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When to turn on your beacon?

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In New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, a party of hikers were rescued in Kahurangi National park, after activating their 406MHz distress beacon, and by doing so, created a storm of controversy.

The party were stranded by rising waters, so retraced their route and stayed in a hut along the Leslie-Karamean Track.  They were uninjured, and safely accommodated in the hut, with sufficient food and water for a few days.   Knowing that they would be delayed from making their pre-arranged rendezvous, they activated their distress beacon.

Mike McGavin in New Zealand runs the Windy Hilltops blog.  A passionate tramper (as hikers are called in NZ), his site grew from trip reports around his home to discussions about hiker safety and training.  His discussion on this incident relates to the one-way communication limitations of the current generations of PLBs and other 406MHz distress beacons.

Their story is remarkably similar to a hiker in Tasmania who was delayed by falling snow that I reported here: https://campingcommunication.com/2015/08/10/how-long-do-you-wait-before-turning-on-your-beacon/

It seems ironic that as the COSPAS SARSAT system moves to a new generation of satellites (https://www.amsa.gov.au/media/documents/MEOSARFactSheet.pdf), users are demanding technology that allows two way communication.  This has opened the market to a range of other satellite messenger technologies.  Users primarily access the non-emergency features of these devices such as tracking or trip recording.  Whilst most are not optimised for distress alerting, they do have some ability to do so.

To find the distress alerting tool that works best for you, check out  Save Our Selves – A guide to getting help in remote areas.  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.

To read more of Mike’s excellent blog, check out: http://www.windy.gen.nz/index.php/archives/5875


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