COMMUNICATION DEVICES FOR REMOTE TRAVEL

Wednesday, May 10, 2023 at 16:54

Member - Matwil

I have been asked on several occasions why I carry the communication devices I do when travelling into remote areas. I have written it up and have decided to share what I do and why. This regime has been learnt by our remote travels over the last 10 years. I hope that everything I have included in here is correct, but people should always make their own enquiries to ensure that what they are taking with them when going to remote areas suits their purposes. The other reason for posting this as I see the question pop up on social media and some of the answers are just plain wrong. You may agree or disagree with me, but all I am doing is explaining what I do and why. Hope it helps those that are looking to explore our great land and everything that it has to offer.

The communication devices I carry.
1. Mobile phone on Telstra network
2. 80 channel UHF 5w radio plus one handheld device
3. PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)
4. Satellite Phone

I would not leave home without the four devices are here is why.

1. Mobile Phone
Great for everyday use, navigation maps, internet etc etc. It’s a no brainer but when travelling remote cannot be relied upon in any way at all. Once you get away from main centres mobile coverage drops exponentially and becomes spasmodic and weak and cannot be relied upon. Internet also starts to fall off. While in many places you can get 1 or 2 bars, it is only enough for sending texts and phone calls and internet become increasingly harder to maintain. Travelling to remote areas requires you to have more for when things go wrong. It’s not if things go wrong but when things go wrong. Despite the best preparation unexpected things happen, its Murphy’s Law.

2. UHF
Having a permanently mounted UHF is a must for all travelling. It enables you to talk to other people on the road, eg trucks etc plus great if you are travelling in convoys etc. But remember what the various channel numbers are for. If travelling the vast open spaces, Channel 40 is the one most commonly used. It is used by truckers, and also the people moving large-oversized loads around the country. Use this channel to monitor, but don’t have extended conversations on it because then you mask out other users. If you want to chat with someone switch to another channel and have your chat there. Other users will thank you for it. Also remember that Cahnnel 5 is for Emergency use only. We have a call sign “Matwil’ which is shown on the back of our van and the words Channel 40. Quite often truckers approaching from behind will call up and signal their intention to overtake. This makes life easier for them and you. If you really care about trucks get onto Ken Wilson’s (no relation) Facebook Page “Truck Friendly – caravan road safety program”. You will find a wealth of information about towing and what you should do around trucks when on the road.

3. PLB Personal Locator Beacon.
If you are older, like me, or travel a lot to remote areas a PLB is a must. For about $400 it is the best piece of equipment to carry. They have a battery life of 7 years from the date of manufacture. There are no yearly subscription fees required to use a PLB.
Once purchased you log onto the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Registration is vital, as your device will have a unique number. It’s also important to update your details if they have changed, as well as your trip information. This is so that in the event of a rescue, it’s easier for the emergency services to find you. On this site you can record your next of kin and other numbers to be called in the event of an emergency.
A Personal Locator Beacon is a small, pocket-sized beacon that uses satellite technology to relay a message from your location on the ground or water, to search and rescue crews. They’re designed to be used as a last resort when all other means of communication are exhausted and you are in both immediate and grave danger. When we say ‘grave’ danger, we mean a life-or-death situation. Running out of fuel or getting lost on the trail does not warrant the use of a PLB.
When you activate your beacon, your GPS location and the unique code relevant to your beacon will be transmitted to a rescue coordination centre via satellite. The nearest rescue services will then be notified. (This information of PLB taken from Snowys.com.au)
Several things to keep in mind. To be efficient you should upload your intended itinerary before each trip. . it is a genuine emergency and there is no other alternative form of contacting emergency services (see Sat Phone reasons). The reason for this is that the emergency centre, once they have determined that it is an emergency will dispatch all available resources to the co-ordinates where the emergency signal came from. Depending on where that is it may be resources from more than one centre.
b. it is important that you keep the centre up to date with itineraries and contact numbers.
We have a GME PLB. The first one has just been replaced because it was 8 years old.

