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PostPosted: January 4th, 2007, 1:22 pm 
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I spoke to A Tech Head at ACR Electronics about their new TerraFix PLB to get the answers to some questions that have been emailed to me. I also spoke to the COPSAS SARSAT folks who register PLBS in Canada.
http://www.acrelectronics.com/
http://www.cospas-sarsat.org/

1. The TerraFix is the PLB for paddlers. The AeroFix (for airplanes) and the AquaFix (for marine vessels) DON’T allow the use of an external data cable to connect the unit to a GPS. Rather they are hardwired to a fixed GPS in the airplane or on the boat. Of course if you have the TerraFix I/O (GPS Interface/Onboard) the PLB will pinpoint your location the second the unit is activated with no need of input from your GPS.

2. The advantage of the I/O option is that if you were entering an area where you suspect poor GPS reception (say a canyon or the like) you can manually enter your location with your GPS before you enter the area with problem reception.

3. Data downloaded into the Gypsi PLB or the TerraFix PLB vanishes after 4 hours (even with the unit turned off) so you would have to enter new data that often to keep the PLB’s location current.

4. When you set off your beacon the Mission Control Center knows you are in trouble even without any GPS downloaded data entered into your PLB. Because each beacon is uniquely coded MCC knows who is in trouble and can go to your pre-trip canoe route planning document and map (or whatever you have given them) and begin to plan a rescue. (I leave a detailed document of my trip with the RCMP in the nearest community to where I will be departing from and another with the RCMP at my end point.) Once the Low Earth Orbit (LEOs) satellites have triangulated your location (worldwide average time is about 45 minutes) they can launch a rescue to your exact location. If the PLB has a GPS downloaded location or if the unit is an I/O Terrafix (and the onboard GPS can acquire a location fix) the time to pinpoint you is reduced to 15 minutes.

5. The battery in the Gypsi and the Terrafix has a capacity OVER what it needs to operate to the temperature and time specifications it was designed for. This is to allow for the “self tests” that check out if the PLBs is functioning properly. If you are an “aggressive” self tester and use up this excess battery capacity the unit will alert you on the next self test. The PLB will still function but might not perform to the rated 24 hour cold temperature specification.

6. The Gypsi is being phased out and once old stock is sold that will be the end of this model. If you need a cold weather beacon you will need to find another manufacturer.

7. The COPSAS-SARSAT people who register beacons in Canada indicated to me that if you buy a TerraFix from the US that you CAN NOT register it in Canada. The 15 digit hexadecimal code you use to register your beacon allows them to tell where you bought the TerraFix. When they see a non Canadian code they won’t register the beacon. For those people shopping for a used beacon the first 3 digits tell them if the unit is from Canada or not (the numbers for Canada are A78, A79, 278, or 279). You can have a non Canadian beacon reprogrammed for Canada by a dealer or by ACR but my guess is the price will exceed the savings.

8. COPSAS SARSAT said to be VERY wary of used beacons particularly from EBAY. They told of a seller who had a bunch of beacons for sale on EBAY who had opened the beacons to “fiddle” with batteries. When told that opening the beacons and “mucking about” wasn’t a good idea he responded, “Well there’s now law against it”. Not a good plan to buy one of these I would guess. My advice is BUY NEW or really trust the person you are buying from.

9. For a list of Canadian ACR dealers go to www.acrelectronics.ca and look for the dealer tab. You can order a TerraFix from Avaition or Marine dealers so look at all the various Canadian suppliers.

10. There is a new much smaller unit on the horizon (the Microfix) that will be about 35 % smaller. Details will start to unfold in late January or early February of 2007. BUT given the fact that it took years to get the TerraFix approved in Canada don’t hold your breath. US customers will, of course, be able to buy this unit BUT won’t be able to register it in Canada. They will, of course, be able to register it in the US and if they set it off in Canada the Mission Control Center will respond.

11. People are still buying beacons and not registering them (duh!). In Canada go to

http://beacons.nss.gc.ca/Logon.asp

to register your beacon and as well or to update your annual trip plans ( I still leave paper data and a map with the RCMP as per 4 above).

