Hands-on Gear Review

ACR ResQlink 406 Personal Locator Beacon Review

An excellent emergency-only (with one debatable caveat) personal beacon.
ACR ResQLink Plus 406
By: Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 27, 2018
Price:  $325 List  |  $244.00 at Amazon - 25% Off
Pros:  COSPAS/SARSAT’s reliability and long track record, no annual fees, simple operation
Cons:  Larger and heavier than closest competitor
Manufacturer:   ACR/Artex
65
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 7
  • SOS Emergency Messaging - 30% 10
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 30% 1
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 10
  • Ease of Use - 10% 8
  • Portability - 10% 4
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Our Verdict

The ACR ResQLink+ is a compact, full-function personal locator beacon from a long-standing company. Like all the devices that use the COSPAS/SARSAT (our Buying Advice article has a breakdown of the networks in use) communication network and protocol, the explicit function of the ResQLink+ is limited to emergency SOS transmission. Its closest competitor, the OceanSignal RescueME PLB1, offers the same service. These two devices have essentially the same purpose and function, but the OceanSignal is less expensive and much, much smaller.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The ARC ResQLink+ uses proven technology, a comprehensive network, and bomber compact electronics to provide the user with reliable, primarily emergency, communication to the outside world. It's an excellent emergency SOS communicator and little to nothing more. Overall, only one product scored lower than the ResQLink+. However, if all you need is emergency messaging directly to SAR resources, the ACR works.

Performance Comparison


To send for help  pull the ResQLink's antenna out  find a spot with as little cover as possible  and press the SOS button. Leave it there as long as possible  ideally until you see search and rescue.
To send for help, pull the ResQLink's antenna out, find a spot with as little cover as possible, and press the SOS button. Leave it there as long as possible, ideally until you see search and rescue.

SOS/Emergency Message


Using the international and government maintained COSPAS/SARSAT satellite network and communication protocol, the ACR taps into a system that is as effective as anything available. All satellite communications have limitations. For example, every single transmission involving satellites requires a clear view of the sky. The ACR and its relationship with the COSPAS/SARSAT network is no exception. The limitations on emergency communication are mainly terrain and satellite related and have less to do with the device itself.

If you have a life-threatening emergency, and push the power button on the ResQLink+, a "Y'all come" message will make its way to the best possible local resources. The response takes some time (hours, at minimum), and the length depends significantly on weather, terrain, and local SAR resources. With the ACR, though, you should have few concerns about the first variable in securing help. The service that monitors COSPAS/SARSAT for emergencies and communicates to local SAR resources depends on the country you register your device in, but that monitoring and communication is free. You need to register your ResQLink+, and you may need to pay for the on-the-ground response, but you will never pay a fee for emergency messaging.

The ACR's emergency messaging system is the same as the OceanSignal rescueME PLB1. In this metric, these two devices offer exactly the same functionality. The Garmin InReach Explorer+ has a similar SOS function, but it requires a subscription fee. The SOS functionality of the SPOT Gen3 is similar to that of the InReach. As far as emergency messaging goes, the GoTenna Mesh is not even in the same league as the ACR.

The green light shown here confirms that the device is communicating with satellites.
The green light shown here confirms that the device is communicating with satellites.

Non-Emergency Messaging


Explicitly, the ResQLink+ has no option for non-emergency messaging. The design and intention of the COSPAS-SARSAT network is for emergency use only.

There was a time that you could test these devices for functionality using the COSPAS-SARSAT, which involved sending a non-emergency message from the device to the network. For a subscription fee of $40 a year, via ACR's 406Link service, ACR would send notification of a successful device test to one email address and one cell phone of your choosing. They call these "self test notifications." For a higher subscription fee and a slightly different test procedure (read the manual for details) you could include up to five emails and cell numbers. You can also customize the message, which will contain a link to a map showing your location.

However, as of August 2018, this service is suspended. So it's a mute point at the moment.

