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Personal Locator Beacon

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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Steve_C » Fri Nov 02, 2012 2:26 pm

I attended a workshop where SEKI staff discussed their "preliminary draft alternatives for the Wilderness Stewardship Plan" earlier this week and got a surprising attitude from the ranger presenting the plan. I discussed his comments after the presentation, and he was pretty arrogant toward the idea that anyone carrying a communications device in the wilderness could have any sort of "full wilderness experience". I was dumbfounded by his attitude, and am sure most rangers don't quite share his feelings.

Like BrianF, I carry a SPOT II. I carry it for several reasons... First, so family and friends can be reassured that I am ok. My wife is very uncomfortable when I hike alone. Also, I felt more "ok" to be hiking on my own cross-country. I crossed several little-used routes, and at several times, I knew that there was a remote chance of a random slip causing serious trouble. In those places, hiking with others adds some security, so lacking a hiking buddy, the SPOT was a viable replacement. And of course, if I had become immobilized, it was nice knowing I could summon help.

I used it two ways: When hiking in easy cross-country, and on trails, I'd leave it off for hours, activating an occasional "Track" or "Ok". But when climbing treacherous passes and peaks, I'd make sure it was in "Track" mode. In that mode, it is even better than a PLB, because if a fatal slip occurred leaving me unable to even activate the SOS button, the unit would have sent my last known location, making it simple for SAR to target a search.

I know the ranger with attitude and many others would disagree, but I think it is more responsible to carry and use a Spot than not.



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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Nov 02, 2012 2:57 pm

Given that a PLB or SPOT potentially can save so much SAR time, I feel a co-supported system is optimum. I would like to be able to rent this item from the FS or park service, just like you can rent a bear cannister. The costs are still pretty high, particularly for SPOT if you have to pay a yearly fee , especially for those who may take only one trip a year. Plus, with the advancement in technology, anything you buy could quickly become outdated. Also, since almost everyone is paying for cell phone service, why can't a PLB feature could not be part of the cell phone?

The low-tech old fashioned "personal locators" are screaming neon gear and clothing, a signal mirror, ability to build a smoky fire, a detailed travel itenary that you stick with, and going with a buddy or two, or your dog. Even with a PLB, you need to have some old fashioned backups.

The impetus for me to use a PLB would be to save SAR from the kind of effort they have had to do the last 10 days and to save my family from grief. I personally would be willing just to take the risk of meeting my end in the mountains (who would not rather die of a quick heart attack dropping a fly into your favorite high remote alpine lake over rotting in a nursing home), but realistically, if I go missing, they WILL search for me and MY FAMILY will go through much agony. I cannot control that.

So far I have used the "low tech" methods. I ALWAYS take one or two items of really bright clothes or bivy sack, reflector, and leave a very detailed route plan (I identify several options of routes and destinations of which I choose a few to actually do and also identify any alternate bail-out routes). I am now really torn about taking the leap to high tech SPOT or PLB. Now that they are down to the 5oz range in weight, the cost is the only thing holding me back.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby BrianF » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:12 pm

WD, I like the idea of being able to rent from the FS or NPS: pick it up when you get your permit.
I go on a number of trips a year that I carry mine so the cost doesn't seem too bad for the Spot subscription. I only pay the basic fee of $100; no tracking or custom emails.
I have not found that having it and using it to send the OK takes away from my wilderness experience, though I have to say that a Sat phone would detract. When I send a signal I have a couple of minutes of thought about loved ones at home, but heck that happens anyway. It is along the lines of showing pics when you get back - it's just a "Here I am" thing. My wilderness experience has never been about me against the wilderness so I am happy for a little added safety. After all, it won't save you from a mishap - thats still up to you- it just helps you get through the aftermath
The direction you are moving in is what matters, not the place you happen to be -Colin Fletcher
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Personal Locator Beacon

Postby ironmike » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:28 pm

There is precedence for the rental model. On Denali, climbing parties are given radios (not sure of the frequency) to maintain contact with the park rangers. It's included with the climbing fee. Seems like a worthwhile option to offer backpackers/hikers/climbers in SEKI/JMW/InyoNF/etc access to PLB's as an add-on fee with their permit. Maybe this would be a worthwhile comment/suggestion to the draft SEKI WMP currently up for public review/comment...
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby LMBSGV » Fri Nov 02, 2012 7:02 pm

I've been a SPOT user since they came out - my wife said "you need to have one if you're going solo." I've posted enough on this subject so I won't repeat myself.

The idea of being able to rent a SPOT or PLB sounds great. However, with the SPOT at least, I suspect there would be problems. First, I'm sure there would be a lot of people who would have trouble using one. They work fine if you follow the instructions. But the number of people I've run across in the backcountry of the years who are incapable of following even the most simple instructions is staggering. I've run across people who have trouble coping with something as simple as a Garcia bear canister.

Then there's who would be the email contacts? I won't bother to elucidate further on this. I think most of you understand the potential problems.

Then there are all those who push the panic button. One of the reasons rangers have mixed or negative feelings about a SPOT is the number of false alarms.

I think the problem of false alarms would be the same with a PLB.

