View topic - Emergency Beacons- PLBS not EPIRBS or ELTs

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PostPosted: March 19th, 2006, 7:02 pm 
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Some time ago Allan Jacobs did a good job of summarising the rather bad summer in the Baker Lake area what with all the accidents (see his thread Tough Summer on the Back).

He missed two other incidents. Two friends of Lynda Holland and I lost everything on the lower Kazan and in fact never even found the canoe again. Another friend swam the lower Kazan as well. The latter person was with a bigger group and was able to self-rescue. The former group was a single canoe and had they been upriver they would have been in BIG doggy Poo Poo.

The single canoe event saw the sat phone vanish in the river and they had no Emergency Beacon strapped to their lifejacket. Luckily a ladies group from Manito wish happened on them and they were able to borrow their sat phone and self rescue. In fact where they were they would have been found quickly by Baker Lake locals who travel to the south side of the lake. But as one of the Manitowish ladies said to me in an email, "What would they have done if they had been up the river. How the heck would they have survived with no gear?"

A great question and precisely why they should have had a beacon on a lifejacket. Anyone who reads KANAWA knows I am really fed up with people using the wrong beacons. PLEASE dont use an EPIRB or an ELT. When these are set off a HERC is launched immediately from Winnipeg or Trenton. And when it arrives on scene all it can do is deploy a SARTEC by parachute if someone is dieing. A HERC costs about $10,000 an hour to operate. The WIDGI Back River event likely cost about $70,000. If they had used a PLB the HERC would only have been sent if there was absolutely no other option quickly available. In the WIDGI case they still would have been rescued by the mining company helicopter that the RCMP gave the green light to. This cost was about $4000 I think and it was covered by the Canadian taxpayer. Bad enough but at least the HERC wouldn't have been launched.

So if you are on the tundra have a sat phone as a priamry line of defence BUT make sure you have a PLB on your lifejacket. And please throw any EPIRBs and ELTs into the garbage where they belong.

And oh, so you know the MANITOWISH ladies had a PLB. For what it is worth we have met multiple groups of women from this camp and they are incredibly professional and do it all right all the time. Its quite humbling actually to see a group of 17 and 18 year olds who are so competent.

PLBs can be found by googling ACR Electronics and looking for the GYPSI 406 PLB or (in the US for now only) TerraFix 406 PLB.


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PostPosted: March 19th, 2006, 7:36 pm 
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Good informative post.
Mr. Layman wrote: BUT make sure you have a PLB on your lifejacket. Thanks, I've been stressing that for a long time now, but have received some flak thanks to a couple of twits who used their PLBs inappropriately.

I was told that the TerraFix 406 I and I/O should be cerftified in Canada this spring. Apparently DOT wants to make sure it will work in colder temps. Fingers crossed because I really want to replace my older unit with the 406 I/O.

cheers Ted


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 6:57 am 
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Interesting, I never realized that the type of signal dictates the level of response. How was this determined?

Also, how many instances of PLB use have occurred in Canada (or NA for that matter)? And how many have been inappropriate?

Thanks,
Tony


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 9:00 am 
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Bill: Thanks for the information on the Kazan mishaps; I'll add it to the article I'm preparing for the summer Nastawgan.

Correction to the "Tough summer on the Back" thread. The bear attack took place on the Kazan, not the Back. I confirmed this with the RCMP detachment in Baker Lake; the facts are stated correctly in one of Bill's previous posts.

TIP: Before starting a barrenlands trip, check with your outfitter about other parties on the river, especially those upstream from yours.

I don't know the circumstances, but if the Widgi group had known that Levi Waldron's group and our group were upstream from them and could be expected to pass by soon, they might not set off their EPIRB. I know no reason to believe that they were in a true emergency situation; I expect that they had lots of food, could have sheltered everyone, in short that they could have waited for help. This looks to be a case of young, inexperienced paddlers, improperly equipped, on a trip way above their capabilities; if so, one is led to question the judgment of the people who placed them in such a situation.

Yours in paddling, Allan


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 Post subject: More on PLBs
PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 9:37 am 
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Ted;
I just spoke to senior emloyees at ACR the other day and they are not confident that they will get the needed -40 rating. Hopefull but not confident. So in the short term the GYPSI is the best bet for Canuks. You lucky U-Alls can buy a TerraFix which is smaller and lighter and better suited to wear on a life jacket.

As to twits and PLBs, there will always be lots that don't get what it is all about. Take a l look at my article on Equpped To Survive

http://www.equipped.org/travel_safe_smart_plb.htm

for stories about such folks. I have been collecting these stories for years and have a file of over 15 now - each one on average about 25K for the HERC... some WAY more.

The rule of thumb I use is "If you have used every other means of self rescue and are worried about loss of life" hit the beacon. I have had one for the last about 8 years and have never had to use it. But if I do it will be because the shit has hit the fan.

