GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker


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GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Sun Aug 30, 2015 4:58 pm



GPS tracking devices are generally intended for use in an emergency - to bring help when you need it, and may not have cellular phone coverage. There are vast expanses of the US and Canada that have no cell coverage whatsoever, and we as long-distance riders may traverse these areas. An accident in such a remote area, particularly one that ends up with you and your bike not visible from the road, could mean a long wait for rescue - or much worse.

In choosing a GPS tracker, there is one main option to consider: PLB or commercial, such as a Spot.

A PLB (personal locator beacon) transmits on 406MHz, a universal emergency frequency monitored by government-operated satellites all over the world. Similar to the beacons carried by airplanes and ships (which transmit on the same frequency), a PLB has a unique identifier. If you are experiencing a true emergency, activating the PLB will send a signal containing your identifier along with your exact GPS coordinates to a government-run (usually military) rescue coordination center, and you will quickly find helicopters descending on your position. There is no subscription fee, as the network is operated and maintained by various government agencies. PLBs, while much smaller than they were just a few years ago, are quite a bit larger than commercial trackers. PLB's have worldwide coverage.

The Spot tracker has been around for a while, and the tracker is now offered in its third generation. Considerably smaller than both the first and second generation units, this tracker transmits to the Globalstar satellite network, with coverage over almost the entire planet - the exception being the extreme northern and southern latitudes, and portions of the Pacific Ocean. Commercial GPS trackers generally require annual subscriptions for service, but they do much more than just bring the helicopters when the "SOS" button is pressed - you can set them up to send other messages - and some trackers even offer two-way text messaging.

ACR ResQLink+ PLB

ACR ResQLink+ in box
ACR ResQLink+ in box

The ResQLink+ PLB is a waterproof, buoyant (it floats), serious rescue tool that is used by ferry pilots, boats, airplanes, hikers, adventurers, hunters and more, the world over. It retails for $250, and is commonly available at online retailers.

ResQLink+ as normally carried
ResQLink+ as normally carried

The ResQLink+ is normally carried with the antenna wrapped around its exterior. It is not turned on or activated until an emergency actually occurs.

Length of ResQLink+
Length of ResQLink+

Width of ResQLink+
Width of ResQLink+

The ResQLink+ is considerably smaller than previous PLB's, and can easily be carried in a pocket or strapped to gear.

Instructions for ResQLink+
Instructions for ResQLink+

Instructions on the use of the ResQLink+ are simple and straightforward, and are printed on the back.

Data sheet on back of ResQLink+
Data sheet on back of ResQLink+

Opening up the instruction sheet on the back, you can find the UIN (the unique number that identifies you), along with other information needed to register the unit. Registration of the unit is mandatory, and is done with the registration authority in your country - usually through a web site, and free of charge. You supply the authority with your information along with contact information, so that they can contact your family in the case of an emergency.

The PLB contains lithium batteries that are generally good for six years. Using the PLB in an emergency, or after the battery expiry date, requires the unit be sent back to a service center for new batteries to be installed.

ResQLink+ Antenna clip
ResQLink+ Antenna clip

Using the unit is quite simple: First unclip the spring steel antenna. It will spring out into a long, straight line. The GPS receiver antenna is also located on the top, and should be facing an open area of sky.

ResQLink+ with antenna extended
ResQLink+ with antenna extended

Next, rotate the antenna up so it is facing the sky.

ResQLink+ power and test buttons exposed when antenna extended
ResQLink+ power and test buttons exposed when antenna extended

Lastly, press the power button for one second. The unit will acquire its GPS position, and begin transmitting. It transmits your user ID and GPS coordinates on 406 MHz to the SARSAT (search and rescue satellite) constellation. It also transmits a homing beacon on 121.5 MHz that can be heard by any passing aircraft, or used by searchers to home in on your beacon. Lastly, it begins flashing a strobe light, which can be visible from many miles away. The unit will run for at least 24 hours like this before the battery is exhausted - and should be left on, not turned on and off.

Velcro strap included
Velcro strap included

The unit includes a velcro strap that can be used to fasten it to a backpack, your arm, or your bike.

How well does the ACR ResQLink+ work? Well fortunately, I cannot tell you from personal experience. However, ACR keeps a web page containing the stories of people who have been rescued thanks to their ACR PLB: Survivor Stories. If you use your ACR PLB to be rescued, ACR will replace it free of charge. My father carries this PLB when he goes hunting in desolate, remote Northern Ontario, and when on his boat.


