I have noticed a trend where, people are asking "how to" and they are getting answers to bring a "satellite phone" and have someone else do it for you. In a recent question there are two answers and a comment, suggesting "satellite phone" as all or part of the solution.

I can understand why sometimes "satellite phone" seems like a good answer, but this site is the "The Great Outdoors", it is not the "How do I get help in the middle of nowhere" site.

On a one to one, person to person communication level, that may very well be the correct choice, but it is kind of like an answer on Photography telling someone to give up and call a professional. I don't think it can be the right answer to a question at TGO, unless someone is specifically asking to extend contact range.

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    But get experts is probably the correct answer to that question and sat phone would be the best device. I see no reason to restrict sat phone if it applies.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 18:59

5 Answers 5


It depends.

You have answered it yourself here.

I can understand why sometimes "satellite phone" seems like a good answer

In regards with examples you have cited, I strongly believe that there is always a better way to handle an emergency situation than one can think. Rescuers are capable of pulling off the task with utmost safety because they have spent years of training and execution of drills which gets them closer to this point where they can actually implement the best possible method. That's sheer experience.

Some situations are not okay to gamble with. In that case, I don't want anyone to get in trouble because one of the answers by WedaPashi on The Great Outdoors forum said, "Take it lightly, pull this and pull that and get your mate out".

No, thats not how it works. Thats not how rescue ops happen. Understand the gravity of the situation and let the experts handle it for you.

Yes, of course, if its like 'Hey, my mate just flipped off his kayak, he has a life jacket and I am nearby, but I am calling authorities for rescue' then thats not how I'd do it. I'd rather approach him, if needs be and I have experience in swimming I'd go down myself and push him up. You don't need a sat phone or whatever for that.

Remember, this forum is not about making people feel brave about themselves, but its about guiding them in the right way to enjoy being outdoors and that in the safest possible way!

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    First I was like "why is this guy bashing WedaPashi" - then I noticed its you. :D
    – fgysin
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 14:02
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    @fgysin: Haha, That was possibly the best way to set an example, without offending anyone! Charity begins at home :-)
    – WedaPashi Mod
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 5:35
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    You can also call the authorities for advice. Using a satphone to call authorities does not necessarily mean they have to come and rescue you. Maybe you're too stressed to think clearly but after describing the problem learn there is a safe and easy way out. Swedish mountain authorities explicitly encourage people not to hesitate to call for advice if needed.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 14:06
  • @gerrit: True, indeed.
    – WedaPashi Mod
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 6:56

In summary I think phones, beacons, and other electronics can be an important part of a comprehensive safety plan. Of course they can be abused, but just because a knife can cut you doesn't mean it should be banned. I agree an answer like "call for help, and if the phone is broke just start singing your death song" aren't helpful. That being said, sometimes your best course of action is to call for help. Captain Bligh was able to self rescue, but we're not all that good.

I think you're premise is fundamentally flawed when you say:

but this site is the "The Great Outdoors", it is not the "How do I get help in the middle of nowhere" site.

Very often this site is about dealing with challenging situations in the Great Outdoors.

Sometimes that includes strategies to help yourself, and sometimes that includes recognizing when it is appropriate to call for help. Sure people have rowed across the Atlantic, but does that mean that I shouldn't consider using an EPIRB if my boat sinks and all I have is my ditch bag and my dingy? Of course there is a chance the EPIRB won't work when I need it or that I never need one, but that doesn't mean that it isn't reasonable insurance. Also if the EPIRB doesn't work then I would move on to the next best alternative and transition to a new plan if that one fails too.

Similarly there are a whole host of things that can go wrong where self rescue isn't feasible. Say I'm out on a day hike with my wife and two young children. What happens if I fall, break my leg, hit my head, and am lying there unconscious. My wife who isn't very outdoorsy now has four options: leave me alone taking the kids with her for help, leave one or both of the kids with me and go for help, stay with me and wait for me to wake up, or call for help. If she can call for help then that really is the best solution. Keep in mind too that if you call for help with a cell/sat phone you don't have to call Search and Rescue. You can call your friends and family.

During a rescue if something goes wrong people can be seriously injured or killed which is why it is prudent to get extra help (hands and/or expertise) when feasible. Or to put it another way you might have the skills and capability to self rescue but the situation is such that it would be better to have extra help. I'm no expert but barring stunts like extreme selfies I don't think Photography carries the same risks. Also I think it is important to keep in mind that most people go out into the wilderness under equipped if things go horribly wrong. I don't bring a rescue sled with me every time I go to the crag for some sport climbing. If I have the extreme bad luck to have a bolt pull out on me and I deck we're going to need professional help. Unless of course you're advocating that people should never go rock climbing in groups smaller (including requisite gear) than needed to rescue at least one victim with a potential serious spinal injury....

As far as your objection that phones or other electronics can fail I feel that is a red herring. Anything can fail in the right situation. Every piece of gear can fail, and will fail if subjected to adverse conditions. Does this mean that I should never use a down jacket because it doesn't work well if it gets wet? Should I not use a backpack because the fabric could tear? I agree that electronics require more care and are more finicky. However their usefulness counterbalances their delicacy. Just like a firearm is more delicate than a spear, but most people would hunt with firearms instead spears given the choice.

