Who You Gonna Call?
Imagine, you are on a multi-day chapter adventure in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. The roads are great, the weather is great, the comradery is great…What’s not to like? The group has just crossed a mountain on a no-line road and is enjoying a nice curvy decent into the rural valley below when suddenly a deer bounds off the bank. The ride leader didn’t even see it, rider 2 caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of her eye, and rider 3 grabs the brakes, and tries to swerve, but clips the deer with the right rear side of the trike, loses control and goes over the bank.
Your GWRRA training kicks in and the group goes into crash scene response mode. Someone is blocking traffic on both sides, someone goes down the bank to assess the injuries, and one person grabs their cell phone to dial 911. But wait, their ATT phone has no service. So they find someone with a Verizon phone – No bars – How about SPRINT – Nope, no service. Now what?
One of the group volunteers to jump on their bike and ride to a point where there is cell service. At this point you have a choice – North, 30 mins back across the mountain you just crossed or South, 25 miles across the next mountain with the hope you find a house with a landline or a place where you can get at least 2 bars of signal. How much time is that going to take? Does your injured friend have that much time? What if you don’t know the area well enough to direct the rescuers to the right location? What if… You get the picture.
There is another option - a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger. Originally designed for use on aircraft and boats, backpackers and cross country skiers soon realized the utility of these devices. More recently, motorcyclists are starting to carry these devices with them. These devices allow you to send a distress signal with your location to a rescue center which will then coordinate with local authorities to get you help.
These devices are divided into 2 categories – Personal locator beacons (PLBs) and satellite messengers. Below is a brief description of the differences as well as pros and cons of each type:
Personal Locator Beacons
- Uses the COSPAS-SARSAT Military satellite system
- Distress calls go to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center
- The main player in this space is ACR Electronics
- PLB Pros
- No monthly or annual subscription fees
- Send a stronger signal
- Total earth coverage
- PLB Cons
- More expensive to buy initially
- Has no messaging capabilities with search and rescue or family
- No tracking feature
- To be really useful, must have GPS interface to get rescue teams closer than 2 miles – which further increases cost
- Two major players – Garmin/DeLorne InReach and SPOT
- Both send distress signals to the GEOS International Emergency Response group in Texas who coordinate your rescue with local authorities.
- InReach uses the Iridium satellite network which provides total earth coverage.
- SPOT uses the Globalstar satellite network. This network lacks coverage at the Polar Regions and Sub-Saharan Africa – probably not an issue for most Goldwingers.
- InReach provides the most features, depending on the model you choose.
- SPOT is the smallest unit so it is easier to carry. It is also the least expensive.
Satellite Messenger Pros
- Both have a tracking feature so friends and family can see your progress on your trip.
- If you are incapacitated and cannot send a distress signal, your family and friends can see that you have been in one place too long and can notify authorities of your location.
- Both allow limited messaging with friends and family.
- Note that InReach will pair with a smart phone to allow 2-way real-time messaging with family, friends and rescuers.
- SPOT allows you to send - one-way only - up to 3 different, previously written messages to family and friends, ie. “Trip going great”, “I’m OK” or “I need non-medical assistance at this location.”
Satellite Messenger Cons
- Because they have a lower signal strength, both almost always need an open view of the sky to send the signal.
- Both InReach and SPOT require a subscription which can range from a reasonable monthly charge to expensive monthly charges depending on how much messaging you want to do or how often you want the unit to drop a pin on a map to show your location/progress.
Yes – these devices cost some money, but they provide an additional level of comfort (call it insurance) to both the rider and their family. This is especially true for those of us who like to do multi-day solo trips in rural areas of the country.
Some additional resources: