The Case for PLBs

Share your advice and personal experiences, post a gear review or ask any questions you may have pertaining to outdoor gear and equipment.
Post Reply
User avatar
longri
Topix Fanatic
Posts: 1082
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:13 am
Experience: N/A

Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by longri » Thu Jun 14, 2018 10:44 pm

People have been killed by airbags and injured seriously by seat belts. But only a fool would extrapolate wildly and condemn all use of those safety items based on a small percentage of unfortunate accidents.

There are better tools, but they come with various costs. Size, weight, price. Maybe one should limit automobile speed to 25 MPH. Or disallow solo hikers in the wilderness.

There's a risk/reward calculation to be done with so many things in life. If "safety first" is your prime directive then you might wamt to reconsider going into the mountains at all.

I say, safety third.








User avatar
WarrenFork
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 89
Joined: Thu Apr 23, 2015 1:55 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by WarrenFork » Mon Jun 18, 2018 3:21 pm

longri wrote:Recycle your ACR if you feel that strongly but unless there are reliable statistics that indicate PLB activation fails an unacceptable percentage of the time they remain a valuable tool.
But who needs reliable statistics when we can work ourselves into high dudgeon with anecdotes spread on the internet by people with axes to grind? :rolleyes:

Nope, these devices aren’t foolproof. It’s rare, though, to read accounts of them failing in situations where lives are actually at stake. The Lake Powell anecdote is copied from an Amazon review written by an aggrieved customer. He self-reports waiting nearly three hours “in hypothermic conditions,” but I know from my own experience that if he retained the dexterity to signal a passing boater with a flare after that long of exposure he was at worst only mildly hypothermic.

He doesn’t mention receiving treatment for hypothermia, either. Rangers were looking for him. I’m familiar with Lake Powell myself, and I’ve had to flag down help from shore when the engine of my boat wouldn’t start. There’s a fair amount of marine traffic even in the off season. A paper on tourism fatalities published last month in the Journal of Travel Medicine analyzed the 282 accidental deaths at Lake Powell between 1959 and 2005. The vast majority were from drowning. Another major cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning from houseboat exhaust. It’s clear from the stats that if you make it to shore after an incident like the one in question you can pretty much count on living to tell the tale. So I’m far from convinced that this was a survival situation. The guy’s real beef is that he had to wait a while for help after thinking that purchasing a PLB entitled him to an instant response from the US Air Force.

(And since his complaint is in the form of an Amazon review, it’s worth noting that the same PLB received 200 positive reviews from verified purchasers, including one headlined “This truly saved my life, Please, please buy this!!!” that reprints the text of a sheriff’s office press release documenting the claim. Of the 36 negative reviews, only three reported device failure in an emergency.)

The real problem here isn’t with the devices. It’s the attitude of entitlement shared by some of their users, and the accelerating subversion of self-reliance as a necessary attribute for outdoorspeople. And there's no need to look farther than this thread for an example (emphasis added):
AlmostThere wrote:I have an InReach Mini on order, not as a PLB, but as a backup to the high band radio I use while on trail crew. We log our route plans and work detail with the FS to coordinate all the work and get approval before going out there, check in every day with the radio, but there are dead spots out there, so being able to text another member of our crew and have them phone the FS keeps us in touch, and if we can't get through that way, and are overdue, they'll send someone out there to get us.
Now, the details of these Wilderness Corps trail crew outings co-organized by L—- (AKA AlmostThere) are archived on meetup.com, and going back more than two years (as far as I looked) they were strictly one-night weekend affairs, with no roundtrip distances farther than around twelve miles. Unpacking this, then, you’re part of a group, you’re on a trail (on a summer weekend, no less, the likeliest time to be sharing the trail with potential good samaritans), you’ve got a two-way radio, and it’s six miles at most back to the car. So what’s the default choice on the options menu if something goes amiss? Wait for someone to come get you.

Give. Me. A. Break. Sorry, but the elephant in the room here isn’t the likelihood that a second backup electronic device might fail to summon the cavalry. It’s the slippery slope leading to the conclusion that “sitting somewhere without cell service or internet” is, ipso facto, a survival situation. It's pretty clear from various outraged postings online that some of us have already reached the bottom. The best way to call a screeching halt to the descent for the rest of us is to heed what seems to me the wisest counsel in this thread:
longri wrote:If "safety first" is your prime directive then you might want to reconsider going into the mountains at all.

User avatar
Wandering Daisy
Topix Docent
Posts: 4344
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 8:19 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Fair Oaks CA (Sacramento area)
Contact:

Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by Wandering Daisy » Mon Jun 18, 2018 4:02 pm

Not sure what your meaning is about AT's comment. Different people and groups have different communication needs that have nothing to do with calling for help or "survival". A lot of backpacker's family members insist on daily communication. When you are a trip leader or an organized group and trying to coordinate getting everyone together either at the trailhead or while on the trip, reliable communications are helpful. Also if on a trail crew, that is business (work) and I am sure the FS wants communications simply for logistical reasons. I think all she was relating was her experience with some problems with a certain device.

For the sake of "disclosure", I do confess not using a PLB yet, but see no problem with others wanting more communication than I do. And I agree that I may be safer if I carried a PLB.

GPS technology (particularly GPS tracks for "big name" routes) do enable unqualified people to go into areas they perhaps should not be. Since this is not likely to get any better, it is a GOOD thing that they also carry PLB's. A PLB may enable some people to take unnecessary risks, but risk-adverse people tend to avoid risk regardless whereas thrill-seekers will do so regardless too.

I think I have been in a few "survival" situations with respect to hypothermia, however, when in the thick of things, it is really hard to say if it is REALLY a survival situation. Since I did survive, perhaps not? Luck played a role- weather changed. What if it had not? Now if a rock landed on your leg and it was busted into two pieces, that is an easy call. To make a armchair post-event evaluation that someone was not really in a survival situation is a bit presumptuous.

I quit paying much attention to internet "reviews". I have been burned too many times- buy something that gets 5-star reviews and it turns out to be a dud.

It is too bad that an impartial organization such as Consumer's Reports has not done detailed testing of PLB's.

User avatar
longri
Topix Fanatic
Posts: 1082
Joined: Mon Aug 13, 2012 9:13 am
Experience: N/A

Re: The Case for PLBs

Post by longri » Mon Jun 18, 2018 4:47 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:It is too bad that an impartial organization such as Consumer's Reports has not done detailed testing of PLB's.
How would they test for the administrative errors in these two anecdotes?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests