Emergency Location & Communication Devices

Rustic

DSBC President / BCORMA Treasurer
Staff member
I have used all of these devices plus many radios and sat phones in my service and professional careers.

Different types (rated in priority in terms of absolute success rate)
ALL THREE use RF (Radio Frequency) to communicate with Satellites, period. A PLB uses 406MHz which is UHF (Similar to GMRS) UHF is Line of Sight radio transmission but does penetrate organics like trees very well but has a bigger power source and stronger transmitter typically. InReach and Spot also use RF but much higher frequencies just over 1600mhz these signals penetrate the atmosphere better.

Emergency beacons
PLB
. The most common types of Emergency beacons can be divided into two broad categories, emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and personal locator beacons (PLBs). These units use HEO High Earth orbit government communication satellites and are either on or off, no other feature. Come get me people are dying or not in use. No monthly fee's. Can't message.
IF NOT ACTIVATED they can not be tracked.
Emergency Satellite Communicators
-LEO Devices
Inreach/Zoleo, these use Satellites in Low Earth Orbit mostly on the iRidium Satellite constellation. These devices allow two way text messaging as well as providing your position information and have OH SHIT SOS buttons where they send the cavalry OR you can text and advise situation as to being non life threatening, ambulatory or whatever. Requires monthly plans. CAN BE TRACKED when in us even if you don't press a button (as in unconscious) as well as last known position information if battery dead or unit off is available to searchers.
Sub LEO Devices Spot / Globalstar, these devices are in Low Earth Orbit but at the bottom of that spectrum and operate on the much smaller Globalstar Constellation. Some of these devices allow two way text messaging (some outbound messages only, you can say what help you need but get no updates) as well as providing your position information and have OH SHIT SOS buttons where they send the cavalry OR you can text and advise situation as to being non life threatening, ambulatory or whatever. Requires monthly plans. CAN BE TRACKED when in us even if you don't press a button (as in unconscious) as well as last known position information if battery dead or unit off is available to searchers.

Why does "line of sight" "UHF" and HEO/LEO/Sub LEO matter to you? Simply put the best chance of getting a signal out goes to the clear line of sight so if you refer to the picture below you will see what I mean. Tight thick forest canopy can also cause these issues not just mountains/cliffs.

There is the segway into why the Spot is a poor idea, it uses Sub LEO low orbiting satellite constellation but also far fewer satellites so you need a much larger view of the sky to get them to work. Inreach is iridium and use Higher altitude satellites so have better line of Sight.
Not simple is it?
My advice....
PLB is the most reliable BUT must be activated by you (unless your using some larger aviation or Marine units) can only be used to cry for help. So if you are conscious and want to request help this is for you. Costs 0$/month. 250-500+ to buy.
InReach, Almost as good coverage as the PLB BUT is two way trackable so if you are conscious you can send two way messaging for assistance whether it is dire or just a tow truck. If you file a ride plan with loved one as you should for any remote type activity like hiking or whatever, if you dont check in )you badged your head and are unconscious) they can still send help. Costs starting at 20$/month. $300-$500+

Spot - Don't bet your life on it.

***Zoleo is also on iRidium and is as reliable as InReach BUT does not log tracks or share them with loved ones. Has an SOS button on device BUT texting is phone app ONLY whereas ALL InReach can text from device (awkward but functional) if your phone is dead or absent
HOWEVER, Zoleo is a dedicated communicator so you get an assigned text number and custom email that anyone can send to so great for business. I have my emails forward to my zoleo email when my out of office is turned on for my normal email.

Confusing? Decide on reliability FIRST as above, then features.
 

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04klr

Well-known member
Thx Rustic for the informative info. After many miles of travel (and mostly solo) as of last year there is an In-reach Mini in da house!
 

lagbc

Active member
I use the Safety plan (basic/cheapest) as well, you can upgrade and downgrade now as well I hear, previously they charged a fee to do that I believe.
Yeah, looks like it's free now to change plan on Annuals plans which it wasn't before (not sure when that changed - can't find), but they have raised prices by 50% this year for Freedom plan annual fee as well as activation fee for Annual plans.

Current:
Every annual plan is subject to a $44.95 CAD activation fee. No charge applies to changing an annual plan.

Enrolment in the Freedom plan is subject to a $49.95 CAD annual fee. A Freedom plan’s minimum term is 30 days. New 30-day minimum applies to a changed Freedom plan.

Old (Nov-2020)
Every annual plan is subject to a $24.95 CAD activation fee. No charge applies to changing an annual plan.

Enrolment in the Freedom plan is subject to a $29.95 CAD annual fee. A Freedom plan’s minimum term is 30 days. New 30-day minimum applies to a changed Freedom plan.
 

lagbc

Active member
I guess it's done to encourage more users to use Annual plans (guaranteed revenue), as it makes sense to have Freedom plan only if you use device less than 6 months a year, and then barely.

