AlmostThere wrote:The problem that the OP is neglecting to recognize is the upswing of carelessness - hikers have claimed in my presence that they don't need to study the route or bring a map, they have a GPS. Bad idea if you want to keep hiking with me.
Bottom line, if it's electronic it is an additional tool, not a replacement for map skills, leaving an itinerary, being careful in the backcountry, etc. No gadget will ever replace the educated human brain for efficiency and decision making. People who want to replace knowledge with a gadget are at issue. They make SAR's lives complicated and unduly risk their own lives into the bargain.
Actually I (“the OP”) agree completely. Perhaps the “upswing of carelessness” as it relates to emergency signaling devices and the quandary over how to properly educate hikers in their usage could be addressed by requiring some sort of licensing. After all, you have to listen to a ranger’s spiel on proper backcountry camping practices when you pick up a wilderness permit, no matter how many times you’ve heard it before. But anyone can purchase a PLB, SPOT, etc. and simply register it on the NOAA website (or neglect to do so) with no qualifications or demonstration of any knowledge whatsoever.
Maybe NOAA should add a test to their website and if passed, issue a code that must be presented before its legal for a retailer to sell the device. There could be another NOAA web page that’s only accessible to retailers, so they could verify the code. Perhaps a small license fee could be charged in order to take the test and the proceeds could be used to offset the cost of SAR. This would also serve to make people take the test more seriously; since they wouldn’t want to pay multiple fees if they didn’t pass on the first attempt. I don’t know what mechanisms would be required to put all of this into practice – I’m just brainstorming here.
But I still say that blaming the device for people’s ignorance is like blaming a seat belt for bad driving. Should climbers stop using ropes because they’ve been known to fail? Should we stop carrying knives because people sometimes cut themselves? Should hikers stop carrying first aid kits? After all, no first aid kit could possibly address all of the injuries or other medical emergencies that might possibly come up in the backcountry. In fact, maybe we should just do away with trails altogether, since they encourage people to venture into the backcountry who don’t even feel comfortable hiking cross country. And while we’re at it, let’s do away with SAR teams. People who go into the backcountry shouldn’t have a false sense of security that if they get into trouble a rescue will be guaranteed! …I’m sorry if that sounds too sarcastic, but it’s all the same flawed logic.
You said yourself: “if it's electronic it is an additional tool, not a replacement for map skills, leaving an itinerary, being careful in the backcountry, etc.,” …so as long as anyone carrying the device realizes this
, then what’s wrong with adding an additional tool??? I’m not advocating that people be REQUIRED to carry an emergency signaling device. In fact, I’m totally opposed to that idea. But I think requiring that people demonstrate a certain amount of knowledge regarding how to use one of these devices (and WHEN it’s appropriate to use one!) should be required somehow before being allowed to buy one.
I’ve been hiking for 45 years (and climbing, skiing, rafting, kayaking and snowshoeing for various amounts of time) without a single emergency incident and I’ve received a variety of related in-depth training. Consequently, I think I should’ve earned enough respect by now to not be accused of being a “yuppie a**hole” ...which is apparently what EVERY person is, if they choose to carry an electronic signaling device, according to one post I read on the Whitney Portal forums a couple of years back. I’ve read similar opinions on other backpacking forums as well. People seem to be a good deal more civilized here on HST forums, so perhaps my use of the word “ridicule” in my original post was overly strong, but you get the idea. It’s ridiculous to pre-judge a person’s experience level, intelligence, judgment, etc. according to a piece of gear that they either choose to carry or not.
By the way, I did plenty of research on these devices before buying mine. That’s why I bought a PLB that passed independent testing with flying colors – not one of those two-way devices like the SPOT which has a history of connectivity problems. I don’t like the way the SPOT is marketed either. I’m totally with you on that. Additionally, I don’t want people to be able to reach me when I’m in the backcountry. I don’t want to be expected to reach them to reassure them either. But to each their own. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people wanting to do those things, especially if it’s the only way to get their loved ones to calm down about the whole thing.
I always leave an extremely detailed itinerary with my wife before every hike. She understands the risks I take and the steps I take to mitigate those risks. (She also understands that if I stopped hiking I would stop being me.) I carry a topo map and a compass, not a GPS device. But I don’t assume that everyone who carries a GPS device can’t read a map, just because some people think that carrying one is some sort of panacea.
Itineraries are a great safety net, but some emergency situations require a faster response than an “overdue hiker” call. Hence the existence of the PLB. No, it may not prompt a timely enough rescue (or even work at all) in every situation. But if there’s even a chance that this 5.5 ounce device could possibly save my life someday when nothing else can, why in the world would I not carry one?
Another post in this thread mentioned Snow Nymph’s incident. I was not aware of that incident until now (and was distressed to learn about it, after enjoying SN’s posts over the years), but it’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. So can you please explain to me why it was a bad idea for her to be carrying a PLB???