Oh and get this, last I talked to CFB Trenton they are now running into people who are not registering their PLBs and when they are set one off the HERCs are launched. God how dumb is that.

Tony:
The level of response is automatic. When an EPIRB (used legally for ocean boats) or an ELT (airplanes) kicks off the HERCs are launched. The PLB has a unique coded signal so CFB Trenton know (for example) that it is Bill Layman's beacon, he is on the Kazan River, with a single canoe etc etc etc (this is from your pre-trip instructions to the rescue authorities). The prime reason for the HERCs is to save lives. When they get an uncoded signal they scramble. Its that simple. Several people have told me that they feel this is a ridiculous system BUT I would respond that all you need is the right beacon and we save a ton of money. And in case you ask no one has ever been asked to help pay the bill for the rescue .. no matter HOW DUMB.

Allan.
When I got to Baker the RCMP knew it was me as they had been following me on the net at my web blog. I have been there a few times so they wanted to talk. They sat me down and asked what I thought of all the rescues. Then they asked how I would feel if there were rules of competency ( I shudder thinking of Canada's Boat Registration and Gun Control) for tundra paddlers or HUGE bonds. And all because of people who are not thinking.

I wrote to WIDGI and a head honcho lady said, " we take these incidents very seriously and are THINKING of phashing out our EPIRBS." WIDGI is a very affluent camp and the cost of this one rescue would have bought about 70 PLBs and she is now only THINKING of phashing out what are essentially illegal beacons. I wrote her back and told her to throw the ?<:*&ing things in the trash. From other paddlers that were in Baker its my feel that the WIDGI paddlers were in WAY over their head (The Manitowish young women did fine) and panicked. They actually asked the HERC that was circling if they could get a Twin Otter from Yellowknife to pick them up instead of the mining company helicopter. ( I spoke to a Sar Tec in Churchill who was on the HERC and as he told me, "why didnt they ask for a pizza and beer too ?" )

ANYWAY,,, enough said,,, my blood pressure is rising and the worse thing is we competent paddlers (at least I can look in the mirror and fool myself !) are getting branded with the same brush as people who have no idea what they are doing.


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 9:55 am 
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I think the grizzly bear bite was actually on Princess Mary. The kid that was bitten actually wanted to continue the trip. I've only heard the story 2nd hand.

The friends that Layman mention who lost their stuff were actually trying to portage the rapid - they didn't get to shore safely and got their stern caught in the current, were spun around, and were hung up and flipped on a ledge near shore.

The Kanawa readers may also be aware of the reply to the editor letter that berated Layman for second guessing the Widgi group. They lost a lot of gear and had hypothermia issues, which made the situation stressful*. Widgiwagan has run more trips in the arctic than any other youth camp. They've been doing it for more years, and have gone farther north.

The fact that these are youth groups is irrelevant. Youth camps tend to take more safety precautions - honestly, who really carries these ELTs and EPIRBs anymore? I can't afford one.

Layman, can your complaints about EPIRBs be resolved if Widgi just stop carrying them? Are other canoeists still bringing them along? They're expensive and you need a license.

-Andy

* I'm not trying to raise anyone's blood pressure by defending their actions - I'm just pointing out the our perceptions of danger and the reality often differ - and everyone is a 'beginner' at some point. The point that Layman was trying to make that got lost in the reply to the editor was that it wouldn't have mattered so much if they had a PLB - at least the HERC would not have been sent there.

You can almost make the arguement that a satellite phone should be strapped to the spray deck with a quick release mechanism. In the ideal case they would have not lost their sat phone and could have just called in a plane.


Last edited by paddlenorth on March 20th, 2006, 2:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 10:24 am 
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Darn, it would be great to have the GPS built-in rather than have to connect to my GPS via cable. Sometimes I wonder if I get into real trouble whether I'll have the GPS and cable close by and whether I'll be in the shape necessary to put it all together. I know a GPS fix isn't necessary for resuce but if I need to use a PLB I want every advantage possible.
My beacon is a clunker, bought years ago for a solo trip into the Chalbi Desert and no longer appropriate. So if the newer Terrafix isn't a go by spring it's a GyPSI for sure.
Thanks for the heads-up.

The twit, Saklak(?),used his twice in two weeks. On the second use was charged by the American FAA with making a false report and released on a $10,000 bond. The FAA maximum fine is $250,000 and the cost of the rescue. Have no idea whether they've actually fined anybody however. Also don't know if Canada has any similar laws, used or unused.(I hope not)

Mr. Layman's comment on the Satphone going downstream with the gear is an important lesson as is the use of the correct beacon system.

The worry is that PLB general use will let people get in over their abilities. Another is that people will use PLBs when not truely necessary.

