ACR Ocean Signal rescueMe PLB1 Review
If you want peace of mind in the backcountry in an emergency, the ACR / Ocean rescueME PLB1 is what you need. It's the smallest and most compact personal locator beacon (PLB) that you can get. I'll show you how it works, compare it to a satellite communicator, and give you my recommendations.
- How To Use the rescueME PLB1
- rescueME PLB1 or inReach Satellite Communicator
- Who Should Get the rescueME PLB1
What is the rescueME PLB1?
Put simply, the RescueMe PLB1 is a satellite distress beacon—hit the button and rescuers are dispatched to find you. It's generally used when you don't have cell phone service and can't simply dial 911, like in the backcountry. The PLB1 works worldwide, on land and at sea. The actual unit is a small, rugged box, about the size of a pack of cards, that you put in your pack and forget about until you need it (mostly).
The PLB1 does a few things when you hit the distress button.
- First, it gets a GPS fix of your position.
- Then, it broadcasts your distress call and position into space, where various satellite systems can receive it.
- The receiving satellite relays your distress call back to earth, and then search and rescue is sent to the location that your beacon sent.
- As rescuers get closer, the beacon broadcasts a homing frequency that searchers can lock onto.
Not sure when it's okay to hit the SOS button? Here's the answer, directly from one of the busiest search and rescue teams in the USA.
How is the PLB1 Different than an inReach?
For those of you familiar with inReach and ZOLEO satellite communicators, you might be wondering how the PLB1 is different. Both technologies rely on satellites to broadcast an SOS call. That's about where the similarities end.
|Ease of Use
|Requires a Little Time
|No Subscription Fees
|Two-Way Non-Emergency Texts
|Two-Way Emergency Communications
|Multiple Systems and Orbits
|Location if no GPS
|NOAA in USA (government-run)
|IERCC (private - owned by Garmin)
|Supplemental Insurance Offered
So as you can see, the PLB1 has a singular function, to broadcast a distress call, while an inReach or ZOLEO offers non-emergency communication and tools. Which type of device is right for you?
- If you don't want a monthly fee, get the PLB1.
- If you want to message back and forth with people (for example, telling family you will be late and everything is okay), get an inReach.
- If you want peace of mind, get both. Put the PLB1 in the bottom of your pack with your emergency gear, and keep the inReach handy to send messages.
Who Performs the Rescue
An important point to note is that inReach and ZOLEO use a private (but very reputable) service, the IERCC (formerly GEOS), to facilitate the dispatch of rescuers. IERCC will generally reach out to local search and rescue organizations, of which they have a database of and relationships with. For example, in Los Angeles, they will reach out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, who will dispatch one of their local units.
The rescueME PLB1 uses the (government-run) COSPAS-SARSAT system, set up by government entities, to dispatch a rescue. In the USA, SARSAT partners with the Air Force for inland rescues in the lower-48, and with the Coast Guard for marine rescues. Generally they will get the call and coordinate with a local entity like the LA County Sheriff's SAR department, but they sometimes also dispatch a rescue themselves. I've personally witnessed an Air Force-led rescue triggered by a PLB on White Mountain Peak. The SARSAT system also serves aviation and professional marine users.
SARSAT or IERCC will contact local authorities to coordinate a rescue when a beacon is used overseas.
Before You Take Your PLB1 Out
Before you do anything, take a few minutes to register your rescueME PLB1 with your country's beacon registry. In the USA, that's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and in Canada it;s the Canadian Beacon Registry of National Defense. ACR has a nice page here where it will point you in the right direction for your country.
When you register your beacon, you'll provide:
- The serial and info about the PLB1
- Information about yourself, including your primary activity and a freeform notes section where you can describe your experience level or any medical conditions you may have.
- Emergency contacts
I keep my notes section focused on what I have with me, my experience level, my age, and the fact that I'm day hiking. If I'm heading on a longer backpacking trip or am traveling with others, I'll take a minute to update the section with the new details, including any medical conditions that my friends may have.
Will a beacon work when unregistered? In most places, probably, but it will be scrutinized and potentially evaluated as a false alarm. You'll also leave rescuers at a distinct disadvantage without any information about you. Also know that in the USA, if you use a beacon, there's a law stating that you must register it. Take the 5 minutes to register it.
