TracMe locator beacon

10:39 p.m. on October 29, 2007 (EDT)
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99 forum posts

I was looking through Backpacker magazine and saw an ad for the radio TracMe personal locater beacon, has anyone used or heard about its performance? It's only $150 and weighs less than 2 oz., I'd like to use it on long distance mountain bike rides. Thanks.

4:22 p.m. on November 7, 2007 (EST)
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6 forum posts

This may the answer to your question:

http://www.equipped.org/blog/?p=65

Briefly, the TracMe is simply a radio beacon that transmits a "distress call" on the FRS (Family Radio Service) channel 1.
It assumes that:
(1) Your potential rescuer will be monitoring that channel.
(2) Is equipped with the appropriate direction finding receiver (which TracMe conveniently sells) to locate your transmitter.

Probably wishful thinking.

Keep in mind that FRS radio transmitters are very low power, and very line of sight. If you're way out in the boonies, chances are no one will be receiving your call for help much over a 1/4 mile (and probably a whole lot less in the mountains) away.

Also, it's a "one use" proposition. Once activated, the unit must be returned to TracMe to be reset, and the battery replaced.

5:07 p.m. on November 7, 2007 (EST)
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I have used an FSR radiop to keep track of family members at ski areas where they work well. In fact Squaw Valley has a channel that allows skiers using the radios to contact ski patrol. I would be very doubtful that hikers would have one of these radios turned on to be heard by your call. The best radio for reaching help would be a Ham Radio which requires a liscense for use. Here is a new concept/product that might be worth a try:
http://www.globalcomsatphone.com/spot/

6:16 p.m. on November 7, 2007 (EST)
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The SPOT product is a new one that utilizes the Navstar Global Positioning System (a project I spent a number of years working on as a system analyst and designer) to determine your location and then transmits it via a satcom system (Globalstar according to the website) that feeds it via Internet to people you designate. I looked at it briefly at the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show. Some things are not clear about its limitations - for example, GPS receivers are subject to canopy and canyon problems. That is, heavy vegetation canopy can block the signal from a receiver, and canyons not only block the signals (the radio waves do not travel through the rock of canyon walls and mountains), but also reflect signals to cause what is called multipath, which results in an erroneous position determination (sometimes off by kilometers, not just a few meters). The newest receivers, using SiRF-III and other high sensitivity chips can largely overcome the canopy problems, but not the canyon problems.

Globalstar has been around for quite a while, since shortly after Iridium (another project I worked on when I was in aerospace). Because of the lack of customer base, both Iridium and Globalstar have been operating under bankruptcy for a number of years. Iridium keeps going because of government contracts, while Globalstar keeps hobbling along with reduced capability (SPOT uses the simplex side of Globalstar, which is more reliable than the duplex side used for voice). Iridium is much more reliable as a satphone, and is available over the entire planet, while Globalstar often has 20 minute outages, and at best covers from 75 deg north to 75 deg south latitude. Still, you might consider a satellite phone. We used Iridium when I was in Antarctica last December, and I had considered Iridium or Globalstar for my upcoming Africa trip. However, at $1.99 a minute, plus the rental fee of a couple hundred dollars a month, I can't really justify it. The SPOT unit sends data (which is cheaper than voice over the satphones) and the basic unit is much cheaper than renting or buying a satphone.

There are other personal locater emergency systems as well, though that isn't clear from the website. Note that SPOT is $100/year for service, plus the $150 initial cost of the unit, plus more for some other special services. The thing that SPOT offers over the other emergency locater systems is that it transmits your GPS-determined location, while the others for the most part are like ELTs for aircraft and avalanche beacons for skiers - they depend on someone having a receiver and being skilled in search techniques for this method. The marine-style EPIRBs and the PLB (TracMe) mentioned in the first post in this thread transmit a signal that can be received by a system of satellites that estimate position from the doppler shift and its variation during the satellites orbit. (Actually, the TracMe is not a true PLB, in that it uses FRS radio, which is not monitored by the satellites, and is short range enough that a ground searcher has to be quite close to detect it, then requires a detailed grid search to actually locate). This takes an hour or so to figure out and the position is only good to a few miles, compared to the SPOT position which is instantaneous (the GPS-determined position) and is good to a few feet.

So each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. The best approach is don't get lost, don't get injured, and mostly don't depend on electronic widgets to bail you out - take responsibility for yourself and your party.

11:36 p.m. on November 7, 2007 (EST)
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Here is a detailed review of one alternative to a true PLB-the SPOT; it is from the same site linked above by Ohmygoat
http://www.equipped.com/SPOT_ORSummer2007.htm

I have no personal experience with these beacons, but have read quite a bit about them. The PLBs now available are smaller versions of the EPIRB-the kind of beacon sailors and pilots have carried for years on planes and boats.

