Mountain Radio Systems

For land based activities there are alternatives to EPIRBs. Consider for example the excellent Mountain Radio system that operates in New Zealand. A volunteer organisation (Mountain Radio Services Inc) it cover both North & South Islands 24/7, 365 days of the year. Base operators consist of dedicated, community service orientated individuals many of whom are enthusiastic ham radio operators. Their radio transmission (RT) procedures are excellent. Many are also knowledgeable and skilled in remote area operations including mountain safety and survival. Of course there are some who, into retirement and due to physical limitation, now maintain their connection with wild places through the Mtn radio network, that in itself is a wonderful thing.
Consider just some of the advantages:
1) available for public hire and at significantly more affordable rates than seem to apply to EPIRBs in Tasmania. I have utilised them extensively on visits to NZ & on average would pay no more than $5/day (in 2007 a 3 week hire cost $60).
2) you can actually talk to someone & relay details of an emergency: situation, injury, location etcetera
3) because comms are real time, person to person Mtn radio potentially avoids expensive emergency services searches with little information as to the situ. When an EPIRB is activated it triggers a chain of events that immediately cost the public purse.
4) as is the case in NZ (short of a emergency search/rescue) helo insertion/extraction is an individual responsibility. On average the expeditioner/tramper may expect to pay total $400-$1,500 for drop-in & pickup.
5) messages can be relayed. NZ Mtn radio do this locally at no addit. charge.
6) weather forecasts / radio checks are conducted at scheduled sked times.
7) radios may be booked / picked up at numerous depots, incl. some well known sports stores.
8) latest generation radios have a telephone capability. In 2005 I experienced direct comms with our helo pilot, whilst he was in the air and in bad weather.
9) simple operation - easier than most mobile phones.
Let us look more closely at the options and the advantages/disadvantages of each before we rush to invest heavily in one system (EPIRBs) which still has significant limitations (my opinion).

I have used mountain radio on many occasions, in some of NZ's most remote and rugged terrain (Westland, Fiordland) and I have never experienced any major difficulty in comms. In my experience they operate a reliable remote area communication system and provide a friendly, flexible and supportive service. Whilst always well equipped, on several occasions it has allowed me to avoid serious advancing weather fronts. The ability to arrange extraction, at short notice, can prevent unplanned delays and potentially more unpleasant or costly circumstances.
NZ has capitalised on it's wilderness asset and they do it well. They have invested significantly in their infrastructure and the services that support back country experiences. We could learn a lot from them if we had the will.
Garry Bowden