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Personal Locator Beacons as a Rescue Device for Backcountry Travelers

Is a PLB consistent with a responsible lightweight backpacking philosophy?

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by Ryan Jordan | 2003-11-23 03:00:00-07

Contents of this Article:

  • Official NOAA Press Release detailing the 11-14-2003 PLB-assisted rescue in Adirondack Mountains
  • Editor's commentary
  • Public discussion forum


First Person to Use New Technology in the Contiguous United States

Nov. 17, 2003 — A Cleveland, Ohio, man was rescued by the U.S. Army Fort Drum Air Ambulance Detachment outside of Watertown, N.Y., Friday through the help of a personal locator beacon or PLB. This rescue was the first using PLB technology since they became available for use in the U.S., July 1, 2003.

Carl Skalak, 55, was in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York when he activated his PLB. At 10:45 a.m. EST, personnel at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), at Langley Air Force Base, Va., were notified of the distress call via the Search and Rescue Satellite Aid Tracking System (SARSAT), operated by NOAA. The AFRCC notifies the appropriate state emergency rescue agency in the area where the PLB was activated.

According to Lt. Daniel Karlson, SARSAT operations support officer for NOAA, “The system worked like a gem.” Mr. Skalak decided to activate his PLB after he realized he was facing a life-threatening situation because of his isolated conditions and the brutally frigid weather. “In a matter of a few hours, Mr. Skalak might have become acutely hypothermic putting his life at risk,” Karlson explained. “Since he had properly registered his PLB, we were able to immediately confirm his whereabouts and set the wheels in motion for his rescue.”

“This was a team effort between NOAA and the AFRCC from the beginning to bring the system to fruition in the U.S.,” said Lt. Col. Morgan. “Working together, we have been able to establish a system that allows for a quicker response by emergency personnel and will hopefully help save lives in the future.”

Prior to July, PLBs had only been available for use in Alaska under a test program to evaluate their usefulness in search and rescue. The success seen in Alaska paved the way for the technology to be used throughout the rest of the nation. “This particular rescue demonstrates how well our agencies work together when it comes to saving a life,” said Ajay Mehta, the NOAA SARSAT program manager.

PLBs send out digital distress signals on the 406-megahertz frequency, which are detected by the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES). GOES, the first to detect a beacon’s distress signal, hover in a fixed orbit above Earth and receive the signals, which contain registration information about the beacon and its owner. The POES constantly circle the globe, enabling them to capture and accurately locate the alerts to within a few miles. The satellites are part of the worldwide satellite search and rescue system called, COSPAS-SARSAT. The COSPAS-SARSAT system is a cluster of NOAA and Russian satellites that work together to detect distress signals anywhere in the world transmitted from PLBs and from beacons carried aboard ships and airplanes.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center acts as the single federal agency for coordinating search and rescue missions in the inland regions of the 48 contiguous states.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Editor's Commentary

Since the November 14 event where Mr. Skalak was rescued in the Adirondacks, we've engaged in some lively discussions among the outdoor media, SAR volunteers, and military rescue professionals about the utility of a personal locator beacon (PLB) and its applicability in the lower 48.

There is no question that a personal locator beacon has saved the lives of mariners around the world. The open ocean is a vast, hostile environment subjected to conditions that frighten most of the alpinists I know that get their endorphin rush by hanging off strings and screws somehow attached to brittle ice and rotten rock.

The use of PLB's in remote areas that most of us cannot even appreciate - like the interior of Alaska, Siberia, Australia, and other seemingly Godforsaken places - has also had an impact on the safety of solo adventurers.

However, I think we need to question whether it is appropriate to endorse personal locator beacon use in the contiguous United States. After all, the most remote location (in the far SE corner of Yellowstone National Park) is still only thirty miles as a crow flies from the nearest road.

The old cell-phone arguments are similar for a personal locator beacon and will not be regurgitated here. However, PLB's offer a level of signaling reliability that is much greater than a cellular phone. Consequently, the chance that a novice outdoorsman will place security in a PLB is far greater.

I've participated as an SAR accident analyst for 12 years. Nearly every outdoor and mountaineering rescue that our committees have assessed has been attributed to the outdoorsman taking risks inappropriate for their level of experience and/or equipment. Hindsight is 20/20, of course. It's easier to analyze an accident than to have the forethought to prevent it. However, it is extremely valuable to consider the context in which the personal locator beacon was activated in this particular rescue.

To quote from the manufacturer's (ACR Electronics, Inc.) press release about this event:

"On November 14th, the 55-year-old (Carl J. Skalak, Jr.) ... decided to summon emergency help with his recently purchased personal locator beacon, after several days weathering gale force winds and torrential rains followed by 18 to 22 inches of snow at his remote one-man camp along the Oswegatchie River in Adirondack State Park. On a week's canoe and hunting trip, the Cleveland, Ohio resident found himself virtually stranded when icy conditions caused the Oswegatchie River to freeze over, and thigh deep snow drifts made walking virtually impossible. Skalak, an experienced outdoorsman and hunter, had filed an itinerary with New York State Forest Rangers, but wasn't expected to return until the following Monday. After considering his food and fuel rations, physical condition, and the potential for weather to worsen, Skalak activated the beacon putting into motion a search and rescue scenario that ended in his rescue by a U.S. Army Helicopter later that day."

There are several issues that an accident analyst considers when performing a rescue assessment. We will consider one of those issues here. Since we were not directly involved in the rescue, and do not have all of the facts at hand (although we must assume that the manufacturer's press release presents an interpretation of the facts that emphasizes the appropriate use of their product), it would be inappropriate for us to comment on this particular incident (although you can bet that we have questions). Rather, we hope to provide a foundation for decision making for outdoorsmen carrying PLB's.

What is the condition of the victim that led to a call for rescue/evacuation?

Commentary: It is commonly accepted that calls for rescue and evacuation are appropriate in situations where conditions are life-threatening. Such conditions might include immobilizing injuries, lack of shelter and/or clothing in combination with unexpectedly cold conditions, or a severely weakened physical condition caused by several days without food or water. In general, a rescue should not be initiated until the victim has exhausted reasonable means for survival and self-extraction. In severely inclement weather conditions where a victim is at a high risk of exposure-related injuries (hypothermia, frostbite), then any and all means of shelter and warmth (including clothing, fires, tents, etc.) should be employed for survival. In the absence of such means, a rescue may be appropriate.

In short, the incident of November 14th is a significant one. It represents a very important precedent that is currently the standard of measure for appropriate use of a PLB. Whether or not "appropriate" use was exercised in this incident is merely subject to different interpretation by different individuals. As such, land use of PLB's in the contiguous U.S., and the use of a PLB in this incident, will be provide fodder for a hot debate for a long time to come.

The NOAA press release indicates the Mr. Skalak was (emphasis mine) "facing a life-threatening situation because of his isolated conditions and brutally frigid weather. In a matter of a few hours, Mr. Skalak might have become acutely hypothermic putting his life at risk."

Are we then left to believe, from interpreting the details released about this incident, that (1) any time we face a life-threatening situation we are to activate our PLB. Or, (2) is brutally frigid weather and isolated conditions warrant the use of a PLB? Finally, (3) is the prospect that one may become hypothermic warrant a PLB-assisted rescue?