Spot Gen3 GPS Tracker

Spot inside box
Spot inside box

The Gen3 Spot is a relatively tiny device, available for around $150 from online retailers - and is available with a 50% rebate for the next couple of weeks (until mid September, 2015). The Spot requires an annual service subscription of $150, plus an optional $18/year for $100,000 SAR insurance (to pay for the expensive helicopter rescue). Whereas the PLB satellite network is worldwide, the Spot coverage is generally most land masses, and most oceans, with gaps over the middle of the Pacific. While the Spot is waterproof, it does NOT float, so if you use it on a boat, I recommend tying something buoyant to it.

Spot claims 3,500 rescues and counting, and like ACR, have a web page with rescue stories on it.

When setting up the service on the Spot web site, you enter the email and phone numbers of the friends and family members you want contacted when you activate the various functions on the device. Each button can be configured to send different messages to a different group of people if desired.

Spot and buttons
Spot and buttons

The Spot has several buttons on its face. On the top left, near my thumb in the picture, is the power button, which, when held down for several seconds, turns the unit on. Once it is on, it begins acquiring its GPS position from GPS satellites, which takes only a few seconds. If left powered on and inactive, it will turn itself off after one hour.

The bottom right button is the "OK" button - pressing it sends an "everything's OK" message to the contacts that you have selected, via email and/or text message. The actual text of the message can be changed on the Spot web site.

The bottom left button is a customizable button. It works exactly like the "OK" button except that it sends a different message. For instance, you could have it send a "stopping for the night" message.

The middle button is the "tracking" button - and I'll get into that in a minute.

Assistance button underneath cover
Assistance button underneath cover

Lifting a protective cover on the left allows access to the "assistance" button. Like the "OK" and customizable button, this button sends a message to contacts that you select, and is intended to be used as a "I need help" message - but perhaps not a dire emergency. For instance, if you went for a hike while camping, fell and sprained your ankle, you could press this button which could tell your family members back at the camp that you need someone to come out and help assist you back to camp.

Whenever a button is pressed to send a message to your contacts, the message includes your current GPS position, in latitude and longitude, along with a link that will show your position on a map.

SOS button underneath cover
SOS button underneath cover

Lastly is the SOS button, or what I call the "helicopter" button. Pressing this button does not send a message to your contacts - instead, it sends it directly to the GEOS monitoring center. This center will contact the appropriate authority and arrange a rescue, depending on your location. For instance, if the signal is received and the GPS shows you a mile off the coast, the Coast Guard would be contacted.

The tracker is quite thin
The tracker is quite thin

The Spot tracker is fairly slim, and fully waterproof.

The instruction label on the back can be used as a signal mirror
The instruction label on the back can be used as a signal mirror

The back of the tracker has simple instructions, and is shiny, so that it could be used as a signal mirror in an emergency.

Lithium batteries are sealed inside a waterproof compartment
Lithium batteries are sealed inside a waterproof compartment

Unlike most PLB's, the Spot tracker has replaceable batteries, inside a waterproof compartment. It runs off of four AAA type batteries, and it is recommended that you use Lithium batteries - both because they keep their power when stored for long periods of time, as well as lasting many times longer than conventional alkaline batteries. The Spot tracker will run in tracking mode at it's default 10 minute intervals for approximately 400 hours - roughly twice the battery life of the previous Gen2 Spot. The use of NiMH rechargeable batteries is also allowed, however this will run the unit for approximately 90 hours. Run times can vary based on temperature and other factors.

Device can be powered by standard USB lead
Device can be powered by standard USB lead

The Gen3 Spot can also be powered by a standard 5 volt USB lead. It will stay turned on indefinitely when powered by USB, although it will not charge rechargeable batteries this way. The Spot is NOT waterproof when it the USB port is open.

Included strap with carabiner
Included strap with carabiner

Like the ResQLink+, the Spot includes a velcro strap, although the Spot also includes a carabiner, to link the unit to a backpack or clothing.

Tracking

Apart from sending messages and requesting help, the Spot has one other neat feature: Tracking. When in tracking mode, it will transmit its position on a regular basis, configurable from between 5 minutes and 30 minutes, depending on how much you wish to pay (default is ten minutes). It is motion-sensitive, so it will continue doing this as long as it detects it is moving - when you stop moving, it will stop transmitting, and start once again when you start moving once more.

The Spot web site allows you to view your track in interactive maps - with dots showing regular tracking positions, and special symbols denoting where buttons were pressed.

Spot phone app shows tracking in realtime
Spot phone app shows tracking in realtime

A smart phone app is also available that allows you log into your account and view your track. This is useful if your spouse or family wishes to view your progress.




The tracker can be configured to work with a Spotwalla account, and Spotwalla interactive maps showing details of trips can be embedded in web sites like this one, as shown above.

Spot thrown inside GL1500 trunk, facing up
Spot thrown inside GL1500 trunk, facing up

How does it work? Amazingly well! I tried mine out for a month, having it track my progress from Ohio up to parts of mid-Ontario. I randomly pressed the message buttons to see how reliably it sent the messages out, and it never missed a single one. I threw it in my trunk - with the GPS antenna facing upward - as I have a USB charger back there that I could plug it into.

Spot transmitted fine through metal trunk rack
Spot transmitted fine through metal trunk rack

I had worried that the metal trunk rack on my GL1500 would impede the signals being sent by the Spot, but if they were impeded at all, I did not notice - it seemed to work just as well.


So which one of these devices would I recommend for the travelling motorcyclist? It depends on your intention. One feature the PLB has over the Spot is a high-powered transmitter and external antenna. So it is possible that in terrain (heavy, wet leaf canopy, for one) that might block satellite signals, the PLB signal would get through, where the Spot signal would not.

Buy the PLB if you:
- Don't care to check in with anyone
- Don't care about tracking your progress online or for others to see
- May also use it in remote areas for hunting, boating offshore, or for Antarctic exploration
- Are price sensitive and don't care to spend $150/year on subscription fees

Buy the Spot if you:
- Have family and friends you wish to check in with regularly
- Want to track your progress online, or share it with your friends here at GoldwingDocs
- Don't often travel to Antarctica
- Appreciate the ability to have a "I need help" button without bringing in the cavalry (helicopters)

Either device will perform its task admirably, and should be a welcome addition to any long-distance traveler's kit.



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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby CaptLen » Tue Sep 01, 2015 12:39 pm

The SPOT Gen 3 is on salemfor a limited time- $75 rebate by mail- buy from retailer or their website (findmespot.com) send in forms, receive Visa card rebate. I'm going to upgrade from my old unit for better battery life etc

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Tue Sep 01, 2015 12:55 pm

Yes but this deal is only until September 15, so if you're going to do it, you need to do it soon.

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby Harp » Tue Sep 01, 2015 2:39 pm

Could be used as evidence ....... :o

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Tue Sep 01, 2015 2:54 pm

Harp wrote:Could be used as evidence ....... :o


Evidence of what?

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby CaptLen » Tue Sep 01, 2015 3:07 pm

Re: evidence- we're already in trouble with "black boxes"- witness the fight going on now regarding privacy of info. Also- IMPORTANT POINT- if you're really paranoid you can only turn unit on if you need help- that means no tracking service available, but general "help me" to a friend (flat tire, out of gas, parts fell off) or "SOS" relayed to 911 responders is available a minute or so after powering unit on.

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby Harp » Tue Sep 01, 2015 3:13 pm

Not sure I want someone to be able to track my every movement or have a record of it. I say this jokingly and I understand why you would want one on a trip that leaves one out of cellphone range, but do I really want to leave a trail?

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Tue Sep 01, 2015 3:24 pm

It only transmits a regular tracking position when the tracking mode is actually enabled.

An example of where the tracking mode could come in useful is if you were riding off by yourself, and eight hours into the ride you crashed - off the road, and injured so that you are functionally disabled.

Nobody knows where you are, how far along your route you are, even which route you took.

Your spouse, whom you gave access to the tracking information, can look it up, find the last reported position, and get a very good idea of just where you are, and where searchers should start looking.

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby wsnodgrass » Tue Sep 01, 2015 5:26 pm

I have been using an older SPOT for years. I programmed the "assistance button" to contact my USAA Road Service for a tow if needed. For our Alaska trip a few years ago, I changed the contacts to include the "significant others" that weren't with us and they followed us along on Google Maps - I didn't use the tracking feature, just sent an I'm OK message. As a Road Captain, I have used the tracking feature to refer back to after I pre-ride a route for a chapter ride. I can then put together a turn-by-turn route card. When my wife and I are out and about, we normally let our adult kids who live elsewhere in the country know we are out riding and send an occasional "We're OK" message - gives them peace of mind. Finally, the SPOT helps my wife not become overly anxious when we are out in the middle of nowhere and without cell phone coverage - she knows we can get help if we need it. All told, it runs about $200 a year which includes the extra insurance for Air Search and Rescue. Well worth the investment!

