Exploring the great outdoors can put you in a situation where you are far from civilization. The pristine beauty of these places is what draws adventurers, hikers, backpackers, and others. Responsible travelers take care to ensure the beauty of these places, and equally importantly, their own safety. Should problems arise, emergency communication becomes a necessity. Mobile phone services don’t work, so two way radios and other emergency communication devices are the wise play.
A walkie talkie or two way radio is the simplest of communication devices you can carry with you. These devices are limited in range and can be affected by the presence of obstacles. However, if you have the right location, a good long-distance walkie-talkie can communicate over several miles. Keep in mind, communication will always be affected by obstacles, irrespective of whatever range the manufacturer claims.
The greatest draw for walkie talkies is that they are inexpensive, easy to operate, and do not require any license. Walkie talkies use the push to talk feature for communication. Modern devices also allow other means, including Bluetooth, data, and handsfree communication.
A problem with walkie talkies is that they require a lot of batteries. If you’re somewhere remote, that can become a problem. They make it possible to communicate with a group with relative ease and even have some privacy on some channels. However, they cannot communicate outside the group. In case someone needs to contact the authorities for help or assistance, a walkie talkie would be a severely limited pick.
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These are hardy and well-connected, covering regions where other communication methods may not work so well. All of that magic is made possible by the phones connecting to satellites for communication. Satellite phones enable users to stay connected even in remote areas far away from civilization. Though it is not always necessary, it helps to have a clear view of the sky in an area free from foliage or overhanging geographic structures.
Emergency communication is easier because people can simply call their nearest emergency response team and give them relevant details related to the location and the nature of the emergency. If you’re taking a satellite phone along, make it a point to save the number of the nearest public safety answering point or emergency response team.
Factors that do not work in favor of satellite phones are the associated costs. These devices can be terribly expensive and need an equally expensive subscription/plan to function. If you’re on a long trip, keeping the battery charged can be an issue as well. A possible solution to the cost issue can be renting a phone rather than buying one. Rent isn’t cheap either, but it sure beats having to buy a satellite phone!
In a very crude sense, you could consider Satellite Emergency Notification Device (SEND) as a text-only variant of the satellite phone. Of course, there’s more to it, but it can be considered a working assumption. Features available on SEND usually vary by model. Some of these can only send texts. Others can send and receive texts. More advanced variants include maps with GPS, texting, and even allow posting to social media.
These devices can be used to contact family or reach out to emergency response teams. If an SOS is sent, GPS coordinates of the device may also be included to hasten the response from emergency teams. Users may also relay more details to the response team or answer their queries.
Problems related to SEND are quite similar to those with satellite phones. These can be expensive, need a subscription, and you’ll have to be careful about the battery. Renting the device can be a useful option.
Simple and straight to the point, Personal Locator Beacons are increasingly popular as emergency communication devices. Like some other devices on this list, these too are dependent on satellite-based communication. However, being simpler devices, the associated cost is very low and the battery life for some devices can last years.
PLBs do not contain any advanced functions. There is no scope for two-way messaging or custom texts. They simply send an SOS at the press of a button. For some devices, the SOS text may include the personal information of the device owner, including their name and list of emergency contacts. Mostly though, they limit themselves to sending an SOS.
PLBs must be registered with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). While these devices are cost-efficient, you’ll notice the lack of two-way communication can be problematic. There’s no way to know if your message has been received or if emergency response workers are on their way. The lack of a clear response can be unnerving in emergencies.
Amateur radio or ham radio is an excellent communication device. There’s a vibrant ham radio community globally and these devices allow two-way communication. Handheld radios that you would take along for the outdoors have a range that can cover several hundred miles. While costs vary from being very affordable to expensive, don’t skimp out and pick a quality radio for your emergency communication device.
It is worth noting that the use of ham radios requires a license. Users must transmit only on frequencies allocated to them as per their license. The frequencies available will make it possible for users to maintain contact as necessary. While users should stick to their licensed frequencies, the penalties of transmitting on other frequencies are usually revoked for emergency scenarios.
In simple use, ham radios are quite similar to walkie talkie with their push to talk approach and general appearance. However, these are way more advanced and powerful devices. They’ve already proven their worth in various rescues and disaster scenarios. If you’re up for it, get a license, it isn’t that difficult, and hams remain useful beyond your outdoor sojourn.