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PLB vs. Satellite Messenger – Which one is Right For You?

If you plan on unplugging from life and immersing yourself deep in nature, you will still need a way to communicate in case of an emergency. That is where Satellite Messengers and Personal Locator Beacons come in handy.

Read on to discover some advantages and disadvantages of the different features of Personal Locator Beacons and Satellite Messengers. Depending on your situation, you can choose the right one based on the features.

PLB vs. Satellite Messenger: How to Choose?

Cell phones can be used to call 911 when encountering an emergency situation, but what do you do when there is low or no cell phone service? 

PLBs or Personal Locator Beacons and Satellite Messengers provide ways to make emergency calls when your cell phone has no service. These two communication methods are beneficial to hikers and backpackers on a long trek through the wilderness. Some campers that set up camp far outside of a cell phone tower range may find that PLBs or Satellite Messengers come in handy. 

When you activate either PLB or Satelite Messenger of indicating an emergency or S.O.S call, they will transmit your distress signal to a system of Satellites. In the United States, these satellites are monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. In the event of an emergency, your devices will communicate your location to emergency services near you. 

When choosing between a PLB vs. Satellite Messenger, You should consider the type of communications you need, subscription fees and battery life. Let’s discuss what you should consider when choosing between these two to make the right choice that works best for you. 

What Type Of Communication Do You Need?

PLBs and Satellite Messengers offer different communication features, and depending on what you desire, these features could dictate which option you choose. Some of the expansive communication features of Satellite Messengers can be seen as an advantage to some while being a disadvantage to others. 

Communication Features of Satellite Messengers

  • The signal works worldwide, but coverage differs by brand. Coverage exists everywhere in the United States but be sure to check the coverage maps of different brands for remote trips to other countries.
  • Satellite Messengers provide the added convenience of sending and receiving non-emergency text messages to and from home. Some campers or hikers that desire a complete cut-off from modern technology during their trip can see this feature as a disadvantage.
  • Satellite Messengers proved two-way communication with emergency responders to allow them to locate you more quickly. 
  • Satellite Messengers allow you to cancel an S.O.S call after placing it, whereas PLBs do not offer to cancel an S.O.S call.

Communication Features of PLBs

  • Personal Locator Beacons work worldwide, even in remote areas. If you plan on visiting a remote location outside of the United States, a PLB may be the better option.
  • PLBs do not offer non-emergency S.O.S text messaging or calls, so if that is the feature you are looking for in a device, Satellite Messengers may be your choice.
  • PLBs do not provide the option to cancel an S.O.S call after placing it.

If you are trying to unplug from communication completely, a PLB may be for you. If you still need communication ties from home, your best bet is a Satellite Messenger. The various communication features of PLBs vs. Satellite Messengers may be the deciding factor of your choice. If not, both options have other distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Fees and Subscriptions for Satellite Messengers vs. PLBs

Satellite Messengers and PLBs offer different features that come with fees or necessary subscriptions. Personal Locator Beacons offer use without fees or subscription plans, but most Satellite Messengers require plans just like cellphones. Here is an example of the plans on the Satellite Messengers offered by Garmin:

Safety Plan (Basic)Recreation Plan (Intermediate)Expedition Plan(Advanced)
Location Requests10 cents per requestUnlimitedUnlimited
GPS Tracking Points10 cents per requestUnlimited Unlimited
Annual Contract$11.95 Monthly$24.95 Monthly$49.95 Monthly
Month to Month Contract$14.95 Monthly$34.95 Monthly$69.95 Monthly
Text Overcharge50 cents per message$0.50 per messageUnlimited

Garmin offers three plans, all with the option to choose either an annual or monthly contract:

  • A Safety Plan– The most basic option with extra charges for location requests and GPS tracker usage as well as extra charges for each text message in addition to either the monthly or annual contract fee.
  • A Recreation Plan– The intermediate option with only extra charges for text messages. GPS tracking and Location requests are unlimited.
  • An Expedition Plan– The advanced plan with no extra fees on top of either the monthly or annual contract fee

Garmin’s freedom plans come with a 30-day minimum but can be done on a month-to-month basis depending on how you use your Satellite Messenger. Annual Plans offer year-round coverage despite how often the device is used. Plans similar to the ones offered by Garmin are offered by every Satellite Messenger manufacturer on the market, each at varying price points.

