There was a lot of attention given recently to a fairly new ham in Nevada who went out, got himself lost/injured, and used the WIN System of networked repeaters and several helpful hams to get himself rescued. Ham radio saves a life!
The suggestion — between the lines — was that the hiker may have been taking unnecessary risks and was expecting ham radio to solve any problems. Fortunately, for him, ham radio came through.
But new hams need to be super clear: If you are out in the woods — or even in the city — you cannot count on ham radio to save you. Sometimes it will, sometimes not.
Why is this?
- In the outdoors, of which we have a lot here in northern California, repeater coverage, especially for handhelds, may be spotty. You may find yourself injured in a location with no coverage.
- In the city or country, even with coverage, you still have to find a repeater that someone is actually listening to and will respond to your call. Given that in many places you can scan the entire 2-meter band and not find anyone talking, calling for help may not result in getting an answer within the time frame of your continued survival.
New hams, especially, may have zero idea of repeater coverage. In rural areas, only the locals may be able to say what works where.
Too many times, I have counseled new hams not to depend solely on their new handie-talkie for salvation. Most of our outdoor adventures happen in the Sierras or their foothills. Even if you have coverage in most of the area, the valleys may be entirely out of repeater reach.
While I certainly recommend always having at least a talkie and extra AA batteries available to power it, that may not be enough.
I am very interested in the various satellite-based emergency notification system, some of which also send and receive text messages, location plots and other information. I received a promotion from DeLorme today touting their inReach satellite communicators, including a neat solar-powered GPS/communicator kit on-sale for $399. Monthly service plans, however, range from $10 to more than $60-per-month.
When people tell me they want a reliable system for rescue, I point them to inReach or its competitor, Spot, both of which can communication in places where repeaters don’t work.
Of course, if you could get an antenna in the air, a QRP CW rig might get you rescued — eventually — almost anywhere. The problem with getting the antenna up is that if you are able to do it, you probably don’t need urgent help.
Meanwhile, I am looking for ways to add an “emergency” capability to my repeaters than doesn’t cause more problems than it solves. Long Tone Zero (LiTZ) is not a good option. The four repreater sites are not yet linked, so a linking command isn’t part of the right-now solution.