PLB Monitoring

skD1am0nd

New member
Last year I purchased a Personal Locator Beacon. A friend of mine suggested that the PLB may not be providing the safety that I think it is. His argument was that the PLB will certainly send out a satellite signal but that there may be no one to act on that signal. His suggestion was that you needed to check in the area you were going to be in to see if PLB signals would be monitored/acted on in that area.

I did a little online searching and see in the US (where my PLB was registered) that PLB signals are routed to the US Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC). Is it safe to assume that if I activate my PLB in US that the AFRCC will contact the appropriate SAR group in US? How about outside of US? For example if I'm back-country skiing in Norway or Canada and turn on my PLB how confident can I be that the distress signal will be sent to the appropriate SAR organization?

Thanks, Scott
 

Pat Caulfield

New member
It depends on the state. In Colorado, the AFRCC will contact the Colorado Search and Rescue Board and the the on duty coordinator will contact the appropriate SAR Team. The mission is then assigned and the SAR Team will contact the AFRCC directly for the PLB info (i.e. estimated location, who is it registered to, listed contact info, etc.).

Older PLB's did not have GPS capability so the coordinates the AFRCC will have in that case can vary with each pass of the satellite. It can be a large area to search, because in the end it always is up to a ground pounders to find the subject.

Please keep your registered contact info up to date (sell or move). It seems as if first owners register consistently, but if they sell the PLB (eBay, Craigslist, 14ers.com) it can be hit or miss on the subsequent owners. Certainly, we can track down the PLB without the contact info, but it always helps to have it.

This is for a PLB, not emergency messengers (SPOT, Delorme, etc.).
 
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Arclight

SAR guy
I would feel pretty comfortable trusting my life to a PLB anywhere in the United States. If you turn it on and leave it on, the signal will get received by both low-earth-orbiting and geosynchronous satellites several times. The only exceptions would be if you were underground, in a deep canyon, or under heavy vegetation. If the PLB has a clear view of the sky (think anywhere your GPS works) then the AFRCC will get the message. They will also get GPS coordinates (if your unit is so equipped) and a rough position solution, which gets better with subsequent satellite hits.

From there, your local Sheriff will be called and a team like ours will get dispatched. When we get close, we get out our old ELT tracking antennas, as most (all?) PLBs also transmit a low-power beacon signal that can be directly-received by aircraft and ground teams.

If you're out of the country, it depends. I'm sure that most developed countries take PLBs seriously. There are probably places, however, that can't afford to go look for your or simply don't care. The USA doesn't have an obligation to send their own rescue resources after you - they just relay the "help" message to whatever local authority is responsible. If you're doing serious adventures in a not-so-first-world place, I would recommend also having a satellite phone and/or Inreach device that can notify YOUR people as well.

Arclight
 

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cdthiker

Meandering Idaho
I would feel pretty comfortable trusting my life to a PLB anywhere in the United States. If you turn it on and leave it on, the signal will get received by both low-earth-orbiting and geosynchronous satellites several times. The only exceptions would be if you were underground, in a deep canyon, or under heavy vegetation. If the PLB has a clear view of the sky (think anywhere your GPS works) then the AFRCC will get the message. They will also get GPS coordinates (if your unit is so equipped) and a rough position solution, which gets better with subsequent satellite hits.

From there, your local Sheriff will be called and a team like ours will get dispatched. When we get close, we get out our old ELT tracking antennas, as most (all?) PLBs also transmit a low-power beacon signal that can be directly-received by aircraft and ground teams.

If you're out of the country, it depends. I'm sure that most developed countries take PLBs seriously. There are probably places, however, that can't afford to go look for your or simply don't care. The USA doesn't have an obligation to send their own rescue resources after you - they just relay the "help" message to whatever local authority is responsible. If you're doing serious adventures in a not-so-first-world place, I would recommend also having a satellite phone and/or Inreach device that can notify YOUR people as well.

Arclight
Yep.....

The PLB is simple, old school and it works. Two buttons. Test, and send the cavalry. None of this text or blog or track nonsense. I trust the PLB and carry it over the spot for this very reason. If I hit the very button that counts when I need it, I know it is going to work as long as I have some open sky. I know that is going to get sent to the right people. I have had mixed luck with the InReach, and the spot make me want to chuckle.

People fire the spot, inreach etc off by mistake all the time its not hard to hit the wrong button.

At the end of the day I trust the old school simple tech that has been around for decades in just about every brush plane and boat in the US. Who you gonna trust the Airforce and NOAA or some private firm ? I know my answer.

The school I used to work for had a group use a PLB when there was a bear attack. The Rotor was able to get with easy hover distance and visual line of sight real quick like. These things work.
 

dranrab

New member
I am a former Coast Guard SAR coordinator. Your PLB alert will go to the RCC (rescue coordination center) where the position will be plotted. Inland SAR is handled by the Air Force and Maritime SAR is handled by the Coast Guard. You distress alert will be seen through to conclusion.
 

Arclight

SAR guy
I am a former Coast Guard SAR coordinator. Your PLB alert will go to the RCC (rescue coordination center) where the position will be plotted. Inland SAR is handled by the Air Force and Maritime SAR is handled by the Coast Guard. You distress alert will be seen through to conclusion.
Question: What was the policy of USCG with regards to activations in the territorial waters of other nations? Was there normally follow-up to ensure your counterpart in a foreign country actually followed through with a reasonable response?
 

dlh62c

Explorer
The PLB is simple, old school and it works. Two buttons. Test, and send the cavalry. None of this text or blog or track nonsense. I trust the PLB and carry it over the spot for this very reason. If I hit the very button that counts when I need it, I know it is going to work as long as I have some open sky. I know that is going to get sent to the right people. I have had mixed luck with the InReach, and the spot make me want to chuckle.
Tracking sure is nice to have should you not be able to punch the button on your PLB.

SPOT will drop points along your route as you move. If you stop, it continues to drop the points in one location. If you don't send an 'OK' after you stop for the day, someone can at least look up your movements and alert authorities to your general location. I like that I can follow a traveler via their SPOT Shared Adventure page. I could could see the points drop as they queued up at a border crossing heading south into Mexico in near real time. Then see the points spread out as they start moving again.

PLB, SPOT or InReach devices are only as good as the rescue infrastructure that's in place in the area in which your traveling.
 
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
Yep.....

There are clear cut advantages to both types of devices. I've researched dozens of rescues initiated by both PLB and GEOS enabled devices and pros/cons abound. I would give the edge to the two-way communicator connected to GEOS.
 
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FJOE

Adventurer
At the end of the day I trust the old school simple tech that has been around for decades in just about every brush plane and boat in the US. Who you gonna trust the Airforce and NOAA or some private firm ? I know my answer.
I can tell you firsthand of a private firm routing an activation from a DeLorme inReach that eventually led to an American answering the phone and assisting in getting assets overhead in the middle of nowhere, Afghanistan. Start to finish, about 30 minutes (it turned out to be an accidental activation). These things are getting better and better.
 
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