Step One: Choosing the right beacon
Beacons are pretty straight forward in design but the major differences include size, weight, battery life and ability to float. The number of channels does improve the speed with which you are likely to be rescued but only by a matter of minutes. A good question to ask when purchasing is will the manufacturer replace the device if it is used in a legitimate emergency situation for free?
ACR ResQLink (pictured above)
RRP: $599.99 (with a $50 cash back)
Battery Life once Activated: 30 hours
Life of device: 5 - 6 years
Warranty: 5 years
Waterproof (The ACR ResQLink Plus also floats)
Strobe light for night rescue
66 channel GPS
The ACR works by unhooking the aerial wound around the beacon and pressing the on button.
Step Two: Registering your beacon
It is a legal requirement to register your beacon in order to use it in an emergency situation. The first thing search and rescue will want to check when it is activated is where the person it is registered to intended to be at the time it was activated in order to ascertain if it is a legitimate emergency or not. Go to beacons.org.nz and enter your contact details and the UIN number of your PLB. Registration is free. Most beacons will come with instructions on how to do this but the UIN number is usually on the beacon itself rather than the box.
Step Three: Tell your contact person where you are going and what your intentions are
If you set your beacon off your emergency contact person will be called first before anyone sets out to find you. Any information they can pass on to search and rescue can help speed up the search. For instance how many people are in your group, where were you staying, when did you hope to be out, and which direction were you heading.
Step Four: Setting off the Beacon
Firstly, make sure you are always carrying your beacon on your person and not your pack. If you lose your pack you don't want to lose your chance of getting rescued with it. If you or someone you are with are in a legitimate emergency situation then activate your beacon and give the antenna a clear view of the sky. If you can move safely to a more open area then do so as the signal will be easier to pick up. Keep the beacon in this position (you can put it down somewhere safe) as you may be waiting several hours before rescuers can get close to your location. It is most likely that a helicopter will be sent to locate you so find the brightest, most colourful pieces of your gear and display them where they can be seen from the air. The beacon will direct searchers to within 100m of your location but you may still be difficult to spot so make an effort to be as visible as the situation allows. Once you have been rescued you can expect to be interviewed by Police and Search and Rescue as to what happened. Setting off a PLB and getting rescued when you don't really need to be can turn into one really expensive flight back to your car.
*Don't assume that you will be able to take your gear with you if you are getting winched off the side of a mountain, just be grateful if you can.
Step Five: Replacing your beacon
After being successfully rescued, send your beacon and your story to the manufacturer and you can expect to have the unit replaced free of charge ready for your next excursion.
Step Six: Donate some money to Search and Rescue
If you are fortunate enough to go through this whole process and come out alive, perhaps think about supporting the people that got you out. landsar.org.nz