Emergency Beacon?

7:03 a.m. on July 20, 2015 (EDT)
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What's a good emergency Beacon to call for help? Let's assume I broke my leg in the wilderness, I want to call rescue. How do I do this? 

10:09 a.m. on July 20, 2015 (EDT)
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Alexander,

Your question can only be responded to with more questions. As with so much of the specialized equipment these days, there are many choices and a recommendation depends on what you need (or are trying to accomplish).

Not every satellite network is truly global so it could matter where you intend to go with it also.

Some devices are emergency beacons only, some are voice capable, some are text only, some do a combinations, etc...

Here is a list of some past Trailspace discussions to get started on the topic:

 

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/152872.html (2013)

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/122652.html (2012)

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/80485.html (2010)

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/51868.html (2009)

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/48720.html (2008)

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/40924.html (2007)

https://www.trailspace.com/forums/gear-selection/topics/40916.html (2007)

 

 

 

 

2:57 p.m. on July 21, 2015 (EDT)
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Alexander,

Patrick has a good list of links to discussions that include many words by me. I do suggest you read them (I have decided I will copy my posts and save them to a file so I can just re-post them when this same question keeps popping up). However, although most of the information is good, there have been major technical advances over the past 2 years since the last link that Patrick gives.

As Patrick said, you need to ask yourself several basic questions. The most basic is "where am I planning on going that there is a possibility that I might need emergency help?"

Based on the little information in the opening post, the simple answer is get the basic ACR or McMurdo Personal Locator Beacon.

But for most readers, I expand below -

A second question is "Do I need to transmit specific questions or information, or do I just need a simple 'SOS/911 - I need help here right now'?" Keep in mind that an SOS/911 call when you are more than a few hundred yards from the trailhead is not like urban response (nominally 5 minutes), but may actually be days.

A third question is "Do I need/want to have navigational capability?". In that case, all you really need is a map and compass. A basic base-plate compass that you can get for under $25-30 works just fine, as long as you learn how to use it. The map can be the basic USFS trail map or a USGS topographic map. You can get these on line from the USGS, AllTrails, Google Maps, and several other sites. Some are free, and some like AllTrails have special features (such as adjustable scaling) for a small fee. You may want to have a printer available to make the map larger than standard 8.5x11 inches. You can also get maps with some navigational capability for your iOS or Android device. A good app is Earthmate, which you can get from iTunes or the Google Playstore for free. Earthmate can work with your smartphone's internal GPS chipset or (more crudely) in areas where wifi or cell signals are available (the smartphone chipsets are not as good as the ones in dedicated GPS receivers, but they do work) Earthmate can also be linked to the Delorme inReach SE and Explorer devices (more about the inReach devices in a moment).

To return to the emergency beacon question - There are a variety of emergency beacon families available. If you said "no" to the messaging and navigation questions above, a basic "SOS" device is all you need. These have several labels, depending on whether they are for land, sea, or aircraft. The aircraft variety (ELT) can be eliminated immediately, since they are required for private aircraft already and meet certain specific requirements.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are intended for individual use, as opposed to devices attached to an aircraft. That's your choice if you are going hiking and need only basic "SOS/911" emergency rescue signalling - less expensive to purchase, one-time fee, no service plans. ACR has several versions. I would choose the model which has a GPS chip in it. This provides faster and more accurate positioning that the older versions that simply transmit a simple "help" message which identifies the PLB owner.

Emergency Position-Indication Radio Beacon (EPIRB) are primarily for boat usage and are water-activated, as well as push-button.

The two main communicating emergency devices on the market at present are the SPOT (by GlobalStar) and inReach (by Delorme). Both are undergoing continuous improvement and upgrades. Both have versions that can allow 2-way communication.

This past week, I was climbing in the Sierra, during which time several of us discussed our experiences with both Spot and inReach. The general agreement was that the inReach is currently the superior system. There was 100% agreement that inReach is the most dependable.