And there you go….more than you ever wanted to know about PLBS. I hope this answers any questions those who emailed me might have.

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PostPosted: January 4th, 2007, 1:50 pm 
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Location: Toronto
Bill: Many thanks for your hard work on this one.
Yrs, gg


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PostPosted: January 4th, 2007, 7:25 pm 
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Really good stuff.
I particularly like the info on 3. Data downloaded into the Gypsi PLB or the TerraFix PLB vanishes after 4 hours (even with the unit turned off) so you would have to enter new data that often to keep the PLB’s location current. My GyPSI manual doesn't have anything on this very important bit of info.

Many thanks, Ted

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PostPosted: January 4th, 2007, 8:37 pm 
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Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada
Great info and research Bill, as usual!

I have a tough decision to make. My SatFind 406 PLB's battery has expired according to the sticker (its a 5 year battery). Its a 1997 model and its already had one battery replacement, which if I recall, was around $400 or so. I have to call about the replacement to see if they are still making them. So I will have to decide if it’s worth getting a new model, or pay for the battery and use my current unit for another 5 years. Nothing wrong with the good old SatFind 406. But a smaller lighter unit would be nice.


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PostPosted: January 4th, 2007, 11:46 pm 
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Location: Toronto
good to know. thanks.

Any info on renting PLBs for those of us that may only need one for 2 weeks every three years?

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 Post subject: Here's a place
PostPosted: January 5th, 2007, 12:08 am 
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Location: winnipeg
http://www.liferaftrental.com/liferaftrentalra4.html

I exchanged e-mails with these folks and found that . . .

"Yes, we ship to Canada regularly. Currently same shipping rates as to U.S.
Ground shipping at no charge. However, customs duties and GST will add approx. 20% (to the base rate only)."

Seems like a reasonable option.

I suspect some Canadian distributors will start renting them when/if they become more popular.


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PostPosted: January 5th, 2007, 6:23 am 
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Thanks for the info Bill.
I'll copy and paste your post and keep in "my Documents".
Thanks again for keeping us posted.
GG


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PostPosted: January 5th, 2007, 10:36 am 
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Joined: May 22nd, 2004, 6:14 pm
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Location: La Ronge and North
Quote:
I have a tough decision to make. My SatFind 406 PLB's battery has expired according to the sticker (its a 5 year battery). Its a 1997 model and its already had one battery replacement, which if I recall, was around $400 or so. I have to call about the replacement to see if they are still making them. So I will have to decide if it’s worth getting a new model, or pay for the battery and use my current unit for another 5 years. Nothing wrong with the good old SatFind 406. But a smaller lighter unit would be nice



I shouldn't really tell you this ....but .... I had a tech person who works on ACR PLBs tell me that they always test the old batteries when they change them and they have never seen one yet that isn't still VERY highly charged. I forget the % capacity remaining but think it was about 90 % or more. Remember that they have liability issues. If you had trouble with a 7 year old battery and they hadn't told you to change the battery you could possibly sue them. On the other hand if you assume the liability by breaking the rules they are off the hook. Also remember that the beacon is rated for 24 hours at -40 and you will be using it at +20 for 4 or 5 hours max until the rescue folks are on site. If you know anything about cold weather battery performance you will know that any battery only has a very small percentage of its +20C capacity remaining at -40C. At +20C using the beacon for say even 10 hours I am sure it will still work fine even though it might not work for 1 hour at -40c I am sure that I read somewhere that the batteries they use have a 10 year shelf life (i.e if the battery has no load like your periodic self tests).

I know I SHOULD recommend getting a new battery and if it was say $50 I would but since it is more like $ 400 factor in all the above. As they say Caveat Emptor

Of course if you set off your beacon you should change the battery BUT having said that remember that many of those they test are the ones that I mention above and they are still fine.

I know I didn't really answer the question BUT at least these facts will help you decided what to do in your own particular situation.

