Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 Review
Cons: No non-emergency messaging
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 SAR technology and protocol, the PLB1's emergency messaging has a long track record. It is affordable, requires no paid subscription, and is half the bulk of its next closest competitor. For these reasons, it earns one of our Best Buy awards.
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.
There is currently no non-emergency messaging option with the rescueME PLB1. This is a situation common to all devices that use the COSPAS/SARSAT network and dispatch system. For non-emergency messaging, you must choose a different device and purchase a subscription that costs way more than the free registration of the PLB1.
Ocean Signal's parent company ACR-Artex used to offer a service that provided very rudimentary non-emergency messaging from devices like, and including, the rescueME PLB1. That service, called 406Link, is still touted in ACR's marketing materials, but a deeper dive indicates that it is currently (as of March 2020) suspended. Why it is suspended, whether it will return (or not), and when it will return if it does, are all questions that remain unanswered. We mention it here because ACR seems to be suggesting that it isn't an impossibility. With this service and a small fee, owners of the PLB1 are offered a very significant perk. 406Link allows for the sending of a few very basic "I'm OK" type messages.
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. With a two-way communication device, you learn, while sending and receiving routine messages, what sorts of terrain will have a good signal. In the unlikely event that you need to send an emergency message, you can use that knowledge. With the PLB1, you won't have that opportunity to learn. Just realize that it will only work with a pretty wide view of the sky.
Coverage for all COSPAS/SARSAT devices is precisely the same as it is for this one. The Iridium network employed by the others 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 GlobalStar network used by still others is not worldwide but seems to cover much of the territory that most American adventurers visit.
Ease of Use
The rescueME PLB1 is easy to use. Set-up requires you 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 printed right on the device housing.
Th PLB1 is one of the most portable devices in our review.
Weighing just 4 ounces with batteries and measuring a mere 3 x 2 x 1.3 inches, this is about as light and compact as you can get.
The value of wilderness communication 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 just summon help in a dire situation. 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 for SOS-only communication 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 before heading out. At first glance, especially when we lump devices together in a comparative review like this one, they all seem very similar. But 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. 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.
— Jediah Porter