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  1. #1
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    Default Emergency Electronics Technology

    I need some opinions/input...

    I'm looking into electronics for use in an emergency. In talking with people I usually hear a couple of primary comments...

    1) If you are smart, careful, wise etc, etc... you don't need them
    and
    2) Satphone

    The point of this is I'm interested in carrying some sort of technology for emergency communications. So if you are a #1 kind of guy don't feel obligated to post..

    For those who would recommend a satphone - here's my delima....

    I've carried a satphone on several hunts and we've used them to communicate with transporters, airlines and even home to the family. They are great and I can see where they COULD save you're bacon in a pinch.... That is if you can get coverage and have the numbers to contact someone... There have been several occassions where coverage was slack... I've never had one completely fail but it just makes me think what if I needed coverage NOW. I also recall several times I've called and had to listen to the sound of "Digital Confusion" as the persons voice was scrambled.

    I've been researching handheld personal location beacons like the ACR Terra Fix w/ GPS. I've read what I can and spoke to the sales rep at ACR. I had an explination given to me that makes sense but I don't know enough to dicipher whether it's a sales pitch or truth.

    I was told that a satphone requires a "constant" link with the Satellite in orbit to transmit communication. Where as the PLB only needs an instant connection to relay the digital distress signal and GPS coordinates. The Satellite then records and repeats until a response is generated.

    Anyone know more about this?

    I can see where the convenience of a Sat phone would be nice. I can see where having communications in an emergency that is NOT life threatening would be beneficial. But in an ALL OUT - LIFE OR DEATH - emergency does anyone think there's something better than a PLB?

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    I've had an Iridium phone for 4 years and have not had a single instance where it wouldn't connect. It dropped one call in that time and I attributed that to my walking through thick timber. My phone has connected from deep valleys, forests, boats, airplanes, and even through my cabin window when I didn't want to go outside. I have important numbers saved in speed dial and I've disarmed the pin# so it's easier and faster to dial a call.

    A sat phone provides you a chance to communicate the nature of your emergency. Go back to the airplane accident in Shelikof that Andrew Air had this past year. They had what..6 people in the water? RCC was told where the emergency was and how many people were involved and went prepared to deal with what was at hand. Nobody died. That's the best testimonial for the advantage of sat phones over EPIRBs that I can think of. Had RCC responded to a beacon, it would have only been after a delay for signal verification and then they wouldn't have sent the assets to deal with the number of people out there.

    The best use for my satellite phone has been to call home and let everyone know that I would be late and that I was safe. No rescue necessary. Or when I just needed gas. A friend was willing to bring it to me. No Blawkhawk was required. The sat phone made that information available and saved rescue resources a trip that wasn't necessary.

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    Default Emergency Electronics Technology

    WinMag:
    I refuse to limit myself to only one option; PLB or Satphone? Both. Plus survival equipment, cell phone, VHF radio and whatever else that I can think of to take along that might save my butt. Granted, sheep hunting (for example), you might have to leave some items behind for weight considerations but on my boat, I can take just about everything I could want. In a hypothetical situation where I could have only one choice, it would be a 406 Mhz PLB. Nothing else (electronically speaking) is more reliable in terms of operating correctly; (long life batteries, designed to take a beating, almost no chance of operator error when activating, etc.)...when/if I push that red button, the calvary is coming and I can depend on that. Lots of false alarms out there, especially with the old 121.5 Mhz EPIRBs/ELT's....that's why they're no longer manufactured and cannot be used after 1 Jan 2007. Take along whatever best suits your situation...if you plan on staying close to home with cell phone coverage, then that's the best bet. Out cruising in PWS? VHF is pretty good most places with a few 'dead spots'.....on the haul road - Satphone or even CB. PLB? Everytime, everywhere. Be safe.

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    121.5 mhz equipment will not be phased out before Feb. 1st, 2009 at the earliest.

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    Sorry to disagree but this has been posted numerous places on this forum:

    Please read the notice at
    http://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/780/140048/ concerning 121.5 and 243 MHz beacons. If you have a 121.5/243 MHz beacon, you can no longer use it after 1 January 2007. Call the Recreational Boating Safety office at 1-800-478-6381 (Alaska only) or (907) 463-2297 if you have questions, thanks!

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    Cut from the SARSAT web page. It looks like your notice is specific to marine applications. I own a couple of aviation ELTs and I still have a couple of years to switch. Good thing, since they're about $2000.00 each for aviation units. FYI.


    February 1, 2009: The Phaseout of 121.5 MHz Beacons
    for Satellite Distress Alerting

    In October 2000 the International Cospas-Sarsat Program, announced at its 25th Council Session held in London, UK that it plans to terminate satellite processing of distress signals from 121.5 and 243 MHz emergency beacons on February 1, 2009. All mariners, aviators, and individuals using emergency beacons on those frequencies will need to switch to those operating on the newer, more reliable, digital
    406 MHz frequency if they want to be detected by satellites.

    The decision to stop satellite processing of 121.5 / 243 MHz signals is due to problems in this frequency band which inundate search and rescue authorities with poor accuracy and numerous false alerts, adversely impacting the effectiveness of lifesaving services. Although the 406 MHz beacons cost more at the moment, they provide search and rescue agencies with more reliable and complete information to do their job more efficiently and effectively. The Cospas-Sarsat Program made the decision to terminate 121.5/243 MHz satellite alerting services, in part, in response to guidance from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). These two agencies of the United Nations are responsible for regulating the safety on international transits of ships and aircraft, respectively, and handling international standards and plans for maritime and aviation search and rescue. More than 180 nations are members of IMO and ICAO.

    NOAA, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force, and NASA (the four Federal Agencies who manage, operate, and use the SARSAT system) are strongly advising users of 121.5/243 MHz beacons to make the switch to 406. Meanwhile, anyone planning to buy a new distress beacon may wish to take the Cospas-Sarsat decision into account.
    Last edited by Mr. Pid; 12-26-2006 at 09:50.

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    Default Emergency Electronics Technology

    Mr. Pid:
    You are correct regarding the 1 Feb 2009 date concerning 121.5/243 MHz phaseout. There are some ambiguities that I'd like to speak to if I may:

    This particular process is confusing at best. We've contacted our program managers in headquarters asking for clarification. My take is that the IMO may have pushed for the boater's phaseout earlier than the ICAO pushed for the aircraft phaseout to minimize the impacts on supply/demand of replacements. I believe that the 1 Feb 2009 date is the date that the satellites will no longer process 121.5/243 signals. Does that mean you don't need to go run out and immediately replace your 121.5 with a 406? If your sole concern is to meet the regulatory requirements and the 121.5 is still legal for your use, then the answer is probably no. If you are depending on the 121.5 to save your life, then yesterday isn't too soon to switch over to the 406. Bottom line is that 121.5/243 MHz beacons will be illegal for boaters after 1 Jan 2007 but not for aircraft. The Coast Guard press releases specify boats; not aircraft. I hope this helps and I'd be happy to take any other questions. Thanks!

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    CG,

    Good explanation. From what I've read it appears that aviation regulations may not require 406mhz for small general aviation aircraft even after the satellites are decomissioned.

    I still think that sat phones are a better tool to facilitate rescue. ELTs facilitate recovery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CG Boating Safety View Post
    Mr. Pid:
    You are correct regarding the 1 Feb 2009 date concerning 121.5/243 MHz phaseout. There are some ambiguities that I'd like to speak to if I may:

    This particular process is confusing at best. We've contacted our program managers in headquarters asking for clarification. My take is that the IMO may have pushed for the boater's phaseout earlier than the ICAO pushed for the aircraft phaseout to minimize the impacts on supply/demand of replacements. I believe that the 1 Feb 2009 date is the date that the satellites will no longer process 121.5/243 signals. Does that mean you don't need to go run out and immediately replace your 121.5 with a 406? If your sole concern is to meet the regulatory requirements and the 121.5 is still legal for your use, then the answer is probably no. If you are depending on the 121.5 to save your life, then yesterday isn't too soon to switch over to the 406. Bottom line is that 121.5/243 MHz beacons will be illegal for boaters after 1 Jan 2007 but not for aircraft. The Coast Guard press releases specify boats; not aircraft. I hope this helps and I'd be happy to take any other questions. Thanks!
    CG,

    I have a question that you may be able to answer. I understand the advantages of the 406mhz beacons for reducing false signals and for providing identification of sender of a received signal. From what I've read the protocall for the monitoring agency is that once a signal is received and the sender code identified, phone calls are placed to validate the probablity of a real emergency. Here's the question. How much time, or what time limits are defined, for this process to take place? What happens if there is no answer? Is there a wait period before a second call attempt is made or is a rescue immediately mobilized? Would the monitoring agancy try to correlate the signal to a float or flight plan? I've seen the reported equipment advantages discussed in several articles but the human response element has never been mentioned. Thus the questions.

    Thanks for your help.

