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Do I buy a Satellite Communicator or a Personal Locator Beacon?

Melensdad

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Sort of figuring some of the Snowcat folks might be using some of these things.

I'm looking at using one for both rural short and also long distance motorcycle riding. But wondering if they are actually practical for motorcycle use in case of an emergency? I often ride alone, typically in rural areas. While I have cellphone coverage in most areas, there are some areas that are pretty sketchy for coverage and I sort of figure if I am lying broken in a ditch, having 1 button to push to call for help, which also sends out my location, might come in handy.

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, especially if the bike slides away.

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 some information, allow you to read simple text messages, etc. Realistically you need to use the InReach Mini with your Smartphone, so the Mini acts as a conduit and the Smartphone lets you more easily access the features, send messages, etc. As a stand alone, InReach Mini lets you send an emergency signal for rescue if you crash or are injured and a bunch of other stuff, but the interface looks awkward and, again, it is all very small. 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.

SPOT uses a different satellite network than GARMIN, has a low end unit called the SPOT GEN 4 that just sends signals 1 way, with limited function, but also can drop breadcrumbs to a map, sends a "check in" message, has 1 additional customizable message, also has the ability to send a NON-emergency message in addition to an emergency message. Cost is $99, monthly fee is about $12.

SPOT also makes a unit with a full keyboard, called the SPOT X and the cost is $199 and has MOST of the features offered on the $349 GARMIN InReach Mini. Most reviews say the InReach Mini does a better job, with more feedback, but that all comes at a high cost to get the functions. The new version of the SPOT X includes Bluetooth to connect the unit to your Smartphone for some added ease of use and for some additional mapping functions.

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 fees, some are only available on annual basis, others can be switched on/off as needed, ($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

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Seems to me there are 3 basic options.

2 way Satellite Communicator
1 way Satellite Communicator
1 way Personal Locator Beacon

The 2 way units would include the Spot X and the Garmin InReach units (there are several options of those).
The 1 way unit would include the Spot Gen 4
And the Personal Locator Beacon would be something like the ARC 425

The P.L.B. is pretty much for calling in the calvary only. It sends an emergency, with your location. It can't say how serious the injury is, or anything like that. It's just a signal. Therefore it can only be used in serious emergencies where life and limb are at grave peril.

The 1 way Spot Gen 4 offers a full calvary option, but also offers something a bit lower, which allows you to alter family & friends that you are in a non-life threatening situation.

The more sophisticated units with 2 way communication offer both of the options from the Spot Gen 4, but additionally allow for more details.

Anyone use any of these or similar units?


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Melensdad

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The ARC Locator Beacon has the strongest signal to reach a network of government satellites, it has a secondary signal that broadcasts your location. It is considered the most reliable, but it is also the most limited.

For whatever it is worth, the GARMIN uses the Iridium Satellite network, 66 Satellites, full earth coverage. The SPOT uses a system of 24 satellites, covers MOST of the earth, but, important to me, all of North America. The Iridium system, because it uses more satellites, is typically considered to be slightly faster. Both Garmin and Spot claim to have helped with thousands of rescues.

Garmin's feature set is also more complete than the SPOT feature set when comparing the InReach Mini to the SPOT X.

The mapping on the Garmin is far better, but for motorcycle use I would NOT use either of these units for navigation.

The more basic Spot Gen 4 is cheap and easy, but very limited. While limited, it is also cheapest to operate too.


Garmin InReach Mini - $349 + $15/month for a very basic package
SPOT X - $199 + $15/month for a basic package that is slightly better than Garmin's package
SPOT Gen 4 - $99 + $12/month for its package
ARC 425 - $325


Not sure but I'm leaning toward the SPOT Gen 4 as I typically travel (95% of the time) am in areas with cell phone coverage. So the simple SPOT Gen 4 should give the lovely Mrs_Bob piece of mind while I am out and about, and I probably won't need the actual functionality of a 2 way satellite unit.

Honestly the ARC 425 seems like the BEST bet for a real emergency, but it is not useable unless it is a SERIOUS emergency. So a simple roadside issue is not going to be looked up kindly by the folks who respond to a PLB beacon!
 
