Ortovox 3 + Avalanche Beacon — Official Word

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 28, 2010      

Editor’s note: Our in-house beacon expert Jonathan Shefftz found what he considered to be an issue with his new Ortovox 3+ when he updated his review last week. Below, Marcus Peterson of Ortovox North America responds in what I feel is a very thorough and thoughtful way. If you’re new to this, please read Jonathan’s post before you read below. Otherwise, have at it. (And thanks Marcus, for taking the time to work this.)

Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

Lou and WildSnow readers, thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

I would like to preface my remarks by saying that I have known Jonathan Shefftz for several years and have always found him to be conscientious and of the highest integrity.

Regarding Jonathan’s comments on How Well It Works… on the recent Ortovox 3+ blog post and thread, my thoughts focus on Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI).

Page 26 of the 3+ Owner’s Manual affirms that the 3+ complies with Part 15 of the FCC Operation Rules. Specifically: (1) the device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) the device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation. This is a requirement of every transceiver sold into the U.S.A.

Luckily, most rescues and recoveries are performed in remote areas where EMI is not a factor. Practice sessions and beacon drills in an urban setting are a completely different matter. To insure a “quiet” practice site, it is recommended that (if available) one use an older analog beacon to provide a baseline for your practice site and help identify suitable practice sites. Switch it to “receive”, adjust the manual volume control to the highest setting and listen to the amount of “crackling” noise (EMI) heard, paying special attention to whether or not the crackling is concentrated in a specific area.

The test we performed at Stratton Mountain was done approximately 30 meters from a lift transformer, in the middle of a cluster of 4 lifts (one being a gondola) and a row of commercial buildings next to the slope. No visible overhead power lines. The 3+ did display some “flutter” among all that EMI, however, pin point searches were able to be performed. Jonathan’s video shows “flutter” for approximately 10 meters, which would indicate some source of EMI in the immediate area. Of additional note is the fact that in acquiring and following a signal, left to right movement of the unit should be minimal (typically less than 5 degrees off center) and deliberate. Broad, sweeping movement can slow searches because the processor is forced to continually re-evaluate position.

I have performed hundreds of searches in my “backcountry” practice field and have never experienced 180 degree “flutter”, even with pre-production models this past summer. I spent 4 hours outside with Jonathan’s unit (in two locations). In my backyard practice field, I performed at least 20 different scenarios of single and double searches with no “flutter” in single burials. With double burials, I could have been vectored up to 90 degrees depending on the orientation of the second transmitter.

The other site was in the front yard where underground electrical service bisects the search area. I performed 15 single searches with no “flutter”, even directly above the buried electrical service.

I was unable to replicate his “flutter”. Not in a backcountry setting. Not in a setting with some EMI. Below, please see a video of my testing.

I also reviewed the search on facewest.co.uk and my overall opinion is that the beacon worked as designed with one “flutter” at five (5) meters. The searcher completely stopped rather than continuing the search. The processor in any beacon needs information in order to perform calculations; this is accomplished by MOVING! Movement to adjust direction should be deliberate and ONLY enough to get the center arrow to turn “on”.

Just for the record, my definition of optimal (best coupling) range is when the beacon shows numbers and, in the case of the 3+, an arrow in any direction.

I would also like to address Jordo’s comment regarding opening his “new” 3+. All Ortovox beacons for the past 30 years have used Energizer batteries, which ship installed in the units. Ortovox manufactures tens of thousands of beacons annually, and four (4) different models. All of our beacons are tested at each step in the assembly process and must successfully pass at each station before progressing to the next. At the last station, batteries are installed for final test. All units leave the factory within specification and in good working order. On rare occasions circumstances out of our control enter the equation and a purchased unit right out of the box might not function properly. The unit could have been damaged in transit or mishandled once leaving the factory. Jordo should return the unit to us in New Hampshire (455 Irish Hill Road, Hopkinton, NH 03229). We’ll send him a new unit and his will be shipped to the Product Manager for a thorough examination.

One other thing: When commenting on Interface and Controls, Jonathan hoped the production model would have a “cheat sheet” (for errors) affixed to the back of the beacon. According to the EN 300-718 standard, 4.2.10: “A short form of operating instructions shall be printed on the case”. While an error “cheat sheet” would certainly be a benefit, there is simply no extra room on the back of the unit after the operating instruction requirement is fulfilled.


Marcus Peterson, Ortovox


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16 Responses to “Ortovox 3 + Avalanche Beacon — Official Word”

  1. eric December 29th, 2010 1:28 pm

    I experienced this same behavior last year in Vail’s beacon park, a place where the EMI explanation makes sense. (several lifts and patrol radio tower nearby)

    We experienced it using an original tracker, and a v2.0 tracker (updated original, not tracker2)

    Same scenerio, if you ignored it, you could still complete the search, but it confused us on the first searches.

  2. skian December 30th, 2010 12:54 am

    Thanks Marcus!