Likewise, we are left to interpret the manufacturer's press release in a similar manner: "After considering ... food and fuel rations, physical condition, and the potential for weather to worsen ..." Unfortunately, we are left with few real details about Mr. Skalak's food and fuel rations or his physical condition, other than he was apparently released without incident following a medical examination (which is standard operating procedure for SAR victims). In summary, are we left to believe that activating a PLB is appropriate if we have some food, fuel (or the ability to build a fire), are tired (even "exhausted"), or we think the weather might worsen?

There is no question that the weather Mr. Skalak was facing was serious. Winds in the 20 to 40 mph range were occuring in the area (a gale is typically defined as 39 to 54 mph), as well as heavy snow and subfreezing temperatures. But aren't such winter blizzard conditions to be expected as a possibility in mid-November in the Adirondacks?

I'll conclude simply by noting the obvious. First, land use of PLB's will undoubtedly result in more rapid rescues and greater safety for SAR personnel who won't have to expend as much energy searching for a victim. Second, PLB's will be used by those who truly need evacuated, and they will be used by those who have to face conditions that are not normally life-threatening to those with the prerequisite skills, experience, and equipment.

Finally, we cannot help but ask:

Are there 17.6 oz (the weight of the PLB used in this rescue) of gear/supplies that you would bring instead of a PLB that would have improved your ability to cope with the conditions Mr. Skalak was facing and avoid a rescue?


"Personal Locator Beacons as a Rescue Device for Backcountry Travelers," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2003-11-23 03:00:00-07.


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Personal Locator Beacons & Other Wireless Technologies for Backcountry Travel?
The purpose of this thread is to discuss rescue and emergency communications technologies, as discussed in the following articles:
Specifically, comments regarding the utility of PLB's in the context of lightweight backpacking are encouraged.
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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
17.6 oz of What? on 11/23/2003 03:06:07 MST Print View


You have 17.6 of gear weight "allowance" left before hit the trail. In one hand you have a PLB. In the other you have ___________.

What is in your other hand? Do you choose it over a PLB? Why?

P. Todd Foster
( - F
PLB's on 11/23/2003 12:57:41 MST Print View

Well, if the Micro PLB from MMIC ever hits the market, it will be just 8 ounces. I've been waiting since July 1,'03 and it's still not available. I'm going to have to drop by there and just ask them what's going on. (Near L.A.)

I was thinking about a sat phone for solo off trail backpacking emergency communication, but this seemed better when it was announced.

Uh, actually, I will have hiking poles in both hands, the Stix carbon fiber ones. The PLB, if it ever materializes, will be in a pack side pocket in a foam pouch. And it's for real emergencies, like a broken leg or another backpacker found in a diabetic coma.

Best, Todd in Tarzana.

Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
plb benefits costs on 11/23/2003 21:45:14 MST Print View

My concern with plb's has to do with increasing the tendency among some adventureers to not taking personal responsibility for one's own safety, causing worry and suffering for family during rescues, forcing s and r people to take risks when it is unnecessary, and substitution of plb's for skills, judgment and resources.

It is unfortunate but true that a significant number of outdoor folks, including major outdoor club leaders and members do not take adequate over night and trip equipment feeling instead that the low frequency of negative outcomes justifies the decision to not take precautions.

There are a number of ultra light weight solutions that would help weight conscious and non-safety inclined folks to take better care of themselves. One such example is the Extreme Pro-tech Bag by the space blanket people. At 11 oz. it functions as a waterprook shelter, three season bag, and injury hypothermia preventer.

I live in this area and am perfectly aware of the possibility of encountering those conditions. Clearly proper gear, snowshoes and or the knowledge to make them in the field, adequate emergency food, and the ability to navigate in such conditions would like prevent the need for a rescue. That said, we do not know for certain the details of this person's situation, so the above remarks address only the set of events as characterized in the summary.

Tim W
(watters) - F
occurrences on 11/25/2003 19:27:20 MST Print View

According to the cospas-sarsat web site> there were 1,545 persons rescued in 365 distress situations in 2001 using PLBs. Boaters must have been debating this issue of preparedness vs bailing out for a long time.

For solo hiking in remote areas I think they're a great tool.

I can see myself rolling down a ravine one night with a roll of toilet paper and a flashlight in one hand and my PLB sitting in my pack at the top of the ravine. (Might be a market for a Smartwool union suit with a built-in PLB pocket.)

Tim Watters

Edited by watters on 11/25/2003 19:29:20 MST.

Peter Nash

Locale: West Michigan
PLBs in lower 48 on 11/25/2003 20:55:31 MST Print View

I bought a PLB last summer when they first became available. I'm 51 and almost always hike alone, and I try to select wilderness areas that offer solitude. I like to have the option of going off trail. It had occurred to me that I could get into serious trouble if I became immobilized alone in a remote area, say due to a broken ankle or other mishap. A PLB for me is peace of mind and a very reasonable way to manage my risk. I assume that the chance that I will ever have an occasion to activate it is less than one in a thousand over the rest of my life. So it is a heavy and expensive way to gain peace of mind. But there is no other piece of gear, except for a satellite phone, that offers a comparable extra margin of safety that allows safer solo travel in remote areas.

I may indeed take greater risks--but reasonable ones--because I have a PLB. That is, I might travel off trail when I might otherwise not do so. I would not choose to travel over more trecherous terrain because I was carrying a PLB. Rather, I would go into more remote areas where I likely could not be found without a PLB.

The real issue over PLBs is no different than other technologies that allow the possibility of summoning help for people who get in trouble in the backcountry. Whether it's a cell phone, satellite phone, FRS radio, or other technology doesn't matter. Anyone can get into a situation that requires rescue. The use of PLBs should not be limited because of the potential that they might be inappropriately activated by someone not in a true emergency, or by someone who gets into an emergency due to the person's gross negligence.

The underlying technology of emergency beacons has proven itself. Over the years thousands of lives have been saved by emergency beacons. The legalization of PLBs for hikers in the lower 48 is a welcome option.

Janet Smith
(japesmith) - F
Re: 17.6 oz of What? on 11/26/2003 00:59:40 MST Print View

Satellite telephone and G.P.S.
There is a danger of overloading the system if every hiker uses an E.P.I.R.B,when they run into trouble. In Australia, anyway.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
PLB for safety and piece of mind on 11/26/2003 01:24:16 MST Print View

I know of a few people who have died who used reasonable care and had good skills. Typically they were on solo extended trips in locations without a lot of traffic, and received injuries which prevented them from being able to move from the spot. In these cases, by the time people started to look for them, they had already died of dehydration. Doesn't sound like fun. 10oz of water rather than a PLB would have bought maybe an extra day of survival. Note enough. How often does this happen? Extremely rarely. What's the value if it's you? Immeasurable.

The next time I take an extended solo trip in a remote location without a lot of traffic I plan to take an PLB. Do I expect I will use it? Nope. Why would I take it? Piece of mind for my wife. I know she worries when I am gone. If I have a PLB she knows that even if no one is nearby, I could call for help. Historically the only option were sat phones. PLBs are lighter, cheaper, and more foolproof than a sat phone.

It's just too bad you can send a few fixed messages (e.g: come quick I am in trouble, I am OK... send email to predefined address, I see a smoke... someone investigate a possible fire).