With their omission of certain verbiage, ACR was clear that the messaging "hack" was not the intended use of this device and service. They never called this a messaging service. It is a service for confirming the function of your device, via the device's test procedure. They state:

You and your loved ones will breathe easier knowing that your beacon is working properly should you ever need to use it in an emergency.

In dangerous environments, using your equipment outside the explicit bounds of the manufacturer's recommendations requires significant judgment and understanding. Do not consider this an "instruction manual" on how to use your ACR ResQLink+ for non-emergency messaging. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs from the manufacturer.

The OceanSignal RescueME has no option for non-emergency messaging. The SPOT Gen3 will send preprogrammed non-emergency messages, for a fee. The Garmin InReach Mini has excellent two way messaging. The GoTenna Mesh sends and receives non-emergency messages between people in close proximity (less than .5-4 miles, terrain dependent).

The two COSPAS-SARSAT PLB's we tested have directions printed on the side. Here we show the ResQLink at left and the OceanSignal PLB1 at right.
The two COSPAS-SARSAT PLB's we tested have directions printed on the side. Here we show the ResQLink at left and the OceanSignal PLB1 at right.

Ease of Use


In its designated function, the ACR couldn't be easier to use. Initial registration requires some online form-filling. Then you're good to go. In an emergency, you deploy the antenna and push the on button. If you're interested in using 406Link, you'll need to do some further research and familiarization using information from the company itself.

The OceanSignal rescueME PLB1 is just as easy to use as the ACR. All the other devices we tested require at least a little more effort to set up and use.

The ResQLink is roughly twice the size of the Ocean Signal.
The ResQLink is roughly twice the size of the Ocean Signal.

Portability


The ResQLink+ is the latest in ACR's multi-decade evolution. Our lead test editor used one of the original ACR PLBs in the early 2000s. Fifteen years ago a device performing this function was four times the size of the ResQLink+. In this historical perspective, the ACR is tiny and light.

However, as compared to the Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1, the ACR is twice the size and about 140% the weight. In many contexts, this is not a big deal. However, for ultralight backpacking and trail running, the weight and bulk will be noticeable. The OceanSignal device's greater portability and identical SOS functionality allow it to edge ahead.

Again  the Ocean Signal is a much smaller device.
Again, the Ocean Signal is a much smaller device.

Signal Coverage


The COSPAS-SARSAT network used by the ResQLink+ (and the OceanSignal PLB1) is world-wide. As with all satellite communications, there are localized terrain limitations and interference issues that stem from device orientation, other electronics, forests, and buildings.

The global signal coverage afforded the ResQLink+ is the same as the OceanSignal rescueME PLB1 and the Garmin InReach. The SPOT Gen3 uses a satellite network that does not cover the whole world, but most of it. It's likely to serve all the places you might be. The network coverage of the GoTenna Mesh depends on other users in your proximity.

Best Applications


Identifying the ACR's application is as simple as describing what it does. If you need a device for remote environment emergency search and rescue summons, and you are interested in researching the functionality of ACR's "406Link" subscription service as a sort of messaging option, this is your best bet. If you want emergency messaging and nothing more, the OceanSignal is a better, smaller, slightly less expensive choice.

Value


Value is an important part of the PLB discussion. When you truly need the attributes of an emergency communication device, it doesn't matter what it costs. However, you don't always need it. Most will not use the emergency communication attributes of any device. Therefore, value the device like you would any insurance policy. The ACR has an initial purchase price greater than all but our Editors Choice winner, but it has no subscription service requirement. It is, for what you could conceivably get out of the deal, an incredible bargain. That said, the OceanSignal rescueME does exactly what the ACR is intended to do, but it's a little smaller and less expensive.

Conclusion


Educate thyself on exactly what you are getting with any given PLB purchase. More than in most other categories we test, every single product we assessed has its place. Of the five products we reviewed for 2018, each is unique and worthy. The differences are, on one level, subtle. On another level, some of these products couldn't be more different from one another. The ResQLink+ is a clever product that rewards the discerning and educated user.