However, the idea of a third party doing rentals or a few people who live nearby enough to each other who pool the cost might work. I've loaned my SPOT to friends a couple of times. They give me the email contacts and I change my profile. When they return, I change the profile back. A few people pooling the cost could do the same thing.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby rlown » Fri Nov 02, 2012 8:14 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:
The low-tech old fashioned "personal locators" are screaming neon gear and clothing, a signal mirror, ability to build a smoky fire, a detailed travel itenary that you stick with, and going with a buddy or two, or your dog. Even with a PLB, you need to have some old fashioned backups.

...

So far I have used the "low tech" methods. I ALWAYS take one or two items of really bright clothes or bivy sack, reflector, and leave a very detailed route plan (I identify several options of routes and destinations of which I choose a few to actually do and also identify any alternate bail-out routes). I am now really torn about taking the leap to high tech SPOT or PLB. Now that they are down to the 5oz range in weight, the cost is the only thing holding me back.


I'm not torn at all; I like low tech. If you can't touch the device when you need to, you already have a problem. I'ts nice to send the ok message everyday when you hit camp, but how many miles between your last "ok" and the next? I guess it at least gives a radius. Some here do lots of miles in a day.

It really comes back to basics.. If you're gonna be off your itinerary, you've already thwarted rescue and that's ok if your family is agreeable to that game. Leave an itinerary, and potential areas of interest, both in your car and at home.

What I'd like to see is a PLB or SPOT mode where if you don't hit the button on the device in a specified amount of time, it sends an alert to someone who can vet out the potential problem.. Some marine PLB's have this where when it's soaked in water, there's obviously a problem.

I can see the value of sharing a device in a group, if the person with the device isn't the lost one.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby Steve_C » Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:49 am

I've loaned mine out, too, several times.

As for "Then there's who would be the email contacts?" I just don't give any.

A rental setup would need some sort of central contact, or else someone would need to actually update the Findmespot site.

Using the basic subscription without tracking, there IS a cheap-o way to use tracking: Use the Help button. It sends out a signal every 4 to 8 minutes for an hour. That would establish your location AND your direction. I have used that mode, and just told everyone that the "Help" is nothing more than the cheap tracking mode.

in any rental situation, people should always be told: Use the SOS/911 mode ONLY IF YOU CANNOT GET OUT ON YOUR OWN.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby 87TT » Sat Nov 03, 2012 5:17 am

How about if when you rent one, that you sign an agreement that you are obligated to pay for your rescue if you hit the 911 button.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby AlmostThere » Sat Nov 03, 2012 5:58 am

If you read the (substantial) information presented on SEKI's website about preparing for a backpacking trip and safety, you'll find that they state that electronics are NOT to be relied upon in the wilderness, period. I tend to nod my head to this. I've talked to people who insist that their GPS replaces a map and think that gizmos will be "the future." I of course will tell them not to count on that.

When I say things like this, I'm then accused of being a Luddite (which is hilarious, because my life has revolved around computers since they became consumer items) or backwards at least, but, all my training in SAR we have been repeatedly trained to use map and compass despite having a GPS per person. GPS units log information plus we use them to navigate. But we have been steered wrong by them plenty of times. Just yesterday I spent way too long driving AROUND my destination because a GPS "rerouted" at every single corner I turned.

Sat phones, SPOT, and other PLB devices are handy electronics and I'd say they do increase the margin of safety considerably, as long as they work, and you haven't left the thing sitting on a rock somewhere. (which has happened.)

There was a thread on another forum where a lady posted questions - she wasn't a backpacker, but her dad was on the High Sierra Trail and his SPOT check ins ceased. She wanted to know when to worry. Then a couple days later she posted that she got a message from someone who from the message was NOT her father, it seemed to be from someone trying to use the device to get in touch with someone else entirely! (clearly not someone who understands what the device does)

Theft or leaving the device in the last campsite? Who knows. But whenever a conversation about electronics comes up, I think about these things, and the ways people manage to increase the worry of the folks at home while trying to do the opposite. All this to say that I hope that no one decides that having a SPOT or PLB means they don't have to take the usual safety precautions that you always should do anyway no matter what.
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Re: Personal Locator Beacon

Postby cloudlesssky » Sat Nov 03, 2012 6:53 am

SandStorm wrote:Slightly off-topic, but in the spirit of the thread: Anyone carry a sat phone? I've used an Iridium in the past and it worked well. Heard good things about the Inmarsat IsatPhone. They're expensive and heavy but worth their weight in gold in the hinterland.


I carried a rented Inmarsat Isatphone on a solo JMT this past summer. I picked it over Iridium primarily because battery life was reported as 2x while having comparable weight and features. Trees and very steep and deep canyons can block the signal. Overall I thought it worked satisfactory and it provided my wife and 11yo daughter some peace of mind.

I believe the newest Iridium phone includes a GPS tracking function and an SOS feature, but am not sure how it functions.

I carry a Spot on all my outings and put it in tracking mode while hiking. Batteries have always lasted at least 4 days. Spot uses the Globalstar satellite to uplink messages. I've read (but not confirmed) that Spot can send messages including SOS without a GPS coordinate if it can't get a GPS lock for some reason (e.g. you only turn it on when you need to send an SOS and don't wait the up to 20 minutes required to get a lock). My thinking is that an established track would help someone find me if this happened.

I agree with the thinking that you shouldn't rely on any electronics in the backcountry. And you need to have a plan thought out and communicated in case they break ("If you don't get my checkin message don't report me overdue until..."). Electronics shouldn't encourage riskier behaviour. But that doesn't mean I won't increase the odds in my favor.
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