I had a spot for a few years, it worked fine to send simple messages but texting took a while kinda like the old flip phones. It was good to have for a piece of mind when you are alone. I should get another one they don't take up much room and the battery lasted a while as long as you kept it inside your coat to keep it warm.
 

Melensdad

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I had a spot for a few years, it worked fine to send simple messages but texting took a while kinda like the old flip phones. It was good to have for a piece of mind when you are alone. I should get another one they don't take up much room and the battery lasted a while as long as you kept it inside your coat to keep it warm.
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.
Looking at the CURRENT plans, as of about 5 minutes on the SPOT and the GARMIN websites this is what I see:

SPOT Gen 4 (1 way communicator), basic plan, $11.95/month + $19.95 activation = $164 for year 1, $144 each additional year

SPOT X (2 way communicator), basic plan, $11.95/month + $19.95 activation = $164 for year 1, $144 each additional year

InReach Mini (2 way comm), basic plan, $11.95/month + $29.95 activation = $174 for year 1, $144 each additional year

Basic plans for all 3 units include tracking at 10 minute intervals, which on a motorcycle may not be ideal

  • SPOT X has serious advantages over the SPOT Gen 4 but price goes from $99 to $199 for the initial purchase. Seems like that it would not be too hard to justify the added cost of the SPOT X even if it was only used for sending the pre-set messages, tracking and check in
  • InReach Mini has some user advantages over the SPOT X, but the price jumps up to $349 for the initial purchase. Compared to SPOT X there are fewer pre-set messages, but several other advantages, not the least of which seems to be more reliable connectivity.
  • But if none of those added features are actually used, then those advantages are really pretty pointless and the $99 SPOT Gen 4 does everything at the lowest total cost, even if you add in the price of disposable batteries for the Gen 4.
 
I never used the tracking on mine just the 2 way texting which was nice. A friend of mine used it while retrieving an elk in bow season, his wife was was watching and wandering why he kept going back to the same spot several times he had shot one and had to quarter it to pack it out so it took 3 trips. In a slow speed situation I think the tracking works well.
 

PJL

Well-known member
I work search and rescue as my full time job. I have responded to all sorts of emergency beacon alerts. By far the best from my point of view is the 2 way messaging. The In Reach can message directly to a smart phone. Having the ability to text direct to emergency services will get you the right response. With a 1 way Spot or PLB activation we have no way to tell what you need. Do you need an immediate helicopter evacuation or is it something minor?
 

Melensdad

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Staff member
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On interesting thing I just noticed on the Garmin InReach is that if using the tracking with a public map that you share with your family, then Garmin charges you 10-cents per "pin drop" so at every 10 minutes you incur a 10-cent charge on the basic plan. That 10-cents per 10 minutes can really add up in costs over time. Assume a 3 week trip, with the unit on for 7 hours per day, that is 42 breadcrumbs dropped per 7 hour day, or an additional $4.20 per day. Extrapolated out over the 3 week trip and there are 882 tracking points sent at 10-cents each which is an added $88.20 charged to your credit card.

Clearly, if using a Garmin InReach with the tracking option, it would be cheaper to bump up to the $24.95 per month plan, which includes "unlimited" tracking points. Looks like anyone who is sending 131 tracking points per month to a mapping program will be better served with the more expensive plan. Anyone sending fewer than 131 tracking points per month would be cheaper using the lower priced plan.

HOWEVER on the SPOT devices it appears that the breadcrumb location tracking is free. The reality is if using the the tracking then the SPOT is going to be the much cheaper option.

* If family and friends are interested in your location you can keep your breadcrumb function turned off, and they can ping your InReach unit to find out where you are, that will cost you 10 cents for each time they do that. So as long as they are not interested in following your map, and as long they only ping your unit for location a couple times a day in-between the times you check in with your unlimited pre-set messages, then you don't need to upgrade your service to the more expensive service. If I understand it correctly, each time you send out a pre-sent message with the InReach Mini it includes you position; I'd like to know if that is correct information?
 

m1west

Well-known member
GOLD Site Supporter
I have been thinking about these also. The prices really are not that bad considering it could easily save your life in a bad situation. I spend a lot of time off grid where if broken down or lost with low food, water and heat, would make it priceless.
 