Mike Beall
(Beally) - F
EPIRBs and Mobile phones on 11/27/2003 03:40:38 MST Print View

Last July I solo'd a 135km hike in West Australia. The other 5 participants cancelled for various reasons. It is very unlikely that I could get a "leave pass" from home, without me carrying a 121/246Mhz EPIRB.
In the event of falling and breaking a leg,I may have waited days before I was missed and then the cost of searching for me without the benefit of a "location" would have been very high.
I also carried a CDMA mobile phone - with the battery separated (I have had it turn on and then flatten the battery while it kept on transmitting to setup a connection in an isolated area).
Because I have training as an Airborne Observer with the State Emergency Service, I know what to look for and also carry a proper signalling mirror to scan the horizon and also a whistle to aid land search members. All of this is aimed at shortening the search time.
Just as an aside, the last overnighter I did, my wife wanted to know where I was camped. I climbed to the top of the ridge but was still unable to make a solid connection. Then I knelt next to a barbed-wire fence and put the phone aerial on the wire, assisting the call with an aerial probably several miles long! My wife was happy.
Cheers, Boilthebeally.

Edited by Beally on 11/27/2003 03:58:59 MST.

Paul Ermisch
(thepez) - F
Amateur radio correction on 11/27/2003 10:57:27 MST Print View

I am an Amateur Radio Operator and
feel that this sentence was misleading:

"Amateur Radio] can reach for miles (in a straight line)."

The author must only be thinking of VHF/UHF handheld radios. Many ham/backpackers also use HF (high frequency/shortwave) radios. I'm sure Mr. Kammerer know that HF frequencies propogate readily across the county and around the world dependent upon ionospheric conditions. There is a strong subculture supporting the combination
of ultralight backpacking and ultralight ham radio. The "Adventure Radio Society" has a good web site> with supporting information.

Another interesting ham radio/outdoor activity combination is APRS or Automatic Position Reporting System which ties a GPS receiver to a
VHF radio for position reporting of radio stations (mobile and stationary) for special event support, etc. This would NOT be a substitute for PLB in remote areas as it relies upon availability of local VHF repeaters. More information at>

The "FRS over 100 miles" post was a great example of radio wave propagation via "tropospheric ducting". Not too common.

Personally, in an emergency I would have my 3-band (HF), 5-watt, CW (morse code) transceiver built into a Altoids tin and a small vertical antenna. Not foolproof but certainly a lot of fun outside of emergencies.

FYI, a basic Amateur Radio license is pretty easy to obtain. More info can be found at the links the author (Kammerer) provided.


Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Utility of PLB's on 11/27/2003 13:12:24 MST Print View

I recently had an interesting discussion with Peter Vacco about the utility of PLB's. Peter has walked the Continental Divide from Mexico north (yeah, to the end in AK). As such, the past few years on the northern end of the CD he has experienced what most of us consider 'beyond remote'.

Anyway, he brings an excellent perspective to the discussion, and I have his permission to repost here.

RJ: Peter, what’s your take on the Personal Locator Beacon rescue in the Adirondacks? As someone who has walked in some of the most remote areas in North America, do you think it has any real utility for a long distance hiker?

PV: Yes, a PLB may have very real utility for a hiker, but it is a two edged sword. On one hand it can save your show and allow you to take on additional risk, and on the other it can seriously detract from the spirit and thus the quality of the adventure. So there is pro and con to a PLB. In my mind a PLB does nothing but reduce the quality of a trip, umm...right up to the moment You Need One. A PLB costs, it weighs, it volumes, it provides an "out", and it intrudes. My walks are frisky enough without adding the knowledge that a rescue option exists, and including retrieval services into risk management is irresponsible, in that it transfers an issue onto others which should be handled in house. A PLB can additionally get set off due to emotional imbalance when no real physical danger exists, and thereby ruin your reputation and compromise a great system of global safety.

The trick it would seem is to eliminate that embarassing "You Need One" scenario.

I do not carry a PLB - for no end of reasons. However, if one had responsibilities that exceeded ones desires to adventure on the edge, which could not be resloved by carrying accidental death insurance, then it would be wise to consider it. But since I don't have children, sick parents, a girlfriend who I exclusively can care for, a farm, my own business with great employees, or my youth to protect, i am pretty free of further responsibility as to what happens to me beyond the immediate physical consequences. Having lived a long and gloriously blessed life, if I go into the woods someday, and do not come out, well that will be a fine day too. I don't even tell my family where i am exactly trying to go, so rescue is not an option. Some individuals may not have orchestrated their lives in like manner and for them, a PLB may be the magical item that allows them to explore the remoter corners of our world. So see, for some people it's the wings of freedom, while for others it is a ball and chain.

At the risk of adding more length to this..... looking from my perspective only.... let's say that the walks in Alaska are the end-all to my efforts to trek. ALL effort is put forth to succeed. A PLB is excess weight that offers only the means to NOT accieve my goals. What a waste of effort that would be better spent trying to attain the goal. And this on a walk on which pack weight is maxed to the hilt. Look at as a no-outcome-but-victory sort of a deal. So why carry insurance for failure, it only compromises the effort and reduces the chance for success.
Better thinking would be to carry one ALL THE TIME when not in alaska. Lordy what a terrible waste to die just over there on Mt. Diable duirng a training hike. What a waste that would be! Dead... on a weekend walk from a fractured thigh. No gold, no glory, just dead... Yeow.

Roger Fox
(ocsar9801) - F
PLB's In the Backcountry on 12/04/2003 08:20:58 MST Print View

With the 2nd PLB rescue in the Continental US having occurred on Dec 2nd and the events disturbingly similarly to the first rescue (along the Oswegatchie River in the NYS Adirondacks), it would appear that the current statistics (2-0) indicate that PLB's are being used more as an "out" rather than a "last resort". Experienced hunters and experienced outdoorsman (at least these two) should be able to figure out that the weather in upstate NY after August is capable of being less than inviting. Being active in both EMS and SAR, the use of PLB's seems to be headed along the same path Cell phones have gone in encouraging individuals to take on "adventures" they are not prepared for because they can always call for help. The result is an additional burden on an Emergency Services resource that is already manpower short and the increased jeopardy to these "rescuers" for the convenience of an individual that apparently cannot plan ahead.
People who buy PLB's ought to be required to purchase an insurance policy with them to cover the costs of these potential "rescues". Mfgs are making money while the users have the potential to overwhelm the system.

Tim W
(watters) - F
Re: PLB's In the Backcountry on 12/04/2003 15:38:44 MST Print View

I was surprised to see that there were an average of one rescue every day using PLBs during 2002. As the technology becomes more available to weekend warriors I'm sure the use will grow. I believe the impact will come more from recreational boaters than backpackers.

Quote from>,

In 2001, the Cospas-Sarsat System provided assistance in rescuing 1,545 persons in 365 SAR events:

Aviation distress: 83 persons in 47 SAR events
Maritime distress: 1,341 persons in 239 SAR events
Land distress: 121 persons in 79 SAR events

Andrew Mytys
(amytys) - F
I guess he really was an idiot! on 12/08/2003 10:45:21 MST Print View

"UPDATE December 5, 2003: Two weeks later Skalak
went back, alone, to retrieve his equipment left there when he was rescued. Officials were apparently less than pleased when he again set
off his PLB on December 2. He was again rescued by helicopter, but this time in much more severe weather conditions. It was later determined
that Skalak should have been able to make it out on his own and officials believe he had exaggerated his predicament. He was arrested,
charged with making a false report and posted $10,000.00 bail. Skalak is scheduled for a court appearance in the town of Webb, New York, on
January 20, 2004."