How to Use the rescueME PLB1
The PLB1 is dead simple to use. Here's what you do.
You have 50 seconds to cancel your SOS, which you do by holding the ON button for 1 second. The LED will flash red and then stop flashing.
The PLB1 will transmit for 24 hours or more.
From here, it's a waiting game. It's best to stay put where you triggered the SOS unless you are in danger there. Then you wait. Most rescues take several hours, with the large majority happening within 24 hours. But there are a lot of variables. I've seen rescues happen in 30 minutes, and I've also seen conditions where rescues can't even start until weather conditions improve. It helps to have the 10 essentials to make yourself comfortable while you wait.
Making Sure the PLB1 is Working
While you can just put the PLB1 in the bottom of your pack and forget about it, there are a few tests that you will want to periodically do to ensure that it's working. I just set myself a repeating calendar reminder (on my phone) for these tests. The manual has details on how to perform the tests and decode the LED results.
- Ocean Rescue / ACR recommends testing the beacon every month. Testing the beacon checks for failures and gives you a battery status. For me, testing every month is a bit much, and I've found that every 3 months is okay.
- You can also test the GPS (getting a position fix), but this drains the battery more. It's recommended to do this once a year.
The PLB1 will generally work after the battery expiration, but know that the battery life diminishes over time. You can probably expect to get less than 24 hours of use once the battery has expired.
The rescueME PLB1 Versus Other PLB Choices
I've used several PLB models over the years and today I use the PLB1. Why do I think it's a great option?
- The "guts" of all these units are largely the same. Some of the bigger PLBs offer a couple more hours of battery life, but I find that having 24 hours of life is likely enough to get me through an emergency situation. Worth noting is that most rescues happen within 24 hours.
- The PLB1 is smaller than the other choices.
- The PLB1's antenna never unintentionally comes unlatched as some other ones can.
- I think the PLB1's button cover, paired with a small piece of electrical tape, is most effective at preventing false activation when rolling around the bottom of a pack.
Is the rescueME PLB1 Reliable and Effective?
Overall a unit like the rescueME PLB1 is about as good as you can get for a backcountry emergency beacon. There are a few reasons why this is true.
- The beacon transmits at 5 watts, as opposed to 1.5-1.6 for most Iridium-based satellite communicators. It's a little apples / oranges, but I do believe that having that extra power is helpful overall.
- You might have noticed that modern PLBs are labeled "406," which refers to the newest SARSAT beacon frequency group at 406 MHz. This 406 MHz frequency can reach three types of satellites, low-earth-orbit (LEO), medium-earth-orbit (MEO, which includes many GNSS satellites), and geostationary-earth-orbit (GEO) satellites. These satellites have a "SARSAT payload" which is basically repeater for the 406 frequency. In plain English, there are many satellites up there listening for the PLB1's distress signal, which they will then relay down to a ground station back on earth.
- Even if your PLB1 can't get a GPS fix to broadcast your position (which is usually accurate to 15-100 ft), the SARSAT system can still locate you using the doppler effect of your signal. It's not as precise as GPS, but it will still generally produce a 2-4km radius for rescuers to hone in on.
- The PLB1 includes a 121.5 MHz homing signal that allows rescuers (with the correct equipment) to narrow their search as they get closer.
- The COSPAS-SARSAT system has saved tens of thousands of lives since its 1982 inception. It's the tool that professional mariners and aviators use almost universally. The Ocean Signal website has a slew of rescue stories like this one using the PLB1. It's worth reading some if you are curious about how a rescue works.
Should I Get a rescueMe PLB1?
Overall, I think if you are traveling in the backcountry and value your life, you need to have some type of emergency communication device. No matter how experienced you are, accidents and events outside of our control happen. If there's a fire in your area, if you slip and fall, or even if you encounter another person who needs help, having a device like the rescueME PLB1 or a satellite communicator can save lives.
Here's what I recommend.
- If you don't want to pay a subscription fee and are okay with emergency-only one-way communications, get the PLB1.
- If you want two-way communications, including non-emergency ones, get a satellite communicator.
- If you want some redundancy and are okay carrying an extra 4oz, get both. This is what I do. As they say in the military, "two is one and one is none."
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rescueME PLB1 Unboxing
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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.