You’re on a solo hike in the Blue Mountains. The weather is great, but there is rain due tomorrow. You’ve packed an ample day pack with wet weather gear just in case, a first aid kit, heaps of yummy calorie-laden food, and enough water to see you through a couple of days in the bush. You’re well-prepared.
You’re 3 hours into the hike. You haven’t seen another soul. You’re enjoying the solitude of the valley floor and the birdsong. You step over a tree root but place your right foot in a less-than-ideal manner. There’s a crack. You collapse in agony. Your first reaction is to calm yourself down and take stock of the situation – what a level-headed individual you are.
You realise your ankle is broken – any amount of weight on it is excruciating. You’re not going to be able to walk back out. You look at your phone. It doesn’t have an ounce of reception, not even that reassuring little ‘SOS’ symbol. You’re screwed.
Well, you would be if it weren’t for the personal locator beacon (PLB) in your trouser pocket. You reassess the situation. Is it worth setting off? Can I get out of here some other way? What if I scream for help? The day is wearing on. If you don’t do something soon you may have a long, painful night ahead of you. Not to forget that impending rain.
You extend the antenna. You whack the on/off button. An hour and fifteen minutes later you hear the whoosh-whoosh of a helicopter overhead. They spot you easily thanks to your brightly-coloured hiking clobber. You’re out of there and on your way to the hospital.
First, What is a PLB?
A PLB is a small, pocket-sized beacon that uses satellite technology to relay a message from your location on the ground or water, to search and rescue crews. The ACR ResQLink is not much bigger than a smartphone and weighs a mere 153g – a must-have piece of reassurance for solo and group hikers, kayakers, cyclists, and climbers alike.
We also sell a range of PLBs on our website with different specs and uses.
Like your multitool, keep your PLB on your person. It’s no good in your pack if you’re nowhere near it in an emergency.
But why should you carry a PLB?
1. For Your Own Safety
Carrying a PLB is vital if you’re heading off into the wilderness where there is no mobile reception and it is unlikely that help is close to hand. Even if you’re hiking with a partner or a group having a PLB could be the difference between reaching safety when you need it and having a long wait ahead of you.
We often hear of these stories where one of the party goes off looking for help only to get lost or injured themselves – or help arrives but it is too late.
Read your instruction manual carefully before heading off with your PLB.
And remember, a PLB is of no use if it’s in your pack and you’re nowhere near your it when the emergency strikes. Carry it in your pocket, or a bum bag, or a lanyard around your neck – somewhere on your person.
I heard a story once of a hiker in New Zealand being flushed away by a fast-flowing river as she took photos. Her pack was safely on the bank. She survived and wasn’t severely injured but if those injuries left her on a bank somewhere downstream, immobilised and away from her backpack, having the PLB on hand might have been more telling.
And PLBs aren’t just for hikers. Having one in the glovebox of the 4WD in the outback could save your life.
2. To Reassure Your Loved Ones
Most of us have partners and relatives that fret over us when we head off on our big trips in the bush. Especially when we go it alone.
Carrying a PLB gives them reassurance that if something does go wrong we have a better chance of getting home safely. It could be just the thing to convince the worrywart partner that you’ll be right on your big trip!
3. To Make It Easier for Rescuers To Find You
How often do you hear in the news about a hiker going off into the bush only to not return when they were supposed to? This story from back in 2013 for example:
Hiking can take you to some pretty remote, dangerous places. One slip on this ridge and it’s 900 metres to the valley floor below.
The rescue of a man who set out for a bushwalk with only potatoes, naan bread and matches is likely to have cost the state $10,000.
As Mark Gibson, Commissioner for the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association, said to the journalist who wrote the article: “many searches would be prevented if all bushwalkers carried locator beacons.”
Running a search and rescue effort is expensive. And it can be dangerous for the women and men undertaking a rescue too. If search and rescue know exactly, or even roughly, where you are their job becomes less dangerous and you’re more likely to be found and taken to safety swiftly.
Do you carry a PLB when hiking or in remote areas? If not, why not?
About the writer...
Hiker, bushwalker, tramper and founder of Ottie Merino (ottie.com.au). Let’s just say Paul likes to get around by foot. When he’s not, it’s usually by bike. He’s usually found knocking out another section of the Heysen Trail, or hut bagging his way around the South Island of New Zealand.