When you venture beyond cell signal, communications get more difficult, and the consequences of something bad happening increase. Equipping yourself with some sort of emergency backcountry communication device is worth your consideration. There is a range of communication options, from emergency-only SOS devices to satellite phones and modems that closely approximate "in-town" communications. Across this range is a steady increase in bulk and expense. The Ocean Signal rescueME earns its place here, and one of our coveted awards, with great value and very compact stature. It does nothing more than summon help in an emergency, but it does that well, using a proven network of satellites and an established dispatch system. It is half the size of its closest competitor, and when one considers subscription costs and product expiration, is better than half the cost of any product that has additional features.
Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 ReviewPrice: $260 List | $239.70 at Amazon Pros: Reasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compact
Cons: No non-emergency messaging
Bottom line: Compact, affordable “help me” button in your pocket.
Weight w/ batts oz: 4.0 oz
Battery Life (hours): 24
Manufacturer: Ocean Signal
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Our Analysis and Test Results
OceanSignal makes what is likely the world's smallest satellite-linked Personal Locator Beacon. Employing the proven COSPAS-SARSAT international Search and Rescue technology and protocol, the PLB1's emergency messaging has a long track record. It is less expensive than the next nearest competitor, requires no paid subscription, and is half the bulk of its next closest competitor. For these reasons, it earns our Best Buy award.
It's a challenge to compare one remote communication/emergency alert device to another. That's because what unifies the category — the ability to communicate, to at least some degree, beyond cell signal — is all these devices have in common. They use different technologies, different networks, and include vastly different feature sets. Since emergency messaging capabilities are their most important feature, we weigh that capability the most in our evaluation. That is all that the rescueME does. And it does it well.
The rescueME's singular purpose is to send an emergency signal. To do so, it uses a proven, and free, global service. You buy the device, and the device taps into the COSPAS-SARSAT search and rescue satellite network, which covers the entire globe. If your device can "see" enough of the sky to connect to satellites, you can press the SOS button anywhere on Earth and expect the device to get a signal out.
That signal, containing identity and location data, will go to a satellite, back to a ground station, and eventually to the national agency with which you registered your device. In the US, you register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (Instructions for free US registration are included with the PLB1.) The agency will then work to secure the most effective local resources, given sociopolitical and economic realities, terrain, and weather conditions. Up to the point that local resources are activated, the service is free. Local SAR resources and their costs vary significantly around the world.
The ACR ResQLink+ uses the same technology as the Ocean Signal. For emergency messaging, they are the same. The Spot Gen3 and Garmin inReach use proprietary, subscription-based emergency messaging protocols. The GoTenna Mesh does not have a dedicated emergency messaging protocol.
There is no non-emergency messaging option with the rescueME PLB1. The non-emergency messaging capability of the ACR ResQLink+ is the same as the PLB1's — nonexistent. However, the ResQLink+ offers an optional 406Link subscription that sends non-emergency device testing messages to yourself and loved ones via the COSPAS-SARSAT system. Read our ResQLink+ review for a full explanation.
We reviewed many devices that do offer this function, to varying degrees. The Spot Gen3 provides one-way, outbound transmission of non-emergency messages, within some strict parameters. The Garmin InReach explorer+ offers worldwide two-way non-emergency messaging, while the GoTenna Mesh offers two-way non-emergency messaging that is, especially early in the adoption of this technology, severely limited in coverage.
The COSPAS-SARSAT system covers the entire world. Of course, as noted above, all satellite communications are vulnerable to terrain, forests or buildings, and electronic interference. The PLB1 is just as vulnerable to this as any other device.
Coverage for the ACR ResQLink+ is precisely the same as the Ocean Signal. The Iridium network employed by the Garmin InReach Explorer is worldwide as well, but it uses different satellites. The coverage of the Iridium Network will interact with local terrain differently than that of the COSPAS-SARSAT system. The network used by the Spot Gen3 is not worldwide but seems to cover much of the territory that most adventurers visit. The coverage of the GoTenna Mesh has excellent potential but is currently limited to where you and your GoTenna-using friends are traveling.
Ease of Use
The Ocean Signal is the easiest device to use in our tests. Set-up requires you to fill out an online form and mount a mailed sticker. You can make some changes to your registration if needed, but you are then good to go for two years. You renew, for free, every two years. If you have a life-threatening emergency, there are basic activation instructions right on the device housing.
The ACR works the same way. Of course, if you wish to employ ACR's improvised non-emergency messaging system, you will need additional set up. All of the other products we tested are much, much more complicated to use than the Ocean Signal.
Th PLB1 is nearly the most portable device in our test. Only the GoTenna Mesh is smaller and lighter, but it doesn't have nearly the same functionality.
It is this tiny statue that edges the PLB1 ahead of the ACR ResQLink+. At half the bulk and 39 grams lighter, the PLB1 is significantly more portable than the ACR. The rescueME is very similar in size to the SPOT Gen3 and a fraction the size and weight of the inReach explorer+. It is also similar in size to the Editors Choice Garmin InReach Mini. The Mini, though, does a great deal more than the OceanSignal.
Purchase and carry the rescueME PLB1 for an emergency message in a life-threatening situation, and you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for the opportunity to send some reassurance, or receive correspondence, this is not the tool for you.
The value of wilderness communications is difficult to ascertain. First, in an emergency, no cost is too high. Next, you may want your backcountry communication device to do more than summon help in an emergency. Finally, all products require cooperation with a communication network. Some of those networks are better than others, and some cost more than others to use.
Assuming that your primary priority in the backcountry is safety, we have to grant our Best Buy award to this Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1. It is by far the least expensive way to summon help in the wilderness. It lasts a long time, its initial price is exceeded by half of the products we tested, and the communication service requires no paid subscription.
You absolutely must educate yourself on your options regarding backcountry communications. At first glance, especially when we lump them together in a comparative review like this one, they all seem very similar. However, that is not the case. There is an extensive range of functionality in devices for communication beyond the reach of cell signal. You must consider your current and future needs and desires, your wilderness values, and the wilderness values of those you leave behind in civilization. If you want reliable but minimalistic emergency communication capability, the rescueME PLB1 does so at a reasonable price and in a super-compact package.
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Most recent review: May 27, 2018
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