Here is how much it would cost if use Annual plan - 1st year and every year after:
Month1st yearNext year
Jan
$16.75​
$16.75​
Feb
$16.75​
$16.75​
Mar
$16.75​
$16.75​
Apr
$16.75​
$16.75​
May
$16.75​
$16.75​
Jun
$16.75​
$16.75​
Jul
$16.75​
$16.75​
Aug
$16.75​
$16.75​
Sep
$16.75​
$16.75​
Oct
$16.75​
$16.75​
Nov
$16.75​
$16.75​
Dec
$16.75​
$16.75​
fee
$50.34​
Total (CAD including taxes):
$251.34​
$201.00​

Freedom plan (used 6 months a year):
Month1st yearNext year
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
$22.34​
$22.34​
Jun
$22.34​
$22.34​
Jul
$22.34​
$22.34​
Aug
$22.34​
$22.34​
Sep
$22.34​
$22.34​
Oct
$22.34​
$22.34​
Nov
Dec
fee
$55.94​
$55.94​
Total (CAD including taxes):
$190.01​
$190.01​
 

Rustic

DSBC President / BCORMA Treasurer
Staff member
QI guess it's done to encourage more users to use Annual plans (guaranteed revenue), as it makes sense to have Freedom plan only if you use device less than 6 months a year, and then barely.

Here is how much it would cost if use Annual plan - 1st year and every year after:
Month1st yearNext year
Jan
$16.75​
$16.75​
Feb
$16.75​
$16.75​
Mar
$16.75​
$16.75​
Apr
$16.75​
$16.75​
May
$16.75​
$16.75​
Jun
$16.75​
$16.75​
Jul
$16.75​
$16.75​
Aug
$16.75​
$16.75​
Sep
$16.75​
$16.75​
Oct
$16.75​
$16.75​
Nov
$16.75​
$16.75​
Dec
$16.75​
$16.75​
fee
$50.34​
Total (CAD including taxes):
$251.34​
$201.00​

Freedom plan (used 6 months a year):
Month1st yearNext year
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
$22.34​
$22.34​
Jun
$22.34​
$22.34​
Jul
$22.34​
$22.34​
Aug
$22.34​
$22.34​
Sep
$22.34​
$22.34​
Oct
$22.34​
$22.34​
Nov
Dec
fee
$55.94​
$55.94​
Total (CAD including taxes):
$190.01​
$190.01​
Nice comparison for everyone 👍
I have an advantage that I need mine for work 12 months a year so it's not an issue for me and I ride single track where there is no cell coverage all winter. Guess it's good for the sunny weather only crowd though
 

majorbedhed

New member
Excellent write up Russ. After being frustrated with my InReach SE, and not needing the other features like tracking, I switched to the Zoleo last season. I cannot explain why some InReach messages were never received by my contacts but many attempts to communicate failed over 5 years of use - and usually at the most frustrating time. In addition, the randomly changing cell numbers used by InReach on outbound messages often confused family members, and if they did not reply in a timely manner, their replies were often never received. Keeping conversation threads organized was at best awkward and at worst impossible. One of the key and VERY important features for me that the Zoleo offers is for my contacts to initiate a conversation with me either by using the dedicated email, or dedicated SMS number that Zoleo provides. But even better, for regular contacts - they should download the Zoleo App themselves and communicate like any messenger app. This allows contacts to initiate a conversation any time. Though this is possible with InReach as well - it requires your contact to go through the Garmin website etc etc etc - lets just say it's not intuitive at all. Downloading and using the App is free and does not require owning a Zoleo. My entire family now has the Zoloe App on their phones and communicate with me regularly by this method whenever I'm travelling. The unit itself is larger than an InReach Mini, but smaller than the InReach SE or other more modern IR devices. Though tracking is not offered, there is the option to send location quickly with one touch on the device, or through the App. "Send location" (just a checkbox button on the unit) did fail me once but the Zoleo help desk was super attentive and offered excellent follow up. The online web account interface is far simpler and intuitive relative to InReach as is the phone App (with little check boxes for sent & read just like FB messenger or Whatsapp etc). Lastly, one of the key features that make the Zoleo so awesome is the fact that the entire system was designed around minimizing cost to the user - it will first determine if you are on WiFi, and send messages this way. If not on WiFi, the secondary option is to send messages via mobile data, and finally if no mobile data is available - the unit will only then send by Iridium's global satellite network. This allows me to start using Zoleo as soon as I'm on a road trip with the confidence messages will get through while not racking up unnecessary charges. I don't work for the company - but am one of their biggest fans as you can tell!!!
 
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