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Thread: Thoughts on PLB use

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    Default Thoughts on PLB use

    So I just bought an ACR/Artex 406ResQlink+ at Cabela's. Now, having been an avionics tech, I'm pretty familiar with PBs ELTs etc. But something I never gave any thought to was manual operation. (Most aviation ELTs are designed to activate on impact and remain on.)

    So in this context, I wonder about battery life. The unit is designed to be activated manually and then transmit for 30 consecutive hours. Does anyone have any thoughts on cycling the unit on and off during an emergency to save battery power? If I were to be in need of rescue and activated the PLB for one hour, and then turned it off for one hour, and then back on, etc etc, it would double the battery life. But how would that be interpreted by the Coast Guard or the RCC at Elmendorf? Would they see the discontinuation of the distress signal as a "false alarm" and abort the rescue? Or would they continue to proceed to the last known position sent by the PLB?

    Conversely, how long is the normal response time and is this question of saving battery life and transmit time even necessary?

    The other question is what is the threshold for "grave and imminent danger"? If I break a leg, but can get back to my boat and get back up river (talk about a painful ride), then should I still attempt a "self rescue?" Same scenario (or any scenario) and I have an alternate means of communication. (For me, that's HF Amateur Radio) Am I required to try to get help via the radio first, or do I just trigger the PLB?

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    Quote Originally Posted by FL2AK-Old Town View Post
    So in this context, I wonder about battery life. The unit is designed to be activated manually and then transmit for 30 consecutive hours. Does anyone have any thoughts on cycling the unit on and off during an emergency to save battery power? If I were to be in need of rescue and activated the PLB for one hour, and then turned it off for one hour, and then back on, etc etc, it would double the battery life. But how would that be interpreted by the Coast Guard or the RCC at Elmendorf? Would they see the discontinuation of the distress signal as a "false alarm" and abort the rescue? Or would they continue to proceed to the last known position sent by the PLB?

    Conversely, how long is the normal response time and is this question of saving battery life and transmit time even necessary?


    ?
    I ask that same question and was told they would consider it a false alarm. Do not do it!!!!



    Quote Originally Posted by FL2AK-Old Town View Post
    The other question is what is the threshold for "grave and imminent danger"? If I break a leg, but can get back to my boat and get back up river (talk about a painful ride), then should I still attempt a "self rescue?" Same scenario (or any scenario) and I have an alternate means of communication. (For me, that's HF Amateur Radio) Am I required to try to get help via the radio first, or do I just trigger the PLB?

    They will start warming up the aircraft with in a few minute. That's the good news the bad news if they have aircraft down for maintenance, bad weather or on another rescue it will take time. You need to be prepared to stay alive until they get to you.

    You are not required to do anything, you have a emergency use the PLB. That why you have it.

    BTY, good questions

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGyver View Post
    I ask that same question and was told they would consider it a false alarm. Do not do it!!!!
    That is sort of how I thought they would interpret it, but who did yo ask, or who told you that?






    Quote Originally Posted by MacGyver View Post
    They will start warming up the aircraft with in a few minute. That's the good news the bad news if they have aircraft down for maintenance, bad weather or on another rescue it will take time. You need to be prepared to stay alive until they get to you.

    You are not required to do anything, you have a emergency use the PLB. That why you have it.

    BTY, good questions
    So I've heard conflicting answers on this. One "story" I heard on htis was they won't launch a rescue until the second pass of the satellite, and they see your distress beacon twice. But if you go to the noaa sarsat website, you'll see that some of those satellites are geo stationary, so that, to me, debunks the theory of waiting for a second pass because there are no passes.

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    Geosynchronous is hard to argue with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FL2AK-Old Town View Post
    That is sort of how I thought they would interpret it, but who did yo ask, or who told you that?








    .
    It been so long ago I can't remember. When I got my 406 EPRB I went to Fort Rich and talked to the people that run search & rescue dispatch center for the national guard. They may be the ones that told me.



    Quote Originally Posted by FL2AK-Old Town View Post

    So I've heard conflicting answers on this. One "story" I heard on htis was they won't launch a rescue until the second pass of the satellite, and they see your distress beacon twice. But if you go to the noaa sarsat website, you'll see that some of those satellites are geo stationary, so that, to me, debunks the theory of waiting for a second pass because there are no passes.
    Were they talking about the old 121.5 PLB or the 406 EPRB?
    When I was at the dispatch center there was a PLB going off for several hours some ware west of Anchorage. If it was still a problem in a few more hours they would have a local do a flyover. Back in those days there were false alarms almost every day.

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    Don't know for sure on the on/off question. My take on it is; continuous on screams "LOOK OVER HERE!" when your battery runs out they will know most only last a day or two. If i were drifting with a current i may rethink that.

    As far as response times go, it depends on location, availability & weather. Troopers - 2 heli's (last I heard day flights only) are usually first contacted. They will call who is appropriate: coast guard (not sure response time/distance may be great), 210/211th & PJ's (usually have a call out of several hours if available), LifeMed is private with 2 heli's (medical only - usually <10 minute lift times) day or night.
    Best case = hours before help, worst case = days.

    i personally would self rescue if at all possible, just to not face the shame of using my "I've fallen and I can't get up button". Seems like the names always hit the paper.

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    Have you registered yet.......??? That will give them a lot info. that is useful to make decisions. They will also get names and numbers of people who know you and your skill-set well, all medical conditions, your age, etc.

    Be sure and talk with the people who's contact names you give them first before submitting application.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AGL4now View Post
    Have you registered yet.......??? That will give them a lot info. that is useful to make decisions. They will also get names and numbers of people who know you and your skill-set well, all medical conditions, your age, etc.

    Be sure and talk with the people who's contact names you give them first before submitting application.
    I don't know what you filled out? All they ask when I registered was two contact phone numbers.

    Could it have been you applied for a credit card?

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    https://beaconregistration.noaa.gov/rgdb/forms/plb.pdf

    Quote Originally Posted by MacGyver View Post
    I don't know what you filled out? All they ask when I registered was two contact phone numbers.

    Could it have been you applied for a credit card?

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    Quote Originally Posted by AGL4now View Post
    Have you registered yet.......??? That will give them a lot info. that is useful to make decisions. They will also get names and numbers of people who know you and your skill-set well, all medical conditions, your age, etc.

    Be sure and talk with the people who's contact names you give them first before submitting application.
    Oh yeah, I had it registered an hour after I bought it. I have two separate contacts, each with multiple phone numbers. I also put in a description of the boat and the registration number.

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    I bought one of these a couple of months ago and registered it, you have a good question. I would think asking this question to the manufacture would get a better and more accurate response on the does and don'ts of what we can do with it.

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    For those still in the market, you might have a look at our EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PAGE before you spend your money. When you boil all the water out of the sap, for me the bottom line is an Irridium SatPhone and a GPS. With those two tools I can actually talk with someone and give them my precise coordinates. This addresses the following scenarios very well:

    1. Drifting boat at sea (GPS coordinates are changing continuously).

    2. I'm injured right now, but I'm in a bad place and need to move (or I need to get to camp / shelter).

    3. Someone is having medical issues and I need to speak with a paramedic RIGHT NOW. The advice you get on the phone could save a life. You can't talk on a PLB, so you're out of luck.

    A PLB will at least get you found, but in the scenarios listed above, it may not keep you alive.

    Okay, for the PLB folks, I remember when these first came out here in Alaska. In the first couple of years they were available to the general public, several life-saving rescues occurred where there was a good chance someone would have died without the PLB. Satellite phones came on hot and heavy after that, rendering the PLB purchase moot, in my view, but we're past that now. I interviewed several folks who were involved with the Rescue Coordination Center and with the 210th Rescue Squadron over at Kulis, across the tarmac from Anchorage International Airport (they moved subsequently). At that time PLBs were being compared to ELTs, with the nod going to the former, by a country mile. This is because the false alarm rate with ELTs at that time was somewhere north of 90%. My friend Ron Parkhouse, a Colonel with the 210th (Pavehawk pilot who once held the highest-altitude Pavehawk rescue record on Denali), told me that when an ELT goes off, the RCC goes into investigative mode. They're not going to launch a rescue only to discover the guy dropped it in his closet. But with the PLB it's a different story entirely. Because you had to flip a switch, turn a dial and extend the antenna, there was nearly NO WAY it could be activated accidentally. The false alarm rate for PLBs back then was less than 1%. Consequently, in Ron's words, "When a PLB goes off, we head for the chopper."

    To answer the power question (whether you should turn it on and off) my first answer was to not worry about it. Turn it on and let it run until the PJ's drop into your camp. Even if it runs out of battery, it doesn't matter because it's already sent your position and the identifier. They know who you are and where you are.

