There's some discussion here about SPOT vs. PLB. The article recommends that PLB's (Personal Locator Beacons) are more reliable than SPOT (Satellite Communications), a comment says this is not true, the result appears inconclusive.

Is there any significant difference in reliability between SPOT, PLB, and similar services?

(Personal use case: mountains at high latitudes, but I'm interested in generic answers)

1 Answer 1


A SPOT will only work if you can see the sky. If you're in a deep canyon where there's not simultaneous line of sight to enough GPS satellites, it won't work. PLB's these days all include GPS, but GPS isn't needed in order to make the device work.

There seems to be some anecdotal evidence in real-world use that SPOTs are extremely unreliable: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=25583&skip_to_post=291623#291623

A SPOT will continue signaling for longer than a PLB.

You didn't ask about price, but the yearly subscription for a SPOT is a huge rip-off. You're paying for the features such as messaging and "I'm OK," which may reassure your family but will not do much for your safety.

SPOT and PLBs are for use on land. If you were going to be, e.g., sailing across the Pacific, you'd want a different, specialized device.

  • Could you please add a bit of information about international use to your answer?
    – Steed
    Jul 17, 2013 at 7:59
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    What makes you say PLBs are only for use on land? They have global coverage.
    – gerrit
    Sep 23, 2016 at 9:27
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    @gerrit, I agree with your comment: marine EPIRBs use the same infrastructure and protocols as PLBs (arguably vice-versa, since they were first). PLBs tend to be more compact than traditional EPIRBs, and are arguably less suitable far offshore, where you'll want an extended transmit time and an aerial that won't sink under the waves. That's still the same electronics, just with a bigger battery and a different case. But they certainly work at sea, and I carry mine when kayaking in inshore waters up to 10-20 miles from land. Sep 1, 2017 at 7:47

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