The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

ACR ResQlink 406 Personal Locator Beacon Review

An excellent emergency-only (with one debatable caveat) personal beacon.
ACR ResQLink Plus 406
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Price:  $325 List | $279.99 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  COSPAS/SARSAT’s reliability and long track record, no annual fees, simple operation
Cons:  Larger and heavier than closest competitor
Manufacturer:   ACR/Artex
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 27, 2018
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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

The Skinny

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.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

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