    But then you mentioned the boat. If you're using one of these on a boat, I don't know. I would talk to the RCC and see what they have to say about it. If I was out in PWS or anywhere out in the ocean up here, I would be using a sat phone and a GPS exclusively.

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    I have occasion to interact with RCC as part of my job, and have in the past been the registered point of contact for a large number of PLB's. Last interaction I had with RCC due to an activation was just a couple years ago... An individual inadvertently activated a unit and then immediately turned it off. Only one single ping was sent. The first ping sends the registered contact info but not the GPS coords; those begin to be sent with the second ping. RCC did NOT treat that single ping as a false alarm. Those folks take their job pretty seriously. They latched on like a bulldog and would not stand down until I had tracked down (no small feat) the offending unit and confirmed that all was well...

    My advice:

    • File a trip plan with your registered contact(s) every single time you go afield with your PLB, and ensure they have accurate info about your itinerary to relay to rescuers when they call.
    • Don't activate a unit unless you mean it.
    • If you need rescue, activate the unit and leave it on.
    • If you accidentally activate a unit, fess up, call RCC and your registered contacts ASAP so they can stand down.


    I also interact with field going personnel via sat-phone on a fairly regular basis... The connection is rarely as solid as we would like, and never guaranteed.
    IMHO, sat-phones and PLB's serve two distinctly different purposes.
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    I have used my ACR PLB when I broke my back in an ATV accident while hunting back in 07. As they are a last resort, to be used in life and death situations you won't want to be powering them off. Once you activate the beacon, the signal is picked up very fast by the satellites. While there is not com with the ACR, if you activate it someone will be coming. They have your GPS location, so if you are moving it shouldn't matter. I think the key is to have it on your person. I didn't, as I knew "it wasn't going to happen to me". I had it in my pack frame that was strapped to the front of the 4 wheeler. It went donw the mountain. I don't leave home without it now. Also got one for my wife in case we were to get separated. Great piece of mind. Here is a link to my accident.

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    I agree 100% with Mike here with regards to a satellite phone. I owned a plb for a couple years but soon realized it would be nothing more than a tool to locate my corpse in the ocean. If something goes bad fast in the ocean, you will want a sat phone with a gps or a goid radio with a gps.

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    Great post, Mike.

    I should have been more clear when I said "boat." What I was referring to was my Grumman Sport Boat that I use on rivers and lakes. I don't do salt water.

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    Just attended a briefing by a USMC rescue chief last week at our EAA meeting. PLB's were a big part of the discussion and are highly recommended by the rescue folks. There is a rumor that there will soon be PLB's that can text info to the RCC along with the GPS fix and ID info. That will be a significant improvement to the PLB if that occurs....such as: "back broken, can't move".

    I'm considering this one:

    Product Description
    When adventure takes you far off the beaten path, the McMurdo FastFind 220 Satellite GPS PLB guarantees help is never far away when you need it. Utilizing the dedicated 406 MHz frequency and the ultra-precise GPS network, the PLB transmits your exact location, in real time, from any position on earth. With the push of a button, you can summon rescue units to your precise location with real-time position updates. The PLB also supports the 121.5 MHz frequency to further enhance rescue efforts. Features a 6-year battery, buoyancy pouch, lanyard, and more to guarantee the PLB remains reliably at your side in even the harshest of conditions. Reliable, life-saving technology that fits in the palm of your hand.

    From the Manufacturer
    The FAST FIND 220 PLB uses advanced technology packed into a simple, lightweight, palm sized unit. Using the dedicated 406MHz frequency, Fast Find 220 transmits your unique ID and precise GPS location to the global network of search and rescue satellites. Within minutes rescuers are alerted to your situation, and receive regular position updates. Finally, emergency services can home in on your beacons 121.5MHz transmission to find you.

    As an old CAP Mission pilot I like the idea of having 121.5 available to use to track to your location. I know the GPS is more accurate but it can't hurt to have that signal available. One thing to remember for you plane drivers, if you activate an ELT on 121.5 it will drown out your radio's ability to contact other aircraft on that freq. so make sure you know other frequencies used by airliners such as ANC Center and approach control. That will increase your ability to talk to airplanes that may be over head but not looking for you. Always a good idea to have a portable com radio in your survival bag just in case the aircraft radio is damaged. Let's be safe out there!!
    Somewhere along the way I have lost the ability to act politically correct. If you should find it, please feel free to keep it.

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