Sat. Phone or PLB?

I’m trying to decide whether to rent a satelite phone, or purchase a Personal Locator Beacon. The PLB costs about twice as much as renting a cell phone for a month. Anyone have any thoughts regarding this quandry?

PLB rental
I think you can also rent a PLB.

Where are you going?
PLB - more reliable, more sturdy, easier to operate.

Sat Phone - more useful, better for “minor” emergencies.

If I could only have one, I’d take the PLB - if I was going off the beaten path.

If I was on an oft-traveled canoe route I would take the Sat Phone, or perhaps neither, again, depending on the length, risk, and remoteness of the trip.

You were talking about the Bloodvein, and then mentioned you might just stick to BWCA this year, if I recall correctly. For either, I think a PLB or sat-phone might be reasonable, but certainly not crucial.

Another option is that SPOT thing - less expensive, for sure, and a bit of a comprimise.

For what use?

Bill H.

Sat phone and PLB really have different

PLB is small enough to wear on you in your ditch kit. Sat phones arent waterproof and need to be carried in an Otter or Pelican box and are not as wearable.

PLB brings rescue period for life threatening emergencies. One way alert

Sat phone two way communication but it can take the phone time to find service. Not what you want for your heart attack. Sat phone better for “we are off itinerary and we are fine…how are you conversation”

We have learned to carry both.

Both take time
"Not what you want for your heart attack."

For such an event, the PLB isn’t going to be much help either.

I’d think the sat phone is more appropriate for non-real-emergency situations.

go without
I don’t use either

it can be
no it doesnt help meet the golden hour…but thats a risk you take when you go outdoors.

In cardiac arrest arrival of ACLS within eight minutes is optimal. There are many times we all take paddling trips where that just cant happen.

Further discussion on PLB

If you go sat phone use Iridium. Last year it took up to four hours sitting on a rock in clear view of the sky to engage Globalstar in northern Ontario.

It’s going to be slow.

– Last Updated: Apr-19-10 3:27 PM EST –

It's going to be slow to get help to arrive even if the communication is instant.

"In cardiac arrest arrival of ACLS within eight minutes is optimal. There are many times we all take paddling trips where that just cant happen."

There are many situations where this can't happen. (Note that no one is suggesting not to go paddle.)

A PLB won't be really be useful for urgent emergencies (and a "heart attack" is often what people think of as an example of "urgent emergency").

It just isn't really "made" for that purpose.

That's not to say one should not carry one at all. People just need to be realistic about their utility.

On my trips around Iceland and Newfoundland I carried both a GPS-enabled PLB and a Sat Phone (and a VHF).

The PLB was for emergency use should something seriously go wrong. I kept it in my ditch kit (attached to me at all times).

The Sat phone was basically a convenience, to send text messages (to update a blog) on land. They are fragile and susceptible to water damage. Calls are not cheap. It lived in a dry-bag in my day hatch.

The more of this stuff you carry the more safety options that you have – but you may also diminish the feeling of being “out there”. People vary wildly in how they feel about this, how “unreachable” they wish to be and what level of risk they prefer.

Greg Stamer

Thats what I should have said!
My tactics are the same.

Both. Thanks Greg!

I would go for the sat phone
Someone mentioned a heart attack what better thing to have than a sat phone. Someone to talk to and talk you through CPR if you don’t know it. They can also talk you through any type of emergency until help gets there. When help is far away some instruction on how to self help until help arrives is in my mind a better option. Thus why I carried a sat phone in AK.

Why ? Because
sat phones dont always get through and its an assumption that you will have a dispatcher that is an EMT on the other end that is required to talk you through. We have come to expect that through EMD but dont assume it will happen.

Good suggestion though. CPR however is an urban tool. Not likely to see a medic parachuting down within 8 minutes of the onset of death.

Research CPR. Take a course. Though it might not make sense in a wilderness setting you could save a family members life at home.

weather updates
haven’t been mentioned. They can be texted to a sat phone where there’s no vhf reception…information that could keep you from needing the PLB.


Good Point
Weather updates via text messages ARE a great use of a Sat phone. In some areas you can’t get VHF weather reports or the reports are not in English. Karel Vissel ( ) often volunteers his time to send weather information to kayakers on long trips.

That said, it’s a false dichotomy to pick one versus the other. Take none, one, or both (and a VHF too) depending on the situation.

Greg Stamer

You’re right
I don’t think either is going to save you from a heart attack in the middle of nowhere. But if you’ve got a compound fracture, got attacked by a whatever, you know, an GPS integrated PLB to me is preferable. You activate it, it’s on, you don’t need to try and communicate position, rescuers have to assume the worse (which is good, if you really need rescuing), you don’t have to worry about acquiring signal or signal blackouts.

Can’t agree more here

– Last Updated: Apr-21-10 12:43 AM EST –

I think wilderness first responder (including CPR) should be high on anybody's list. Before BCU, before fine tuning your stroke at a symposium, wilderness first responder. If you can't do a full wilderness first responder, AT LEAST do basic life support.