EPIRB ..... When to activate?

I have read with interest people mentioning that, as I do, they carry EPIRBs, I am curious to know under what circumstances they would use them.
I read one post where it was mentioned to use an EPIRB when they were broken down in the High Country & all that was really required was a fairly long walk to a main road, surely that is merely inconvenience?

So ... when would you activate your beacon?
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Reply By: Bigfish - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 16:46

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 16:46
Only in life threatening situations! HOWEVER ..who decides what is life threatening? Sadly common sense is growing scarcer and nongs will set off an epirb when not really necessary.. Maybe charging them the cost of the search is warranted. Satfone is a lot dearer but in my opinion a must if travelling to remote/isolated areas. Epirb for backup positioning if reqd.
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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 17:00

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 17:00
X 2

We have a sat phone , HF radio and PLB, the PLB will only get used as a last resort or if we can't operate the phone or HF.

Using a PLB is like writing "HELP" in the sand.... some one will find you eventually.

I would not dream of using a PLB unless it was really needed, AND tying up precious resources and time...... could see it now " set off the PLB and being found 5 hours later by 5 x 4wd's, 2 x planes and 1 x helecopter plus 25 support crew only to tell them.... Mate Can you help me with my flat tyre".
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Follow Up By: kidsandall - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:52

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:52
There was a foreign couple in a hire 4wd on the Montezuma track in Tassie a couple years ago who set of there epirb. They were bogged and needed someone to show them how to put it in 4wd. They were about 7kms from the main road, not in any danger. The police arrived and pushed the lever forward and drove it out. From memory I think they were fined $14,000 for falsely setting it off. It needs to be only set off if life threatening but before it's to late as it may take a while for help to arrive.

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Reply By: The Landy - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 17:01

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 17:01
From the Australian Government website...

“Distress beacons should only be used when there is a threat of grave and imminent danger. In the event of an emergency, communication should first be attempted with others close by using radios, phones and other signalling devices. Mobile phones can be used but should not be relied upon as they can be out of range, have low batteries or become water-damaged.”

My take is that if you have to think twice about whether you should use it or not after taking into account the above guidelines than I would hit the button, little point dying wondering...
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Reply By: Travis22 - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 17:11

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 17:11
Exactly, ONLY in life threatening situations.

In the high country IMO this only applies if you are off track - hiking, hunting etc. and something goes wrong.

You are unable to contact anyone else in the area, and are not able to get back to shelter / warmth.

If stuck in extreme weather again id still say you should have the means to reasonably look after yourself - ride it out.

So long as you show reasonable efforts to be self sufficient, but due to extreme circumstances you still felt like your life was in danger then i think you are well within your rights to activate your PLB. (EPIRBS are for Boats).

IMO i doubt, 'they' the govt. are going to make anyone pay for their own rescue in the case of incompetence... Sure the media might run a story or two about what an idiot you were, and 'they' will warn you that you 'could' be liable for false activations but i bet that all. I wish they did make a few of the idiots pay but ive never heard of it happening.


Its pretty hard to comment on 'the' case in the high country with the information you have given but who knows... up there the weather can turn in minutes. How 'main' is the main road, up there who knows even reaching a 'main' road / track does no guarantee someone is going to come passed for hours (rarely, but still possible; even a day or two), and from there it still could be 50-60km out to ACTUAL help / contact with people, a town.

If you leave your vehicle and start hiking out and an hour later the weather drops 20deg, visibility go's to zero... then what, ok sure. Activate your PLB, but still it could be hours before help arrives, and in these conditions they might not even be able to reach you for 12-24hours...

Unless you are highly experienced, and have all the equipment necessary my advice would be to stay with your vehicle and ride it out (the bad weather) and keep waiting, trying to contact others on the UHF. Depending on your location Mobile Phone coverage is pretty much available from EVERY high mountain peak. I would be more likely to head 'up' and get mobile phone reception (as much as i hate it when on holidays!). If you have done all that, run out of food and froze ya butt off for one night, maybe, just maybe then id flick the switch on the PLB.