I have been connected with 2 real-life emergency situations. The first was last summer (2014) in Peru with the American Climber Science Program, while we were doing environmental studies in the Lago Poron area. During the week we were there, there were 5 fatalities in the several 6000 meter peaks surrounding the area. On one of them, we received a message from the American Alpine Club (via our inReach Explorers, while in the mountains) that a couple of members of the AAC had been hit by falling ice, and requesting our assistance. One of the two had activated his inReach Explorer to summon help. The local SAR group arrived at our camp, and we were able to direct them to the likely accident site. (the inReach provides the location lat/lon of the signal). The SAR group found the survivor and brought him to our camp. My Climbing Safety Officer and I, as team leader, (both of us having SAR experience) interviewed the survivor and were able to identify the site of the body. In the meantime, we were also able to contact the US Embassy and arrange their involvement.

The second, more indirect, incident was with the ACSP group in Nepal. The team had set up base camp on Himlung, then Camp 1. The team leader had ascended to the site where Camp 2 was to be, set up his tent, and then wandered around to familiarize himself with the area. In the process he fell into a crevasse (80 feet or so). Despite numerous fractures, he was able to extract himself and crawl to his tent, where he activated the SOS function on his inReach. Within 30 hours of falling into the crevasse, he was in the hospital in Khatmandu. He has recovered (with the help of a number of surgeries).

Bottom line is that I highly recommend the Delorme inReach Explorer. Some details - The inReach Explorer has an initial cost, plus a group of usage plans, ranging from an "always on" plan for which you pay a monthly fee (depending on how much usage) or an "extreme" plan, which you can turn on and off according to your active season (couple months in the summer or all year or various other alternatives). The Explorer is quite versatile, allowing 2-way messaging via the Iridium satellite texting system, sending canned location messages, tracking (for the folks back home), navigation of pre-planned routes, compass, altimeter, waypoint marking and following....

I also use my Explorer for training hikes and bike rides (my spouse can see where I am and how I am progressing), messaging both ways from foreign countries to the folks back home (so far this has included Peru, France, Switzerland, and Austria), and when I am in the Sierra or Cascades climbing some peak or other.

5:10 p.m. on July 21, 2015 (EDT)
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There's quite a few options out there and what you will ultimately decide on will be your choice alone.  I carry a 2nd gen Spot but I like the idea that my wife and whomever I designate can get preset text messages plus my last known position at the push of a button.  There is also a Help feature and that last resort SOS button which I hope to never have to press.  I use it hiking, backpacking and fishing primarily or if I find myself in areas without cell phone coverage.  There is an annual contract but I figure that is a small price to pay to let my loved ones know where I'm at and not in distress.  

8:15 p.m. on July 21, 2015 (EDT)
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While I recognize the various issues that could be related to this question, I think the question is pretty clear: recommendation for an emergency beacon in case of a severe injury in the wilderness. A true PLB like the ACR or McMurdo is the answer. It only sends an SOS with your GPS coordinates, no other communication or tracking. But it uses the most reliable and global satellite network available. A true PLB does only one thing, but it will get an SOS signal through the highest percentage of the time, and the signal goes directly to search-and-rescue.

Satellite communication devices like DeLorme and Spot have an SOS feature, but they use different satellite networks/systems that are not as reliable. They do work most of the time, and they offer additional features like GPS tracking and 2-way communications. They also cost more in the long run because you need a subscription fee to use it (except for the SOS feature I believe).

9:50 p.m. on July 21, 2015 (EDT)
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JR, as I said above:

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are intended for individual use, as opposed to devices attached to an aircraft. That's your choice if you are going hiking and need only basic "SOS/911" emergency rescue signalling - less expensive to purchase, one-time fee, no service plans. 

However, the recent real-life incidents I have participated in or had a connection with, the added feature of rapid information exchange has vastly speeded up the rescue efforts, including having the SAR group arrive with appropriate materials in a timely fashion.

I will agree that SPOT has proven to be unreliable at times. However, the Delorme inReach, which has full global coverage has proven to be as reliable and rapid as PLBs.

