Personal Locator Beacon or Satellite Communicator?

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
Been thinking about her peace of mind and seriously considering getting a PLB or a Satellite Communicator but wondering if they are actually practical for motorcycle use in case of an emergency.

In ALL cases the unit needs to be stuck to your BODY and not to your BIKE because if you are injured and separated from your bike (say it skidded down a slope and you are broken at the top of the slope) so I'm ONLY looking at units small enough to strap to your arm, stuff in your pocket, etc. Some SatNavigation units (Garmin Montana) offer rescue functions but if the unit is mounted to your bike it may be out of reach if you are injured.

GARMIN makes a few communicators, but the InReach Mini is probably the macdaddy of all with its tiny size. It is both a stand alone unit and it also will connect to a smartphone for some added functionality. The TINY screen can actually give you directions, allow you to read simple text messages, etc. InReach Mini lets you send an emergency signal for rescue if you crash or are injured. But also allows you to use your Smartphone to send text messages via satellite to your home, friends, etc. Also allows you to "drop breadcrumbs" on a map so your friends can follow your journey. About 2" by 3.5" and 5 ounces. About $350 + monthly subscription fees. Rechargable battery lasts about 100 hours.

Among other companies, ARC makes the ResQLink rescue beacons, they do 1 thing and only 1 thing. Send a help signal that brings in help. The beacon connects directly with a rescue center, which coordinates with authorities in your immediate location. Couple of models, but roughly $315, no added fees. Battery lasts for 5 years then needs to be replaced by the factory.

There are other brands of beacons, there are other brands and types of satellite communicators. Most of the small/light satellite communicators have a simple RESCUE button that allows you to call for help without the use of a cell phone. But most also connect to your cell phone and give you added functionality.

RESCUE BEACON:
1 time purchase price and it does 1 thing, brings help. Good for 5 years before battery needs replacement.

SATELLITE COMMUNICATOR:
Monthly subscription ($150 to $600 per year depending on chosen plan) + purchase price. They do several things, if you need any of those things.

Anyone use any of these things? Given that cellphone coverage is pretty easy to find in most areas of North America is there really much need for a Satellite Communicator as an emergency device for moto travel?
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
Like I said there are other brands, but it sort of boils down to 2 types.

A dedicated beacon that does nothing but call help and has 2 other functions. Or, a multi-function 2-way communication unit that provides a bunch of back country functionality in addition to calling for help.

Both are in the roughly $300 range for up-front cost. 2 way communicators add remote communication for areas outside of cell phone areas, but the subscription costs vary wildly based on options chosen
Screen Shot 2021-06-22 at 11.59.21 AM.pngGetImage.ashx.jpeg
 

670cc

Super Moderator
Staff member
Super Mods
Site Supporter
Joined
Aug 7, 2012
Messages
9,044
Reaction score
2,349
Points
113
Location
USA
Visit site
I use an older Garmin InReach radio, but it’s not the mini. Still, it fits in my jacket pocket. The screen is large enough I can type out a message without the phone, but using the phone along with the radio makes messaging easier. The service is $12.83/month, taxes included.

There are two places I like to ride where I have no cell phone coverage on Verizon, and I know AT&T didn’t work either, hence the satellite radio.
 

dduelin

Site Supporter
Joined
Jul 16, 2012
Messages
5,018
Reaction score
1,511
Points
113
Location
North FL USA
Visit site
I've good service out of my SPOT GPS Spot Tracker for I guess about 10 years. Because he had one in his tank bag I saw it bring a trauma helicopter to pick up my riding buddy from a somewhat remote location that was a 30 minute ride from the closest county EMS. In less than 20 minutes after his accident he was flying off the closest trauma center 120 miles away. When I got home from that trip I bought my own Spot Tracker. It gives my family some peace of mind while I'm off on a motorcycle somewhere. It has limited email messaging service so I can let my contact list know I need help, I'm done riding for the day, or the SOS function that brings medical help to my position. I have a few people I've given my Spotwalla address to so they can keep an eye out for my location and movements when I'm out riding.
 

halfSpinDoctor

Site Supporter
Joined
Jul 31, 2018
Messages
253
Reaction score
289
Points
63
Location
Madison, WI
Visit site
I have an InReach (Delorme InReach SE, made before the brand was bought by Garmin). I use it for flying and riding. I have the base service which is $12.xx /mo (as 670 mentioned), plus $24.95 /year for GEOS search & rescue insurance, and $0.10 per tracking point when I have it activated. You can get them used for $120 - $180 w/ shipping on eBay, if you don't mind the hassle of a potential return if it doesn't work.