AnswerID: 462267

Follow Up By: Shaker - Sunday, Aug 14, 2011 at 11:39

Sunday, Aug 14, 2011 at 11:39
I think you will find that the only difference bewteen an EPIRB & a PLB is size, there is no other difference. A PLB will fit into the pocket of your wet weather gear is also for marine use.
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Reply By: Bill BD - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 18:23

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 18:23
I have thought about this at length in the past and its not easy. When is something life threatening? More importantly, do you wait until you are in dire circumstance given you don't know how far away help could be.... or do you activate early to avoid catastrophe. Do you wait until your last litre of water... two litres? Or do you call while you have supplies to spare (when the temptation is to wait for someone to show up)? I dunno. I will activate early and take the legal consequences of that I think. Good reason to have a sat phone.
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Follow Up By: Tonyfish#58 - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 20:34

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 20:34
Yes you wait until the situation is life threatening/dire. It is for emergency only. You can survive a few days after you run out of food.

You should be carrying other aids to sort out the smaller issues.

Cheers Tony
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Follow Up By: Bill BD - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 01:25

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 01:25
No, I am not talking about smaller issues Tony. I am talking about preventing a serious issue from becomming dire. I am not into the idea of waiting for days for a chance rescue. As an example, you are bush walking and break your leg. On a popular trail chances are someone may come past and find you but you know its going to be sub zero at night. So do you wait for the cold to set in and risk that on top of shock or do you activate your epirb and get the hell out while you are still relatively healthy?

I don't think it is simple. I use the bush walking example because that's the context I was in when I thought about this. Few walkers carry sat phones as well as epirb.... too much weight. As I said though. In the context of travelling by vehicle, all of this is a good reason to have alternatives.
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Reply By: Tim - Stratford (VIC) - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 18:53

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 18:53
All valid points. One thing to remember is that emergency services don't know what the emergency is. A beacon activation is detected and generally a response is quickly launched.

If taking the High Country for example, the last PLB activation got an initial response from three police units and a MICA ambulance. This was soon expanded to another police unit and two police Search and Rescue vehicles with oversnow vehicle capabilities. The searches don't know if the person is dying, stuck or lonely.

It turned into a large scale operation but ended with a good result, with the person being found safe, but cold and wet.

I'd always recommend another form of comms so that you can contact '000' or similar, and advised them if you are 'just' lost, injured or need specialist medical attention.

Bottom line:- when you honestly believe there is no other option and you can't help yourself without putting yourself or others in danger - flick the switch.


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Reply By: Rob! - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:01

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:01
Also, if you OK but lost and you know there is a search party out there looking for you, you should turn on the PLB so they don't waste resources looking for you.
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Reply By: Hairy (WA) - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:22

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:22
I agree with everyone else....... If you think your life is at risk or you know there is already a search party looking for you.
Obviously dont leave it too late,but dont set it off when there is a possibility of someone comeing past before your rations run out or you need medical help.

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Reply By: Anotheone - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:29

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 19:29
I can sort of provide some input here as I dobbed myself in responding in another thread as I work on the box that gets the activations and then coordinates the response.

The official answer as pointed out above is that it is a distress call - when life is in imminent danger. But that is often a personal call, its easy in a boat (I'm sinking) or in a plane (engine stopped and flying is curtailed). On land and isolated and you come upon an accident and people are hurt and you have no other means of communication is an easy scenario as well.

Off-road is sometimes the harder, ie breakdown/bogged, it really is your call and you take into consideration - how remote am I, is someone expecting me, do we have enough food and water, is there any other means of communication. It may not seem too bad on day 1 but don't wait till its too late - better to rescue a fit and healthy family then find one that ran out of water a day ago.

If you do set it off though, please leave it on until the Police or we ask you to turn it off. If someone comes along and helps you out of trouble - keep it on - as you can imagine how hard a scenario it is that one is active for awhile and then disappears and no one is at the spot indicated.

The other thing is to consider what time of day is it, if you are concerned at lunchtime its best not think "I will till tonight in case someone comes along before I set it off". There are so many more options to help you by day then when the sun goes down.

Sort of also goes back to my "preaching" in the other thread, register it for free and keep your details up todate and provide good info to your contacts, and when you set it off it will be a lot easier to resolve and maybe a simple response :)

Apart from being an official response - the above is pretty much the same answer that we give at boat and 4WD shows. (yep we get to have a stand at a few shows each year now for 4WD shows :) )

Hope this helps albeit not a difinitive answer

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Follow Up By: The Landy - Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 20:53

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 20:53
A well reasoned response, thanks Pete!
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Follow Up By: D200Dug- Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 22:57

Wednesday, Aug 10, 2011 at 22:57
Good answer

looking at it from an SES point of view ( I am ex SES now )

We would rather someone set off a beacon that locates them than put a huge effort into a land search.