Jediah Porter

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: May 27, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (4.0)

89% of 9 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
11 Total Ratings
5 star: 36%  (4)
4 star: 45%  (5)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 18%  (2)
1 star: 0%  (0)
Tommy Penick

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jan 3, 2014 - 01:43am
Tommy Penick · Review Editor

I've never had to push the uh-oh button on this yet, but it's been along on all my adventures for the past three years and is holding up great! Always works on the test, let's hope we don't have to figure out how high test it is.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Aug 25, 2016 - 08:30pm
HighTraverse · Climber · Bay Area
When I collapsed with a heart attack 5 miles behind Truckee, California my teammates activated my 406.
The signal got delivered to the Sheriff in Auburn. CalStar chopper arrived within about 20 minutes followed soon after by Truckee SAR on foot.

There's more to the story but this is lifesaving evidence that it works.

There IS one thing to beware. We (7 of us) were on a forest service road in tall forest. CalStar circled right overhead but couldn't see us until one of my party ran 50 yards to a meadow and waved a space blanket.
Another thing to beware: I had the 406 in my pack and before we started hiking I mentioned it to my comrades so they were able to retrieve it immediately.

It does no good if you're carrying it and no one else knows where it is.

Be certain to check the battery level as soon as you get back. Mine had only been on for that 20 minutes and checked fine a few weeks later.

Some additional observations.
1: the 406 contains a GPS. When activated it turns on the GPS, finds its coordinates and broadcasts the location to the satellites. ACR claim 100 meters accuracy. Since the chopper hovered nearly directly over us without seeing us I believe less than 100 meters. Obviously depending on terrain.

The ResQlinq 406 also transmits a homing signal on 121.5 MHz so that once they are close, properly equipped SAR personnel can home on you.

2: Each PLB has a unique serial number. You register the PLB when you get it including your name, address, contact info etc. This is true regardless of manufacturer for a 406MHz PLB. The SARSAT system has this info so emergency personnel can reach your contact person.

3: You have to re-register any 406MHz beacon every 2 years. They'll send you an email and a snail mail letter. Re-registration is easily done by internet.

4: SARSAT service is world wide up to about 70 degrees latitude. The satellite constellation is slowly being expanded into the higher latitudes.

5: I have the ResQLink Plus. From the article you might infer it can be submerged. It is meant to float and can withstand brief dunking. It won't work if submerged. If you're a kayaker/diver ACR have a different model for you.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Person Icon

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   Apr 26, 2018 - 02:26pm
Tullochgorum

I don't think that this review places enough emphasis on just how much more reliable a PLB will be compared to the Garmin or Spot.

The signal has the power to punch up through woodland canopy and other obstructions that would block weaker devices. The battery is sealed and single-purpose, while there is a significant danger that the battery on a multi-purpose device will be drained when you need it most. There's no risk that your subscription will have expired. The satellite network is far superior. And the rescue dispatch center is the same as used by commercial shipping and aviation, as against a private commercial service of unknown quality.

My contacts in SAR advise strongly that if reliable rescue is the priority, it's not worth even considering other devices.

So I'm bemused by the review by the SAR guy who recommends the Garmin or Spot as more reliable. This is simply objectively untrue, for the reasons outlined above. It is true that in exceptional circumstances (mainly in deep valleys) any GPS device can give an inaccurate signal - that's simply a limitation of the technology. But at least the SAR team knows that you are in trouble and your rough location. I can see no reason why the Spot or Garmin would be any more accurate, given their inferior technology. But with a PLB, in the great majority of cases SAR will know where you are to within meters and will come straight to you.

This saves lives - not only for the victim, but also for the magnificent SAR personnel who often brave dangerous conditions to help us. There have been recent fatal cases that involved many hundreds of hours of searching that would have been resolved in hours if only the victims had carried a PLB.