I find it very much worth the cost. My understanding is that if you activate SOS, they will try to get a hold of you through texting on the device, or a phone call on your cell phone, and send out the appropriate first responders. Of course if you are too hurt to reply, help will still come. For a motorcycle crash, it may be a sheriff's deputy and ambulance. For a plane crash, it may be to send out Civil Air Patrol to find your location.

A lot of flying people have InReach or SPOT. Some reports indicate the SPOT coverage is not as large as Iridium (InReach), which covers the entire earth including the poles. There have even been some reports of SPOT failures as well (e.g. https://www.pilotsofamerica.com/community/threads/spot-failure.117299/). The nice thing about InReach is the two-way messaging lets you see and confirm that help is being sent, and know what kind of help it will be. That being said, I think that they are both great devices to have.
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
When we did the Great Lakes Circle Route on motorcycles a few years ago I figured that there were probably some places on the north side of Lake Superior and the north and east shorelines of Lake Huron where I would lose cell signal. If I did I simply rode through them without knowing I didn't have a signal.

Looks like Route 66 may be a possible trip for us late summer? I would not expect to be out of cell coverage anywhere along that route, perhaps a few areas with poor reception but probably not dead zones.

As I look at these devices I initially was attracted to the Garmin InReach Mini and the InReach Explorer. To me, the InReach seems nearly ideal but also seems like it is pretty old and in need of an update. Still, it seems to be the most bullet proof of the 2 way communicators.

There is a new group of Satellite Communicators that have no screen, a simple SOS button, and some varied features which all require a bluetooth connection to a Smartphone. These multi-function communicators all use the same Irridium satellite network used by Garmin's InReach. I found several brands. Functions vary, but they basically let you send messages using your phone, through the unit. Some drop 'breadcrumbs' onto a map, like the InReach can also do, some do not.

I simply can't find a REAL use for a 2 way satellite communicator. At least for me. Can someone convince me that there is a need for actual 2 way satellite communicators while on a moto trip?

I'm leaning toward one of the Personal Locator Beacons like the ARC unit.


. . . Some reports indicate the SPOT coverage is not as large as Iridium (InReach), which covers the entire earth including the poles. There have even been some reports of SPOT failures as well (e.g. https://www.pilotsofamerica.com/community/threads/spot-failure.117299/).
I've actually seen several different reports of SPOT failures. 2 hikers, hiking together, both using SPOT units, both had failures when 1 of the hikers fell and had a compound fracture in his lower leg. So I'm not considering SPOT.
 

halfSpinDoctor

Site Supporter
Joined
Jul 31, 2018
Messages
253
Reaction score
289
Points
63
Location
Madison, WI
Visit site
Can someone convince me that there is a need for actual 2 way satellite communicators while on a moto trip?
Probably not. To be honest, it seems most helpful for flying or backcountry remote hiking, where you might want to text someone with your status or ETA update and don't have any cell service. For motorcycling, it seems like any place you are stopped for a break and using your phone would have either cell service or WiFi.

You carry it so you have a way to call for help in some in-between area where the cell service is not good.
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
Probably not. To be honest, it seems most helpful for flying or backcountry remote hiking, where you might want to text someone with your status or ETA update and don't have any cell service. For motorcycling, it seems like any place you are stopped for a break and using your phone would have either cell service or WiFi.

You carry it so you have a way to call for help in some in-between area where the cell service is not good.
I guess the point of buying any of these, at least in my simple mind, is to call for help.

If I am calling for help then I'd probably be willing to pay any price. But if I stop and spend the night somewhere and there is no cell service then people simply won't get a trip update that night. And without cell service both a P.L.B. and a 2 Way Communicator will send out an S.O.S.

I guess if I could figure out a good reason to "drop breadcrumbs" and use some of the other features, like actually needing to use a satellite link for messages, then I could easily justify the InReach Mini.

The ACR 425 is about $350. Battery replacement is $100 during the 6th year. No Subscription Fee.

The InReach Mini about $350. Approx $144/year for the lowest level of 2 way subscription.

5 Year Cost:
ACR = $350
Garmin = $1070

10 year cost:
ACR = $450
Garmin = $1790

So given the cost differences, for those of you folks who use a 2 way communicator (specifically for moto trips) do you actually use the weather function, or do you use the one on your phone? Do you send & received messages on your communicator or do you use your phone? Do you 'drop breadcrumbs' on a map and use that map for anything or share it with family so they track your trip? I'm a former back country backpacker, so I get the concept of the remote area utility of the InReach for communications, but I'm looking at these for moto-trips.
 

Janus

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 21, 2018
Messages
673
Reaction score
735
Points
93
Location
Washington
Visit site
My buddies brought some Garmin doohickeys when we did our WABDR trip. The two way communication feature was used when we split up for a bit but otherwise seemed kind of superfluous. I personally would not pay that much for something used so infrequently.

