/ Satellite emergency providers

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.
James Jackson on 11 Oct 2016
I find myself doing, and planning, more solo 'stuff' these days. Leaving the debate about solo travel in the mountains to one side, I am aware that there is a higher risk if something were to go wrong - for example in Scotland it's very easy to get very remote, with no phone signal, very quickly. A broken leg at the wrong time could be an incredibly serious occurrence.

Has anybody got experience of using one of the satellite emergency beacons (such as the SPOT trackers)? It seems like a sensible thing to add to the top flap of my pack.
Jonathan Lagoe - UKC - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

Similarly i do solo trips in the desert where it seemed a sensible idea

I did some research on this and SPOT came out less well than alternatives for a couple of reasons:

- Not very powerful signal in canyons or under tree cover - 0.4watts
- Annual subscription ultimately means expensive
- Needs third party monitoring to contact emergency services.

I bought this http://www.outdoorgearlab.com/Personal-Locator-Beacon-Reviews/ACR-ResQlink-406-Personal-Locator-Beac... - 5 watts power.

You can add messaging to the ACR for $60 - I got some free offer on that so all good.

Good review data at that link too.
James Jackson on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Jonathan Lagoe - UKC:

Thanks Jonathan - I'll take a look at that one.
OwenM - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

I use the DeLorme inreach SE, not had to push the red button but sending and receiving text worked fine from Sarek in northern Sweden. It cost $11 a month but I can suspend it on a month by month basis.
James Jackson on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to OwenM:

Thanks Owen. I think a friend took one of those while guiding in Nepal (which happened to be during the major earthquake). Having only ever used Iridium sat phones in favourable (ish) circumstances, I wonder what the difference in likelihood of a signal would be in a craggy mountain setting between Iridium-based products, and the 406MHz beacon systems. Both are, of course, talking to satellites at the end of the day, so likely fairly similar.
karlt - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

I have a McMurdo Fast Find 210. (Current version is 220.)

Have carried it but not had to use it yet. There are no monthly charges. Battery lasts 6 years and can be replaced. You should register it. See: https://www.gov.uk/maritime-safety-weather-and-navigation/register-406-mhz-beacons


Dave - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

No direct experience but just heard a first-hand story of a Delorme InReach being used to succesfully call for help in a remote part of the world where a regular sat phone did not work, probably due to the particular location.
James_Kendal on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to Jonathan Lagoe - UKC:

I believe the maritime PLB devices are fine if you only want a button to push, but they are no use whatsoever if you are unable to press the button because you are injured. You can still go missing without trace.

The SPOT or similar with tracking enabled sorts that, and reassures friends or family that they know where you are. I haven't used it in an emergency yet but the non-emergency features work well.
kenr - on 11 Oct 2016
In reply to James_Kendal:
> The SPOT or similar with tracking enabled sorts that, and
> reassures friends or family that they know where you are.

Yes I like that the SPOT has several different signal-messages you can send out through the satellites -- not just Emergency SOS.

I frequently send the "OK" message, because I suspect that family members have not been listening carefully the evening before when I told them what trip I was doing. So if something happens that leaves me unconscious or unable to push the SOS button, they and professional rescuers at least have a clue where to start looking for me (or my body).

Anyway Sharon says she just likes getting the "OK" emails from the SPOT server -- then she can click on the embedded link and see on the map where I am.

Also if it's a key waypoint I want to have available for repeating the trip another year -- and I'm not carrying my GPS -- then I can afterward get the latitude+longitude from reading the OK email myself.

Ken
Post edited at 23:48
Damo on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

> ... I wonder what the difference in likelihood of a signal would be in a craggy mountain setting between Iridium-based products,

I've used Iridium phones (not the latest beacons etc) for 15 years, mostly in Antarctica but also the Himalaya/Karakoram and NZ, Peru etc. Generally they work well (the only choice for Antarctica) but I have noticed in some Himalayan valleys the reception is more patchy. Usually if you wait a bit, it improves, but given how reliable it usually is in most places, I was a little surprised exactly what affected it. I wasn't in deep canyons or tucked into a bigwall or anything, just a valley with peaks rising 1500-2000m above me, a km or so away. Occasionally there was no service at all, but again, wait a bit and it came around. This was in both Nepal (north of Dhaulagiri and again up in Nar Phu) and in the Karakoram, up at G1 BC and along the Baltoro.
David Martin - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

Wed use sat trackers religiously and the clear consensus in the paragliding fraternity is to ditch SPOT and go with DeLorme instead. Muche better reliability and utility.
ScraggyGoat on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to David Martin:
Not used either myself, but it is notable that current (and former) Coastguard watch officers I know all carry PLB's, in preference to SPOT, in case of needing to alert the emergency services (in the absence of voice communications) of potential life threatening emergencies for their personal adventures.

