...Or would you prefer a search and rescue team?
I've got a new friend. He doesn't say much, he just sits were I tell him to and keeps his mouth shut. He joins me on all my rides, I always know he's there and he provides me with a sense of calm. If I'm ever in trouble I know here's there for me and will summon help faster than Lassie on crack and won't get lost, sidetracked or hurt himself. No he's not a dog.
Meet my new BFF, the ACR ResQlink Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
I do a lot of back country missions. Most of them have limited or no cellphone reception. I have been constantly nervous about riding in these areas, especially as I do many of them on my own. Despite acting like an idiot most of the time, I actually have a strong sense of self preservation and can be quite responsible in times of need. When I go bush, I send a detailed text message of my route to my wifes phone and I urge her to set her alarm for my due out time. Then she has a phone list of the right people to call depending on what area I am in and hopefully they can organise a rescue. How many of you do just that? Not many I bet. See how responsible I am.
Obviously this system has a few flaws. My wife has other priorities in life that may affect her memory. On a few occasions I have exited a bush mission and forgotten to call her to say I'm safe and correspondingly she has forgotten to set her alarm , or has been in a meeting and it's been dark when I've realized my neglect and called her to discover her embarrassed reaction to my accusation that she doesn't care about me.
And it's not just those back country no reception missions that cause issues. I have been closely involved in two rescues lately. Both had people there to assist and good phone reception but in one instance it took about 4 hours for medical personnel to finally get the patient winched out with a broken back. The other one we were 100 metres from a busy city street and it took a few loops around the block from the ambulance before they found us, one with a broken neck. (Moral of the story?...Don't ride with therodfather)
But seriously. Have you ever put much thought into how long it would take to effect a rescue if you had a silly little off-your-bike and maybe just twisted your ankle. What if it was worse, like you ripped open an artery or snapped a limb or smacked your head real bad. Got an allergic reaction to a bee sting in your throat, suffered a stroke or heart attack. Poked your eye out with a stick, got trampled by a cow (It's happened to me already) or fell down a ten metre cliff. Jesus! This shit is real. We are crashing our bikes all the time and sometimes it's the silliest little spills that cause the worst injuries. how long until you can contact rescue personnel and then for them to actually realize exactly where you are and get a crew together and find you? Too damn long.
Think about it. You're in a big pile of poo. You'll be tired, hungry, cold (sweaty lycra and a lightweight shell just doesn't cut it when your lying injured in the bush for hours) and you're having dark thoughts about your partner meeting someone new and your kids getting a new dad/mum in a few short months because you were too tight to invest in a PLB.
I know it sucks spending money on something that doesn't improve your life. Like bloody house insurance. Life Insurance. Car insurance. What? You have those things? Then why don't you have Get Home In One Piece Insurance? And it does improve your life. I have enjoyed a much calmer inner self when I'm out in the back blocks of New Zealand. That voice inside my head, you know that sensible paranoid one that makes sure I don't get locked up on a daily basis, is a whole lot quieter when I ride and I ride with more confidence which actually means I ride a lot safer.
There's this real rad rescue type bloke called Mark from SAR Dynamics in Australia. He has been following my Instagrams and recognizing that I was a perfect customer for a Personal Locator Beacon, he got in touch and hooked me up. Mark works out of a rescue helicopter winching people like us up out of trouble, and seeing the need for fast response he set up SAR Dynamics to equip lovers of the outdoors with the right tools to give us and our loved ones piece of mind when we are out doing risky stuff.
How does it work? In a nut shell you buy a ResQlink PLB from firstname.lastname@example.org (email him direct for the best pricing). When it arrives you register it online with the RCCNZ ( Rescue Co-ordination Centre NZ). Then you go out and get seriously lost and/or hurt . Get your PLB out , put it on the ground preferably with a clear view of the sky, unwind the aerial and turn it on. It sends a continuous signal for 24 hours via satellite to the RCCNZ who then call the emergency phone numbers you have supplied to get a better understanding of your situation while deciding on the best course of action to get you to a hospital. They may send a chopper, or a local search and rescue crew if it makes more sense. Meanwhile, you sit tight, and have a wee sing-a-long and a jungle disco with the strobe light that you also should've bought so that you can signal the chopper and/or rescue crew to your exact location.
When I got my PLB, I couldn't help but wonder how dire my situation needed to be before I hit the rescue button, so I thought I'd better call Mark before I mis-used it and tried to order a double frappaccino and cheese scone.
Therodfather: What countries can I use it and do I need to do anything to register when I travel?
Mark: Your registered PLB can be used in other participating countries as it runs on the COSPAS - SARSAT Emergency Satellite network.
To find out what countries it will work in visit the COSPAS - SARSAT website and go to (About us) then (Participants) to find out what countries are onboard.
You can enter a trip intention with your own countries beacon registration authority advising them about your planned trip.