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PostPosted: January 5th, 2007, 11:37 am 
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Hi Bill. Could you clarify this point further (if you have the information)… since it interests me as a canoer from the States:

Layman wrote:
US customers will, of course, be able to buy this unit BUT won’t be able to register it in Canada. They will, of course, be able to register it in the US and if they set it off in Canada the Mission Control Center will respond.

How exactly does this work? Does it delay response time, is it as reliable as using a Canadian registered PLB? I've written repeatedly to ACR, and have received no reply. I guess the trick is to phone.

I noticed that "Sarscene," the online search and rescue magazine for the Canadian National Search and Rescue Secretariat, published an announcement last September that Class 2 PLBs have been approved in Canada.

http://www.nss.gc.ca/site/ss/magazine/vol15_4/gsar_e.asp#3

Presumably, this is the basis of the information you were receiving from ACR. I'm a bit confused why Class 2 PLBs (like the ACR Terrafix?) can be used but not registered in Canada (if purchased elsewhere)?

I would have long ago purchased an ACR Terrafix if I could get timely and reliable information about its use in Canada, but I think it may be a little bit too late for the product (at least for us down here). They are very hard to find in the U.S. now, many on-line distributors are out of stock, and they have a $75 rebate on them. I'm hoping the new model will entirely replace the old, and will be released in a timely manner to meet our needs for the 2007 canoeing season and the relevant class standards and registration requirements for Canada. Thanks for tracking down the information on this.


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PostPosted: January 5th, 2007, 12:03 pm 
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As I understand it from the SARSAT-COPSAS people (I phoned them this morning) if your beacon is registered in the US it is still perfectly legal for you to use it in Canada. The Mission Control Center will get the signal just as fast as it would when the beacon was registered in Canada. And if you have the I/O Terrafix or have dumped data by GPS to a Gypsi you will be pinpointed in the 15 minute window. Then the MCC would phone the nearest RCMP (or anyone else they could think of) and the rescue would start. If no local timely rescue could be started the Hercules airplanes will launch with parachute capable Sartechs on board. At this point Canada charges no one anything for resuce.... even the real dumb ones that drive me crazy. That could change although there is not even a sniff that such a change is on the radar screen.

I think when a US beacon is set off the MCC would phone your US authorities at NOAA

http://www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov/

with whom you have filed a trip report BUT the best option is to have the TerraFix I/O (or GPS data dumped into your Gypsi) and then the rescue would be well under way before the MCC even had your personal information. I view this "paper" information as a last resort and the GPS data onbaord the PLB as the first line.

I have no idea why a US TerraFix can't be registered in Canada or presumably vice - versa. Likely just jurisdiction issues. Its a pain for us up here as the math to buy a TerraFix here isn't just the US cost divided by the exchange rate. There is always a premium to buy one up here built into the price.

For what its worth I wouldnt even think of buying a non I/O TerraFix now. The GPS onboard is the way to go as I see it.

If I was in the US I would wait for the new smaller Microfix. Its only downside is that it isnt inherently self buoyant. But it should be secured to your PFD and the smaller size will only make that easier.

I wonder if they will ever get PLBs so small you can just swallow one every 5 years?

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 Post subject: MORE about batteries
PostPosted: January 5th, 2007, 2:10 pm 
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Location: La Ronge and North
ACR's TAKE ON BATTERIES

The following information is from a senior ACR representative who has been following this thread and who emailed me. Well worth considering

Quote:
One other point to make regarding battery replacement dates. You want a PLB to do the job it was designed to do when you need it. Therefore, you do not want to wait until the battery of life-saving equipment is too depleted to do its job. You want to change a battery when it is still good. The climbers on Mt. Hood or this sailor off the coast of Chile are great examples of situations that took days to rescue. if the climbers on Mt. Had had carried a PLB, chances are it would have run out of battery before rescuers could have reached them. A recent PLB rescue in Big Bend park in Texas took overnight. Two recent rescues off the coast of florida took over 30 hours due to problems with the weather. No one was close enough to the sailor off of Chile and the weather was bad so it took days to rescue him. The point is, you don’t want your lifesaving equipment battery power to be suspect when you need it. Therefore, replace it while it is still good at one-half its life…

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