Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Real Life Scenarios

Beacon Activation Scenarios

The following personal locator beacon (PLB) scenarios are all based on real events and are designed to provide the users of 406 MHz PLB's with some best practice guidelines for using their beacon.

Each scenario gives a brief outline, the issue and a solution for best practice.

Please note that although these scenarios relate to PLBs, the guidance provided relates to all 406 MHz distress beacon use.

Scenario One

A sole tramper was crossing a swollen river with his PLB in his pack.  The tramper tripped and started to get swept down the river and was forced to discard his pack.


The tramper was left on the side of the river, cold, hypothermic and with no way of raising the alarm, as his pack had been washed down the river and could not be located.


PLBs should be carried on your person, not in your pack, or they may not be there when you need them.


Scenario Two

A sole hunter left his tramping hut in the evening to cut some firewood just a short distance from the hut and slipped down a bank and broke his leg.


He had left his PLB in the hut and it took him five very painful hours to crawl back to the hut.


PLBs should be carried all the time when you are in areas you might need them, e.g. for the whole hunting trip.


Scenario Three

A group of inexperienced trampers became disoriented while tramping in the bush at night.  They activated their PLB as they had become lost.


A rescue helicopter was forced to try to locate the group in the dark.  This placed the rescue helicopter crew in considerable danger, while the tramping party was in no real danger at all.  A helicopter crew member was lowered to the scene and was quickly able to lead the trampers back to the track and hut.


As the trampers had been in no immediate danger, they could have delayed activation of the distress beacon until daylight.  In the light of day, they may have found the track themselves.  If not, activating the beacon during the day would have made it considerably safer for the rescue crew. Carrying adequate clothing and provisions for overnight camping out would also have helped the party wait until morning.


Scenario Four

A tramping party of 10 were tramping in very steep terrain when one of the party fell and injured their back.


As the terrain was very steep, it was difficult for the PLB to locate the satellites, there was therefore only one satellite detection of the beacon.  As the beacon was not GPS coded, the satellite was not able to provide an accurate location for the distress beacon.


If the PLB had been GPS coded, even one satellite detection should have been sufficient to provide an accurate location.

Fortunately, the party had registered their PLB and had left very clear trip intentions with their emergency contacts.

This enabled RCCNZ to gain a general sense of their location.  A rescue helicopter was tasked into the area and was able to pick up the 121.5 homing signal being transmitted by the PLB.

This is a very good demonstration of why it is necessary to register your beacon and tell people where you are going.


Scenario Five

A sole tramper sprained his ankle and was unable to walk out from a remote location high in the mountains.  He was, however, safe and well at a tramping hut with plenty of provisions.


He chose to set of his PLB at night and in very poor weather conditions.  A rescue helicopter was tasked to try to get into the area, but had to turn back due to the poor conditions.  A second larger machine also tried to locate the tramper but was also forced back.  Both aircraft crews had been put into considerable unnecessary danger.


If you are in distress, RCCNZ recommend you set off your beacon.  There are, however, circumstances where you may require assistance but are not in a life-threatening situation.  In this case, as the tramper was safe, there would have been no harm in waiting for light and perhaps better weather before activating the beacon.


Scenario Six

A sole tramper became lost and set off his PLB.  This was detected by RCCNZ and a location was provided.  The weather, however, was not suitable for flying, so RCCNZ tasked a LandSAR team with direction finding (DF) equipment into the area to locate the tramper.


Frustrated that a rescue helicopter had not turned up to pick him up, the tramper turned off his PLB and continued tramping.  This meant the LandSAR team could not find the tramper at the original location and were unable to locate him using their DF equipment.

The tramper then set off the beacon again several hours later, waited only a short time, turned it off again and changed location.


Once you have set off the PLB, leave it on and stay in one place if at all possible.  Wait and be patient.  As soon as RCCNZ receive the alert, they will launch a rescue, but it may take some time for rescuers to arrive.

Be prepared to wait.


Scenario Seven

A tramper high in the ranges had camped beside a river for the night.  During the night a storm hit and the river flooded.  Before the tramper was aware of what was happening, he was being swept down the river.  Fortunately, he still had his PLB with him, but no other equipment could be recovered from the campsite.

He then attempted to activate his PLB and waited.


Unfortunately, he had never fully read the operating instructions for the PLB.  While he thought he had activated the PLB, he had simply removed the safety tag.  The PLB had not actually been turned on.  He was left getting badly hypothermic beside the river.

Luckily, a day later, he finally realised his mistake and correctly activated the PLB.  He was located and rescued, but was very close to death.


Read all the instructions on your PLB before you are likely to need it and ensure you understand them.  If you don’t, talk to your retailer or visit the beacon manufacturers website for more information.

A distress situation is not the ideal time to be reading instructions and familiarising yourself with equipment.

Ensure that everyone in your party knows how to use the beacon.  It’s no good to you if you are unconscious and no one else knows where your PLB is or how to use it.


Scenario Eight

A large group of trampers were walking along a steep ridge when the lead tramper fell down a very steep cliff.  The others in the group were unable to reach their injured friend.


The only person in the group with a PLB was the person that had fallen off the cliff.


If possible, it’s a good idea to take more than one PLB with you when there’s more than one in the group.


Scenario Nine

A climber was climbing on a south island glacier when he fell breaking his leg.  He set off his PLB and waited.


There were no issues.

Due to the terrain, the climber was impossible to locate visually, but because he had a registered PLB with GPS and because his emergency contacts all knew his trip intentions, the climber was easily located by a rescue helicopter.


(which this climber did)

  • Buy a PLB with GPS capability, so your location is easily detected.
  • Register your PLB, make sure your contacts are up to date and tell them where you are going.

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