Home » Media Analysis » When do you turn on your distress beacon?

When do you turn on your distress beacon?

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I was doing a bit of research today when I came across this article from back in 2007, in the Tasmanian Newspaper, The Advocate.  The title reads: Anger over tourists’ EPIRB call.  Bogged 4WD in needless rescue.  

The story goes that a pair of uninjured Swiss tourists, complete with food and camping supplies got bogged on a track in their 4WD… and turned their beacon on at 10.40pm.

Thus commenced a costly chain of events, risking the lives of helicopter crews who started searching for them at night in hilly terrain.  A fixed wing aircraft from Melbourne also assisted in the search, however it was ultimately a Police 4WD that finally was able to make contact with the bogged tourists and recover them and their vehicle.

So what has changed and why is this still relevant today?

Since February 2009, all distress beacons are digital, meaning that the rescue authorities should be able to identify the owner of the beacon if it is turned on.  This requires the owner to register their beacon.  In Australia this can be done for free here: Australian Maritime Safety Authority – Beacon Registration.  As a bonus, the digital 406 beacons are far more accurate in their location too!

This means that if our Swiss friends turned on their digital 406 beacon today, the rescue authorities would be able to tailor their response accordingly, and perhaps not send a fixed wing aircraft to assist a bogged 4WD.

The other dilemma though remains… when do you turn on your beacon?

Terracan bogged

We prove you don’t have to be in Tasmania to get stuck!

Tasmania Police at the time said that distress beacons “were a last resort, to be used only in emergency situations involving serious injury or where life was or could be at risk”.

From the comfort of our desks, we might scoff at the unfortunate tourists, and declare that we would never be so foolish with our requests of the search and rescue authorities, however when faced with difficult choices, you too might consider activating your beacon in a similar scenario.

And this is where Save Our Selves – A guide to getting help in remote areas comes in.  This handy guide explains how:

  • to get assistance in remote areas
  • how the search and rescue system works in Australia, and
  • examines various distress alerting systems from beacons and satellite messengers.

I hope it answers some of your questions.


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