I have mentioned in previous threads and should have repeated that PLBs and EPIRBs link through government-sponsored Cospas-Sarsat. Since the satellites in that system are in geosynchronous orbits, they do not fully cover polar regions (not a problem with the majority of people reading Trailspace). The rescue operations are government run, vs the GEOS organization used by both the inReach units and SPOT. Although GEOS is a private organization, they coordinate with the governmental groups, so that so far their response time has been comparable to Cospas-Sarsat.

6:46 a.m. on July 22, 2015 (EDT)
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I will have to agree with the above comments about the Spot.  I can say that on a couple of occasions my "check in" message was not sent, even though I chose an area with visible sky and the indicator lights on the unit were indicating message transmission.  Don't know what the issue was.  I should add that I will transmit messages using the Spot in areas that I have cell phone coverage.  In all the spot profiles I have set up on the website, I am a recipient of the messages so I can see if the unit is transmitting.  99% of the time, upon activation of the Spot, I receive an email notification on my phone of the message transmission usually within the first minute of pushing the "OK" button.  

Good luck in your search 

7:01 a.m. on July 22, 2015 (EDT)
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lol, yeah maybe I posted too much reading materiel JR, but I went through this same discovery process about 4 years ago and found that the two-way communication features created far more value for my intended application than just a PLB and so wanted to share the breadth of choices.

I typically do more than 30 short, solo, backpacking trips per year and my wife pushed me to get an emergency beacon type device. I wound up getting a two-way device and developed a routine that satisfied the wife: whenever I make camp, I send her one text message and leave my device on until she responds with one. Peace of mind at both ends.....

for what it's worth I've been using the Delorme SE for about three years now and it's been one of the more impressive pieces of electronics I've owned. Granted, I don't go anywhere remote or exotic but it has never failed to deliver a message. On one or maybe two occasions I was not able to get normal confirmation that my outbound message was sent, but it was, and I eventually received my wife's messages though it took a while. (Those spots were deep in forested river valleys with little to no southern exposure: one of them was off-trail on the South Fork Citico in Nantahala National Forest TN/NC.)

The other aspect that continuously amazes me is the robust battery performance: of course in my application I only turn it on a couple times a week, but even so, after three years it still only requires charging about once every couple of months.

here is screen shot from my Delorme map showing the concentration of use in my typical areas ( Smokies and Unicoi's primarily):


Patman-Message-Map.jpg
click to enlarge

7:16 a.m. on July 22, 2015 (EDT)
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haha the maps are fun! from the browser (not these screen shots) each little box can be clicked on to read the message that was sent or received. clicking through this brought back some great memories!

 

Here is last summers Teton Crest trail message map:


TetonCrest-trail.jpg

and here is the message map from my Mineral King trip with lambertiana in the Sierras:


Mineral-King.jpg

oh and regarding subscription cost, I chose the "safety" plan which was the best available at the time (need to revisit the per-use options now), the base service is $9.95 per month (including tax my monthly bill is usually $10.36)

so yeah, it's not free, but many people spend more than $10.36 per month on junk food or worse, so in the big picture it's quite affordable and I consider it a good value.

here are the details of that plan from the website:

  • Unlimited SOS
  • 10 text messages/month
  • Unlimited Preset messages (pre-defined messages set up on the web site)
  • Tracking points: $0.10 for each point
  • Overages are $.50 for each text message over the 10 message allowed in the monthly plan period.
  • The subscription plan is exclusively for U.S. and E.U. based activations.
  • Text messages include free-form sent messages and received messages.
  • Tracking points refer to the individual "breadcrumbs" sent by the inReach at user-selected intervals ranging from 10 minutes to four hours.

Annual/Contract Plan Commitment

You can move up and down between plans. Moving down to a lower plan will incur a $24.95 fee.

One-time $19.95 subscription activation fee.

Once any 1 year for Annual/Contract plan commitment has been met, the customer can cancel service at any time for no fee (otherwise the remainder of the year's service is due on cancellation). Service will otherwise continue at the current monthly rate.

10:48 a.m. on July 23, 2015 (EDT)
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I would have to concur with Patrick and others who favour the inReach SE.