Roger Fox
(ocsar9801) - F
PLB's in the Backcountry on 12/09/2003 07:39:37 MST Print View

I believe the maximum fine(by the FCC) for intentional and unwarranted use of a PLB is $250,000 and the cost of the rescue. I think NYS should make a statement for itself and the US with this particular case and impress on these people that PLB's are not a replacement for common sense, inexperience, lack of equipment, or other unjustifiable shortcomings. Use the money to augment the DEC's SAR program.
NYS DEC Rangers went in looking for this guy in the same weather he had to endure, cross the same river he had to cross, and hoof it by foot the rest of the way. The weather broke that afternoon (allowing the helo to go in) and was "seasonal" thereafter. Perhaps a $10 weather radio or a glance at the weather channel might have been appropriate for this "experienced" outdoorsman.

Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
Adopt carefully balanced rescue costs on 12/20/2003 20:48:42 MST Print View

Neighboring states, Vermont and New Hampshire have adopted carefully reasoned and balanced regulations for those among us who do not use good judgment, proper equipment, maps, compass, and knowledge, and may also have an over entitled view that rescue is a right rather than an altruistic act that brings significant dangers to the rescuer.

PLB can reduce the risk to both the adventurer and to the rescuer if used as a last resort and when reasonable measures have been taken to self-rescue. However, the over all effect of such a device will likely result in an increase in adventurers depending on the PLB rather than the essential factors. I believe it is time to enact a regulation in New York like Vermont and New Hampshire before both more PLBs wanderers and rescuers are hurt.

Charles Bond
(breacanfeile) - F
How are limited resources best used on 01/08/2004 09:07:15 MST Print View

The question of the PLB depends also if anyone will come looking for you. If Carl Skalak had not activated his PLB, would Search and Rescue have been contacted by his (wife? Girlfriend?) or even the concerns of the park due to his filed trip plan and the unexpected severity of the weather. Would resources have been spent seaching a much larger area had not he activated the PLB? The question I have was what would have happened had he done nothing by Monday except wait out the storm? My point is that even if you are able to take care of yourself, others may still risk their lifes to find and rescue you. This also assumes that one is not injured.

Just this week we had the case in Washington of Dan Witkowski who was lost for four days. 60 volunteers spent nearly 4 days resources searching for him in bitterly cold weather. Helicopters were used as weather allowed. I have two questions. What would the cost savings have been if he had been able to communicate (PLB, FRS Radio, Cel Phone) and what would our discussion be today if he had activated a PLB the first night he was lost?

John Reed
(johnwmreed) - F

Locale: Sierras
Satellite Phone Worked! on 01/30/2004 13:34:36 MST Print View

This was my post to the King Canyon/ Sequoia Yahoo site on 6/21/03:

"I am embarrassed to have to tell you about my accident, but I need to talk about it, and maybe it will generate some discussion.

On Wednesday I was doing a solo loop trip in Red Mountain Basin (Bill Finch's trip on his website, but in the counter clockwise direction). I slipped and ruptured my quadriceps muscle/tendon above the knee cap in my right leg, about 3/4 mile north of Disappointment Lake as I was hiking toward Diamond X Lake. This is easy hiking country.

I wish I had a spectacular story to tell on how it happened, but I just wasn't concentrating. There was lots of snow and wet spots. I tried to place my right foot on the top edge of a boulder in a wet tree area, and I slipped off the side and did an eccentric contraction as I tried to catch myself. It all happened in a split second. I fell, and my first thought was that I had hyper extended my knee, but maybe I was ok. Then I tried to stand up, and my knee cap popped to the side - boy did that hurt! I popped it back in, and realized I was in real trouble.

I have been doing this stuff off and on for over 50 years and have never had or seen a serious injury. I stumble and fall a lot, but I never get badly hurt - just scratches and soreness. For the first time ever I was carrying a satellite phone. I tried it in the trees, and it didn't connect so I splinted up my leg with my folded saw and dragged myself out into the open. I called 911 and within five hours I was in St. Agnes Hospital in Herndon, north of Fresno.

I knew exactly where I was and could give the CHP my location. The globalstar guy tried to use my phone to get my GPS coordinates, but because of the complicated keystroke process, and losing the connection several times we gave up trying. But a couple hours later the CHP rescue helicopter came in and few over me about three times. I was waving my Tyvek ground sheet, but it looked too much like snow so they didn't see me from the air. The pilot said later if I had a signal mirror he would have seen me. I have a mirror on my Silva Ranger compass, but never thought to use it. The copter landed in a meadow about 150 yards away and the crew walked around yelling (the crew tried to call me on the phone, but I was talking to Fresno CHP telling them the copter had flown over me three times, and it didn't look like they saw me - so my phone was busy!). Anyway we connected up, and the rest was pretty simple.

The CHP pilot and paramedic were class A1 guys. They were dressed in their well pressed uniforms and black heavy-duty street shoes - it was
almost surreal. But they were friendly and knew their business. My blood pressure jumped when they said they would have to leave my backpack, but finally agreed to take it because it was so light (35lbs - another benefit of lightweight backpacking). The pilot was concerned he couldn't get the copter up, but we had some wind and the long meadow gave him room to gain elevation. I saw my car in the parking lot as we passed over Courtright Reservoir.

My operation is Wednesday, and I start the long road to recovery. I cancelled summer, and am starting to think about all this stuff. One
thing for sure - having the satellite phone saved taxpayers lots of money. If they had to search for me after I was declared missing that would have been big bucks. The CHP paramedic said if this had been a commercial rescue it would have been about $12,000 (my blood pressure went down when he said this rescue was free). I am almost 63, and probably need to clean up my act a little. I certainly need to think about doing off-trail solo hiking."

Edited by johnwmreed on 01/30/2004 13:39:30 MST.

P. Todd Foster
( - F
Rescue Cost vs Benefits on 01/31/2004 16:20:31 MST Print View

Glad someone brought this up.

My understanding is that a full out search and find mission is way more time, labor and expense intensive then sending out either a local ranger or SAR team, or in the worst case, a SAR helicopter. The difference is knowing exactly where the person is located.

Those who abuse the system should be fined, penalized, or at least made to pay for the costs of the rescue. My guess is that a rational policy in this arena will put a quick end to the feared rash of idiot case abuses.

I'm still waiting for the 8 oz PLB from Microwave Monolithics. Don't know what their problem is, but I'll find out and post it here. The deal was that this company (with NASA funding) developed a far more efficient RF chip, which they in fact make from the raw materials in house, that permits use of a smaller and lighter battery.

Best, Todd in Tarzana.

Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
What if there were NO rescues? on 02/03/2004 18:11:30 MST Print View

How might this discussion go if reality was explicitly that stepping into the wilderness meant you understood there would be NO rescue if you screwed up? Like during a huricane and you choose to ignore the warning to leave, they now say, OK, it is your right, but we are not coming to save you. Seriously, how might this gude our thinking about the use of equipment, good judgment, going it alone, level and type of risk, etc. What now gets taken, left behind.