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    Default Emergency Electronics Technology

    Mr. Pid:
    Those are some interesting questions! As you may be aware, there are two primary SAR response centers in Alaska; the Coast Guard Command Center in Juneau and the RCC in Anchorage. Both are staffed 24/7. When a request for assistance comes in, much depends on the type of information recieved...i.e. was it a garbled VHF transmission? maybe a 121.5 ELT hit? a phone call from a worried spouse? Each case is different and many times the decision to launch/not launch is based on some comparatively vague information so confirmation can quickly become critical in the decision process. The Command Center in Juneau prosecutes several hundred cases each year and hits the launch button on a large percentage of them. Sometimes the entire process takes only minutes and sometimes the decision to launch takes hours; it all depends on the particular circumstances of the case. Rest assured that a 406 hit with GPS feed will generate a launch much quicker than a 121.5, especially if there is correlating information such as a VHF radio distress call along with the EPIRB hit. I think both the Juneau and Anchorage SAR people are easily among the best in the world; if you ever get a chance to tour one center or the other, do so. These men & women are very well trained and experienced and having worked with the CC in Juneau for the past 10 years, I'm very confident that my life is in the best hands possible if I need them. I hope this answers your questions and have a great New Year! I'll be back in the office on 3 January at 463-2297. Mike

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    Default cg boat safety?

    CG Boating Safety,

    Do you have any opinion (personal or professional) on my initial inquiry?

    Pro's and Con's - Satphones vs. 406mhz PLB's?

    I think the input posted so far is correct. The ideal thing would be to have both. I have always rented a Sat-phone for extended back country trips and float hunts but after recently buying a boat started wondering about a PLB that could be carried both on board as well as "outback"...

    I guess what I'm wondering is from a safety stand point, would a 406mhz PLB be more reliable in getting me help if and when I was faced with a TRUE LIFE AND DEATH scenario...

    If I where to prioritize my purchases would you suggest a PLB before a Sat-phone or vice-versa?

    thanks to all who have posted...

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    Default Best Of All?

    Is there such a thing as a Satphone with built in 406mhz/PLB and gps?

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    Winmag,

    Just want to mention that a satphone without a gps can get one in trouble, as many who are new to areas don't know exactly where they are. Also, if a satphone is going be be a primary means of calling for help, you must have the proper numbers written down first so you know who to call. I've seen instances of rescues being bogged down by too much information passed between various parties...guy calls wife, wife calls troopers, troopers notify MAST, wife relays wrong location, that kind of thing.

    If you know your exact coordinates, and you know the proper people to call, the iridium would be my preferred choice, but I'd also carry the PLB. I have also in the past had one incident in which a call to a local pilot saved a guy's bacon much faster than calling troopers and getting a MAST chopper up. That is also something to consider when time is of the essence. You asked in an all out life or death emergency if anything was better than a PLB. In some cases, as above, yes, a satphone may save your life whereas the PLB may take longer to get people to you. Some SAR guys who read this forum may know the average response time to a PLB going off. That would be interesting info to base the decision on as well.

    There have been other cases where a satphone hindered rescue, because of the information relayed. One example is a hunter I heard about who was sheep hunting alone, took a long bad fall, called out after breaking his ankle, asked for a rescue. He was calm, had splinted his leg, told the trooper he spoke with he was in no immediate danger. He didn't realize he had also fractured his leg higher up, bleeding out...the trooper said he was required to give first chance at any non-life-threatening rescues to for-pay companies, not sure if this is still the law or not. That same scenario happened to me once when I called out via ham radio for another guy, whose wife had been injured...it'd taken him three days to reach my place, the nearest comms. He said his wife had badly broken her leg. I was also in contact with MAST personnel, who came up on HF frequency. The medic I spoke with was very concerned, as was I. They fired up the chopper, but the trooper told them he'd given the call to a private company in Tok, but that chopper pilot would not fly at night and would wait til the next morning. I was ticked, the MAST guys were ticked, but by law - this was in the latter 80s - they had to let the trooper make the call. The woman nearly died, had lost a lot of blood, and the little Hughes 500 that went out to pick her up was not equipped with the right medical equipment, no co-pilot medic etc. Again, I don't know if this is still the way things work, and maybe someone here could enlighten us as to how the chain of command works these days if you call the troopers for rescue assistance.

    Lots of decisions to be weighed when out there and hurt, especially if you aren't sure how bad the injury is. I don't know of a iridium with built-in PLB, an iridiums are the only ones I've found to have coverage all up north.

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    CG,

    Thanks for the answers. For what it's worth, this topic got me looking into 406mhz aircraft ELTs again. It had been a year at least. Artex now has a 406
    mhz ELT approved for small general aviation planes that's priced around $850.00 in the popular air parts catalogs. That's a very significant price reduction from last year. Your responses have made an impression. I guess it's time to upgrade.

    I may call you to get the Coast Guard emergency number. I have RCC stored in the sat phone. Another option can only be a good thing.

    Do you have any statistics for dispatches to what turned out to be non life-threatening emergencies? Particularly in manually triggered devices?