RRose

Active member
SUPER Site Supporter
I have the Spot X and kinda have it with me anytime I might be out of cell service area. It’s usually in a hard mounted bracket in my Prerunner during desert season. I have it preloaded with defined messages that are pertinent to what I’m doing. I mainly have it for the 911 button - the wife wouldn’t know what to do with it other than press the 911 button.
Seems like cheap insurance to me.
 

Melensdad

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Staff member
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I have the Spot X and kinda have it with me anytime I might be out of cell service area. It’s usually in a hard mounted bracket in my Prerunner during desert season. I have it preloaded with defined messages that are pertinent to what I’m doing. I mainly have it for the 911 button - the wife wouldn’t know what to do with it other than press the 911 button.
Seems like cheap insurance to me.
1- When you send any of the preloaded messages does it send coordinates with the message?

2- when you use the check-in button, does it send coordinates with the check in?
 

RRose

Active member
SUPER Site Supporter
1- When you send any of the preloaded messages does it send coordinates with the message?

2- when you use the check-in button, does it send coordinates with the check in?
I’ll have to check on number 1, but I think so

yes on number 2
 

Melensdad

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I am leaning very heavily toward the SPOT X unit for $199.


Honestly I think the Garmin InReach Mini has a more robust and quicker satellite network but the tracking and breadcrumb features on the SPOT X are significantly better and less expensive than those on the InReach Mini. The BASIC service plan, combined with the free tracking and the unlimited pre-loaded messages should be more than enough for anything that I would need.

The Garmin InReach is worldwide, the SPOT X is 85% of the world. The reality is I will only use it in North America and possibly the European Union, which are covered by both brands.

The SPOT X seems like it is an older design that is not quite as good as the InReach but not quite as good seems like it is still very very good. The fact that the newest version of the SPOT X has bluetooth connection to a Smartphone + has an updated map seems like it fixes some of the early shortcomings.

Unless someone can give me a really compelling reason to spend $150 more for the InReach + more for the monthly service I'm thinking that as soon as I confirm a few more things in my mind, watch a couple dozen more YouTube videos, then I'll be sure of my choice.
 

Melensdad

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So after watching dozens of videos on these types of devices I stumbled upon this one. I think that, FOR MY USES, the Garmin InReach is simply over priced and under performing. If I had different circumstances of where I travel then I might actually choose the Garmin over the SPOT.

But for now, until I find something that disqualifies it, it is looking more and more likely that I will get the SPOT X. Initially I had pretty much disqualified the SPOT X from my consideration, I'm glad I found a few videos like this one, and did some additional research. I also originally discounted the idea of using the tracking but for peace of mind for my family, it actually seems like that will be a very useful feature, and for that purpose the SPOT X clearly excels while the Garmin InReach fails in comparison.

Yes, the SPOT X does have several weaknesses in comparison to the InReach, but for the features I need, it seems to be the better unit. At least so far.

I've obviously eliminated the P.L.B. units from my consideration in addition to the simple 1 way SPOT Gen 4 units. So it is looking like the SPOT X versus the Garmin InReach and clearly I'm leaning toward the SPOT X. Your uses may be different and the Garmin may be better for you.

 

Melensdad

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Here is another review of the SPOT X, should be noted that this is a review of the slightly older NON-Bluetooth unit, so there are some added features to the SPOT X that are not included in this video.

And there are many videos comparing the Garmin InReach Mini to the SPOT X and in many of those the Garmin is chosen as the better unit. So again, I think for MY PERSONAL USES, it seems like the SPOT X actually does what I want it to do and is cheaper at doing those things too. Garmin is better for mapping and routing, Spot is better for sending messages and tracking, so what your uses are may determine which unit is better for you.

I'm about 90% sure that I'll be ordering a SPOT X in the next few days.

 

Melensdad

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I was able to confirm that the SPOT sends out coordinates with the canned messages.

I just ordered a SPOT X

So here is what I see:

The GARMIN InReach Mini is a lot better at mapping and may be slightly faster at getting a signal up to a satellite. The InReach Mini has a message sent confirmation, which is nice. But for much of the ease of functionality the InReach Mini requires a connection to a smartphone for ease of operation and for use of some features. It might be "better" but it almost requires 2 devices. The InReach Mini breadcrumb tracking is expensive. There are plenty of advantages to the InReach Mini for those who might need the strengths of the little Garmin unit and most comparisons of InReach Mini -vs- SPOT X tend to favor the Garmin unit. I can understand why.