Edward Ripley-Duggan
(edwardripleyduggan) - F
Re: I guess he really was an idiot! on 03/03/2004 16:34:38 MST Print View


I've read the detailed article on Mr. Skalak's misadventures at:;_duB

His major error in the second emergency seems to have been predicating his return on the canoe, which had been stolen in the interim, not necessarily something he could anticipate. If one believes his account (as I do) the state DEC itself seems to bear some minor blame. Still, the ultimate responsibility lay with Skalak, and by making the assumption that he would canoe out, he seems to have allowed himself remarkably little leeway. He was clearly under-equipped on the second trip.

I'm not too comfortable with second-guessing, but I suspect that a few vapor barrier tools, even if they were only plastic bags, would have saved him this embarrassment, not to mention a lot of worry and discomfort. With even simple plastic bags over his socks as a VBL, he would not have had to worry about drying his wet boots, and with a pair of lightweight snowshoes as well, he would have been able to deal with the snow. However, I wonder if he was borderline hypothermic for much of the time -- given his wet journey in, and the subsequent colder temperatures and change to snow, this seems all too plausible. I also wonder if that down bag was retaining its loft in this watery setting without a VBL lining.

No matter what the initial circumstances in either case were, and what one thinks of his survival skills, it appears that he was genuinely in bad shape when he hit the PLB button on both occasions. The arrest seems to have been on a "pour encourager les autres" principle, and (again assuming full verity in his account) to have been a knee-jerk reaction. One can understand the indignation, but he seems to have been arrested before any sensible summary of the situation could possibly have been made. As to the comment that he was found in a "healthy condition with no emergency imminent" (the court clerk) -- well, surely one wants to find a rescue candidate healthy and not at the verge of death. I'll await the trial with interest, although I would be unsurprised if it was dropped.

Having been in a pretty extreme emergency myself (but that's another story) I find these developments fascinating!


Chris Strawser
(mcochris) - F
Suunto X9 GPS watch first impressions on 05/07/2004 16:39:25 MDT Print View

I recently purchased a Suunto X9 GPS wristwatch and thought I’d share some of my first impressions of it.

I purchased the X9 because of it’s size and weight. The Garmin Foretrex 101 is .1 ounce lighter than the X9, but much larger. No way am I wearing the Garmin – it’s just too geeky.

The X9 is a large wristwatch, but not so large as to attract too much attention. It’s a very solid piece of gear and well constructed. I verified its weight at 2.7 ounces.

I’ll let the reader do web searches to find out more about X9 features. I’ll just briefly go over my impressions of it.

There are five push buttons on the sides of the watch that are very hard to depress. Because all but one of the buttons is diagonal to another, you can’t easily use an across-watch pinching motion to press a button. You really have to contort your fingers and hand and exert a lot of pressure on a button to activate it. And it’s easy to activate the button twice as you struggle. This problem is so bad that after a few days of working with the unit, I got so frustrated with the buttons that I sent the watch back for a refund.

Even if the rest of the watch’s features were super, I would not keep this watch. The buttons are just too hard to use.

Battery life is short, but I figured I could use the X9 in a check GPS, check map type mode, keeping the GPS function off most of the time. This would minimize battery usage. The watch comes with a recharger that can accept a 9V battery to recharge the unit, so I figured I could field recharge the unit every couple of days or so.

Unfortunately, the recharger is large (4.5” x 2” x 1.5”) and adds another 2.1 oz (w/o battery) to your pack. The battery cover door is hard to open/close and not very strong. I would see this breaking in field use.

The recharger (aka docking station) is poorly designed. It clamps the watch in such a way that the watch and recharger cannot lay flat on a table. It looks a mess while in the cradle. This is minor point, but poor design. The unit is also hard to open and close around the watch, making charging and PC access more of a pain. You can’t just drop the watch in it’s docking station like a Palm Pilot PDA.

Suunto does not provide any other recharging options suitable for field use. You’d have to bring a mess of 9V batteries, or a small solar panel and a rechargeable 9V battery. Perhaps not practical for multi-days hikes.

The watch is one piece – the bands cannot be user removed or replaced. Oddly, the watch comes with an undocumented extra band, maybe for extending the diameter of the original band to fit around your leg or outside a puffy jacket.

The compass feature seems to work fine, but it’s not as easy to use as a non-electric compass.

Some of the user preferences are not totally utilized – on the sunrise/sunset screen, you get 24-hour time even if you select 12-hour time. And the date is displayed as DDMM even if you select the American MMDD format option.

The GPS function can record position information every second or once every minute. That’s it. Since we’re dealing with very limited battery capacity, I think more options need to be available here. I’d like to see 5, 10, 15, 20, 30-minute intervals to wring more battery life from the unit. The limit is 8000 track points. That’s good for 11 12-hour days, recharging the unit nightly.

If you give up track logs but still use GPS a couple times a day, you could probably go a couple of days between recharges.

I don’t know if the watch’s firmware can be user updated. It’s not documented in the manuals and I couldn’t find a firmware page on their website. There’s no “display version” option in the watches menu system.

The “night mode” for the X9’s backlit display is not well implemented. Night mode tells the watch to activate it’s backlighting whenever a button is pressed. You have to tell the watch when to use night mode. I think the watch should know when it’s night and adjust the backlight option accordingly.

These is no provision for daylight saving time. You have to adjust the UTC offset manually for DST. Many GPS received are also “dumb” when it comes to DST.

The watch does not lay flat because the thick wristbands are permanently curved. So it has to sit on its side or face when not on your wrist. The crystal is well recessed, so scratching is minimized.

The watchband is a bit hard to take off you arm, as it’s hard to unattach the buckle tongue and the buckle doesn’t easily slide over the strap.

GPS sensitivity is much lower as compared to my Garmin Etrex. The Etrex locked and maintained quicker and longer than the X9. I didn’t keep the watch long enough for extended field testing of GPS sensitivity, but I doubt the X9 would maintain a lock while worn on the wrist without clear view of the sky.

The software that comes with the watch allows you to import gif, bmp, or jpg scanned maps and calibrate them. You can add waypoints and tracks and upload/download them from the X9. The software is not intuitive and a little frustrating to use as compared to Oziexplorer. I don’t know if the X9 uses a proprietary NEMA sentence structure, and I didn’t try it with Ozi.

The menu system on the watch is easy to use until you get to the GPS functions. These are spread out over three menus (all modes, activity, and navigation). Setting waypoints, go to’s, etc is not intuitive. After reading the manual a couple of time and working with the unit, I was still frustrated on how to use GPS functions like waypoints and go to’s. I’m sure I could figure it out eventually, but outdoor gear should not be this hard to use. I didn’t have to read the Garmin manuals to learn how to use my Etrex and 45XL.

Setting a waypoint needs to be really easy and involve as few key presses as possible. It’s not on the X9.

This complexity may be due in part to the limited display real estate, but I think the X9 software could have been designed much better.

Well, as you can tell, I didn’t like the X9. The buttons alone are a deal killer. If the buttons were easy use, I still couldn’t recommend the X9 due to the complexity of its GPS menus. If that were easy to use, I still wouldn’t recommend the X9 due to its poor GPS performance and value.

P. Todd Foster
( - F
New cheap light locator beacon on 06/03/2004 17:37:33 MDT Print View

Here's a cheap light beacon that works until Feb. 2009, when they turn off the satellites for it, if they really do that. Assume they do. It's almost 5 years away.

It's a: ACR Mini B 300
Miniature floating
personal locator EPIRB

This is made for Marine use, available at:

Price is $134.95, weight is 7.4 oz/215 gms with batteries.