If you are stuck somewhere, well overdue and know people are going to be getting worried then better to let them know where you are than send out a massive search.

I don't think there is ever going to be a 100% right answer to this question.
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Follow Up By: George_M - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 14:42

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 14:42
Hey Pete.

A silly question. I was looking at buying a GME 410G from overseas.

Is this type of technology generic across the Planet (like satphones), or are there Regional and/or Country differences?

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Follow Up By: Anotheone - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 15:10

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 15:10

Its a common question actually.

Any beacon that has been approved by cospas sarsat - they have a list at Here can be used and will work anywhere in the world.

If all you are going to use it for is offroad/ hiking its not illegal. If you want to use it for an activity where you are required to carry a registered beacon it wont be accepted

Big point though - you cant register it on Australia's database unless its coded with the Australian code. (we are not allowed to register overseas beacons) So if you set it off - we wont get all your details presented with the initial detection so we wont know who you are.

If it comes with a position we will still look for you as its an international agreement.

If a beacon is detected without a position (which does happen even with initial alerts from GPS ones sometimes) the alert will go to the country that its coded for. So that add delays.

To be honest - just buy one here, GME ones are made and serviced here, which will be more useful when you need to get the battery changed or if you have a warranty issue (beacons do go off inadvertently for a variety of reasons.) I only mention GME as that is the type you are looking at.

We dont recommend it, buy it here and its coded for aussie, which means you can register it here and having those details is a real plus for us (and you)

There is some more info on the bottom of this page about buying from overseas. http://beacons.amsa.gov.au/beacon-models.html#importantbuyer


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Follow Up By: George_M - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 15:52

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 15:52
Thanks Pete.

That all makes sense - I'll buy a local model.

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Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 22:09

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 22:09

What are your views on the spot devices? - when the SOS is activated on a spot what info do you get in Oz?


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Follow Up By: Anotheone - Saturday, Aug 13, 2011 at 22:39

Saturday, Aug 13, 2011 at 22:39

If you use the 911 on a spot and you are in Australia we should receive telephone advice from the Spot emergency team. They will pass us the owners details and position updates.. RCC was nominated as the contact point for Australia. The spot team are responsible for chasing down extra info and keeping the contacts up to date. After that we just treat it the same as if we had been advised of a problem from any other source.

Regarding spot, personally I use one regularly for the live tracking function and it does it well for the price.

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Follow Up By: Pete Jackman (SA) - Sunday, Aug 14, 2011 at 10:17

Sunday, Aug 14, 2011 at 10:17
Thanks Pete

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Reply By: get outmore - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 02:50

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 02:50
wouldnt think one would be neccessary in Vic no where there is further than 50k from a bitumen road let alone a main dirt road
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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 06:29

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 06:29
50K is a long walk with a broken leg though.
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Follow Up By: Member - lyndon NT - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 07:27

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 07:27
OK, how long would it take you to walk 50 km's? For me on easy terrain, 1 1/2 days at least, maybe 2, harder terrain could = 3 days.
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Follow Up By: Nigel Migraine - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 12:34

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 12:34
"wouldnt think one would be neccessary in Vic"

Then you would be wrong.

It is not simply the distance one has to traverse but also the terrain; walking 30km across hard packed desert is not too difficult providing the temperature is not high. Walking 15km through the Victorian High country can require the physical fitness of a high level athlete if you're in the more difficult country. I'm talking tracks with loose rock surfaces and so steep you can only see sky through the windscreen when ascending them.

These tracks almost require one to get down on all fours in places when walking up them and are so rough and steep when descending that staying upright is a serious challenge.

In addition to that, many/most of us are are not as fit or as young as we should be and even 2km on foot in such country is a serious challenge - as I know from personal experience. And you'd better make sure you have quality hiking boots with you as the stones will rip your BigW or even Nike "Sports Shoes" apart quickly.

