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5 November 2011

ACR's New ResQLink PLB

Satellite telephones are not durable. They are fragile. Get a satellite telephone wet and it will fail. Guaranteed. Satellite telephones are fickle. The batteries have to be warmed up in the cold. And reception is unpredictable. I have been let down by a satellite telephone when my life depended on making a call. My last resort was to flip a PLB (personal locator beacon) switch. That was in March 2006.

What would you expect from a PLB?

A PLB is intended to raise the alarm for a person in distress who is beyond the range of normal emergency services. They are small electronic devices that send out an SOS signal with GPS co-ordinates to a satellite. They all depend on the Cospas-Sarsat which is an international search and rescue satellite system to relay information to the proper authorities to begin a rescue. PLBs are not to be confused with an EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) which is used to signal maritime distress or an ELT (emergency locator transmitter) used to signal aircraft distress. But the principle is the same; initiate the device and the signal scrambles the search and rescue authorities.

Unfortunately the term PLB is a generic one for devices with greater or lesser capabilities. A distress beacon that does not automatically inform search and rescue authorities that you are in dire trouble and does not provide your location information is not an authentic PLB.

One example is the TracMe (TracMe Beacons Pty Ltd of Australia) which operates on FRS (Family Radio Service) Channel 1. FRS signals only work on line of sight so in moderately uneven terrain it is easily blocked. When activated, the TracMe transmits (every 15 seconds) a beep, followed by a recorded message: “help…emergency”. This analog transmission does not serve as a distress alert unless someone just happens to be monitoring or talking on Channel 1. All this is even more hopeless when you learn that the antenna for these systems only has a range of a few kilometres. I don't know why anyone would want this device as a last resort.

Real PLBs have a direct link to search and rescue and are built to work wherever you are in the world (Cospas-Sarsat), unlike SPOT. SPOT transmits to a satellite network operated by the dreadful Globalstar, a satellite system that does not have worldwide coverage. It's a weak system that is unreliable under the canopy of trees or even dense cloud cover. Even less reassuring is the fact that SPOT signal coverage does not include the Arctic or Antarctica as well as other vast wilderness regions of the world. So its coverage is far from global. On top of that you will be lumbered with a subscription charge.

If you are looking for a PLB, ACR Electronics makes the world’s best.

Their new ResQLink is the smallest 406 MHz GPS personal location beacon in the world. It weighs only 130 g with palm-sized dimensions of 3.3 cm x 4.8 cm x 9.9 cm. It will work at minus 40ÂșC. All PLBs from ACR Electronics are tough.

Mikkey and Gary with the new ACR ResQLink PLB

How do I know ACR make the best PLBs? The PLB switch I flipped in 2006 was my last resort. Everything else I had that could initiate a rescue had failed. The PLB was made by ACR.

Oh, and there is no subscription charge.

For more information about Gary and his dogs go to www.garyrolfe.com

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