If I was going to buy a beacon of some sort, I would spend a lot of time reading up on all the choices, and not just the advertising hype, either. Some require a subscription, some operate off of proprietary satellites, some operate on FRS and some connect by satellite directly to official rescue centers when activated. It may take some reading and asking questions to determine which one is most suited for your purposes. PLBs do work; I have read several accounts of rescues made after the user activated the signal.

After reading the review of the TracMe on the Equipped to Survive site, including the very detailed analysis of how it works, I know that in situations I have been in, where having some kind of beacon could have been a useful thing to have, had I gotten hurt, it would have been totally useless for all of the reasons outlined in the review. Only a PLB would have been the right gadget to use.

12:01 p.m. on November 8, 2007 (EST)
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As usual, I tend to agree with Bill, I do not believe in depending on electronic widgets for my safety. Two of my buddies do and they can get "home" somewhat faster than I can, the 21 yr. advantage in age also has a bit to do with this, but, I have been able to find my way anywhere I have roamed.

In much og northern Canada, the landforms are so similar that getting lost is easy and there is VERY little rescue capability. So, when I go hiiking, hunting or whatever up there, I use specific techniques to ensure a safe return to my camp as I have no great desire to be permanently lost.

I still think a simple compass/watch/notebook system with a specific bearing and a return along the back bearing is the most reliable way to stay "found". Using specific markers in locations that only YOU know about is easy and it has helped me find my camp in near darkness, more than once.

12:35 p.m. on January 2, 2008 (EST)
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I've been contemplating getting a PLB for my hikes and was seriously looking at the SPOT mentioned above. Mostly because I don't like carrying something around that I don't expect to ever use. At least with the SPOT I can use it's "check in" capability which actualy aleviates some of the primary problem with a standered PLB, that being if your incapacitated and unable to activate it whoever you have keeping an eye on your check-ins can tell when you miss one. Of course, that does leave the field open for a search from anywhere between your last check-in and your next schedualed check-in point. It's still ALOT better then being missed when your supposed to return.

Does anyone have any actual experience with this unit? Are there any simmilar options out there?

5:22 a.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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The TracMe locator beacon is designed to give those people who would otherwise use no beacon at all an option to dramatically improve their chances of rescue - and no, its not a PLB!! PLB's have been around for more than 30 years, and if they are such a great idea then why doesn't everyone use one? Simple - price, size and/or weight. So most people take no beacon at all. Now, for $100, lasts for 10yrs and only 1.6oz you can give SAR a chance to find you much easier. (add up the cost of SPOT over 10years $150+$99pa x 10 = $1150!!). Great if you can afford it and its what you really want.
No beacon, regardless of its type will guarantee you get rescued. No system is perfect. They will however IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES of being rescued successfully. From an aircraft searchers can pick up the Tracme signal from about 5mls away (regardless of visibility) - thats a hell of a lot better than trying to visually locate a person on the ground in a forest etc.

For those pushing the argument "carrying a beacon gives people a false sense of security so they will then do things they shouldn't" - I have yet to see anyone become a stunt driver simply because they now wear a seatbelt!! and even if they did, how do you know they wouldn't have done it anyway? So should we do away with seatbelts?
TracMe is a lowcost, small and lightweight device which people can carry wherever and whenever they go outdoors - no need to worry about subscriptions (did I pay my bill?), flat batteries or accidental PLB activations setting off a fullscale SAR (PLB's are not ideal for kids). TracMe ain't perfect but it is simple and effective.

8:13 a.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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Our search team( www.eastpennsar.com )recently participated in a CAP (Civil Air Patrol) drill where SPOT devices were tested. They seem to do all that they say they do. We WERE able to find the subject. That being said, any "extra" measure of security a party can carry in addition to map and compass is a plus on their side.

2:36 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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I recently purchaced a SPOT. One thing I noticed on a "test run" of it where I went to Mt. Rainier snowshoing was none of the times I pressed the "check in" button while in a moving vehicle did it successfully send. However, I did press it 3 times while snowshoing. The first two were successfull and the third failed, probably because I went indoors before it successfuly got a location fix.

I'll be using the SPOT to "check in" regularly during my hike of the WLT this summer. If I can get my site reading the e-mails I'm going to have sent to it properly I'll be tyring to set up a public viewable map with all my check ins on it. (The map the SPOT advertises it displays them on is actualy google maps with the GPS cords sent in the URL.)

11:26 p.m. on February 11, 2008 (EST)
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Radios and to a lesser extent satellite phones, are basic equipment for mountain guides in Canada on both sides of the Columbia River. This isn't true, apparently, in the lower 48, although backcountry rangers in the US always seem to have radios.

The locater beacons and similar products are increasingly interesting.

Somebody above mentioned as an alternative, renting a satellite phone. My impression from slight research, is that phone rentals are in the range of $100-$200/week and include shipping. I bet radios are more affordable, at least in long run, but seem to require a little more knowledge to operate compared with phones.

As novice poseur, I have neither direct experience with any of these products, nor vast interest.

 

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