PLBs v Satellite Messengers

PLBs v Satellite Messengers

PLBs and Satellite Messengers do similar jobs, so which is best?

PLBs v Satellite Messengers 

PLBs v Satellite Messengers

So, PLBs send an emergency message to a satellite, and so do satellite messagers such as SPOT. Which is best, and how do you choose between the two?

PLBs differ from Satellite messengers in that they have only one function: an emergency activation.  Satellite messengers have a range of other features, such as ‘ok’ and ‘assistance’ messages, text messaging, email and tracking functions.  (Not all satellite messengers have all of these functions.)  The SPOT Messenger depends solely on GPS for position and has a low transmit power of about half a Watt, which cannot penetrate anything overhead but thin tree or other cover.   The SPOT devices have an annual subscription and have no homing facilities. However, if a GPS fix is not available when you press the emergency button, your last known GPS position will be sent. If you're in track mode, that would normally only be 10 minutes since.

PLBs on the other hand do not have monthly or annual subscriptions, and work with tried and tested single purpose globally used satellite technology that has thousands of life saving stories, as they have been around for much longer. As PLB batteries will not have been compromised by non-distress use, their endurance can be assured, at either 24 or 48 hours from activation. The 5-Watt databurst can penetrate tree and other cover. Even if the GPS component of the PLB cannot be established, the Doppler facility will provide a useable position, to the extent that the homing transmissions will be detected and sourced by an SAR helicopter.

Live Tracking

Satellite messengers, with the correct subscription, allow you to transmit your location at set time intervals. In the event of an emergency and you are unable to hit the emergency button, your last position would be known and available to your EPOC, should you fail to return on time. Tracking is the killer difference between PLBs and satellite messengers.


If you want a device only for signalling an emergency, then a PLB may be better. However, if you want to get some use out of your investment, create live tracks of your routes and be able to send a text from outside of mobile coverage, then a SPOT, or other satellite messenger product could be for you.

Taking the Search out of Search & Rescue

Both PLBs and Satellite Messengers take the ‘Search’ out of ‘Search & Rescue’. You should consider carrying one if ever walking alone.