On the other hand look what happens if person doesn't show up on time and their spouse phones SAR. SAR might initiate a full blown search, and like Mr. Layman says, the cost of that is astronomical.


For me, I still intend on carrying mine in my PFD pocket and basic survial gear in a very small fanny pack. If I ever have to use it, I'll let the armchair theorists debate whether or not it was really needed. And as I was successfully rescued I get to join in the debate.

cheers Ted


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 11:40 am 
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paddle north
-Keep your eyes posted for my response to the KANAWA letter to the editor in the next issue.
-Lots of people still carry EPIRBS (they are very cheap and WIDGI has pile). Many still carry ELTs from airplanes. I have have ssen them and every year for the last 7 or so I have collected several stories of the wrong beacons being set off.
-Some of your comments seem to be confusing types of beacon. EPIRBs don't require a license, they are cheap, they send a generic signal. PLBS are more costly but still affordable for WIDGI and for anyopne who values their life and/or has parents and loved ones who worry about them.. And yes all would be solved if people bought the correct beacon (can I say it enough times?...CORRECT = PLB)
-The simple fact is if you feel you have to have a beacon - and I do as we are a single canoe and I have elderly parents and a 30 year old son who worry about us - - get a PLB.
-An idea worth consdiering about the phone on the deck BUT I still will have the PLB on my lifejacket.

Ted.
-You got the picture summed up very nicely.
-The 406 Beacons home in fast to your location and the GYPSI has a neat infrared port that I use to uplink to my GPS once a day at night in the tent. It takes seconds and if I ever arm the beacon CFB Trenton will immediately have me located within 30 miles of where I last was. By the time they get a helicopter or small plane to the site they will have me pegged to within meters. -I also sometimes keep a tiny VHF to talk to airplanes so I could initiate dialogue with rescuers as soon as I hear them.. They usually keep 122.8 open as a common carrier frequency or sometimnes 126.7. I know I am supposed to have a special permit for the VHF but I used them for years in my mining days and lots of times just start a dialogue with a float plane or a helicopter to see whats up. Twice now I have ended up talking to people I know. Once they stopped in with a beer later. You gotta' like that.


I


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 11:46 am 
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Hi All,

I'm one of the members of the Manito-wish expedition that has been brought up in this string. In response to Andy, I wanted to say the following:

The two men who dumped on the last rapid on the Kazan were indeed [b]running[/b] the rapid (they weren't just pulled in). It's true that they pulled over and scouted, but they had finished scouting, saw us run it, and elected to run it after us. We were busy lining a series of ledges on river right just downstream of the big waves (which were large rollers, not cresting waves & were definitely not 6-7 feet) so we didn't see them run it and then we just assumed they'd scooted on by us on river left where there was a clean run. Because we had pulled over on river-right after the big waves to make sure everyone was doing ok, we elected to line instead of trying to ferry over to river left -- the river is so wide and fast at that point that we worried about the ferry.

As for running without scouting: as your post noted the current is wicked fast at that point in the river and in the process of deciding whether or not to scout (we definitely considered it, but deliberated too long), we were already pretty much in the rapid. We saw a line on river right/center and decided to take it. Our other 2 boats followed suit (though they found a slightly more conservative line slightly further to the right, I think, after watching us) and we were all fine. If I were to go back I would probably scout it. It definitely snuck up on us and was bigger than it looked from above. Success in that rapid (and in any rapid, I would argue) was a combination of luck and skill. Our group was very conservative with decision-making on rapids throughout our trip-- and we scouted sets worth getting out of the canoe for during the 45 preceeding days. We even did the entire Kazan Falls portage instead of sneaking up on river right before the falls (lining/running) as many groups do, because we didn't want to chance it. So, that sets the record straight -- it's true we didn't scout and probably should have. But it's also true that the other group had decided to run the rapid after scouting.

And in reponse to everyone:

As for the Widji group -- Widji is an extremely professional outfit that has been running youth trips in the far north for several decades. They've had tons of totally successful, uneventful trips -- on the Back River, Dubawnt River, Thelon River, Kazan River, and many more. Manito-wish has typically run rivers that terminate in Hudson Bay near Arviat (Thelewiaza, Tha-ane, Meguse). For several years we've been running into polar bears on the bay, and for that reason we decided to check out an inland route this past summer. Widji actually helped furnish us with useful river information because they had run many trips on the Dubawnt before. I would definitely say that what happened to Widji could've happened to anyone. I'm sure they made careful decisions and that this one just turned out badly. And, though I don't know the full story, I imagine that things had gotten pretty bad if they decided to set off their beacon. Yes, they should have a PLB, but it is certainly not the leader's fault that they were carrying an EPIRB. Widji should make the transition to PLBs, I agree. But I don't agree that they were necessarily "in over their heads" any more than any other group that travels the arctic and sub-arctic. Sometimes things go awry and we do what we can with the resources available to us. It could have just as easily been a Manito-wish group, or other personal trip that needed to call for help.

