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Why you should carry a PLB on every Hike

Today I want to explain how important it is to carry a PLB emergency beacon on every hike.

In my book as well as my blog I have explained why it is very important to leave a trip notification plan for every hike, no matter how short. This information left with a responsible person is imperative for SAR (Search and Rescue) teams in finding you if you are lost, or injured. Beyond the necessity to leave a trip notification plan is to purchase and carry a PLB (Personal locator beacon) on every hike. This single piece of equipment could very well save your life if you are unfortunate enough to be caught in an emergency and have no other way of reaching help in a timely manner. This is especially important if you or another member of your party becomes sick or injured and you are unable to evacuate them to medical aid.

What everyone needs to be aware of is that accidents do happen, no mater how prepared, no matter how careful you are, you could be faced with a serious and grave medical emergency; and, without cell reception the consequence’s could mean loss of a body part or in the most serious, death.

I will list a few emergencies that would require the activation of a PLB.

  1. Serious injury to the body where there is uncontrolled blood loss. – A fall resulting from a laceration that can only be controlled with a tourniquet, or a fall that could result in internal bleeding.

  1. Hypothermia – A fall into a creek, river, or simply over-heating in winter or fall conditions and being unable to warm up could result in hypothermia; that, if untreated could lead to death.

  1. A fall leading to unconsciousness – if not treated could lead to permanent brain damage and or death. (If you are hiking solo you would not be capable of activating your PLB)

  1. Being lost and unable to find your way back - do not have enough food, water and clothing to wait for rescue and the possibility of hypothermia exists.

So what is a PLB and how is it so effective in reaching SAR?

A PLB works the same as an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter – Used on private and commercial aircraft) and EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon – Used on private and commercial vessels). The differences are for the intended purpose of the units. A PLB is a personal beacon that is registered to an individual vs to an aircraft or vessel. The unit in the photo costs $370 Canadian. The lithium-ion battery life is rated at 5 years if not used. There is no subscription to pay to use the device, simply activate it when you have an emergency.

A PLB transmits 406mhz signal at 5 watts power that is detected by orbiting SAR satellites. Those equipped with GPS will provide your location within 100m (330ft) radius. Due to the network of SAR satellites the signal will often be detected almost immediately if there is a clear sight to the sky. Once a PLB emergency signal is detected the location will be sent to a responding SAR station. Depending on your location; in Canada, it would be the military or Coast Guard (if you are on water). In other countries it may be other SAR resources.

A PLB can be carried whether you are: hiking, hunting, ATV’s, Snow machines, boating, kayaking, etc. Once activated the unit is to be left on until SAR resources arrive. Like all emergency devices if the signal cannot reach a SAR satellite it cannot alert rescue resources, so it is not 100% reliable in that respect. Most units have indictor lights that will confirm that a GPS signal has been acquired.

So if you hike solo or in any area that is not 100% covered by cell service, buy a PLB, it is the best insurance if you are in an emergency. Remember a PLB is for emergency use only. False activation can result in fines for misuse. But if you need it help is on the way. Stay where you are, deal with injuries, stay warm and be ready to signal aircraft if seen.

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