Note that this unit only transmits on the 121 Mhz SAR frequency -- same as tens of thousands of aviation and marine rescue beacons. It is being replaced by the better 206 Mhz beacons that tranmit an id number and a GPS location.

This unit can't do that. It takes several satellite passes to localize you, then the SAR helicopter homes in on the signal.

Is this good enough, will it suffice until under 8oz 206Mhz GPS units are available and affordable?

My answer is yes. I'm ordering one for my solo off-trail backpacking, just in case.

Best, Todd in Tarzana.

P. Todd Foster
( - F
New cheap light locator beacons on 06/03/2004 18:02:56 MDT Print View

Sorry, the new frequency is 406 Mhz, not 206 as stated. Best, Todd F.

Kim Skaarup
(skaarup) - F

Locale: Cold, wet and windy Scandinavia
He had his time of life.!! on 06/11/2004 17:11:42 MDT Print View

According to

UPDATE December 5, 2003: Two weeks later Skalak went back, alone, to retrieve his equipment left there when he was rescued. Officials were apparently less than pleased when he again set off his PLB on December 2. He was again rescued by helicopter, but this time in much more severe weather conditions. It was later determined that Skalak should have been able to make it out on his own and officials believe he had exaggerated his predicament. He was arrested, charged with making a false report and posted $10,000.00 bail. Skalak is scheduled for a court appearance in the town of Webb, New York, on January 20, 2004.

P. Todd Foster
( - F
ACR cheap EPIRB update on 07/18/2004 12:33:05 MDT Print View

Just completed 6 day hike, my first with the ACR Mini B EPIRB sewed into the upper part of my pack rear stretch pouch. Used the little yellow Kevlar cord that comes with to tie it on as a leash.

Well, it worked. The thing successfully warded off emergencies, as planned. Electronics is magic.

In conversation with China Lake SAR team members yesterday at the Whitney Trail Centennial get together in Lone Pine, I was told that there have been no rescues yet in their area from beacons.

As usual, SAR folks are ambivalent about beacons, fearing misuse. Current high prices/weight for the 406Mhz new technology beacon is surely discouraging use. My point that rescue beacons have been routinely carried by general av pilots and boaters for decades gets a quizical reaction. But what's the difference? Fliers and boaters aren't expected to totally shun any area where rescue might be unlikely or problematic. Why should backpackers be in a different category?

I'm carrying this little guy just in case, since most of my hikes are solo and some will be off trail in wild areas. I feel better about it, which is what matters. Strictly a last ditch survival item. The worst (and last) regret would be not having it along, if it were ever truly needed.

Best, Todd in Tarzana.

Roman Dial
(romandial) - F - M

Locale: packrafting NZ
Sat Phones vs EPIRBS etc on 11/03/2004 22:04:49 MST Print View

Curious what people here in this forum thinak about the pros and cons of sat phones vs. EPRBS?

Bernard Shaw
( - F

Locale: Upstate New York
+ and - s on 11/17/2004 07:14:27 MST Print View

EPIRB imho are best when, one, person overboard, signal goes out, it is attached so you don't have to do anything while fighting for your life, etc. Sat phones assume you are mentaly and physically able to use one while it hooks up etc. In situations where weight matters, like many here feel who go light, epirb can be lighter and don't have to worry about batteries going dead as much. On the other hand, sat phones do allow you to keep advised of weather emergencies, let others know of your safety, status, and can prevent needless searches, etc. Evidently, there is a considerable track record of their use by marine and aviation but with any new population there are start up concerns about misuse as folks get educated.

Charles Maguire
(hikelite) - F

Locale: Virginia
Another twist on PLB's on 12/19/2004 13:01:09 MST Print View

One of my personal pet peeves are the number of hikrs who could care less about the environment. I mostly hike on and around the Appalacian Trail. The campsites/shelters are pigstyes. The further you go from a road the better they get, making me believe the less educated considerate hikers stay closer to their safety zone (road).

If these people get PLB's will they take their carelessness further up the trail, or to the more remote side trail area's that usually few venture too. I Don't see PLB's reallly needed on the AT esp. if hiking with a partner, but there are a bunch of bozo's out here that I could see using the PLB in the most marginal situation.

I am not trying to be snobby, but the conditions of the AT are deplorable. I doubt the hardcore hikers are to blame, but instead the 1 weekend a year warrior.


Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
interesting on 06/22/2006 15:10:41 MDT Print View

A comment on made me read this article.

Interesting to read this commentary, in light of Ryan's recent trip north.

Jeffrey Lantis
(lantisdeadeye) - F
Personal Locator Beacon on 10/18/2006 11:45:45 MDT Print View

I feel that it is the most vital thing a person can bring into the great outdoors. I am interested in getting one for my self.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
To carry or not to carry a PLB on 12/19/2006 18:35:21 MST Print View

When I am going on a solo off trail jaunt, I now carry a PLB
for the following reasons: 1) I have a huge responsibility to my wife to come back alive; 2) If I get seriously injured, a timely rescue will greatly improve my chances of survival. They would diminish considerably if a search was not undertaken until after I had failed to return on the scheduled date, which could be anywhere from 2 to 10 days depending on when I was incapacitated; 3) The cost and risk of search and rescue would be considerably higher if all they had to go on was an itinerary. That said, I consider it mandatory that I exhaust all options available to me to self extract before activating the device. Still, it remains to be seen how I would react if and when I find myself in dire straits.
So far, alertness, caution, and a healthy ration of good fortune have kept the PLB in its holster, but there are no guarantees. All it takes is a millisecond of inattentiveness, a miscalculation, or some random incident of objective hazard and things go bad real quick. I guess it's sort of like auto insurance; you hope you never have to use it and take all precautions, but......Also, I do take out insurance to help defray the cost of a rescue should one prove necessary.

Mitchell Keil
(mitchellkeil) - F

Locale: Deep in the OC
Re: Sat Phones vs EPIRBS etc on 12/19/2006 18:59:34 MST Print View

I have a PLB and have posted several comments about this form of emergency communications and the reasons for carrying one. I recently started seriously looking into buying a SAT phone and have found that prices have come down considerably along with the service contracts for them. I can now buy one for the continental US with roaming service to Canada and Mexico with full coverage of the US and Alaska for less than $400 and about $500 for one with a GPS locator built in. They weigh in at between 7oz and 13oz. The service contracts can be as simple as $39/mo for what is called emergency service which is a per minute charge of $1.49. Bottom line is that this piece of gear would end up costing me about $100/yr after the initial purchase. They are waterproof to 1m and pretty resistant to bumps and dings from what people tell me whom I know who own them and use them in Africa.

So, it looks as if I will be getting one and using it as an emergency communication device and to call in to my wife each night to let her know I am safe. It would have the added benefit of serving in case of earthquake (I live in SoCal)and when traveling. I really can't think of a single downside to having one with me treking. I can load up the ranger station number and the local SAR number and get help and advice if needed by phone and have my situation evaluated by the professionals if I need evacuation.
Decided to add:
After re-reading a number of posts in this thread and remembering numerous posts from other threads about the "purity" of the wilderness experience being spoiled by technology, I need to make the following comments. The wilderness experience is what you make of it. One can hike the same travel worn trail over and over again year after year and chose to see it and experience it anew each time. It is what one brings to the experience that make the difference. A PLB, SAT phone, MP3 player, camera and other technology does not have to reduce the "purity" of the experience. If one spends a lot of time thinking about the presence of that technology in your pack then maybe yes, it can. But as the zen masters say -- empty your mind and allow it to be filled by the experience. The technology of the SAT phone or PLB does not have to get in the way. I doubt that Everest Climbers see technology as an intrusion on the experience of that mountain.
If you chose to see PLBs as the harbinger of the end of wilderness as we know it and a license for the shallow end of the gene pool to hike into situations they should not, that is one perspective and not that of those of us who wish to make sure we return from even the most mundane hike or the most hair-raising adventure. Remember, Murphy lurks around the most innocent bend in the road.