Those are my thoughts this morning. Thanks for the dialogue about this and for the kind words about Manito-wish, Bill.

_________________
Becca


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 12:19 pm 
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bingo! That's the idea.
Mr. Layman said: uplink to my GPS once a day at night in the tent
Just looked it up. I hadn't realized that the ACR PLBs with the external GPS hookup keep the last uploaded figures forever until switched on/off a second time or a new upload. For me that's all that's required. You just saved me a hundred bucks - I owe you a beer.
thanks, Ted


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 1:59 pm 
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It might be helpful if EPIRB and ELT could be returned for a credit towards a PLB (b/c at one time EPIRB and ELT were options and PLB were not).
Cost is a consideration and it would be nice if current PLB companies encouraged EPIRB and ELT users to update.

Similar to how WRSI will credit the return of unsafe Protec helmets. WRSI does it b/c it is the right thing to do.

Hopefully the increased amount of information available in print and on the web will aid the correct use of technology. One of the best things about paddling is the sharing of information. But I hope that trippers can still trip without having to spend to much cash on to many things.


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 Post subject: Credit
PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 2:23 pm 
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It ain't gonna happen anymore than you will get a credit on your 486 computer.

I hear you BUT if you can afford to go to the tundra you can afford to buy a PLB if you really want an emergency beacon. MY last year's charter to start was $2200.00

Paddlenorth
When did Manitowish set off an EPIRB making a bad call? I know Minogyn did one year when they were worried about "smoke in the air" on the Nelson or Hayes or somewhere similar. Have you got information on the Mantiowish "bad call?" Like I said I collect bad call stories. I know, I know... I really should "Get a life will ya!"


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 2:35 pm 
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Wow, it's amazing how people can come out of the woodwork here. I know Charlie pops over here occassionally too, so now doubt he'll read secondhand about this incident too.

Sorry Becca if I misrepresented the facts. (The scale says 4-miles - so maybe dump rapids should be called 4-mile rapids?)
Image

The two who dumped (who happen to be friends) explained to me that they were attempting to portage the 'ledge' on river left, when they lost control and went over. I think it's a good lesson that even if you don't want to run a rapid, you can still go over it.

In the McCreadie book, this is described as a ledge - when we were there, the ledge was completely washed out. We were there before the groups mentioned, so perhaps things were different - but the wave train in the middle of this rapids was huge and irregular. We elected to run it because we had a cover and there weren't any obstacles - it was only slightly sketchy because the wave train was unorganized. I don't think 6 foot waves are an exaggeration - we got fairly wet and would have filled with water without the cover. It was a real wild ride.

I only even bring this up, because the most difficult section of the Kazan was not the section below the 3 Cascades but this lower section because water levels were high and the canyon constricts the flow, so you need to feel comfortable manuevering in fast water even if you plan to portage.

SORRY BECCA/Bill again about Menogyn and Manitowish - I get the camp names confused. I'll edit the former post.

And Layman, it's my understanding that there's some sort of license required from the EPIRBs as well. I have a good friend who's led Widgi trips and I remember an operator's license? Am I wrong about this too?

I also regret my user name, because I've met Becca.

-Andy


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 Post subject: Charlie and John's Dump
PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 2:53 pm 
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I know the spot well having seen it twice in high - but not as high - water. My call would be that they were on the wrong side as even in only mid-high water the left margin gets pushed up into a wall along the sandstone vertical face of the almos cliff (if I have the right spot).

No I'm pretty much sure you DONT need a permit for an EPIRB but even if you did IT DOESN'T MATTER as the signal is GENERIC not UNIQUELY ENCODED like a PLB. Generic = HERC so lets just forget the EPIRBS and ELTS in the same box at home with all our old 8 tracks, 386 computers, tie die shirts and Greatfull Deed Records (actually I saw them at Fillmore West so send them to me) and similar.

GOOGLE map is way too fun by the by


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PostPosted: March 20th, 2006, 2:55 pm 
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Personally, I think the tax payer is under no obligation to pay for SAR costs. All costs incurred should be paid for by the rescuee. Barrenlands canoeing is still restricted to the priviledged, and this trend will only continue - why should the privledged get free rescues?

Even if a PLB is set off instead of an EPIRB or ELT, I don't see why the gov't should pay for the rescue. If they'd just bill Widgi (or any other group that sets off a beacon), this problem would quickly be resolved.

It's amazing to go back and read the old literaure and realize what a danger and risk was once being accepted for expedition barrenlands canoeing. What would the response of Hornby or Tyrrell be if they realized young women are now canoeing on the tundra - for fun?


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