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InReach vs. PLBs

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  • InReach vs. PLBs

    First off, I love my InReach Mini, and have no plans on replacing it. And I know the internet provides A LOT of wrong information. That said, I came across a recent post that made me want to ask this group of smart people if there's any truth to the claims, or was the writer being paid by PLB manufacturers? I get the feeling that later is true. But his article was a longer comparison clearly angled to why PLBs are better (so clearly slanted). It said-
    Advantages of a PLB over anything else (cell phone, SPOT, InReach, sat phone): It has a powerful transmitter on a

    band monitored by government agencies. There are no private parties. If you need rescuing they WILL come, they'll

    be using top equipment to do it, and in general you don't have any liability for your rescue costs. If you're using a

    private band device like SPOT or InReach or a sat phone, you will have such liability and you won't have access to

    nearly as large a rescue network. SPOT and InReach also have much less powerful transmitters.

    Disadvantages of a PLB: You can't post selfies to Facebook. You can't send a personalized message to anyone, for

    any reason. You have to spend $100 every 5 years to have the battery replaced.

    The article (longer than above) is clearly slanted in that I don't send selfies in my messages over InReach. I send communication that is important to let people who care, know my adventure status. That said, any truths behind stronger transmitters and larger rescue network?

    Please tell me to stop believing everything I read on the internet!!!

  • #2
    I don't see any outright lies in the "advantages" section above. However, the comment about the relative sizes of the rescue networks seems suspect. Ultimately, it's going to come down to local authorities and SAR, at least on land. Also suspect that this description might not be entirely valid outside the US. You can find a more balanced comparison from REI here.

    As always, the devil is in the details of your use case. In my mind, one of the biggest safety advantages of devices like the inReach is the ability to continuously track. If I become completely incapacitated in the back country, my contacts will eventually become concerned. My track will provide a starting point for SAR. If I can't push the button on the PLB, it's not doing me any good. Secondarily, of course, there's peace of mind for those at home. They know, more or less, where I am. They can reach me if something comes up at home. I can keep them posted on my progress and condition.

    Bottom line: YMMV
    -- Tom
    inReach SE, inReach Explorer, PN-60WSE, Colorado 400t, Nuvi 2555LMT


    • #3
      Thanks twolpert! Yes, I've seen many posts here advocating the smarts behind tracking. Although what's been a reoccurring them on this Mini forum is the battery life not being designed for a longer multi-day adventure (function of size/weight). For that, I'll need to bring a USB battery pack charger, with which, may last many days. I have stated on this forum that I just have the unit with me turned off. I turn it on once a day to message my location and all is well. Then shut it off till next day. So far, so good-- all messages are happy

      Yes, REI comparison is a much more balanced presentation of offerings.


      • #4
        Plus there are ways to extend the battery life too, the easiest way, of course, is changing how often the Mini is set up for sending track internals and also how often it checks in to see if you have any messages. Of course, your choice of leaving it off most of the adventure works too since the inReach allows the user to still use the SOS feature with the device off.


        • #5
          I may be wrong here, but I am pretty convinced that it will be the same organizations who will end up saving you, no matter how your distress call came through, and your risk of having to pay for the rescue operation will also be the same - no matter if you used PLB, Inreach, SPOT or something else.

          So the important question should be: What will happen between the time where you send out a distress call, and the time where the rescue operation is initiated?

          I imagine that there could be some additional bureaucratic steps when a private company tries to contact the rescue authorities - perhaps in another country on the other side of the Earth - and inform them that one of their clients has sent a distress alert.

          I also imagine that there could be some practical communication challenges. One can only hope that the private company keep their phone book updated. I know for a fact that the phone number for sea rescue in my country has changed (though I think the old number is still kept "secretly" active).

          But it probably also depends a lot on the expected urgency. I am sea kayak paddler, and if I ever get into a situation where I have to send out a distress call, I will probably need help very soon. When my family starts to miss me, it may already be too late. So for me, it would be important to know that the communication between organizations will work, as soon as my distress call is received. But if I was trekking in the middle of nowhere, the urgency of a rescue would often be lower, and I would probably find it more important that my family could see where I had been until I went silent - and then I could trust them to start a rescue operation.


          • #6
            I did not mean to imply that relying on my iR contacts is the best plan. Simply that tracking provides information when I am incapacitated and cannot push the button. Pushing the button is still the best option, even on an inReach.

            I do agree with the analysis above. Except that I have no idea what results in less bureaucratic hassle - private enterprise or government
            -- Tom
            inReach SE, inReach Explorer, PN-60WSE, Colorado 400t, Nuvi 2555LMT


            • #7
              Originally posted by twolpert View Post
              Except that I have no idea what results in less bureaucratic hassle - private enterprise or government
              Me neither. That was my reason for writing "I imagine that there could be..."

              We have actually discussed this a few times here in Denmark where a PLB can only be registered to a ship. So Danish citizens who want to use a PLB for trekking will instead buy their PLB in the UK where it can be registered to a person.

              Now one can only wonder what will happen if they go trekking in a country which is neither UK nor Denmark, and they send a distress alert. I know that part of the procedure for handling a PLB distress alert is to contact the country where the PLB was registered and get contact information of the owner, so they can try to contact the owner and check if it was a false alarm. However, I have absolutely no idea whether this step happens in parallel with scrambling a helicopter or not. Anyway, one should think that it can only cause more confusion if yet another country has to be involved because you didn't register your PLB in your home country.