The emergency beacon feature seemed like a great feature, and worth the price as a form of insurance. Once I run through the priority list of motorcycle doodads, I plan on getting a beacon unit for myself. Until then I will be upgrading my comfort and capabilities on my two main bikes.
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
Link is not working, but I can see that you are trying to send me to the Spot Gen 4


That is a simple communicator but it comes with a much bigger price tag in that you need to pay a subscription to use it. Spot uses a different satellite system than most of the other brands, it is considered very good, but not 100% coverage for North America. I think they use Globalstar.

If the ARC 450 Personal Locator Beacon is a 1 way communicator then the Spot Gen 4 is a fancy 1 way communicator with some added functions. But it is not as full featured as the 2 way communicators like the InReach.

Perhaps the SPOT Gen 4 is really in the sweet spot of these little communicators? But as several stories of FAILED rescues have been posted by former SPOT users there is some question about reliability.

SPOT Gen 4 requires a $12/month subscription, but it does have options, that cost a bit more per month, but can be turned off, and then restarted, which is a money saver for people who only will use a unit for a few months each year.

Like the Garmin InReach, the SPOT Gen 4 will leave a breadcrumb trail on a map. It also has an S.O.S. button, in addition it also has some other simple things like a "check in" button that sends a pre-made message letting someone know you have arrived safely at your night's destination. It also has a non-life threatening HELP button that lets your contact list know you need help with a pre-written message.
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
. . . The emergency beacon feature seemed like a great feature, and worth the price as a form of insurance. Once I run through the priority list of motorcycle doodads, I plan on getting a beacon unit for myself. Until then I will be upgrading my comfort and capabilities on my two main bikes.
This is sort of my thought too.

Honestly I like the SPOT units because they have a FLEXIBLE plan that lets you pay by the month, suspend the service when you are not using it.

The ONE BIG THING with the Personal Locator Beacons is that they are really only to be used if you are injured bad enough that you may die or are totally stranded away from civilization. So clearly NOT for a roadside emergency.

The SPOT Gen 4, the InReach and most 2 way communicators have a way of sending a message that is a lower priority. Either by contacting a service or by contacting a list of your friends, etc that can then find a more suitable help rather than sending out Search & Rescue.
 

670cc

Super Moderator
Staff member
Super Mods
Site Supporter
Joined
Aug 7, 2012
Messages
9,044
Reaction score
2,349
Points
113
Location
USA
Visit site
This is sort of my thought too.

Honestly I like the SPOT units because they have a FLEXIBLE plan that lets you pay by the month, suspend the service when you are not using it.

The ONE BIG THING with the Personal Locator Beacons is that they are really only to be used if you are injured bad enough that you may die or are totally stranded away from civilization. So clearly NOT for a roadside emergency.

The SPOT Gen 4, the InReach and most 2 way communicators have a way of sending a message that is a lower priority. Either by contacting a service or by contacting a list of your friends, etc that can then find a more suitable help rather than sending out Search & Rescue.
InReach has a suspendable plan, which I had up until a few months ago. But if you are on more than about 50% of the year (I don’t remember the exact break even point), the full annual plan is about the same price anyway.
 

MZ5

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 10, 2012
Messages
1,926
Reaction score
245
Points
63
Location
Arizona, USA
Visit site
We issue SPOT trackers to all our field people for certain of our work. They’ve been worth the cost many times over the past several years. It’s extremely common for our people to outrun all cellular service, and while I still lament that we’ve abandoned our 2-way radios, the SPOT trackers have their advantages.
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
We issue SPOT trackers to all our field people for certain of our work. They’ve been worth the cost many times over the past several years. It’s extremely common for our people to outrun all cellular service, and while I still lament that we’ve abandoned our 2-way radios, the SPOT trackers have their advantages.
Honestly the $99 SPOT Gen 4 (1 way satellite communicator) seems like it would likely do everything I would need. Plus it gives the 'breadcrumb' trail, which I suppose could come in handy. I'm not sure I would use it for anything other than to provide someone else a location for me. I know where I have been so I don't expect I would review it. But in an emergency it could be very useful for people at home to help me? The Personal Locator Beacons, like the ARC 425 don't have added subscription fees, but also come with only 1 simple function.

Lower monthly subscription costs for the 1 way SPOT Gen 4 are a bonus versus the 2 way communicators, and given that the SPOT Gen 4 is only $99 and an ARC 425 P.L.B. is over $325, there is money in the budget to pay for the annual basic service for a few years too.