Edited by mitchellkeil on 12/19/2006 19:31:12 MST.

b d
(bdavis) - F

Locale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Re: To carry or not to carry a PLB on 12/19/2006 19:03:28 MST Print View

I posted the following on a related thread:

"Here is a US Coast Guard site summarizing EPIRB recommendations which discusses and defines the types, ranges, uses, and what not to buy or use:

As mentioned by a previous poster here, note the number of items or classes of EPIRBS with: "No longer recommended."

Having sailed in both harbors and out on the open ocean, where there are no mountains sticking out of the water or other obstructions, usually, EPIRBS are useful and proper equipment is recommended by the Coast Guard.

Poor, low quality, defective equipment is worse than having nothing because it creates a false sense of security at precisely the moments when that is the last thing one needs -- like a choice whether to turn around and go back in rather than keep going into heavy weather or current, etc."

I am not that experienced at "land sailing" or what is called hiking, trekking and camping. That said, relying on the electronic gear is great for security but can never replace judgment and preparation in the execution of a venture. My thought is that what are being referred to here as PLBs are not perfected or developed for land use, what the mariners call EPIRBS, and I would use all other means first before relying upon them. If I were, as an old sailor, to pick a weapon of choice, it would be a handheld radio device, waterproof and lightweight + a strobe for night and orange dye for day, if I couldn't get a fire with smoke going. Visibility is the key.

All that aside, I really respect BPL for initiating this kind of discussion. It has given me pause for thought and to refine my pacing plans.

Edited by bdavis on 12/19/2006 19:35:41 MST.

Douglas Frick
(Otter) - MLife

Locale: Wyoming
Re: Re: Sat Phones vs EPIRBS etc on 12/19/2006 20:20:38 MST Print View

Sat phones (Globalstar, anyway) are very sensitive to sky cover. I can't usually make a call from beneath trees, although sometimes I can receive SMS messages. A small clearing or a stream is usually good for a 5 minute call before it drops, then I wait 15 minutes for the next satellite to pass overhead.

It doesn't bother me at all (except for the extra weight) to carry the phone. I don't think of it until I make my nightly connection, and when I do so I am grateful that I can be out there and keep my job too.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: To carry or not to carry a PLB on 12/19/2006 20:21:43 MST Print View

Hey bd,
The new class of EPIRB's (aka PLB's) are well suited for land use. One of the nice things about this new (only out for about a year) class of beacons is they have virtually instantaneous location capabilities, using a combination of GEO and LEO satellites. If you have one that reports your location, your ID and location is available in 1 - 3 minutes, otherwise, the LEO satellites have to make a couple of passes to find you, takes about an hour.

The reliability is pretty good, they are relatively lightweight (~ 12 oz), will beacon for 1 - 3 days, have location resolution within a wingspan, and are getting pretty reasonably priced (example: ACR AQUAFIX 406 PLB EPIRB w/ INTERNAL GPS for $575 from , I have no affiliation w/ them)

When you activate the EPIRB, you don't have any options. The SAR center gets the registration information, will call a contact number that you provided to make sure that it's not a goose chase, then dispatches general help. (It's only a distress signal, no indications on whether it's medical or whatever.)

I see 2 other lightweight alternatives: One is a SAT phone, several in the 8 - 13 oz range, typically $600 - $800. If you're in good enough shape to make a call, you can probably get more precise support or care with this option. These typically do not work reliably under large canopies, and some don't work in deep canyons.

The other alternative is an handheld VHF aircraft transceiver to make a distress call. Often in the $300 range and under a pound. These are relatively inexpensive and lightweight. Several high profile saves have been made by communicating with airliners overhead, who were able to relay specific distress information. There are many areas (more in the western US) where there are not that many air routes.


b d
(bdavis) - F

Locale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Re: Re: Re: To carry or not to carry a PLB on 12/24/2006 14:21:49 MST Print View

Hey Mike,

Thanks, a lot. Just saw your post about the new EPIRBs. I am not going to go Sat phone or VHF aircraft transceiver for sure. Too much trouble and cost, plus I don't even like the idea for some reason.

The new "PLBs" sound interesting, mostly because of my partner's safety. I have pretty much decided to find a UL strobe for night, if I can't start a fire (hopefully not a forest fire) and some orange dye and carry at least one large item of orange, bright, material which also has other benefits / uses, like one of the Heatsheats thermal bivy things sold at the Gear Store. (I even daydreamed about a small canister of gas to go with a balloon that could be sent up on Spectra cord and carry a strobe for night, orange balloon for day ... funny how the mind works when wanting to be out there and suffering from cabin fever ... it would be like the mariners' flares or orange smoke for land.)

Please keep posting about this new EPIRB system and any light weight and functional / durable units available. Or, PM me.

Until then, lost here in gear heaven while I organize, reorganize, and re-reorganize everything waiting to get back out there ... while playing hookey from other tasks.


Edited by bdavis on 12/24/2006 14:32:14 MST.

Cornelius Austin
(nealaustin) - F

Locale: Minnesota
PLB's on 08/09/2007 11:25:44 MDT Print View

I pack a PLB on back country trips because I just couldn't bear seeing my wife turning into a nervous wreck by the time I got home from each solo trip. If I didn't have a loving wife waiting for me, I wouldn't need it. It's not for my peace of mind, it's for her's.


Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Re: Re: Re: Sat Phones vs EPIRBS etc on 08/09/2007 12:57:22 MDT Print View

I agree with Douglas. Sat phones are effective for many purposes, however they have limitations with signal strength and quality based on sky cover and terrain. W/ a sat phone, there are additional steps to be located, however you are also able to communicate the urgency of your situation and your actual needs Vs. the "come and get me" of activating an EPIRB. Sat phones are getting smaller, albeit slowly, and do give you the ability to check fire reports, call out when delayed, or call to change a pick up if you need to. As far as being a multiple use item, they seem to have a bit more going for them than an EPIRB (PLB). I think used responsibly, a PLB could be a great tool for back country travelers, but it all comes down to personal preference and having a good head on your shoulders to know when any tools use is appropriate.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: 17.6 oz of What? on 01/02/2009 17:48:50 MST Print View

This PLB is from November 2003. Over the five years since, what has changed and what remains the same?

Has anyone here actually used one in an emergency?

How many of you carry one?

Fred eric
(Fre49) - MLife

Locale: France, vallée de la Loire
150g now on 03/11/2009 07:48:40 MDT Print View

or 5.3 oz if you prefer.

Im seriously considering bringing one on this summer hike with my wife : 10-12 days hike in Greenland without maybe seeing someone else ( then one week in more habited area )
And next summer probably back to Iceland for a crossing this time.

Its not for cold weather/wind , in Iceland last year i had a huge margin of security for that,and i always do so when hike a few days away from civilisation.
But its more for the case of a broken limb or equivalent.