Although I seldom use any communication devise while backpacking on my own, I do for work as we have strict safety protocols in place when it comes to traveling out on the land. I tend to follow these protocols because I travel as part of a team and the safety of that team is dependent upon being able to get a message out in the rare case of an emergency. A couple of years ago I had suggested we replace our SPOT locaters with inReach SEs. This decision was based on a couple of capabilities of the inReach not found on the SPOT, namely the inReach uses Iridium satellites which have full global coverage. When flying back to the mainland from Prince Patrick Island I used my SPOT to let people know I was alright, but upon my return I found the SPOT, which uses Global Star, had placed me way out in the Beaufort Sea, hundreds of miles of where I actually was at the time. If we had gone down the search party would have been looking in the wrong area. This is not the case with inReach; its Iridium Satellites are excellent in placing the user in the exact location, even in the high Arctic.

My wife recently finished a caribou survey along the Arctic Coast and she used the inReach for letting us know where she was. It worked as promised, giving me accurate locations while she was over Tuktut Nogait National Park. Below is a photo of the Hornaday River and caribou in the foreground.


tuktuk-nogait-1.jpg

(For those who may be unfamiliar with Tuktut Nogait, last year it had a grand total of 8 visitors. There are no facilities, roads, trails, emergency cabins, or rescue of any kind. For a brief article:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/mysterious-north/article25224967/)

Patrick described it's feature very well but the nice thing about inReach, and unlike SPOT, is that the communication is two way. I can receive and send texts or emails from the one device.  And it’s pretty much instantaneous. This is a great little tool and I highly recommend it for anyone needing to get a message out from anywhere in the world.

 

8:03 p.m. on July 24, 2015 (EDT)
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Something that applies to all communications devices that rely radio frequency signals, whether on satellites, ground-based repeaters, or unit to unit. You need a clear line of sight between transmitter and receiver. Signals in some frequency bands do get around the strict line of sight requirement because of refraction or reflection (HF signals reflect off various layers in the atmosphere, for example, and most radio frequency signals reflect off rocky outcrops).

This means that if you are in a canyon (natural or manmade) your signals may be blocked completely or sometimes for long periods. This is the reason for the oft-repeated "move to where you have a clear sky."

Some plants (notably tropical trees) and the human body block the frequencies used by PLBs, inReach, SPOT, and other emergency devices (some emergency devices use more than one band to get around that).

The basic rule with emergency devices and many voice and text communication devices is move to where you have a clear view of the sky. I have had problems with various radio-frequency com devices in mountainous areas, such as the Andes and the Sierra. In some areas, repeater and relay antennas are placed on mountain tops and ridges. When you drive across the MidWest, you see very tall towers for cell phones that are tall enough to see "over the horizon", so that your effective range can be a hundred miles.

7:04 a.m. on July 27, 2015 (EDT)
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Bill S said:

Something that applies to all communications devices that rely radio frequency signals, whether on satellites, ground-based repeaters, or unit to unit. You need a clear line of sight between transmitter and receiver. Signals in some frequency bands do get around the strict line of sight requirement because of refraction or reflection (HF signals reflect off various layers in the atmosphere, for example, and most radio frequency signals reflect off rocky outcrops).

This means that if you are in a canyon (natural or manmade) your signals may be blocked completely or sometimes for long periods. This is the reason for the oft-repeated "move to where you have a clear sky."

Some plants (notably tropical trees) and the human body block the frequencies used by PLBs, inReach, SPOT, and other emergency devices (some emergency devices use more than one band to get around that).

The basic rule with emergency devices and many voice and text communication devices is move to where you have a clear view of the sky. I have had problems with various radio-frequency com devices in mountainous areas, such as the Andes and the Sierra. In some areas, repeater and relay antennas are placed on mountain tops and ridges. When you drive across the MidWest, you see very tall towers for cell phones that are tall enough to see "over the horizon", so that your effective range can be a hundred miles.

 Bill you gave the synopsis of HF i would give infantryman for their EIB when they hit my station before sending messages...

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