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    Default Emergency Electronics Technology

    Interesting thread and lots of great questions! I'll give it a shot and try to answer them: WinMag: Satphone or 406? That's a tough one; there are advantages to both. Beacons (406) are constructed to sustain alot more damage and still operate (airplane crashes, submersion, falls, etc.) than satphones, so when the situation gets bad and you need rescuing, the beacon can be depended on to survive where a satphone might not under the same circumstances. Beacons send a simple and direct message;"COME AND GET ME!".....and can be expected to connect a much higher percentage of time than a satphone (sorry, no stats available). The advantage to satphones is that you can actually talk to someone and if you need specific medical supplies, etc., you can easily confirm this by talking to someone. There is a definite physcological advantage in knowing somebody is coming to the rescue as opposed to pushing the red button on an EPIRB and (im)patiently waiting. Personally, I would give the edge to the EPIRB if I had to make the choice, simply because I believe that a 406 EPIRB/PLB will more consistently deliver. Also, as far as I know, no one is making a satphone with a 406 & gps built in.
    Mr. Pid: The Coast Guard emergency number is (907) 463-2000. You can also reach us at 1-800-478-5555 but this number is Alaska only and cannot be reached by satphone. *CG works on Alaska cell phones as well, but only if your cell phone carrier is based in Alaska. The *CG doesn't work with Verizon, Nextel or any of the other "outside" carriers. I don't have statistics at my fingertips concerning how many satellite hits ended up being non-life threatening...or if they were Cat. I or Cat. II; but it would be some interesting information....I'll see if I can round it up. Bushrat makes some good points as well; each circumstance is different and in one case, a satphone produces the best result and in another, perhaps a beacon, another could be a flare seen by a good Sam...you just never really know and that's exactly why anyone venturing into Alaska's wilderness should be as trained, experienced and equipped to the highest level that is possible/practical. Keep the odds in your favor and you'll win more often. I just got some better info on the 121.5/243 MHz prohibition and will post it later today. Thanks for your interest in this subject, I hope that I can be a worthwhile contributor to this forum! Mike

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    Default question for Mike

    Mike,

    Do you know if there is still in place a system in which if one were to call the troopers for a rescue, that they are required to give first priority to for-pay companies?

    Also, not sure if Perry (Snyd) has anything up here as a sticky, but would be nice if we had something here that listed all the pertinent numbers to call over various parts of the state, including the CG rescue number.
    Thanks,

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    I've asked the Rescue Coordination Center how they decide to dispatch a rescue. Their first choice is to send a Trooper helicopter. You may be charged for that service, but they didn't know for sure. In cases where the Troopers are unable to respond due to weather, night, or other circumstances, the National Guard is dispatched. There is no fee for their services. If you have communications and call for a medivac, you may get a civilian helicopter which will almost certainly cost you a fee.

    I have two friends that have been retrieved alive by the Guard. We're fortunate beyond what words can say to have those guys. The same can be said of the Coast Guard.

    I remember a multi-part story in the Daily News about 15 years ago that described the rescue of several fisherman who were in the water off Kodiak in 100kt winds and near 100' seas. The Coast Guard got all but one, and that one lost his hold of the basket and fell back in. The crewmen described leaning out to guide the winch line and seeing the waves above them while they were in the helo. That was a great story. I mean prize-winning great story. Spine tingling. I wish I could find it again.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bushrat View Post
    Mike,

    Do you know if there is still in place a system in which if one were to call the troopers for a rescue, that they are required to give first priority to for-pay companies?

    Also, not sure if Perry (Snyd) has anything up here as a sticky, but would be nice if we had something here that listed all the pertinent numbers to call over various parts of the state, including the CG rescue number.
    Thanks,
    Great idea Mark. I'll do it.
    A gun is like a parachute. If you need one, and donít have one, youíll probably never need one again

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    Default mucho thanks Perry

    Perry, thanks for getting the sticky up there!

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    Default Emergency Electronics Technology

    Mark:
    In reference to your question about rescue priorities going to commercial enterprises from the troopers, I would have to defer that question to the troopers...I can tell you that the CG's Maritime SAR Assistance Policy says something something very similar. Please keep in mind that this only applies if there is no immediate threat to life or property.....i.e. if you ran out of gas and called the CG, they(we) would likely do a MARB (Marine Assistance Request Broadcast) and/or ask you if you have someone you would like to have us contact. If you ran out of gas and the wind was blowing you towards the rocks and it was getting dark, you would most likely get immediate assistance to mitigate the threat. I'll add the CG numbers to Snyd's sticky post. Good idea! I think the book Mr. Pid referred to is Spike Walker's "Coming back alive" Absolutely amazing stories about some really hairy rescues. Mike

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