Its seems a reasonnable weight penalty to carry that in the case my wife or i injure himself 100km away from the nearest known house/ cell phone cover.

i wouldnt use it in a situation not serious enough that i would care having to reimburse the whole cost of the rescue

Edited by Fre49 on 03/11/2009 07:54:31 MDT.

Richard Sullivan
(richard.s) - MLife

Locale: Supernatural BC
Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 16:12:01 MDT Print View

Just got an ACR PLB, the TerraFix 406 I/O, used but never activated, weighs 12oz, $250. The more I read the more I am convinced it was a great investment. The best informational site seems to be as Doug Ritter is heavily involved in the testing and spec development.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 16:43:14 MDT Print View

Richard, why did you not choose the 5.3 oz McMurdo Fastfind new PLB with GPS:

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
PLB - what is best insurance policy to get for helicopter reimbursement on 04/09/2009 16:52:36 MDT Print View

It is my understanding that in the US, if you have a life-threatening emergency and legitimately use the PLB that you have registered ahead of time with the government that if you are in a national park, the government picks up the expense of any helicopter/rescue evacuation/travel expense (until you get to the hospital at which time your medical insurance gets involved).

However if you are elsewhere, including a national forest or national wilderness area, you're at the mercy of how the individual US State handles such situations and it includes the possiblity that a private-sector helicopter evacuation service might be solicited and used and that you might have to help pay for the bill.

However, most emergency medical evacuation insurance policies require the premium payer to call THEIR phone number ahead of time for emergency transportation, which is unreasonable for a PLB situation. (No need to elaborate I hope.)

The American Express subsidiary, globaltravelshield, would not promise me claim coverage or denial in a PLB situation, so their insurance policy looks less than ideal. Does anyone have a policy/insurer they recommend? I contacted globaltravelshield.

I'm talking about this web site:

Spot Messenger uses this insurer:

I am going to write them to see if they will cover the use of a PLB or not. Has anyone else already done this?

Edited by marti124 on 04/09/2009 21:20:17 MDT.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
Personal Locator Beacons & Other Wireless Technologies for Backcountry Travel? on 04/09/2009 18:54:19 MDT Print View

I've read through many travel emergency insurance policies and the one that is used by SPOT that you listed above seemed to be the most complete as it seemed to lack the typical abuse loopholes. Pretty much it was if you need it, we'll cover you up to X amount. I cannot recall the exacts since it's been two years since I read the contract, but I thought it was either $200,000 or $250,000 in additional funds to haul you back.

The only glaring issue was that it does not however cover any medical claims and if you were lifted out by a medical chopper instead of a SAR chopper, so it would be possible that you might may not be covered if you are given medical attention during the flight. Fortunately, any normal medical insurance coverage should kick in for that case.

Richard Sullivan
(richard.s) - MLife

Locale: Supernatural BC
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 19:20:10 MDT Print View

Roleigh, the new Fast Find 210 looks great but the previous model was not so good. If you look at
and scroll down to Summary of Inland Testing you will see that the Fast Find Plus was not as good as the ACR unit. So basically I just went with ACR's reputation as building the best units. Once the FF 210 is validated I will sell the ACR and get a FF 210.

Roleigh Martin
(marti124) - MLife

Locale: Moderator-JohnMuirTrail Yahoo Group
Re: Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 20:25:37 MDT Print View

Richard, what a great link. Read with extreme interest.

It appears that if you get the McMurdo Fastfind, not to rely on it for water use, and for land use, it better be a clear sky and opening to depend on it, is that your bottom line assessment of the McMurdo Fastfind?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 20:40:41 MDT Print View

Your reference is to the 2004 test report.

However, that report also include a link to a subsequent 2005 Report.

In that 2005 report the results show the McMurdo and the ACR perform similarly.

Edited by greg23 on 04/09/2009 20:41:39 MDT.

Richard Sullivan
(richard.s) - MLife

Locale: Supernatural BC
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 20:45:35 MDT Print View

Yes, it looks like McMurdo's reputation pretty much went down the tubes with that testing. Seems that if I am injured then I have to climb to the top of the nearest mountain to use the FF Plus :-|

They will be trying to reclaim it with the new design, but I will wait for info from Ritter's site to prove they can produce a product I can trust. VERY unfortunate they didn't drop the Fast Find name since people will not be able to instantly identify the new generation products.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 20:56:39 MDT Print View

"Yes, it looks like McMurdo's reputation pretty much went down the tubes with that testing."

I interpreted that the 2005 report found both the McMurdo and the ACR performed equally well.

What am I missing? What are you seeing?

Richard Sullivan
(richard.s) - MLife

Locale: Supernatural BC
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 20:59:02 MDT Print View

Thanks, Greg, I didn't see that one.

So the revised FF Plus was fine. And I guess we could assume that the tested ACR prototype is the TerraFix.

I will still wait for testing on the 200 or 210 before purchasing...

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Just got an ACR PLB on 04/09/2009 21:07:00 MDT Print View

It is sad that a private concern (Equipped To Survive Foundation) has to raise money to sort out the reliability of emergency devices "approved" by our government.

And sad that we really don't know anything about the 2009 versions of either. We can only hope quality has gone up.

(P454B) - F
PLDs on 03/19/2011 08:45:03 MDT Print View

You fall down and break a leg, no one to help. You get lost and it can happen. Granted the lower 48 back country is never very far from a road but a half a mile, heck a hundred yards is to far if you are physically disabled/injured. I live in the mountain west, danger everywhere from the ground up and with 2 and 4 legs. I have a SPOT, The ORANGE COLORED PLD with spare batteries taped to the unit. It has been to Alaska, Canada and in between and going back again this spring. NEVER HAD AN OCCASION TO USE IT AND HOPEFULLY THE OCCASION NEVER ARISES. It is readily accessible, not in a pack but hooked to my clothing up near my neck. Better safe than sorry. I even carry it in the vehicle when I go off road.

Todd ~

Locale: The front range
So which is it? on 05/10/2013 01:26:19 MDT Print View

In the first article of Ryan’s that I read, he concluded:

“C'mon, how light is too light? …When your safety is sacrificed? Hey, c'mon. There's risk involved. You're not out walking the moors of your city park. Less gear sometimes means more risk. Get to the point - how light is too light? YOU get to the point. Throw some stuff out of your pack and take a walk. You'll find out soon enough. Just don't tell your mom.”

In the second article of his that I read. He concluded:

“Explore your limits and you'll leave ‘your’ hike back home soon enough, and begin to hike the hike that God and nature (and their weather and brambles and grizzly bears and glacial moraines) decides you're going to hike. The minute you find yourself saying, "I can't do that," prove the voice wrong. If you succeed, good. If you fail, better. You'll learn a lot more about yourself and your limits.”

In this article, he concludes:

“…Finally, we cannot help but ask: Are there 17.6 oz (the weight of the PLB used in this rescue) of gear/supplies that you would bring instead of a PLB that would have improved your ability to cope with the conditions Mr. Skalak was facing and avoid a rescue?”

So which is it? Should one assume risk and bring so little equipment that he is learning about his limits? Is it truly good if one hits that limit and fails? Or should one bring enough equipment to actually meet unexpected conditions, providing a buffer of safety, even if it means not being able to brag to sales clerks about how few ounces he carries backpacking?