Taking the “search” out of search and rescue

These 7 technologies—both high and low—might one day save your life

Until you’re actually lost, injured or stranded, it’s easy to forget that Canada’s wilderness is vast. Really vast. So vast, in fact, that far too many wayward anglers and hunters have succumbed before help finally arrived. Here’s a primer of some technologies—from space age to ancient—that can save your bacon when you’re off the grid and lost.

 

SPOT GEN3 SATELLITE GPS MESSENGER

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How it works

SPOT Gen3 is a GPS messenger that helps users stay connected via satellite even where there is poor or no cellular signal. It provides off-the-grid messaging, emergency alerts, and extreme GPS tracking, with track check points capable of taking place as frequently as every 2 ½ minutes.

Pros

  • Small, rugged, simple to use
  • Nifty tracking feature
  • Globalstar network is virtually worldwide

Cons

  • Not many, to be honest         
      

PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON

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How it works

When activated, transmits a unique distress signal to government SAR satellites, telling rescuers where, and who, you are. Many have secondary transmitters to pinpoint your exact location.

Pros

  • No subscription fees
  • Can be rented
  • Small, rugged, waterproof, simple to use

Cons

  • One-way communication only
  • No other handy functions
  • Hefty fines for transmitting false alerts
        

SATELLITE PHONE

new sat phone

How it works

Provides communication links via satellites instead of cell towers, meaning near-global coverage for voice and data. Newer (but pricier) models also provide GPS functions.

Pros

  • Two-way communication
  • Excellent backcountry coverage
  • Can be rented or purchased second-hand

Cons

  • Limited battery life
  • Per/minute fees can add up quickly
  • Heavier and bulkier than a cellphone
         

SMARTPHONE

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How it works

Besides voice and text, most newer models also have some GPS capability that, if activated, tracks the phone on a Web page. Provider records also show which towers have connected to the phone.

Pros

  • Ubiquitous
  • Easy to use
  • Offers both two-way and passive communication

Cons

  • Poor backcountry coverage
  • Limited battery life
  • Your work might call or e-mail you
     

FLARES 

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How it works

An aerial flare is visible at a distance of 10 kilometres or more, signalling the general vicinity of your whereabouts. A handheld or smoke flare can help rescuers pinpoint your exact location.

Pros

  • Highly visible, day or night
  • Can also be used to start a fire
  • Alerts both air and ground searches

Cons

  • Brief, one-use only
  • What if no one sees it?
  • Accidental misfires can be dangerous
     

MIRROR 

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How it works

Adjust the angle to catch the sun’s rays, then tilt up and down to signal an SOS. Easily seen 10 kilometres away, and up to 80 kilometres away under bright, clear conditions.

Pros

  • Light, simple, easy to use
  • Stay well-groomed while you’re stranded

Cons

  • Requires sunlight to function
  • Can’t compete with satellites
  • Seven years of bad luck if broken
     

BREAD CRUMBS

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How it works

Drop along your route to help you safely retrace your way back home. Pulls double duty as telltale trail markers for search-and-rescue teams in case you fail to return as scheduled.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Doubles as emergency food rations

Cons

  • Ineffective at sea
  • You’ll need a lot of bread
  • Woodland creatures may devour your trail

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These backcountry safety tips were brought to you by Globalstar Canada Satellite CO, makers of SPOT Gen3 and  SPOT Trace. For more information on SPOT visit www.findmespot.ca