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GPS Communications / SOS - Comments

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My Partner and I do a lot of cross country trips 4x4 driving. I have since started my flight training with the long term goal of doing a cross country cert to travel Australia with a differing point of view.

 

Both of these activities carry us to places where there is limited or no mobile reception. With an upcoming 3 week trip where we would be exploring the outback (BNE to Alice Springs) and with the flying in mind we opted to invest in a GPS communicator.

 

Exploring the options there were a couple of options available Spot (Gen 3), EPIRB and Garmin Inreach. We opted for the Garmin InReach Mini as it allowed 2-way communication, low purchase price and flexible plans. The SPOT although cheaper off the shelf the plans were $219 p.a and this didn't allow 2-way communications. In contrast, the Garmin basic freedom plan $55p.a and $35per month and the plan can be put on hold at any time so minimum annual cost $90. EPIRB again cheaper but doesn't allow 2-way communication.

 

I am interested in getting some feedback on what people use and opinions experiences with different products?

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It depends what you want. From a purely survival standpoint when flying, I carry on my person a GME MT410G PLB. I figure I can get out a quick mayday on Area if I am going to need the PLB and for 'most'of my flying I have mobile coverage.

 

I considered the SPOT, but my RV has ADS-B, so it doesn't make sense from a tracking point of view. 4WDing in remote Australia would be another story though.

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Posted (edited)

If flying, a PLB is compulsory. It doesn't matter what else you have.

Very important you register it. Beacons - Australian Maritime Safety Authority

You can update and add lots of info. Fuel, range, pics, POB, telephone numbers, email, etc (whatever is easier to find and rescue you)

 

SPOT is a great device allowing designated others to follow you. I believe it is privately run out of the usa and they contact amsa when an SOS is activated. If you carried a PLB and SPOT, you would of course have your SPOT listed on your PLB registration.

The SPOT is not a replacement for a PLB.

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Posted (edited)

A PLB is NOT compulsory for flying.

 

For flights beyond 50nm CAR252A specifies you must carry "an approved ELT", or "an approved portable ELT", of which a PLB may meet the requirements, if it is registered with the AMSA and it meets the AS/NZS 4280.2:2003 standards.

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A PLB is as said not compulsory. GA aircraft have to have a built in emergency beacon or you can use a PLB.

A single seat RAAus reg aircraft does not have any compulsory requirement for any type of beacon.

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The Garmin looks pretty good and the idea of not having to make any payments when not in use is good too. I have a Spot Gen 3 Tracker & find it very good. I use it nearly every flight. I am not interested in 2 way messaging but like the real time tracker that my wife can see where I am every 5 minutes as it is overlaid on Google Maps. It also provides altitude. There is a check in function which sends a current location email message whenever I press the button, also a customised predetermined message use usually after landing. The other one is Help which sends messages to a number of people you choose that you are OK but require assistance. All my flights can be retrieved to check details at any later date. They added some maintenance cost this year which annoyed me a bit and it is now over $300.00 with the drop in exchange rate with the $US. Maybe not approved but AMSA is notified if SOS is activated so they have the coordinates & S&R is still activated approval or not.

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A single seat RAAus reg aircraft does not have any compulsory requirement for any type of beacon.
To take that a step further, a single-seat aircraft of any registration doesn't need an ELT, as they are classed as "Exempted aircraft", along with HCRPT, turbojet-powered aircraft, balloons, gliders & airships.

 

One benefit of those SPOT systems is they work outside ADS-B & mobile coverage, though depending on your chosen plan, you may have many miles between your reporting points, significantly increasing the potential search area if you can't get out the SOS feature before you crash. :no: They're also portable between different modes, planes/boats/4WD's etc. Spot Basic sends (but doesn't confirm receipt) a location packet every 5/10/30/60 minutes but you can bring that down to every 2.5 minutes for an extra $200AUD/yr. ADS-B, for example, outputs a position accurate to within a few meters every 0.5 seconds. Depending on your cruise speed (and potential search area if you go missing), you may feel the increase in messages is worth the cost if you go the SPOT route, you may not, but it's something to consider either way.

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If it's to save your life, get a PLB.

 

If you want to be able have others tracking your position or use it as a comms/check-in device then a Spot of similar device will enable this, but it comes at a cost. As you've mentioned, there is a subscription fee to use the service, it's using commercial comms satellites and you pay for that usage. The broadcast power of the Spot is also less than a PLB, around 1W vs 5W. Most of the time this won't be an issue, but under a thick tree canopy with storms around, the spot signal won't get through where the PLB will succeed.

 

As Spot is USA based, if you hit the SOS button, the signal will pass through the commercial comms satellites to get downlinked in the USA, then processed, then forwarded to the JRCC here for assessment and action. This signal path is important because there is risk of unnecessary delays. If there is data congestion on the satellite network (this is why the commercial bit is important), your emergency signal will added to the cue, no short cuts. The details have to be processed in the USA first before being forward here, again risk of delays. I've had a five hour delay in non-emergency messages before.

The PLB signal goes up to the satellites (lots of them, GEOSAR, LEOSAR and all GPS, Glonass, Galileo and I think BeiDou) and down-linked to Australian receivers in Mingenew WA then straight to the JRCC for assessment. Shorter signal path, less risk of delays.

 

Slight Tangent:

I've used my PLB in the past, at the same time as I activated it, I also called 000 to pass the details. The issue with 000 was that they are not well placed it seemed to deal with a situation that does not have an address, ie a paddock at a Lat/Long or a distance in a direction from an emergency marker. I was on the phone with them for about 5 minutes. As soon as I hung up I had already had two missed calls from the JRCC, answering on the third call as soon as I hung up from 000. They asked to confirm activation, which I did and they said they had y location and were tasking the Helicopter with an ETI of about 30 minutes. It was really chalk and cheese from 000 operators.

 

 

But back to where we start, if it's to save your life, get a PLB, and take it with you, I have mine in the car when driving, attached to me when flying, kayaking, hiking etc. Which is to say, don't leave it in a bag in the back of the plane where you can't reach it!

 

If you still want tracking, get both. They're different tools for different jobs.

 

 

PostScript:

Don't rely on your aircraft having ADS-B to lead to a quick, life saving recovery. Even if it's known you're crashed, it'll take hours to retrieve the surveillance data and then to assess it. That, coupled with the large gaps in low level coverage, means having ADS-B while helpful, will not directly lead to a recovery action being initiated.

http://www.airservicesaustralia.com/wp-content/uploads/ADS-B-5000ft-Coverage.jpg

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We were carrying an InReach on an outback motorcycle trip last August. I came off and broke my leg so activated the inReach. The response from Houston was almost immediate and the text messaging worked well.

AMSAR was sent details and coordinates however being a land based incident it was then forwarded to the state police. This is where it went off the rails and I ended up laying in the desert with a double break in lower leg for 6.5 hours before help arrived.

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Put any transmitter near the gps antenna and it will screw up the gps. Mobile phones will do the same.

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