Cell phones can enable rapid, two-way communication with rescue authorities. To ensure that they perform as expected, consider:
- Is there cellular coverage in the area you will be travelling? Check with your service provider before you go. Most publish their coverage maps online. Even in an area with good coverage, physical obstacles like steep terrain can block the signal. A cell phone may not be a suitable primary emergency alerting device.
- Is “911” service available? In certain regions of Canada, 911 service is not available to landline or cellular users. Ensure you carry direct-dial numbers for the emergency services in your travel area.
- Will your cell encounter environmental extremes (e.g. very hot or very cold temperatures, dust, high humidity)? Is there a risk of dropping it into water, or onto rocks? Most cell phones are not designed for rugged outdoor use. It is advisable to keep the phone in a waterproof bag. If there is an emergency, your phone will be dry.
- How long do the batteries typically last, considering the temperatures you are likely to encounter? It is advisable to keep the phone turned off, If there is an emergency, your phone will have a full charge.
- Is the cell phone equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) chip, and is it activated? If so, you should know how to get GPS coordinates off of it to give to search and rescue if you become lost or injured. Cellular companies may also be able to determine your approximate location by the cellular towers that are receiving your signal. However, don't rely upon these features as the sole means of determining your location.
Sat phones are usually more versatile than cell phones, since they are not limited by the availability of ground-based cellular networks. They are also particularly useful in that they permit real-time, two-way communication. Again, to ensure they perform as expected, consider:
- Is there good satellite coverage in the area you will be travelling? Check with your service provider before you go. Unlike cell phones, most sat phones require the user to be outside, or somewhere with a clear view of the sky.
- Calls placed from a sat phone must include an area code, so “911” services cannot be reached. You must carry direct-dial numbers for emergency and SAR services for the region of travel. Also, toll-free numbers may not be compatible with some sat phone services. Check in advance.
- Is the model of satellite telephone designed for a rugged environment? Some handsets are more robustly constructed than others, and may be water, dust, and shock resistant.
- Battery life should also be carefully researched, and spares carried.
- What other potentially useful features does the sat phone have? Can it calculate or display your position, or send and receive data? Check with your service provider.