Most Satellite Messengers come with more flexible and usable features but require subscription fees, whereas PLBs offer usage without fees. PLBs can operate without subscription fees because of the lack of communication functions they offer.

PLB vs. Satellite Messenger Battery Life Comparison

Satellite Messengers and PLBs operate with different batteries that both have advantages and disadvantages. One question can be the deciding factor: Do I have a way to charge my device? Depending on your supplies or how readily available electricity is to you, one of these options may be superior to the other. 

Battery Functions for Satellite Messengers:

  • Satellite Messengers come with rechargeable batteries, so if you are without access to electricity for an extended period, Satellite Messengers may not be the right option for you.
  • Batteries on Satellite Messengers are similar to cell phone batteries; they depend on the usage of the device’s features.
  • The life of these batteries can last anywhere from a couple of days to between ten and twenty days.

Battery Functions for Personal Locator Beacons

  • PLBs come with unique battery functions compared to Satellite Messengers.
  • PLBs come with long-lasting lithium batteries. Government regulations require PLB batteries to transmit for at least 24 hours in temperatures colder than -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The battery in a PLB remains dormant until you turn it on to activate.
  • These batteries typically last for at least five years, but they must be sent to a manufacturer for a costly replacement once the battery dies. 

Depending on your accessibility to electricity accompanied by the features you want in a device, a PLB or Satellite Messenger’s battery life may be beneficial or detrimental to your situation. If you have a consistent source of power, you may be able to sustain carrying a Satellite Messenger with you, but if not, you should choose a PLB.

Look closely at how readily available power is to you on your adventures and what features work better for you in the long run to make your choice between a Satellite Messenger and a PLB.

PLB vs Satellite Messenger

Using a Satellite Messenger: Advantages and Disadvantages

We have discussed some of the unique features of a Satellite Messenger and how they compare to their counterpart, the PLB. 

Now let’s look at some additional features of a Satellite Messenger that can count as an advantage or Disadvantage for you, depending on your situation.

Convenient Features or Inconvenient Distractions

Satellite Messengers come with some basic features that can prove to be a convenience that we are used to or can prove to be inconvenient distractions that we are trying to get away from. Satellite Messengers allow for some of the basic functions that we are used to with cell phones, including

  • Text Messaging
  • Social Media Posting
  • Bluetooth Sync and Compatibility with Smart Watches

If you are taking a remote trip to unplug from the hectic life full of distractions, then these features may not remove you far enough. Text messages from family and the ability to access social media may prove to be temptations that you cannot pry yourself away from. On the flip side, if you are just taking a weekend to getaway in a remote area and still want communication with your family at home, these features may be just what you need.

In addition to social and communication features, Satellite Messengers also provide beneficial weather reports and Altimeter and Barometer functions. These features, of course, all come at a cost to the battery life of your device. These features could be meaningless if you do not have a way to recharge the battery after a couple of days.

It is essential to weigh your specific situation and the tools you have readily available with the features you need in a device in order to make the appropriate decision. If you are dependent on communication with your family back home, the choice is obvious, but if you are trying to get away from a constant influx of communication but still desire some of the other features of a Satellite Messenger, the decision may be more difficult. 

Unique Location Features of Satellite Messengers

We know how Satellite Messengers get your location to the emergency responders en route during S.O.S calls, but that is only one of the few unique location features of Satellite Messengers. Satellite Messengers also offer:

  • Topographical Map Navigation
  • Waypoint tracking and reporting that can be sent to anyone at home
  • The ability to communicate your location in a back and forth call or text with first responders

These additional location features of Satellite Messengers can prove to be a great advantage in emergency situations or situations where you may find yourself lost. All of these features are dependent on the battery life left on the device and should be used sparingly unless you can charge it.

Which Satellite Messenger Should I Choose?

Let’s look at some of the Satellite Messengers on the market and compare them to the features we have discussed so far. Choosing the Satellite Messenger that is best for you is all about prioritizing the important features. Manufacturers offer different features and coverage with different Satellite Messenger models.

