the coverage maps..desert areas may have a weaker signal

A PLB will be the quickest way to transmit your emergency. but its a dedicated emergency only device.

For a sat phone you need a clear view of quite a bit of sky.. Canyons may preclude that.

PLB’s are not created equal, there are
capability differences between DeLorme inreach, SPOT, and ACR. the inReach allows for two-way communication, albeit not voice as a Sat phone would provide, but it does allow for communicating in text the conditions one is facing.

few thoughts
I carry a PLB. I liked the one time purchase price and no monthly fees. Seemed like a good investment for emergencies.

Never used a sat phone, but have talked with people who have. As mentioned before, some issues at times accessing satellites.

SPOTs and Delorme inReach are not actually PLBs in most people’s standings, as they use different satellites (commercial, versus true PLB using military satellites). From time to time I hear of connection issues with them. But they do add additional functionality (tracking, limited 1 way text with SPOT, 2 way text messages with inReach, etc.). I was land support for a guy paddling entire CA coast and he used an inReach and it was reliable (only once in 40+ days did we lose a contact) and the 2 way text messaging was a great way to keep in contact (send him weather reports and the like). If I was considering upgrading, and inReach would be a possibility.

two of the three you mention
are NOT PLB’s but communication devices. There is a difference

My PLB has to be registered with NOAA/SARSAT. The others have to be registered with a private company…

I have had a SPOT for a long time and also a PLB ( which has a more powerful signal) but they are for different uses… The SPOT mostly for those at home.


– Last Updated: Mar-10-16 11:12 AM EST –

I have paddled the Yukon River races for several years since 2008. A SPOT locator (not a PLB) is mandatory equipment required for all boats in the race, so that's what I have. It has to be set to track mode, with a transmission of our location every 10 minutes. Most of the time it works well, even at the high latitude of the Yukon. But it does miss some, especially when we are in high wall canyon areas of the river. What I do like is the option of sending a non-emergency signal to my pit crew, which in our case indicates we are ok, but unable to continue the race; please meet us at the next downstream pre-arranged take-out (which could be a couple hundred miles away).

My pit crew rents a sat phone for their emergency protection, though thankfully never had to use it, because test calls with it always have been marginal. Because of that and having the SPOT, we don't carry a sat phone onboard during the race. Back down here in the lower 48 the SPOT works pretty well, unless I am under really dense cover.

Semantics from your viewpoint. All 3
are referred to as PLB’s in every sense in the outdoor world.

works with government agencies manned by government vetted people with mostly statutory standards.


No private company reaches this level of safety performance 24/7/365.

PLB quicker because of sat network?
If the PLB (I’d buy an ACR) is quicker on average to transmit an emergency, is it because it’s using a different, “better” on average network of satellites than the phone?

Not really

– Last Updated: Mar-11-16 3:30 AM EST –

PLB = get rescued

SPOT or DeLoame = might get rescued, they're tracker/communicators that also can/may contact SAR

They're completely different animals.

The dependability of the SPOT is often questionable. Following the WaterTribe events will show how often they don't transmit.

This reply is to alpalmer, not DK.

Good luck, be safe,


its like
airline pilots…

or various merchant marine ship’s captains.

Do some research
I took a couple of years to buy a locator after spending many hours of research. All of them are good no matter what you want to call them. We ended up going with an InReach. It has much better sat coverage than SPOT and you can pay month to month. One thing I like is the 2 way communication, even in an emergency. Sometimes an emergency isn’t “send everything you got we’re going to die”, but just “we need a little help, before it gets that way”. Also rescuers can communicate with you to find out what your situation is and get the appropriate help. I wouldn’t worry about one going to the government and the others going to a private company all are reliable and professional. The other advantage a SPOT or InReach has is they also send the SOS to your family and if you’ve left a good float plan they can communicate that to rescuers quicker than rescuers trying to find your family to see if you left a float plan.

I’ve also had the opportunity to use sat communications in some pretty bad parts of the world. Unlike what most people think there isn’t a million military satellites flying overhead. There may not be one passing over head right when you hit the help button. It may take a little while before you are in range.

In the end my best advise is there is no perfect answer just do your research and pick one.

You are wrong and semantics…
don’t enter into it.

They are completely different.

We have both in our family.

For a life saving situation I’ll reach for my one shot personal locator beacon before I would even think of sending an SOS on our SPOT device

Jack L

million things can go wrong

– Last Updated: Apr-09-16 5:52 PM EST –

The obvious---
Talk to a human and tell them Joe busted his femur and Rita is dead, the Inuits stole our canoe so pick us up asap at Moose Lake instead of next month at Hudson bay.

A lot more info gleaned from above verses


Plus nice to have the ability to have your family call your ass in an emergency to inform you Fido died. I used one spending a winter in a remote fly in cabin in the Yukon. Turned it on for 5 minutes at 8pm each night....told the family if shit hit the fan to call then...the phone will be on and we are not wasting the battery by having it on all the time.