Wilderness Communications

Most essential safety tools you can own.

I am always surprised seeing how many people have lightbars but no 50-watt radio and/or satellite devices. This is going to be a very blunt article for a reason. No one expects to need help. Most do not prepare for it. But many of us go out alone into wilderness areas with no cell service. Things happen and we must be prepared. If not for ourselves; for our loved ones. Even something small like running out of gas can lead to something major. You spent so much money on your ride; spend a few dollars on your safety or your loved one's peace of mind!


In wilderness survival a first aid kit is much less important than communications. If you are seriously injured; a first aid kit is meant to stabilize you until you get real help. However, if you are seriously injured, lost, or broken your only real solution is finding help. If you wheel alone; even on easy forest roads it is essential you have a way (and a backup way) to call for help.


Radio

A 50-watt radio may give you enough range to call for help. I always use various websites and/or google to determine what frequencies are monitored or used in the general area I am visiting. I check RepeaterBook.com for repeaters, and I may even call the Ranger Station and ask for specific channels to use for emergencies. This will always be my first option as it will get me local help fast.


Satellite Comms

A Garmin Inreach is essential. I NEVER leave home without it. It gives me the option to text people and tell them where I am, what emergency station to call, and what I need. If it’s life threatening, I have an SOS button that will eventually get me a helicopter or search and rescue services. Don’t expect those services to come fast as it can take up to 24 hours or longer if the weather is bad. If you have an Inreach, you will have communications with emergency personnel to know that they are on their way and approximate ETA. Never move after pressing SOS unless it’s an unavoidable. If you use a one-way device such as SPOT you will not have the peace of mind of knowing that they are on their way. If you move, you may not be found as quickly or at all.


Mapping


Tell someone your general area or planned route. If you don’t come back when expected, someone WILL call 911 (family, co-worker, friends…). If emergency personnel do not know where to look for you, there is a limited chance of you being found.

Radio Install

There are a million YouTube videos and articles on how to install a 50-Watt radio on your vehicle. There are as many videos on what radio to buy. My suggestion is buy a 50-Watt radio that has both VHF and UHF. I personally prefer the ICOM IC-2730A.


Don’t be a victim, get a 50-watt radio (and license) and an Inreach BEFORE the lightbar!



Baja Trip


My first story is from August 2021. I was in Baja with three other vehicles. We were crossing a difficult mountain pass that was not used in years and was washed out. The first vehicle (Ford Ranger) barely crossed but washed the road out as he did. The remaining three vehicles were unable to cross and had to turn back. We marked a spot on the map where we would meet up in a few hours as the remaining three vehicle had to backtrack and find another way around. During the backtrack the lead vehicle (Wrangler) had the road give way and he was stuck on his differential with nothing to winch from. Another vehicle and I were behind and could not get around. Luckily, I had an Inreach and so did the Ford Ranger (we were too far away at this point for radio comms). After hours of trying to get the vehicle unstuck; I texted the Ranger and was able to communicate our issues. The Ranger spent a portion of the night finding a way to get to us and setup in front of the stuck vehicle to pull him out with a Kinetic line. If we both did not have Garmins, the Ranger would have spent the night alone in Baja not knowing what happened to us. We would have no choice but to roll the stuck vehicle completely into the ditch so the two vehicles behind it can get out and find the Ranger (who hopefully would be waiting for us and not looking for us in an unknown location).



Search and Rescue


I am a volunteer for LASD Search and Rescue. Last week I was out on a search and rescue call. One of two hikers had medical issues while bushwhacking through an unused trail. They had a cheap emergency beacon and used it. It did not have two-way comms and they did not know if the signal actually went out. It took 5 hours for us to be notified and start gearing up. Our helicopter scanned the area but did not locate the hikers. They pressed the button around 4 p.m. and we got to them (after an 8-mile hike with 3,000 feet elevation gain) at 1 a.m. Luckily they stayed in place and we were able to chopper them out at 4:30 a.m. This was a rare case. Often people move after pressing the SOS button but the signal stops properly triangulating and we are usually looking for them in the wrong place. Sometimes they are never found. On many occasions the family calls us to notify us that someone didn't come home. Often, the party who notified us doesn’t even know the trail name of where their loved one is but just a general area. In these cases, we sometimes locate a vehicle in a parking lot and start searching multiple trails. Sometimes we don't locate the vehicle at all. Often, it’s too late. The sad truth is if you do not have comms, the chances of being found in time to save your life are slim.





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