So please get hold of a PLB and keep it accessible. You owe it to yourself, to your loved ones, and to the rescuers. It's a game-changing advance in search and rescue.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Hunter

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   Aug 22, 2016 - 09:14pm
Paolo B · Hunter · Pebble Beach, CA

Unless you have ACTUALLY used an ACR PLB in an emergency, how can you even deduct stars?

Other than sending TEST SIGNALS, there is no way to know if it actually works. Trust me it does!

I owned a SPOT for over 5 years. I got fed up with spotty tracking (my Garmin tracked GPS coordinates just fine) and unreliable messaging. Only about 40% of the sent messages ever were received by my recipients. Annual subscription fees, increasing costs and new annual network access fees, killed any enthusiasm or confidence that it would save me if needed.

Shortly after dumping the SPOT for a subscription free ACR PRB-375, my son was bitten by a rattlesnake. Hours form nowhere and without cell service, the ACR was a lifesaver. I would have had to carry him over 5 miles through steep hills and canyons to just get to a road.

Needless to say, once I had found a clear line of site on a ridgetop, the ACR sent out it's signal. Within the hour, a fish & game warden rode up on a quad to give my son a ride to the nearest road and waiting paramedics.

Like any satellite transponder, a clear line of sight of the sky is required. The more sky and horizon it can see, the more satellites it can triangulate on.

Yes, these have non-user replaceable batteries. But this is not a messenger device - it is an emergency, all hand on deck, 9-1-1, summon the troops, we need an airstrike, mobilize the SWAT Team - kind of DEVICE!

Every 5 years, the unit needs to be sent to a service center for battery replacement, calibration and testing. Though it is about $150, that's only $30 per year. That's a fraction of the $150-250 you'd pay for an annual SPOT or DELORME subscription!

The best part is, that if you use the device in an emergency, when you send it in with details of your rescue, ACR will replace it with a new unit (or current model) for FREE!



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Climber

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   Jul 31, 2016 - 09:41pm
Jon Beck · Climber · OCEANSIDE

I am puzzled by woodsy review. The unit generates a GPS coordinate that is transmitted to a professional worldwide monitoring system (SARSAT?) rather than to a private company as Spot does. There are no inaccuracies involved. I think he is referring to the old units that just transmitted a generic signal that was picked up by satelite (no GPS data)

I have heard negative comments from SAR and Rangers who worry about false alarms. At the same time these devices have saved lives. You need to be certain you are at risk before setting one off, being stuck an extra night in the back country is not "at risk".

Spot transmits half a watt, the ACR unit transmits at 5 watts, I want more power in case I am deep in a canyon when I get inured.

I travel solo a lot in the Sierra Nevada and Grand Canyon and have carried one for 3 years. The only issue I have with the unit is the system securing the antenna is terrible, I put a rubber band on it because if the antenna deploys in your pack it exposes the activation switch.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Hiker

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   Jul 11, 2016 - 04:13pm
Mecha · Hiker · Seattle, WA

Wife and I got lost on Mt. Rainer last year and had to spend an extra night on the mountain before we could back track our way our. If we had this we would have used it. We were in a seriously bad place. Thanks fully we made it out. Beat up and sore but out alive.

Bought this for the wife this year and I insist she takes it when she hikes alone or with friends. Its a great piece of mind to hike and know if we need it we can call in help to come get us.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Climber

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   Jul 21, 2014 - 07:49pm
Chudak · Climber
I just got one so the 4 star rating is quite provisional and it only gets
4 because despite what it says on their website "global coverage" in my

book doesn't mean only N and S America.

As mentioned by others elsewhere the ACR website is pretty lame and seemingly
mainly geared towards getting you to buy one of the 'test plans'. Does that

imply they don't trust the built-in self-test feature?

The instructions on the unit are quite confusing. It says to press the power
button for 1 sec to activate. It doesn't say if this is needed to run the
self-test or to actually initiate a rescue. Then it says to press the power
button for 5 seconds to deactivate it. If it really is an emergency why

would you deactivate it?



