Other types of communication devices and personal trackers

Know other options and how they differ to PLBs

Even if you're happy with the life you've chosen, you're still curious about the other options. Taylor Swift

So far, we’ve covered PLBs in detail, as they are considered an easy and reliable way of contacting emergency services. Basically, if emergency services receive a PLB signal, they will respond as if the signal is life-threatening.

In recent years, however, other technologies have emerged that allow you to communicate a signal to your family or emergency contact saying additional things like you’re ok or delayed. Some of these devices offer one-way communication only, while others work like a mobile phone offering two-way communications. This means that people back home can track where you are going or follow a change of route.

While more information is often a good thing, it’s important that trip intentions and the exact meaning of each message are clearly communicated to your emergency contacts before heading out to avoid confusion. For instance, have clear plan for what to do if a pre-programmed message is not received, or what a Help request means.

Be sure to understand the differences between a SPOT and other trackers and a PLB before purchase and use.

SPOT trackers are not PLBs. The main differences between the two systems are:

  • SPOT trackers are covered by the same stringent regulations as PLB, so it’s much easier to end up with a model that does not have the appropriate regulations around battery longevity, transmission consistency, and how to deal with an emergency signal.
  • The satellite network that SPOT trackers use is not purpose built for emergency response, hence there could be delays in recognising and processing an emergency call for help in a timely manner.
  • SPOT trackers have a variety of functions, including being able to communicate signals like “I’m fine” to nominated recipients. With all these additional functions, it’s possible that the battery could run flat, leaving nothing to call for help in an emergency.
  • SPOT trackers do not have a secondary distress transmitter. Most PLBs transmit an additional 121.5MHz signal that can be used by aerial or ground response teams to “home in” on the signal.
  • SPOT trackers require monthly registrations, so if the user forgets or is unable to do their monthly renewal, the device won’t work.

Having said this, SPOT trackers do have the advantage over PLBs that they are able to send more detailed information. Two-way communication allows for better information sharing with rescue authorities. For example, it’s possible to send a message telling your contacts that you are fine, just delayed.

To sum up, if it’s possible, then the ideal solution is to carry both a PLB and SPOT tracker amongst the group. However, if that’s not possible or cost-prohibitive, a PLB provides the most robust method of calling for help in an emergency and in most cases is the better choice.