The SPOT X has a lot of features, and with a price of $199 seems like a real bargain compared to the $349 Garmin InReach Mini (both are 2 way satellite communicators). Granted the InReach uses 66 satellites versus the SPOT's 24 satellites so the InReach probably responds a bit faster. And the InReach seems to have a bit more features. But as I will very likely ALSO have a cellular signal on most of my travels, the reality is that any of these things are sort of like wearing a belt with a set of suspenders. So I'm not really convinced that anything more than basic is really necessary.
 

hulkss

Site Supporter
Joined
Mar 30, 2021
Messages
137
Reaction score
108
Points
43
Location
Luck, WI USA
Visit site
OK. Who knows of or has heard of anybody who has had a problem on or with their bike and they died because they did not have one of these devices to summon help?
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
OK. Who knows of or has heard of anybody who has had a problem on or with their bike and they died because they did not have one of these devices to summon help?

Did you read this post? He was actually saved by one of these.

dduelin said:
I've good service out of my SPOT GPS Spot Tracker for I guess about 10 years. Because he had one in his tank bag I saw it bring a trauma helicopter to pick up my riding buddy from a somewhat remote location that was a 30 minute ride from the closest county EMS. In less than 20 minutes after his accident he was flying off the closest trauma center 120 miles away. When I got home from that trip I bought my own Spot Tracker. It gives my family some peace of mind while I'm off on a motorcycle somewhere...

These are more often used in remote wilderness, hikers, hunters, backpackers, pilots and people on kayaks & canoes. No reason it wouldn't be a great addition for a solo rider who get into trouble. As prices drop and functions increase, they are a reasonable bit of safety gear.
 

melensdad

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 16, 2018
Messages
1,779
Reaction score
1,489
Points
113
Location
usa
Visit site
. . . I have a few people I've given my Spotwalla address to so they can keep an eye out for my location and movements when I'm out riding.

So this has me thinking. The concept of the breadcrumbs, or automatic tracking sends a location to some mapping software (both SPOT and InReach off this). If, for example I was going out on a trip, and my wife at home and my sister who lives on the other side of the earth, had a spare iPad/Android tablet and logged in and left it running, could they watch my route (in nearly real time) as I travel?

Maybe the tracking actually has some safety uses and peace of mind for those at home if they can simply glance at the tablet that is sitting on the kitchen counter and see where I am.

THOUGHTS?

* I do realize that if the tracking is set for every 5 minutes and I'm traveling at 60mph and it takes 5 minutes to actually transmit up to the satellite and back down to earth that I could be a good distance from the most recent 'ping' on the mapping software displayed on the tablet but it would certainly show directional history and anyone viewing would simply understand that there is a LAG TIME.
 

GregC

Active Member
Joined
Aug 29, 2015
Messages
835
Reaction score
153
Points
38
Location
Southeast USA
Visit site
like Dave, I've had a Spot Gen3 for about 5 years. I like these because they are a good compromise of features and cost compared to say Garmin. The "canned" messages are useful, for me, to set interim "everything is good" messages and "i'm at my destination for the day and all is well" messages. They also have a canned "I need help but not emergency" so my contacts can call roadside assist for me and give them my lat/long. The other nice thing about the Spot is that you can have 5 minute tracking intervals much cheaper than Garmin (I believe). 10 minute intervals is fine if you're hiking, but on a bike at 45 mph that's 7.5 miles (compared to 3.75 at 5 min). that just seems a good bit more distance for help to search in order to find you.

I frequently ride along the BRP where there is no, or very poor, cell coverage. So far I've never "needed it," but like car and health insurance, it's a small investment for potentially great return when needed.
 

davidc83

Site Supporter
Joined
Jun 12, 2013
Messages
2,510
Reaction score
405
Points
83
Location
Southern Indiana/Central Florida-part time snow bi
Visit site
So this has me thinking. The concept of the breadcrumbs, or automatic tracking sends a location to some mapping software (both SPOT and InReach off this). If, for example I was going out on a trip, and my wife at home and my sister who lives on the other side of the earth, had a spare iPad/Android tablet and logged in and left it running, could they watch my route (in nearly real time) as I travel?

Maybe the tracking actually has some safety uses and peace of mind for those at home if they can simply glance at the tablet that is sitting on the kitchen counter and see where I am.

THOUGHTS?

* I do realize that if the tracking is set for every 5 minutes and I'm traveling at 60mph and it takes 5 minutes to actually transmit up to the satellite and back down to earth that I could be a good distance from the most recent 'ping' on the mapping software displayed on the tablet but it would certainly show directional history and anyone viewing would simply understand that there is a LAG TIME.
that is what the Iron Butt rallies do each year-they require each rally rider to have a spot....You can basically watch the location of each rider in real time...see their progress, the routes they took, and current location during the rally...
 
Top