BCA Tracker3, like any beacon it’s only as good as the skill of the user.
I always vow to practice beacon search with my avalanche transceiver, but like flossing my teeth, it doesn’t happen enough. Sometimes at night I wake with a start. Worse than the recurring nightmare of rotting teeth, I wonder if I’ll fumble during the panic of a slide. Then my mind wanders to my partners. I assume their devices will work and they’ll know a few simple things that help with a search situation, but how can I be sure?
During a beacon refresher course, BCA offered tips that put my mind to rest.
Before we start ski touring, we routinely check to see if everyone’s beacon is on and transmitting. By adding a few quick steps, the entire party can be better prepared if the unthinkable — an avalanche — occurs.
Keep spare AA and AAA batteries in your car. At the parking lot, check the charge level of everyone’s beacon and swap fresh batteries if necessary. We like our beacons to show at least 60% battery power before starting a day trip. Weak batteries might lessen range (see comments below for clarification), but more importantly it’s good to have reserve power for unplanned circumstances. Also, cold batteries can have much less power, so having some reserve electricity could be necessary during a lengthy search in colder weather, when your beacon is away from body warmth.
If there are different brands of beacons in the group, make sure everyone knows how to turn each beacon off from transmit. During a rescue, you may have people who lose their ability to handle their beacon due to hysteria or shock, and you’ll need to turn their beacon off so their rogue signal doesn’t compromise your search. Likewise, in the case of a multiple burial you’ll want to know how to turn off a victim’s beacon after they’re extricated. Most beacons are intuitive in terms of the on/off, but folks in a panic situation and unfamiliar with a given beacon can easily fail this basic task (google “tunnel vision”). Doing the “simple” practice of everyone learning to turn off every beacon in a group calls attention to the very real problem of “rogue” signals during a search — and a little practice goes a long ways in preventing compromised performance during a real event.
At the trailhead have everyone except the leader turn their beacons to search mode. Have each person pass by the leader to check their readings.
Reverse roles: leader flips to search mode while others pass by in transmit mode.
Keep your trailhead rituals simple, but don’t neglect priorities.
During the practice session with BCA, I demoed a Tracker3. It is by far the simplest beacon I have ever used. Just slightly bigger than a cell phone, it’s one of the lightest too. If you need to upgrade, we recommend it.
Be ready for the season — buy a new BCA Tracker3 here.