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Climber

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   Jul 13, 2014 - 02:05pm
Chudak · Climber
Not a review but a question - if it works so well why does it only get a 3.0? The
lack of the messaging feature should not be a reason to lower it's
appraisal IMHO. The fact that it seems to work consistently, well, and

has five times the transmitting power should give it all 5's!

I'm going to get one, just to shut the wife up, mind you, when we go off trail.

Don't tell her I said this! ;-)



Backpacker

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   Jul 31, 2016 - 09:32pm
requiem · Backpacker · California

I have only considered purchasing this (I bought an inReach), but as one cannot "use it" unless in dire straits I'm posting on the basis of research done about the product.

The ACR PLB mentioned here can locate you in two ways. First, it has a GPS chip and can send your location to the GEOSAR satellites sitting high in geostationary orbit if it can see them. (Since they don't move relative to you, either you have a view or you don't. Higher latitudes have poor coverage.) If that works, the coordinates will provide your location down to the nearest 100m, which is often "close enough". (A limitation of the communications protocol, not the GPS chip.)

If that doesn't work, after a few hours the LEOSAR satellites in lower orbits will have made sufficient passes overhead to narrow your location down to within 5km or so. (I believe each pass has a 75% chance of getting usable data, so figure ~3 hours.) If the local SAR team has the proper radio direction-finding gear, they can then use that to home in on you. (LEOSAR does not get GPS coordinate information from PLBs.)

While there is widespread belief in the reliability of the COSPAS/SARSAT system, I'm not sure how much actual published data is available. My suspicion is that the reliability is not too far different from the other options. The good news is that a third layer of satellites (MEOSAR) will soon come online that will allow the relaying of the GPS data from "moving" satellites, as well as confirmation that the signal has been received. This should increase reliability and provide better coverage for polar regions.

The pluses: It's quite small and light, and has no operating fees beyond the initial purchase. The odds of it working are pretty good, and you can pretty much toss it in your pack and forget about it. (I.e. no need to remember to recharge it before your trip.)

The minuses: No way to know if your signal was received, or to correct erroneous location data. If you're solo and are incapacitated before you can trigger it, there is no tracking data to help find you.

The other systems: I went with an inReach for the 2-way messaging and the perceived reliability of the Iridium system compared to GlobalStar. (This provides worldwide coverage and message relaying similar to how the above-mentioned MEOSAR system will work.) Note that the non-PLB systems do not have radio beacons that can be homed-in on as a last resort. I don't worry about transmitter strength because those GEOSAR birds are about 40x further away than the Iridium birds; of course the PLB needs to shout "louder".

@Woodsy: I also know of at least one case (NH's White Mountains in 2015) where a Spot provided erroneous locations that confused the rescue attempt. I believe there are others; that is the nature of the technology. GPS-derived locations can contain significant error in cases, although I expect such errors are far more likely for the non-GPS-derived locations.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Backpacker

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   Jul 31, 2016 - 02:59pm
Woodsy · Backpacker · California

My experience is not with this specific product but with PLBs in general. I work in SAR and have been gathering information on emergency signalling devices for a few years now. I would use great caution in buying one. There are potential errors inherent in the technology and data interpretation in arriving at a location solution, once the emergency button is activated.

The good news is the location might map exactly where you are. But there are a number of cases where PLB/ELT/EPIRB activations give a range of locations. The data is sent to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. They interpret it according to algorithms they've developed. They involve a merge of the GPS position and the doppler solution provided by subsequent satellite passes.

Perhaps too much information, but I know of a number of activations where the signal was not close (that is, more than a couple of miles). Perhaps this product has tech that mitigates the problems inherent in PLBs but I'd recommend taking a closer look at the InReach. They might exist, but I know of no incorrect location coordinates for emergency activations by SPOT or InReach.



Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.


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