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    Good answer. As I mentioned in a comment to another answer here, this discussion is crying for a question about a simple decision tree for when to call for emergency help and when to at least try to solve the problem oneself.
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 3:09
  • @ab2 I agree it would make sense to ask. I wonder how simple it would be for the generic case though. It seems to me that the answer is going to be highly related to the situation, party composition, and their ability to improvise. I bet it wouldn't be too tough to come up with a decent flow chart to cover some general cases
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 3:37
  • Do we know if we have an ER Doc who is a backpacker?
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 3:40
  • @ab2 I don't know if we do or not.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 3:44
  • @ab2 I know two docs who do mountaineering (both have attended alpine medicine courses and are specialising in internal and anestesia, as there is not really a dedicated ER discipline in Switzerland, at least it is not a major discipline).. I seriously doubt they could just pull out such a tree for a generic case. Emergency situations by their nature have a big element of uncertainty to them.
    – imsodin
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:05
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    @imsodin They probably have such a tree in their heads, backed up by a lot of experience. The question really is: would such a tree -- or list of considerations -- handed out to inexperienced people do more harm than good? Upon reflection, "a little learning is a dangerous thing."
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:21
  • What will an trauma surgeon in the group say when you hit the deck? Unless you are obviously uninjured, it will be something like, "We better get you to the hospital quick! Where is the Iridium phone?" S&R is specifically for situations that you can not self-prepare for.
    – user11603
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:24

I would say that it is fine to recommend having a Satellite phone, but I would say that answers that consist only of recommending a Satellite phone should be discouraged.

A satellite phone would not be a bad thing to have. On the other hand electronics can fail and depending on them is never a good thing. Also, they can be rather expensive and unaffordable to a lot of people.

Even with the Satellite phone in that case you mentioned it would be 2 hours + before help gets there and so I don't think that the answer is to sit there and wait.

From a Wilderness First Responder perspective the correct treatments for,

  • pneumothorax
  • appendicitis
  • possible spine injury that can't be ruled out
  • concussion

is to evacuate the person to civilization. Basically in any of those cases it would awesome to have a Satellite phone, but there are more things you should know than just to call for help.


Certainly we should not discourage such answers.

Bringing emergency communication equipment into The Great Outdoors is a good idea. Not bringing any is a bad idea unless you have a sufficiently large group size (4 people at the very least). Certainly we should not discourage answers that recommend safe behaviour.

If I am 50 km from civilisation and I break my leg, I am going to be very happy to have my satellite phone with me. It doesn't matter if it takes 30 minutes or 30 hours for rescuers to arrive, I'm with my backpack which has water and food and I can wait if they need to save a drowning boy before they can get to me. But I don't want to be found after 30 days or 60 years or never, which is exactly what may happen if I have no way of reaching out for help.


I think this is similar to Questions about 1 time event in that it is an important question but the example is not good.

The OP and his friends are clearly not capable of mounting a cliff-side rescue in this particular case, and even if they did take the training and gain the experience you suggest, they might not be at expert level. Would you want them hauling you up a cliff?

This particular example sounds like a valid candidate for PLB, although I think an answer which recommended safe ways to thoroughly scope out the severity of the problem would be better (e.g., sprain or compound fracture?) . If the latter, PLB; if the former, could two of their friends hike in along the river and assist the injured person out?

But, to repeat, you have raised an important question.

  • Personally I believe that if the OP takes the training, they will realize they are not capable of the rescue, and start fishing someplace else. If they train and still put themselves at risk, that is there choice. In reality a sat phone is not going to help in any case, Help is still an hour away, after they discover one of the party has an issue. Plus rescue and travel to hospital time. An extra hour to drive to cell service is not going to make a life or death difference. The Golden hour is spent already, I should add 2 my answer Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 23:08
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    Are you really suggesting because of this concept called "Golden Hour", one hour difference in rescue time is meaningless once the first hour has passed? I am all for knowing basic techniques (e.g. location determining without a GPS), because electronic devices can fail, but that is no reason not to use them. Going along this path you can't use anything to solve a problem, not even your own eyes: They might fail.
    – imsodin
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 21:48
  • @imsodin there are no absolutes. but in general yes. Consider the concepts of Triage immediate help impacts survival, for the most part if you don't get high level medical support in the first hour, then your survival depends on care provided in a few days. There are unlimited variables, and there are exceptions, Sometimes people live because they didn't wear a seat belt, sometimes they fall out of planes without a parachute and live. Sometimes you get them from accident scene to a trauma center in 45 minutes and they still die a few hours/days later. Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 12:38
  • @JamesJenkins From the linked article: "While most medical professionals agree that delays in definitive care are undesirable, recent peer reviewed literature casts doubt on the validity of the 'golden hour' as it appears to lack a scientific basis. Dr. Bryan Bledsoe, an outspoken critic of the golden hour and other EMS "myths" like critical incident stress management, has indicated that the peer reviewed medical literature does not demonstrate any "magical time" for saving critical patients."
    – user11603
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 9:16

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