But a lot of people don't want/need that advanced mapping for navigation and want the breadcrumbs that the SPOT offers as part of the basic package. The fact that the SPOT X functions as more of a stand alone unit also is appealing to many. There is a larger, heavier, InReach unit, which costs roughly $450 that does more than the MINI unit which might be better to compare to the SPOT X, but then we are comparing a $450 unit vs a $199 unit and the monthly cost for the $450 still cost another $0.10 per breadcrumb dropped in the basic package. Yes, the newest iteration of the SPOT X has bluetooth and connects to a Smartphone from some added functions like the GARMIN units, but that is actually a minor upgrade given how much more functionality the SPOT X unit has due to it's design.

--------------

So now I wait for my unit to arrive. Which may be a couple of weeks.

My plan is to dust off my old iPad and see if the SPOT X app will work on the ancient iPad. If it works, then I'll set the iPad up in kitchen, next to the emergency weather radio, and every time I go for a ride I'll start up the SPOT X app on the iPad so it can track my movements. That should give my wife a little peace of mind. If the old iPad is not capable of running a compatible OS then I'll probably buy a refurbished unit or maybe a cheap android tablet for the purpose of having it sit in a stand on the counter while I ride.

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Melensdad

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According to the tracking link from Bass Pro/Cabela's, I should be getting delivery of my new SPOT X sometime tomorrow late afternoon.

Honestly I'm a bit jealous of the Garmin InReach Mini. I think the hardware and the satellite network are more robust. But the SPOT X should do what I want it to do and the Garmin, as slick and modern as it is, is not really capable of doing what I want. So while I think the Garmin InReach Mini is sort of the Ferrari of the satellite communicators, it is not a practical 'daily driver' and, from what I can tell, that SPOT X is the unit I probably need.

I'll test it out and maybe I'll send it back, or maybe I'll find it is exactly what I want and need.
 

Melensdad

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I work search and rescue as my full time job. I have responded to all sorts of emergency beacon alerts. By far the best from my point of view is the 2 way messaging. The In Reach can message directly to a smart phone. Having the ability to text direct to emergency services will get you the right response. With a 1 way Spot or PLB activation we have no way to tell what you need. Do you need an immediate helicopter evacuation or is it something minor?
FWIW the SPOT X can also message directly to a smartphone.

SPOT X is a 2 way communicator.

The other products from SPOT are 1 way communicators.

I have been playing with this thing for a few days, set my "check in" to send a simple message to my wife, my daughter and myself. Obviously I don't need it to send the message to me, but I do it because it is simple confirmation that the message was both sent and received.

Both SPOT and GARMIN clearly state that you need a clear view of the sky for operation but I've run tests, sending message to my iPhone, from inside my home. It should not work from inside a home but I've found that if I set it on a windowsill I can get messages in/out on my spot. It surprised me, my eves on my home overhang 4' and there are woods directly behind my house. But the SPOT is able to send/recieve from a windowsill that obviously does not have a clear view of the sky.
 
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PJL

Well-known member
So yesterday at 1:35 I get a call. In-Reach SOS activation. I called the IERCC that coordinates the response. I already had the basic info such as the latitude/longitude and the injuries. I knew a helicopter was needed due to the remote location. At 2:15 the In-Reach owner is able to text additional details directly to me. The helicopter had already been requested and was assembling a crew. They launched and arrived at the accident site at 3:37. A man with a badly broken ankle was hoisted into the helicopter and flown to the hospital in Seattle. Arrived at 4:30. Total time. About 3 hours. That's how its supposed to work and 3 hours start to finish is fast.
 

Melensdad

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3 hours for a remote location seems amazingly fast.

Great to hear rescue stories like this, confirms that these devices work.

Imagine how long it would take to find that (hiker/hunter/overlander) person without the aid of a satellite communicator? Mobilizing a search crew, likely would involve air and ground. Could easily take a week for a rescue, instead it was only 3 hours.

Plans for our use of my new SPOT X are primarily for motorcycling in remote areas, hopefully riding through rural areas of New Brunswick, Canada on the way to Nova Scotia, assuming the Canadian border opens. If not we will be on forest roads in northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont.
 
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