  3. Randonnee December 30th, 2010 5:52 pm

    Nice that Marcus contributed here, I have always liked him and Ortovox products.

    Just ran across this interesting quote, ” In 78% of cases, recreational users performing a beacon search fail to recover their buried partner alive.” From this source- http://ocw.usu.edu/Forest__Range__and_Wildlife_Sciences/avalanche-and-snow-dynamics/AvClass/Rescue/Rescue.html

  4. Lou December 31st, 2010 9:34 am

    Rando, it’s indeed good that Marcus does the occasional post. Also highly appreciative of Jonathan for the work he does to detail beacons. The 3+ “glitch” is an interesting issue. Really tough to get a handle on something that’s difficult to replicate. After reading Marcus and Jonathan, I’m really wondering if this is perhaps a case of SOME beacons in SOME circumstances. In that case, super difficult to clarify. That the glitch happened is not in doubt, and I’m not convinced it’s from EMI, but as Marcus writes, it sounds like it’s pretty uncommon.

    Main thing is that this is indeed a safety device, so it should be tested, hard, and any stuff that goes on should be documented — whether it’s a big deal or not. Nothing is perfect, and we will continue reviewing beacons with honesty about warts and beauty.

  5. Jim January 3rd, 2011 4:57 pm

    Marcus, Will Ortovox replace unit if it flutters? Thanks.

  6. skian January 3rd, 2011 5:10 pm

    You would be waiting a while for Marcus on this.he is incredibly busy this time of year training in the field.If the unit is defective Ortovox will stand behind It’s tool.check tools in the Backcountry not the front country please. 😀

  7. John Riggins January 4th, 2011 10:34 am

    I would also like to know if Marcus and Ortovox will be replacing all 3+ that “flutter”. I purchased 4 of these units at a local REI when they had the big sale . . . and all have had some “interesting” results when doing searches. I have experienced the same results (not 100% of the time, but about 40% of the time) that Jonathan was showing on his video….where the beacon would begin taking me in completely opposite directions than where the buried beacons were located…back and forth, back and forth. It has been frustrating.

  8. Lou January 4th, 2011 10:38 am

    John, you should contact Ortovox or the shop where you bought the units, then please report back here as to what happens. Lou

  9. XXX_er January 9th, 2011 8:02 pm

    one of my old fart ski buddies could not read the screen on one of the other new beacons so he gave it to his kid and bought the 3+

    the good news is buddy can read the screen on the 3+ ,a good design feature for old folks is having a screen people with poor eye sight can read

  10. Lou January 9th, 2011 11:22 pm

    Good point. A significant percentage of the population is seeing impaired to one degree or another, not just folks getting on in years. It always amazes me how poorly that issue is addressed with much product design. The brand logos are usually large enough for anyone to read, however (grin).

  11. Chris S February 15th, 2011 10:54 am

    You’re walking too fast, YOU create the erratics!

    You have to evaluate perception or try to get some REAL experience, at least get up a hill in snow with any beacon and try. You live in you own world when it comes to this SAFETY equipments. Please, delete your the videos and try to make something? better.

  12. Leif February 28th, 2011 12:24 pm

    I experienced the mentioned problem when using the 3+ in the northern parts of Norway with no buildings or other man made objects closer than 20km, thereby (at least in my mind) eliminating the EMI explanation.

    I like the user interface of the 3+ but it made me quite worried when the arrow kept swinging around and sometimes pointed straight away from the actual object when I was doing a practice search… I can only imagine what this would feel like during an actual search…

  13. Jonathan Shefftz February 28th, 2011 9:45 pm

    “You’re walking too fast, YOU create the erratics!”
    — I suspect this is directed at me, since this same “Chris S.” posted similar semi-coherent comments on YouTube before I deleted it all. But to clarify to anyone who might be reading this, all my videos were shot while searching at a rather slow walking pace, which is obvious from the speed at which the background is moving.

  14. Lou February 28th, 2011 10:24 pm

    And…. all beacons should be pushed to the limit in terms of speed!!!!! The idea is to get to your buried buddy, not be thinking “I’d better walk slower so this thing will work…”

  15. James fegel October 14th, 2011 5:07 pm

    Thanks to everyone for this discussion. I have done a few searches in my neighborhood with plenty of emi around and haven’t seen any flutter yet. I even had a four year old locate a beacon “buried” under a blanket in my backyard with no problems! I kicked myself later for not having shot video of that search!

  16. Matt December 20th, 2011 5:53 pm

    Got an announcement from Ortovox today that there is a software upgrade for the 3+ and the S1 beacons. Wonder if it will do anything to address the issues that Jonathan S. observed.

    This is what the message said about the update for the 3+

    Simultaneous and faster initial display of direction, distance and sound
    Greater backward compatibility with analog devices
    Acoustic warning 10 seconds before the automatic switchover to transmitting
    Acoustic warning if the device is switched on but has remained stationary for 30 minutes (switch-off reminder)

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