Safety First: GPS Locator Devices


Travelling in the great outdoors always comes with some element of risk. In the wilds, you’re often isolated from help, and even if you’re familiar with the area or the terrain, something unexpected could happen. To ensure that you always have a backup plan and a lifeline to safety, it can be beneficial to carry a GPS locator device. Personal transmitters come in two main varieties, and knowing the benefits of both can help you to make the right decision when it comes to purchasing your own.

Personal Satellite Messengers

Messengers are designed to communicate coordinates or short messages in times of distress. Connecting via satellite to networks like Iridium, these devices will receive strong coverage almost anywhere on land, providing that there is some line of sight to the sky. Designed and used by groups and individuals who often travel in remote wilderness areas, these devices require a subscription to an emergency response center. Typically, when purchasing one of these units, they will come with a manufacturer endorsed usage plan.

It’s important to note that these devices don’t continuously seek signal or broadcast. Sometimes depending on the plan or the device itself, the unit may only periodically transmit location co-ordinates, with intervals ranging from minutes to hours. Emergency distress calls and messages are not affected by the transmission schedule. Although they can achieve coverage almost anywhere that you travel, all around the globe, the signals generated are not as strong as locator beacons. In mountainous terrain or dense forest, it may be difficult to establish a signal, which is why many travelers opt for a personal locator beacon instead.

Personal Locator Beacons

The most robust and reliable solution for anyone who will be travelling rough and isolated terrain, Personal Locator Beacons, or PLBs for short, are derived from marine technology that has been in use for almost as long as satellite tracking has existed.

When purchasing one of these units, you will need to register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or your local equivalent. These devices connect with satellites operated by countries like the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada. When activating a distress beacon, a signal is beamed to the nearest satellite, after which the satellite will pinpoint your location using the Doppler Effect, which measures changes in signal frequency. Signals are monitored by rescue and military services, so it is essential that PLBs are used responsibly and only in cases of extreme distress when all other options have been exhausted.

When registering a PLB, important information is provided, such as your name, your address and emergency contact details, and any conditions you might have that rescuers would need to be aware of. Older PLBs could only track to within one mile of a signal location, however, modern PLBs that incorporate a GPS locator are accurate within 100 meters of your location, which makes it much easier for search and rescue teams to provide assistance. PLBs will transmit for up to 24 hours on a single charge, allowing ample time for emergency services to respond.

Staying Safe on Outdoor Adventures

Whether camping, taking a hike on familiar territory, or going any place that is particularly isolated and potentially dangerous, it pays to have a lifeline. GPS locator devices provide an additional element of safety, giving you a line to help when things are at their worst. Choose the right locator for your needs, and you can have peace of mind knowing that no matter what happens, help will never be too far away.

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