4. Satellite Phone.
A lot of times you see advice that if you have the above 3 devices then you don’t need the expense of a satellite phone. I think this advice is totally wrong and I will explain why and part of it comes down to what you want to do. But there can be situations where a mobile and UHF are totally useless and the setting off of a PLB would be total overkill, and not really the right form of communication for the emergency. I will draw on 3 examples that we have faced where this is so.

The first was on a tag along tour on the Simpson. One of the vehicles suffered a broken axle out on the track that made movement impossible and towing not advisable. I was near the vehicle when the break happened and was able to use the UHF to call back someone who had a sat phone. It was then a call to Birdsville and the organisation of the BIG BEAST to come and get our colleague out of trouble. The alternative was to drive the 100 or so kilometres to Birdsville to raise the alarm. The Sat phone made organising the recovery relatively easy even though it was very expensive for the poor fellow.

The second situation involved my wife and me after we left the Tag Along and had replenished supplies at Broken Hill. We then set off up through Tibooburra, NSW to go to Noccundra going by the old homestead Santos. This is really remote travel and on mining roads that are generally not used by the public. About 100klms north of the Queensland border late on a Friday afternoon we were bouncing along at about 40 to 50KLMS an hour on heavily corrugated road when the 6 month old bull bar mounting brackets snaped and the bull bar started to come across the bonnet of our vehicle. We though we had had it, but then the slack of the winch rope stopped it progress and the bar flipped under the vehicle, and I got the vehicle to a stop with the bull bar firmly wedged under the vehicle. I could hear electrical arching so jumped out and lifted the bonnet to see the electrical cable to the winch in full arching mode and a fire starting. I got the fire out as the battery blew up and the acid just missing me. Talk about luck. Once we surveyed the situation, we realised that by ourselves it was a hopeless one. We had plenty of supplies. We had no Sat phone. No UHF as the arial was jammed under the vehicle. We where up Sh*t creek without a paddle, and as we were on a back road it was unlikely that we would see anyone until the next week, if then. SO, we pulled out a beer and thought about our options. We could set off the PLB, but it was not a life-threatening situation. We pitched the tent and decided that we would stay there until at least Tuesday. If no one came along by then then we would consider the PLB because by that stage the kids would be wondering where we were (they follow our travels though ExplorOz Traveller). As luck have it, next morning we heard vehicles and two came across us. Out popped two blokes, one with a Horsham Mechanics logo and one with a Horsham Auto electrical logo. Boy, were we glad to see them. Their mates were following and soon with six able hands we were able to lift our vehicle off the tow bar and put it on the roof rack. The auto sparky rewired the car back to the main battery which was ok, and we were able to limp back to Tibooburra.

The third example was when I came across a head-on accident in remote WA. We had phone coverage (2 bars) and rang triple 0. Minutes into the call the signal dropped out. I rang triple 0 again but now a different operator so had to start the conversation all over again. This happened 3 more times before we were able to get help on the way and a waste of 30 minutes before that happened.

COST of SAT PHONE
We purchased a second hand Thuraya Lite soon after the bull bar incident. It had hardly been used. WE have a Pivotel account that we pay a small monthly fee of $16.00pm for coverage. We can park our number when not in use for a much lower monthly fee if we want to and so keep our number. Incoming calls are not charged to us and those making the call are only charged for a local call. If you make a satellite call it expensive, so when we are connected, I text people and get them to call me back. Works well. Then I can keep our PLB for what it was designed for, CALLING EMERGENCY HELP ONLY.

I hope this helps anyone reading it who is tossing up getting communications devices. Always remember that when touring remotely be prepared for the unexpected and rely on your own resources. Never leave your vehicle and always you have plenty of supplies for the trip you are undertaking.

Christopher Wilson
Call Sign: MATWIL
Wanting to explore our vast wide land
BlogID: 7812
Views: 2145

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