If you are overseas and activate your beacon in an emergency your own country will get the alert as beacons are country coded and then they will pass on the details to that countries Search and Rescue network to coordinate a response.
Check to see that the country you are visiting is a participant in the COSPAS -SARSAT programme first and foremost.
Also you will need to contact your airline for guidance on carrying distress beacons, as every airline and airport have differing requirements.
Therodfather: If I hit the button, what is the response procedure? Does a Heli get automatically sent if it shows I am away from a road?
Mark: When activated, beacons transmit a signal that can be detected worldwide by the international search and rescue satellite system COSPAS – SARSAT.
The signal and beacon registration details are detected by the RCC (Rescue Coordination Centre) to coordinate a response.
It could be a land based response or by air depending on resources at the time.
The time it takes for search and rescue to reach you depends on a number of factors, including weather, if it’s day or night, the terrain, available assets and the accessibility of your location.
Helicopters are generally tasked when terrain and time is an issue due to injury.
Therodfather: Is the ACR ResQlink PLB a one-time use only? Can they be re-used/rebuilt?
Mark: The ACR ResQlink is a multi – use device with an expected six-year battery life from date of manufacture. After this period the batteries can be replaced at an authorized ACR service centre for a fee.
Therodfather: I need to hit you with some scenarios: DO I HIT THE BUTTON???
1 I'm riding in a built up area off road and I twist my ankle and cant walk. I know I'll be fine but I'm alone and will have to crawl for an hour or so (no phone).
Beacons should generally only be activated if in life threatening situations so in this instance deemed NON LIFE THREATENING you should try and gain attention by other means first and then do your best to make your way out. Always carry a phone and a beacon as back up.
2. I'm alone in a built up area and I'm only a few hundred metres from the road, but I hit my head and my neck is grating and real sore and and I'm not sure I should move at all. (no phone, and with a phone)
The above-mentioned scenario has the potential to be a life threatening (Head / Neck / Back) injury so with NO phone situation beacon activation would be advised unless you can raise the alarm by other means such as a passer by, another trail user etc. DO NOT move. Stay until help arrives as you may have a serious neck / spinal / head injury.
If you HAVE a phone you would call 111 advise them of your injury / location and contact number.
If you are unsure of your exact location use your smartphone or emergency app to identify your location to pass onto 111 also advise them that you have a beacon.
3. I'm with others and a cellphone but I fall and hit my head and am bad enough to not be able to ride out (can probably walk but I'm in a bad way)
In most cases if you are carrying both a phone (have signal) and a PLB always call 111 first and advise them your type of emergency / location / contact number.
Also advise them that you have a beacon with you. If required they may get you to activate it to pinpoint your exact location especially if you are in a remote area.
Depending on distance to vehicles your mates may be able to get you back to the car and onto hospital. Common sense prevails. Consider time delays depending on location as head injuries can deteriorate depending on the impact.
4. I'm in the middle of nowhere and I'm running out of time to get back before dark (no phone)
Are you injured? Life threatening? Consider the options before you activate the PLB. Try and make your own way out and only activate the PLB as a last resort.
If you are over due then hopefully a loved one or friend will raise the alarm.
Preparation is key here. Always advise people of your intentions and when you are planning to be back.
5. I'm in the middle of nowhere and I break my arm /collarbone. It’s going to be a long walk back (2-3 hours), I'm fine but in a lot of pain.(no phone)
The injury is not life threatening but due to a long walk out, access / time / no phone and pain it is advisable to activate the PLB and stay put until help arrives.
6. Same again but I have a phone and have rung 111 and they're arranging a land rescue but it will take 4-5 hours to find me.
If you have rung 111 they will determine the best means of responding to you. Tell them you are carrying a beacon. If they are advising that length of time (4 -5 hours) then the air asset (Rescue Helicopter) might be on another task or unavailable. 111 can task a helicopter also so they will decide the best means of recovery.
Common sense prevails most of the time and preparation is crucial.
Beacons are great but should be used only in life threatening situations or when time and access is an issue. If in doubt and you have a phone and signal advise 111 of the emergency and let them know you have a beacon.
If you are well prepared and carry the right equipment you should hopefully never have to use them all going well but nice to know you have them as a last resort.
Also check out AMSA / BEACONS and COSPAS SARSAT for some great info.
Therodfather: Wow, thanks Mark, that’s real helpful. You know, we’re like brothers from a different mother…In the 90’s I was a firefighter and like yourself I was involved in many bush rescues, well tree rescues actually…. I've saved many cats! Is it possible to train a cat to activate a Personal Locator beacon?.......Hello?....Hello?...Hello Mark?
Well. What do you think? For under $500 you can go anywhere and feel very secure knowing that help can be mobilised in a matter of minutes. When you think about the places you ride here in NZ and how often you have no phone reception it really seem idiotic to not have this little life saver in your pocket now doesn't it?
Email Mark now, tell him therodfather sent you and you'll get a great deal.