They all see the value of SPOT for 'tracking' but professionally have been less than impressed by the time delay in some cases (not all) between SPOT emergency signal activation being picked up by satellite and the time (valuable time) its then taken the SPOT call centre to alert the statutory national rescue co-ordination centre of the activation (i.e them). In their view a registered (critically important) PLB activation assuming picked up by satellite is more reliable in getting assets swiftly tasked (at least in the UKSAR area).

They all acknowledge that the greatest draw back in PLB/SPOT at present is that as an activator you have no way of knowing that your signal has been a) picked up and b) is being acted upon. Note that not only has the SPOT call centre failed to act, on rare occasions our own Coastguard has also not covered themselves in glory.

DeLorme might be better in this respect with two way texting; but I don't know anyone with any substantive experience

On the one occasion I have been present at a serious incident (one fatality, one causality with life threatening injuries) and a PLB available; not only was a PLB triggered every effort was made to establish voice coms as soon as possible by a ferocious amount of leg-work, breaking and entering a remote property in the hope of phone / radio -phone and in absence; commandeering transport.
Post edited at 11:17
Rockarch - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

I was one of the people involved in the incident that Dave mentions above. We had a sat phone and a delorme inreach as emergency comms devices. The location was a steep sided valley and the sat phone couldn't get a signal but we successfully used the inreach. The key to it is the 2 way messaging - so we hit the emergency button and parks canada contacted us to ask how many casualties/ ages so that they knew what help to send. We could then text back the details etc, and also let people at home know.
We actually couldn't get the sat phone to work for another 2 days, until we were down in a much wider valley.
James Jackson on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

My experience with Iridium satphones was that they were a touch 'particular', however I was using funky encrypted ones which have their own foibles. At any rate, they key is satellite visibility - if it's overhead then valleys shouldn't be a problem. I have no data on whether the Iridium network or 406MHz beacon received network is better in this respect.

I too won't be in the 'track me' camp; I don't expect people to be following my weekend exploits, nor would I want this.

I think the talk here is essentially saying that DeLorme or a 406MHz PLB are both fit-for-purpose, with a bias towards DeLorme where two way comms is seen to be a deciding factor.
David Martin - on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to ScraggyGoat:

The view has been that Delorme is much better when used in anger. Unlike SPOT, its text messages actually go through, there are no delays, no problems with satellite reception, etc. etc. I should emphasise, while used in a tracking capacity 99% of the time, the primary purpose is to be able to call for help if augering in in remote terrain or be found if non-responsive.

It sounds as if SPOT's network, support and all-out reliability have taken a serious hit in recent years (or DeLorme has simply eclipsed them).
James_Kendal on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to James Jackson:

Note that the Delorme and SPOT both use the GEOS centre to manage SOS operations, so any criticism of its effectiveness applies equally to both devices.

Even if nobody wants to track your weekend activities, somebody will want to find you on Monday if you haven't come back from your weekend, and a PLB you haven't activated won't help.

Obviously 2-way texting with the Delorme would be great. It's much more expensive though, and heavier.
ads.ukclimbing.com
James Jackson on 12 Oct 2016
In reply to James_Kendal:
> Even if nobody wants to track your weekend activities, somebody will want to find you on Monday if you haven't come back from your weekend, and a PLB you haven't activated won't help.

I get where you're coming from but, to be honest, that doesn't concern me. I'm not looking for a body retrieval tool (if it's gone that badly wrong, frankly waiting a few weeks or a few minutes to be found is immaterial), but just something I can activate if required if it's all gone not-quite-as-bad-as-that-but-still-quite-bad.
Post edited at 15:18

This topic has been archived, and won't accept reply postings.