Tag Archives: PLB

Bushwalking Rescue: Emergency Beacons and Personal Tracking Systems

What communication device should I take with me on a bushwalk to a remote area? What about a satellite or mobile phone? Why should I replace my EPIRB with a PLB? What alternatives are there to a PLB? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a SPOT ?

Traditionally, when walking in a remote area, you always walked with a least three others so that if one person sustained an injury, two of the group could go for help, while the other looked after the injured person. With the availability of satellite technology and sometimes simply a mobile (cell) phone, it is possible to seek help from where the injured person is located rather than have to walk to the nearest road or homestead.

Most people are familiar with the mobile phone, which has excellent range if there is line of sight. This means that sometimes, even in supposedly remote areas, there will be good reception from a mountain top or ridge line. If you are within range of a tower used by your carrier then your family of friends can contact you too; it is not just one way. In an emergency, by dialling 000 or 112 your phone can access the tower of a competitor and effectively roam between carriers depending on which has the best signal.

For more information

Bushwalking Rescue: Emergency Communications by Cell or Mobile Phone

Satellite phones can achieve the same as a mobile phone, but even when there is no line of sight or the distance from the nearest tower is too great. Both the phone itself and the plan are expensive, so for many this is not an option. They do however offer the advantage that your family or friends are able to get in contact with you if they wish as it allows two way communication.

Emergency Beacons

Many bushwalkers had been using an EPIRB ( Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) which until February 2009  provided the extra layer of security in remote areas, but this had a very poor accuracy*, as low as 20 km, low power and time lag in activation. The alert frequency from the EPIRB (121.5 MHz) is no longer monitored by rescue authorities so they are now useless and should be disposed of carefully. Battery World provides such a service free of charge.

This has now been replaced by a PLB, which operates at  two frequencies, the higher 406 MHz to give the satellite alert and the lower 121.5 MHz provides the final homing signal for the search aircraft. The more expensive models have a GPS in-built which means that not only can an alert be given, but that the exact location of the injured or lost person can be given. This is a great improvement and dramatically reduces the search time as the location is given to within 100m. Without a GPS, they have an accuracy of about 5 km.  They must be registered so that emergency authorities can access details of next-of-kin to check that it is not a false alarm. They also have access your route plan if you have registered it. PLBs only offer a one way service: user to emergency rescue services. They can be hired form a variety of sources depending on location.

Check the Australian Maritime Safety website for details of approved models . If purchasing from overseas check with ACMA that it meets Australian requirements.

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* Communications for Bushwalkers Rik Head Bush Search and Rescue Victoria (Version 1.0 March 2009) pdf

Satellite Personal Tracking Systems

SPOT  gen3 is an example of a handheld system which is capable of sending your position by satellite to a list of friends and  can also be displayed on Google maps. If you need help, a message can be sent using a preset list of custom messages. In a life threatening emergency, there is a SOS button which sends a message and is relayed by GEOS to the AMSA RCC as for a PLB.

Advantages

  • Works were you mobile (cell) phone has no reception
  • Allows customised messages to friends
  • Allows automatic tracking of your position at regular intervals
  • Relatively low cost purchase price

Disadvantages

It is a one way system like the PLB, with no messages from friends possible. There is a  yearly subscription fee in addition to the purchase price. Currently the basic fee is USD $115 and the tracking option fee an additional USD $49.99 Purchase price is less than AUD $200 with free shipping.

Read more…..

SPOT FAQ

You Tube User Review  SPOT 2

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This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Is Solo Bushwalking Safe?

Why walk solo? How can trip planning reduce the risks ? Solo communications? What additional equipment do you need for a solo walk? How can you make it easier for rescuers?

Why would anyone want to walk solo?

If you have ever walked in a large group, you would understand why someone might want to walk solo. Rarely will the speed of the group match your own; you may want to stop for extra photos or to check a bird call; you may be slower up hills than others but be able to keep up on the flat or downhill; you may not like the company or find that their noise spoils the wilderness for you.

Then on the other hand, you make not  have walking partners who are free when you want to walk; who want to go where you do or have your experience or motivation. Perhaps you want to climb seven peaks in seven days, in which case you have probably narrowed down the list of potential companions who either want or have the fitness to walk with you.

The dangers of solo walking

Traditionally walkers have been taught to never walk in a groups smaller than four:  two to get help and one to look after the injured party. With the advent of  personal locator beacons (PLB) which can summon emergency help easily and even in the remotest location, a group of two is feasible and safe, in my opinion. The other major problem with solo walking is the added weight of no longer being able to share a tent or stove. Added weight increases the risk of injury, slows down progress and makes for longer days on the track.

But a group of ONE…. still not recommended by any authority of which I am aware. Despite this, with adequate trip planning, equipment and experience, solo walking can be safe and certainly enjoyable.

Pre-trip planning to reduce risks

 The inherent problems of solo walking can be reduced by selecting routes that are popular, so that if the need arose, you can  call on other nearby walkers for help. Not my style, as I like to be self-sufficient, and would be too embarrassed to do so.  Selecting a walk that you have done before and avoiding an isolated route, where there is a high risk of injury, both add another level of safety.

The trip intention sheet becomes more important for solo walkers, as it lists where you will be each night, how self sufficient you are and gives details of when you will arrive at your destination and what to do if you are late. This sheet, and its lodgement with authorities and a trusted friend becomes essential on a solo hike. Solo walkers unfortunately have a history of getting lost and requiring rescue, often with serious consequences.

 Be aware of the common injuries you may expect and do a relevant first aid course.

Making it easier for rescuers.

If you are unfortunate enough to require rescue, you can help by trying to be rational  about the things you do while lost:

  • make sure that you mark your route if you go off the track
  • leave a track marker which can’t be missed
  • show with arrows or boot prints the direction in which you have gone
  • make sure you and your campsite are visible from the air: carry a signaling mirror, reflective space blanket, flashing torch, light a fire, but make sure you observe any bushfire bans.
  • make sure you can be heard: always carry a whistle and know how to use it in an emergency.

Solo Communications

New technology such as the SPOT gen3 allows you to keep in contact with friends by using satellite technology to send SMS and emails to your emergency contact. If you fail to send this each day, they can then activate the emergency plan you have given them. Your PLB or SPOT can be used in an emergency to call for help from rescue authorities, but the PLB, being dedicated for this purpose is much more reliable. The PLB has  much stronger signal strength and is recognised by authorities as a call for help, which they will not ignore. The SPOT has the potential to do the same thing, but there are more steps in the emergency response chain and hence more likelihood of a step failing. SPOT has an annual subscription fee which makes it much more expensive  to run over a few years than the purchase of a PLB.

If you have mobile (cell) phone reception where you are walking, then the risk of a life threatening situation is  much reduced, and  this becomes an essential part of your equipment.
Solo equipment

Beyond the lack of ability to share a tent or stove, which will obviously increase the weight of your pack, there are other weight increases you may need to consider.

 Is there some equipment that you would normally share around the group that you will now have to carry yourself?

  • a better first aid kit
  • better or more navigation equipment?
  • a rope
  • different food packaging with individual serves
  • an inflatable raft!!

See also

Black Hills Hiking Safety: Risks of Hiking Alone Copyright 2002-2009 Travis N. Wood
Planning a Walk
 Communications for Bushwalkers Rik Head Bush Search and Rescue Victoria (Version 1.0 March 2009) pdf
Creative Commons License
This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.