On top of that, the weather in the High Country can change in minutes; I've known both 45C and snow in January up there.

Don't let the fact that distances on a map are not large fool you, a mistake in the High Country will, in my opinion, likely kill you more surely than a similar mistake in the desert.
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Follow Up By: get outmore - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 13:14

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 13:14
thats 50k to bitumen roads - chances are there are alot of other roads alot closer

as to how long, furtherst ive walked to get help was 40ks and it took 9 hours

although it then took another 15 hours till someone came along
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Follow Up By: D200Dug- Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 17:11

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 17:11

A man was found near death in the snow close to a resort villa

If you are lost and stuck you are usually far safer to stay with your vehicle than to walk for help especially in difficult conditions. ( heat or cold )
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Follow Up By: Bill BD - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 19:18

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 19:18
40 km in 9 hours is good hiking but how many can do that? I walk at 4kph (short legs) and am good for 20km..... 25 tops (that is carrying a pack). So 50 kph means overnight stop, which means warmth and shelter and food and extra water. All of a sudden 50 kph becomes a bloody long way.
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Follow Up By: D200Dug- Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 19:23

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 19:23
Then someone discovers an abandoned vehicle stuck in the middle of nowhere
Or you leave your partner alone in the middle of nowhere

Unless you really know what you are doing and where you are going better to stay with your vehicle.
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Reply By: The Landy - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 09:27

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 09:27
Whilst there is some discussion around other forms of communication versus PLB (mobile phone etc), it is worth a read of the following article involving the death of David Iredale in 2009.

In a nutshell David contacted triple-0 on his mobile phone after becoming lost in the Blue Mountains and less than 50 kilometres from Sydney. Vital information was not passed to police and they assumed he was in good health and had plenty of provisions; tragically his body was found 8 days later.

Had he activated a PLB (he didn’t have one with him) there would have been no ambiguity over his need to be assisted. So mobile phone or PLB? No ambiguity in the PLB as it will be acted upon immediately and without hesitation. David used his mobile phone, and died.

And I’m not passing comment on this case other than to highlight it, and it isn’t to say that other forms of communication should not be carried or used, but David’s tragic story is very sobering and makes you think twice on how you might want to alert authorities to your plight!

David Iredale - a (very) tragic story

And I’m, sure triple-0 procedures have changed as a consequence of David’s plight...

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Follow Up By: Sand Man (SA) - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 21:04

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 21:04
What a sensible and valid comment Landy.

Obviously, some activations will be post-judged as perhaps frivolous or hasty and other methods may have been used.
The validity of attributing cost for response to non-critical situations of this kind has definite merit.

My decision to invest in a PLB is simply because of the overriding fact that the PLB or EPIRB is the absolute best method of obtaining response to an emergency situation that is available with current technology.

We seldom take a remote excursion on our own. Two or three vehicles in a convoy is the norm and if problems occur, then we have additional vehicles to utilise for problem extraction, or transport to the nearest township, station or other "populated" place. We have mobile phones and UHF transceivers for localised situations.
But, when circumstances determine that external help is required, a Personal Locator Beacon (for land based situations) is the best and most direct way of attracting the quickest response to an emergency situation.

I sincerely trust I will never have to activate my PLB, but I am confident that this device is the best I could choose as a "last line of defence".


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Reply By: Zebra400 - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 20:02

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 20:02

The idea of an emergency is different to everyone. Factors that can come into play, are your fitness level, your age, your sex, your mental alertness, your understanding of the local environment at the place of your 'emergency'. Also what other emergency equipment you have. Mobile phones, HF radios, UHF radios & Sat phones can all assist in some emergency situations. It is always good to carry other forms of communication so that you can try to get assistance locally.

When all these avenues are exhausted because they do not work or you do not have them, then you must make a decision whether to sit & wait for help to pass you by, or push the button the emergency button.

Breaking down in the high country could mean just waiting for someone to pass & assist you, but how long do you wait? There is no right answer. Everyone reacts differently when put under pressure with a breakdown or vehicle accident. At the end of the day, it is your decision as to whether you push the button. For sure, there will be people say that 'I could have sorted that problem out' but the were not there and assessing the situation.

