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SPOT vs PLB

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Uploaded on Mar 7, 2011

This is a video response to Nutnfancy regarding the SPOT satellite tracking system versus 406 PLB's in general. For an outstanding explanation of how a 406 beacon works with the SARSAT and SAR system check out this commercial video... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8m78j0...

The main issue with SPOT beacons is the lack of adequate satellite coverage creating excessive delays in receiving SPOT messages (20-40 minutes). While Globalstar is attempting to resolve this issue it will not negate the requirement for Globalstar satellites to have simultaneous view of the SPOT beacon and a suitable ground station. The end result is a lack of world wide coverage, delays in message transmission and inadequate tracking (usually one of the main reason for purchasing the SPOT device). The SPOT beacon itself must also have a clear sky view and tree cover, foliage, and terrain can significantly impact this. SPOT alerts are received by the Emergency Rescue Coordination Centre (IERCC) based in Houston, Texas. A private company, IERCC is responsible for locating someone that can assist you and this may cause delays. Coupled with an annual fee of up to $150, I find the device unsuitable and potentially hazardous.

In contrast the 406 PLB's have world wide coverage. Since the emergency signal is captured and held by the search and rescue satellite system and downlinked as the satellite passes a ground station (LUT), there is no area on the earth that is not under surveillance. 406 PLB's (and aircraft 406 ELT as well as marine vessel 406 EPIRBS) also take advantage of two satellite systems, the Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). This redundancy can provide almost immediate response to distress signals. While a GPS capable 406 PLB is recommended, it is not essential as the LEO satellites will triangulate the ground position. While it may take up to 40 minutes to confirm the position of a non-GPS equipped PLB, in the mean time attempts will be made to contact the registered beacon owner or emergency contacts. Future plans for SARSAT include a medium earth orbit system (MEOSAR) that will allow for instant triangulation much like the GPS system currently fixes positions. Many PLB's also have a secondary homing frequency on 121.5 Mhz to allow ground, air, and marine searchers another method of homing the signal source. International SAR agencies are generally familiar with PLB's and have pre-arranged response plans and established lines of communication with SAR units. In Canada, PLB's are the responsibility of RCMP or local police. However, if there is any indication the source of the PLB may be involved in marine or air activities, Canadian Coast Guard and/or Canadian Airforce rescue units may be dispatched as well. While the SAR response in other parts of the world may vary, a Canadian Rescue Co-ordination Centre will be advised of any active Canadian PLB anywhere in the world and the Canadian Rescue Co-ordination Centre will begin an investigation as well. The 406 signal is very robust. There have been several activations inside homes, airport hangars, under extensive tree cover and in steep terrain and none have significantly impacted the transmission. In one case that I am aware of children accidentally activated a beacon and while the antenna was not deployed and the PLB was in a basement closet, the 406 signal was still received! While the initial purchase price of a PLB is higher than a SPOT beacon (approximately $250 for a PLB), there is no annual fee. The only real detractors of the PLB models shown are the lack of tracking (although ACR is now producing a PLB with a tracking/OK feature) and the difficulty servicing the batteries. If you can live with those issues, I think PLB's are providing much more value, a more robust signal, and entry into an established search and rescue system that was previously the domain of aircraft and marine vessels. PLB's really are a "world class" device.

Disclaimer: These are my personal views and opinions based on my experience with these devices. These are not the views of the Canadian Forces, Canadian Coast Guard, or Canadian Government. I am not an employee of ACR, McMurdo or any other company involved in the sale of these beacons.

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