Gear Watch: SPOT Satellite Messengers are back, with new competition from ACR Electronics.

SPOT satellite messengers allow you to remotely check in from the backcountry, letting friends and family know that you're OK via an e-mail or text message. In December, the second generation of these devices (the SPOT II) was recalled due to an issue with the battery life indicator. You can read all about it in my SPOT recall post.

After several months off the market, an updated and problem-free (?) SPOT II is once again available, though the company certainly suffered a black eye from the incident. (For loads of details on the SPOT upgrades, check out this blog post from Equipped to Survive, an excellent survival equipment review site.)

During the recall, SPOT lost three months of competitive advantage as the only remote check-in satellite device on the market. While SPOT struggled, ACR Electronics released its new Sarlink View 406 Personal Locator Beacon, an upgraded addition to their line of personal locator beacons, or PLBs. (Learn all about PLBs in my recent AMC Outdoors article, Wilderness Lifelines.) Unlike its other models, the Sarlink View allows users to hit an OK button on the device, which sends your exact location to as many as five people via e-mail or text message and lets them know that you're OK. (It also includes a display screen indicating successful GPS acquisition and transmission.) You can learn more about it at http://www.406link.com/.

Like the SPOT, this check-in functionality requires an annual subscription fee. It costs less with ACR ($59.95/year) than SPOT ($99.95 - $149.95, depending on features), though the Sarlink costs considerably more ($499 vs. $149),

In a life-threatening emergency, ACR PLBs transmit via the global-coverage, government-operated SARSAT satellite network as opposed to the less complete, private GlobalStar satellite network utilized by SPOT. For the OK function, however, ACR uses two GOES satellites that only provide complete coverage in North and South America, with very limited coverage elsewhere. (Check out their coverage map).

The big disadvantage of the Sarlink is the fact that it comes with an internal battery that can only be replaced by a certified dealer, as opposed to the three user-replaceable AAA batteries in the SPOT. Evidently, you can only send a limited number of "I'm OK" messages before the battery runs out, potentially as few as 60, which is a problem if you want to use this functionality very often.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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