I recall a 4WD trip we did about 5 years ago in the High Country. We were running a difficult trip so were on tracks that saw very few vehicles. As we rounded a bend, we saw a vehicle using a block & tackle to try to recover his Hilux up a 500 metre steep incline. After talking to the guy (Tim) & his new girl friend (she said she wasnt going 4WDing ever again), Tim told us that he took the wrong turn and came down the night before. Realising how difficult the track was, he tried to turn around at the bottom, but rolled his vehicle. He manged to upright, then slept in his vehicle overnight, then spent about 8 hours trying to recover his vehicle up the steep incline. Tim managed to move his vehicle about 100 metres up the hill in 8 hours (with breaks). This was a hill that required diff locks, which all our convoy had.

Being the first vehicles he had seen in 24 hours, Tim was greatly relieved when we offered to winch him off the track so we could pass then snatch him to the top of the hill. Of course, he had no emergency equipment, but if he had an epirb, I believe he would have used it, especially as no other vehicle travelled on the track the previous day or this day.

Was this an emergency? It is a personal decision, and the Australian government covers the cost for all 'genuine' emergency recoveries. How they define genuine is a little vague. However, iwe should note that this is not the case in other countries. I suppose this is why SPOT users will notice that they can purchase insurance to cover all emergency recoveries in other countries.


AnswerID: 462352

Follow Up By: The Landy - Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 21:54

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 21:54
Hi Laurie

I think the authorities define what isn’t a genuine call-out as ‘malicious intent’. That is the device was simply activated for the sake of it. And it isn’t because of the cost involved; in fact cost never seems to come into the rescue equation. Malicious activations could actually see emergency services deployed at a time when there is a ‘genuine’ emergency and therefore wasting scarce resources, that is the bigger concern, not the cost of deployment.

In terms of using other methods of communication, it may or may not be appropriate, but a read of my earlier post highlights the potential downside of using a mobile phone for example – you may need to convince someone there is an emergency, this will never happen with a PLB.

Studies have shown that people in ‘emergency’ situations usually recognise fairly early they are in a situation that is deteriorating and that outside intervention is required, but often simply delay that intervention, frequently with dire consequences.

And this is one reason why authorities are never likely to charge for a rescue, even if it might appear unwarranted to others, as long as the person being rescued believed they were in some sort of danger. The argument against charging for rescues is that you’ll end up with people dying with an inactivated PLB in their possession because they didn’t won’t to risk being charged the financial cost of a rescue...
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Reply By: D200Dug- Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 22:20

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 at 22:20
In the late 70s we did a land search with the SES for a missing person through pine forests near a major city.

We never found the young woman we were looking for but one of the teams found a missing motorbike rider who had had gone for a ride about 18 months earlier.

He was a bit skinny by the time we found him :-(

He had fallen and broken his leg badly and been trapped under the bike unable to get the 3 or 4 m to the road.

If he had had an epirb he would have been found and safe in hospital in a few hours rather than become a statistic .
AnswerID: 462361

Reply By: Beemer - Saturday, Aug 13, 2011 at 12:25

Saturday, Aug 13, 2011 at 12:25
G'day Everyone,

Really interesting read. We have just come back from a 3 month trip in remote areas. What we did;
Had two contacts back at home, second contact was our back up for the first.
Each had a current map, itinerary and important numbers .
We carried a Sat Phone and Epirb. We also ensured we had a plan should something go very bad.
On our EPIRB site we gave a full description of our vehicle from above, we also listed important things we carried such as comprehenisve first aid kit, what allergies we have. Water totals and what we average per day. Time we check in each night. Planning of this was very detailed and should we have got into a grave situation then the authorities had a full list and as much information as possible. The contact numbers were extremely important, this would allow them to speak with our contact to guage further info.
I also bush walk and river fish on my own. My wife has a map and also details of the the area I intend to fish. Usually I will giver her the actual grid references as well. I also carry my satphone. Regardless of the extra weight it allows me to check in. I remain disciplined in my walks and fishing to ensure I cover all aspects. My view is EPIRB use is only used should I feel my life is in grave danger, snake bite, severe injurie etc. As for break downs, well I would use my back up of the satphone to make arrangements.

Discipline is important, for insdtance when I go on my own I stick to the plan of where I am going and the grid references that I intend to fish in. This is also my way of ensuring should something go bad that I can be found ASAP.

AnswerID: 462492

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