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How to do an Avalanche Beacon Check in Three Steps

Heading out into the backcountry with friends?  Remember to do your beacon check at the trailhead. There are three things you want to check: Battery life, as well as Transmit and Receive functions of the device.

Follow these three steps to accomplish this quickly and efficiently:

Step 1:
First, pick a leader to run the beacon check.  Have everyone else make a circle around that person.  As each person takes their beacon out of their holster and turns it on, they call out the battery percentage, including the leader. First check done!

Step 2:
Next, everyone in the circle turns their beacon into search mode and holds it in front of them. Only the leader keeps her beacon transmitting.  You’ll hear a lot of beeping as all the searching beacons should pick up a signal.  Now the leader in the center of the circle, approaches one person at a time, bringing her beacon close to the searching beacon.  If everything is working in order, the number displayed on the searching beacon should get really small, and the sound level/frequency should increase.  It’s important to keep a bit of distance between each person as the leader moves around the circle, as well as giving the searching beacon a moment of time to process the signal.

Step 3:
Once this is completed around the circle, everyone except the leader turns their beacon back to send and stows it in their holster or pocket.  The leader now switches her beacon to search, and goes around the circle, pointing her beacon close to where the beacon is stowed, and looking for a signal with a correspondingly small number at each person.  Lastly, the leader turns her beacon back to send, and the group is ready to head out.

Troubleshooting:  What to do if something isn’t working right.

-If a beacon has low battery life or isn’t turning on, install new batteries before heading out.

-If transmit or receiving isn’t working properly, first re-test to eliminate operator error, but a beacon isn’t working, don’t use it.  Check in with a dealer at your local backcountry gear store.

Does this tech tip get you thinking about your beacon skills?
Join us for a Rescue Fundamentals Course to learn about or refresh your companion rescue skills.

Chicks Tech Tip: Avalanche Transceiver Check

Avalanche TransceiverWinter is just around the corner and we’ll be skinning for the goods not soon enough.  If you are relatively new to the backcountry, are you familiar with what we consider standard maintenance and safety checks for your highly technical avalanche transceiver?  These life-saving devices are critical equipment for every backcountry day and need thorough inspection pre-season, every year.

One of the most often overlooked details that lead to transceiver failure is leaving the batteries in the device over the long summer season or for extended periods without use. More often than not this leads to corrosion on the terminals and WILL cause malfunction.  When you remove the batteries make sure the casing and terminals are clean and dry.  Below is a list of suggested maintenance checks to keep your avalanche transceiver up to the task of its job.

  1. Inspect the battery terminals carefully. If there is any sign of corrosion, send the device back to the manufacturer for a complete inspection.  Do not touch the terminals with bare fingers but do check with gloves that the terminals are not loose.
  1. Use high quality alkaline batteries. Never use rechargeable batteries. Some devices will work with lithium batteries if set to do so but unless you are going into extreme cold environments, it is recommended to stick to alkaline batteries. You will get about 200 hours of use with fresh alkaline batteries. A daily battery check is the first thing you do when you turn your device on and if yours indicates they are 40-50% or less, replace them or follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Carrying a spare set in your pack is good insurance and often you’ll end up giving them to a partner to use.  Don’t mix brands and always renew all of the batteries at the same.
  1. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for inspections, life-span and use. This varies considerably.  Mammut recommends sending their Pulse in for a factory inspection every three years and their Opto 3000 every two, with regular practice sessions to check for any erratic behavior.  BCA recommends thorough and regular inspection but does not specifically recommend sending it in for checks.  Knowing what the recommendation is from the manufacturer of your beacon is important and following it could save a life. Be sure to check the harness system and casing of the device for any problems.
  1. This is all over the board with many manufacturers not specifying a lifespan for their device, to others such as Pieps recommending that 10 years is the maximum lifespan. Again, follow the manufacturer’s recommendation and retire any beacon that is malfunctioning or displaying erratic behavior.  Retire it as a practice beacon and practice regularly.
  1. Check the transceiver’s signal acquisition and transmit function and range. The manufacturer of your device has recommendations on how to do this and there are many good resources online.
  2. Check all the device’s display and buttons to insure they work correctly.

All of these checks should be done at the beginning of every season before your first day out and if there is any question about a device’s integrity, consult the manufacturer right away.  You may need to replace your device, which is a small investment in longevity.

Be sure to guard your device against impacts and drops.  The antennas are fragile.  If burying it for practice, it’s a good idea to protect it in a pack with tupperware or something that a shovel won’t damage.

For more information and a few additional tips, go to the link below for an interview I did with Women’s Adventure Magazine on this topic two years ago.

Have fun getting your winter kit together and stay tuned for more tech tips from Chicks Climbing and Skiing!