  • Garmin’s Compact Mini Satellite Communicator
    • At a list price of $299.99, this Satellite Messenger comes with two-way text messaging on a global network.
    • Additional subscription fees are required.
    • The Garmin Compact allows for map download and aerial imagery of your location.
    • Weather forecasts, as well as detailed updates and radars, can be downloaded to this device at any time.
    • At about the size of your palm, the Garmin Compact is easy to carry and store when out and about on long hikes or camping trips.
    • The Garmin Compact can be paired with Bluetooth and seamlessly pull your smartphone’s contact lists and information.
  • Zoleo Satellite Communicator
    • The Zoleo Satellite Communicator is a global, two-way satellite communicator that offers text messaging and email access for the price of $149.99.
    • Monthly subscription fees will cost another $20, $35, or $50 depending on the plan that you choose. Monthly plans can be suspended for an extra $4 per month. 
    • This device uses its own dedicated phone number for communication rather than pairing with your existing devices.
    • The Zoleo offers an extended battery life of 200+ hours or 8+ days of constant use. 

These two separate Satellite Messengers offer some drastically different features, highlighting how different manufacturers can outfit each model. Take into account what features are right for you and which ones are not a top priority, do your research into each model’s features, and make the decision that will work best. 

Using a PLB: Advantages and Disadvantages

PLBs can come with an array of advantages or disadvantages depending on your wants and needs. Personal Locator Beacons can be pretty universal when it comes to features available, but let’s discuss how those features can end up as advantages or disadvantages for you. 

Minimal Distractions of a Personal Locator Beacons

Personal Locator Beacons can come with minimal distractions compared to Satellite Messengers. No PLB on the market comes with the ability to send or receive:

  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Calls 

PLBs also do not offer features that will track and report your location back to your family at home.

If your goal is to disconnect from society and unplug from your busy life, these inconveniences to some can end up being the reason why a Personal Locator Beacon is a right choice for you. 

Some Inconveniences of PLBs

If the minimal communication distractions of a Personal Locator Beacon are not an inconvenience to you, let’s discuss some things that may be. 

Personal Locator Beacons must be registered. Once you purchase a PLB, you must register it in the NOAA Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking database. The unit’s distress signal must be registered with your name, address, emergency contact, and any medical conditions to make treatment easier for first responders. 

The database requires you to update this information every two years, and if you end up selling your PLB unit, you must notify the database so the next owner can register their information.  

Which PLB is Right For Me?

PLBs offer generally the same features or lack of features, but there are a few on the market with extra additions like those for marine purposes, or additional lights or signals for first responders. Here are two of the more unique PLB options on the market. 

  • OceanSignal Rescue Me
    • The OceanSignal Rescue Me is a PLB on the market for $295.95. This PLB requires no additional subscriptions monthly or annually.
    • This OceanSignal is used primarily in marine emergency situations and communicates directly with vessels within a five-mile radius, as well as the traditional satellite communication offered by PLBs.
    • The OceanSignal offers a seven-year battery life and a five-year warranty. 
  • ACR ResQlink
    • The ACR ResQlink is another PLB not explicitly used for marine emergencies. This PLB is on the market for $359.95.
    • The ACR ResQlink has been designed incorporating first-hand feedback from survivors that have activated the S.O.S signal in real-life emergencies. 
    • This PLB offers a built-in strobe and infrared strobe to aid first responders in finding those that have activated the device.

These two Personal Locator Beacons are both incredible options that offer minimal distractions for their users and some additional features not mentioned with standard PLBs. Personal Locator Beacons can prove to be a more expensive option than their counterpart but can come with a few advantages that make them worth the price.

Conclusion

When taking trips to remote locations either in the United States or around the world, safety and security are priorities. Cell phones do not always offer the coverage to use them in emergencies, so it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of Satellite Messengers and Personal Locator Beacons for emergency situations in remote areas. 

Both options offer advantages and disadvantages but depending on the situation you are in and the type of getaway you are trying to experience, one option may outweigh the other. Consider how much communication you want on your trip and the accessibility of electricity and supplies around you to make the best decision for your situation. 

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