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby charliektm400exc » Wed Sep 02, 2015 5:13 am

There is also a commercial product called a DeLorme InReach that offers two way messaging. I have a 1st generation Spot, and I've been thinking about the DeLorme.

Does anybody have any experience with it?


Charlie

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Wed Sep 02, 2015 9:40 am

charliektm400exc wrote:There is also a commercial product called a DeLorme InReach that offers two way messaging. I have a 1st generation Spot, and I've been thinking about the DeLorme.

Does anybody have any experience with it?


Charlie


I have not used the DeLorme, but I did make mention of it in the original piece where I said "some trackers even offer two-way text messaging."



The DeLorme is quite a bit more complex - it has a color LCD touchscreen, can send and receive text messages (not just canned preset messages), and has basic navigation: you can preset a route, then use the unit to follow the route, with a simulated on-screen compass and "breadcrumb" type GPS. To me the most useful unique feature of the DeLorme is that you can receive confirmation that your SOS call has been received. With the PLB and the Spot, you press the "SOS" button and take it on faith that your message has been received. The DeLorme can also connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth.



Of course the DeLorme is considerably more expensive: $380 for the unit and $420/year in subscription fees for service equivalent to the Spot. Text messages are 50 cents each. If you want unlimited text messages, it bumps up to $780/year in subscription fees.

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Wed Sep 02, 2015 1:10 pm

This is a pretty good explanation of how the ACR PLB operates:




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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby harvey01 » Wed Sep 02, 2015 2:23 pm

Harp,

I understand about not wanting your every move recorded for others. The flip side to that is a couple years ago a Gold Wing rider was alone outwest and ran off the road. You could not see where he crashed off the road from the road and he was not found until some hunters happened upon his wrecked bike and his remains. Something like the Spot would have given his family and searchers a better place to start looking.

I have travelled across this country several times without a Spot. Now I always carry one and have it track my route for my wife to be able to know where I am. Yes some wise investigator could probably use the info to prove I am speeding but with a GL1800 that info is already available, and if you use a GPS that info is there also.
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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby Harp » Wed Sep 02, 2015 3:13 pm

I get it. I was in no way trying to denigrate Wing Admin's post. I respect him very much and truly appreciate all the research and work he puts into this forum. Sometimes what might be a lighthearted attempt at humour doesn't go as planned. I am more than a bit paranoid about locator devices and other info collected about all of us. I worked for a very large and respected Hospital system in NE Ohio for many years. We were issued locator badges to keep us "safe." The one time I was trapped between a psych pt and the door(my fault for letting it happen), I hit my red button and no one showed. Security thought it was another false alarm. I got away with a few bruises and a couple stitches. My other incident with a locator device was even more fun. I was at lunch and my pt started to bleed out. I ran to the room and started work. I left my jacket, with locator badge attached in the breakroom. I spent eight hours in a pt room trying to save a bleed out. The next day I was handed a write-up for spending my shift in the break room, even though my notes, actions and house supervisor could all attest to where I was. My other non-critical pt had complained that I wasn't around. In this case, technology and the people who use it were not a good thing.
I do agree that were I solo on a long trip, one of these could come in pretty handy in an emergency and were I to finally take that solo trip across the Badlands, I might pick one up for my wife's peace of mind.
Again, my apologies to WA and thanks for all you do for the forum.

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby charliektm400exc » Wed Sep 02, 2015 8:01 pm

WingAdmin wrote:Of course the DeLorme is considerably more expensive: $380 for the unit and $420/year in subscription fees for service equivalent to the Spot. Text messages are 50 cents each. If you want unlimited text messages, it bumps up to $780/year in subscription fees.



When I looked it up it looked like $300 to buy, $144 a year on cheapest subscription, but also the option to just pay for when you use it and suspend it for the rest of the time. I suppose it depends on how much you want the two way text option.

Charlie

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Re: GPS Tracking Device comparison: ACR ResQLink+ PLB vs Spot Gen3 Tracker

Postby WingAdmin » Wed Nov 04, 2015 2:59 pm

If anyone is interested, Spot is giving away all of their devices free (via 100% rebate) until Christmas 2015, when you sign up for a service plan.

http://findmespot.com





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