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My Life Outdoors

SPOT Messenger Owners Responsibility – Part Two

This is a continuation of Thursday’s post: SPOT Messenger Owners Responsibility – Part One. Please click here to read the first half of this post.

What is the responsibility of Locater Beacon owner? Not that long ago, a couple from New Bruswick, British Columbia activated their beacon when they climbed a steep trail and could not get back down. A helicopter lowered them 200 feet to secure footing. In September 2009, a hiker from Placer County was panning for gold in New York Canyon when he became dehydrated and used his rescue beacon to call for help. Later the same day, Mono County sheriff’s deputies asked the National Guard for a high-altitude helicopter and a hoist for a treacherous rescue of two beacon-equipped hikers stranded at Convict Lake. The next day they hiked out on foot.

Obviously behavior like this is irresponsible. As I discussed Thursday, I see at least three areas where I, as a new SPOT messenger owner, can be more responsible. First, I must be properly prepared and conditioned for the activities I engage in. Two, I must calm down and assess any emergency situation before reaching for my SPOT Messenger. Three, I can’t substitute my SPOT for the development of good self rescue skills.

Proper Preparation:

I bought a SPOT Messenger because I realize that their are numerous ways I can get into trouble in the backcountry. No matter what I do, there are some dangers that are outside of my control. These risks can be minimized with Proper preparation.

Preparation comes in many different forms. Research, gear, skill, physical condition and experience all play a role in our preparation. It is my responsibility to make sure I am adapt in all these areas before venturing outdoors.

Before I go on a trip I must research the type of terrain and weather that could be encountered, as well as water sources available (among other things). If during research I realize any of these factors are more then my skill, experience, or available gear can handle, I have the responsibility to NOT go. A SPOT, or similar locator beacon, is not a substitute for this level of preparation.

This is the mistake made by the fathers and sons team I mentioned Thursday. After being cited for “creating a hazardous condition” for rescue teams, the leader admitted he would have never undertaken the grueling hike without a personal locator beacon. He was substituting technology for preparation.

Calmly Assess Emergencies:

Even the adequately prepared can still find themselves in trouble. If I find myself in a bind, my first responsibility is to calmly assess my situation. What seems like a crisis at first may not be an actual emergency.

As a general rule a person can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. The real question is: when in that survival process is it appropriate call for help? If I am not hurt, or in danger, I believe it is my duty to at least try and self rescue before calling for help. After all, every time a Search and Rescue team is deployed, they put themselves in danger.  This brings me to my third point.

Develop Self Rescue Skills:

Good self rescue skills should be part of anyone’s preparation stage. There are certain things you really need to know how to do before heading to the backcountry. Included in these are map and compass skills, fire building, how to locate water, build shelter, and more. If I can safely do these things as I attempt to exit my situation, I have the responsibility to try.

With all that said, I also have a responsibility to my friends and family. If I still find myself in trouble after calmly assessing my situation, I owe it to the people I love to call for help before its too late. Assuming the danger is real, SAR crews desire nothing more than to safely reunite you with your family. The balance between the responsibilities cannot be taken lightly.

SAR advertisement stating: “We’ll Get You Out”

All of these assume a certain degree of common sense. Many of the people in the above situations believed they were in danger when they actually weren’t. As cruel as it may sound, these people had no business being in the backcountry to begin with. They would do better to rely on a guide or experienced friend, rather then a locator beacon, to keep them safe.

But maybe you dissagree? What do you believe a Locator Beacon’s owner responsibility is? I would love to hear your opinions.

Related Resources:
Using Personal Locator Beacons Responsibly
Personal Locator Beacon Abuse
Tired from a hike? Rescuers fear Yuppie 911

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  • Albert Quackenbush

    May 23, 2011

    I think you hit the nail on the head with both parts. Buying a SPOT doesn't excuse the person from brushing off preparation. So many people I read about either don't research an area or let someone know exactly where they are going.

    I have a SPOT locator as a back up to my preparedness plan. I hope I never have to use it, but the $150 I pay each year is money well spent in my opinion. With a family that depends on me for support, it is my responsibility to have to proper maps, fitness and knowledge of where I am going. Plus, I hardly ever go out alone – hiking, scouting or hunting. Too many mountain lions and snakes for me to want to deal with on my own.

    Excellent entries, Steven.

  • Family Wilds

    May 23, 2011

    Great points, again!

  • Anonymous

    May 24, 2011

    I agree with you completely. I don't own one of these devices, but have thought about it (if I did any amount of backpacking alone I would by one). When I go backpacking I give two friends a map of our route with target camping locations. I tell them to call for help if the don't hear from me by a certain day/time.

    The only situation I can think of that I would need to use one would be if I got injured. I've never gotten lost enough to have needed one, and if I ever think to myself "maybe this isn't a good idea" I don't do it.

  • Chris

    July 9, 2011

    Maybe there should be a fee associated with actually *using* the SOS beacon. Something that you wouldn't hesitate to pay to get yourself out of a dangerous situation, but high enough to keep people from abusing the system. Say, $50.

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