Marc's WhiteWater Gear Reviews

Outside Help Gear


Pains Wessex Flares and Rockets

Wether you go kayaking, paragliding, hill-walking, climbing, skiing and or any other outdoor adventure, you’ll need to think about safety. I explained more about this on the Outside Help Instruction page. Pyro signals are among the possible aids at your disposal. Here’s what I have and use:
Para Red Rocket Mk8A (Instruction video)
Designed to withstand exceptional environmental exposure and to perform reliably even after immersion in water, the pull wire ignitor and improved grip provides easy handling. Ejecting a red flare on a parachute at 300m (1.000ft), burning for 40 seconds at 30.000 candela. 235 g (8.3 oz)
Red Handflare Mk8 (Instruction video)
Flare Minimum Burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela., For use day or night the red handflare is a shortrange distress signal used to pinpoint position. 176g (6.2 oz)
Compact Distress Signal (Instruction video)
For day or night-use only when rescue services are sighted. Each cartridge projects its payload to a height of 50 metres, burns for over 5 seconds at a minimum of 10.000 candela and is visible for at least 5 miles in daylight increasing to 10 miles at night, depending on weather conditions. 74 g (2.6 oz)
Lifesmoke Mk9 (Instruction video)
Signal provides effective position marking during rescue operations and can be used to indicate wind direction, producing dense orange smoke for a minimum of 3 minutes. 370g (13.05 oz)
Storage
I have these pyro’s stored (at home) in an ammo tin.
Besides that, I have the Large Polybottle (waterproof) of 12 litre (2.64gal) capacity. It is really large. W218xH400xD218mm, weighing 0.6 Kg.
Having said that, none of the two options above are light and small enough to take the selection of appropriate signals on a trip. What you probably need (which I do not have), is the Mini Polybottle Mini Polybottle, with a 3 litre (0.8gal) capacity.


Comet / Pains Wessex / WesCom Signal and Rescue products are manufactured in the original Comet factory in Bremerhaven, Germany, using the most sophisticated manufacturing techniques available.


Available at Kanocentrum Arjan Bloem.

Outside Help

If the worst comes to the worst, you’ll need outside help. But only in circumstances that are serious enough.

This section looks at the full range of communication methods of calling for help, with the proximity of your route to civilisation sometimes determining the appropriateness of each method, which should be factored into your planning. Take the appropriate kit for your route.

Undirected/Passive Communication

This is when a general communication is sent, being addressed to no one in particular, but in the hope that someone will see or hear a distress communication. The following list is in order of effectiveness:

Whistle or Torch

An essential piece of kit for everyone to carry is a torch and whistle, with the sole purpose of the whistle being for emergency signalling.
The International distress signal is 6 blasts repeated with an interval of one minute between each series of 6 blasts. If your whistles are heard, you should hear three whistles in reply. Keep repeating the whistle blasts so that your location can be determined. Help may take some time to reach you, so keep whistling every minute until you are certain that rescuers are on the way, i.e. you can see a dozen bobbing head torch beams making their way to you.
Follow the same process for torchlight, flashing the light instead of whistling. However, If a Search & Rescue helicopter is nearby, shine the torch on the ground, not at the helicopter, as the bright light will affect the pilot’s Night Vision equipment.
The obvious limiting features are that someone has to hear or see you, and if you’re in a remote valley after everyone else has left, your signals could go unheard.

Pyro signals

Fire

When in distress, a fire can be helpfull in many ways. For attracting attention, place a fire on high ground, preferably within hearing distance.
When out of hearing distance, leave an arrow pointing towards your location. When sight is compromised by rain, mist or clouds, the smell of a fire will give an indication of your location. I pack a lighter and a couple of strips of inner tube. They are argueably the quickest way to make a rescue fire. (And it smokes and stinks!).

Compact Distress Signal

I use these Compact Distress Signals. The bare minimum that one should take when going into the outdoors. These signals, used to reveal your location when rescue services are sighted, are for day or night-use.
Instruction video:

Each cartridge projects to a height of 50 metres, so it is of limited use in thick woods or deep vallays. It burns for over 5 seconds at a minimum of 10.000 candela and is visible for at least 5 miles in daylight increasing to 10 miles at night, depending on weather conditions. 74 g (2.6 oz)

Handheld Flare

The Red hand-held, short range distress signal is used to pinpoint location by day or night. It burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela (25.000 lumen).
I pack this Red Handflare Mk8. These are the standard flares you’ll find on most lifeboats across the world. They feature a telescopic handle making it very compact and space saving when stowed in my kayak.
Instruction video:

Easily extended and pull wire operated, they help helicopter pilots to pinpoint casualty location and give vital information about wind speed and direction. These flair can be submersed when burning, without extinguishing. It burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela. 176g (6.2 oz)

Rocket/Parachute Flares

Rocket/parachute flares are set off from the hand, can reach a height of 300 metres (about 1,000ft).
Personal/rocket flares have that initial height (can be seen from further afield), a bang, which may grab attention if there’s anyone around.
I pack the Para Red Rocket Mk8A. These are the standard rockets you’ll find on most lifeboats across the world.
Instruction video:

Flares must not be used near Search & Rescue helicopters at night, as they will seriously compromise the effectiveness of Night Vision equipment.
Designed to withstand exceptional environmental exposure and to perform reliably even after immersion in water, the pull wire ignitor and improved grip provides easy handling. Ejecting a red flare on a parachute at 300m (1.000ft), burning for 40 seconds at 30.000 candela. 235 g (8.3 oz)

Smoke Beacons

When indication of rescue services nearby, these are used to mark the landing spot for a helicopter, showing the spot, the wind direction and -speed. I pack the Lifesmoke Mk9. Instruction video:

It’s a compact, flat top, day time distress signal designed to be easy and safe to handle. It provides effective position marking during rescue operations and can be used to indicate wind direction, producing dense orange smoke for a minimum of 3 minutes. See helicopter information lower on this page. 370g (13.05 oz) .


The Pains Wessex company has been a leading supplier of marine distress signals for over 100 years, with distributors all around Europe.
If you have problems finding the Pains Wessex products, by advised that similar, if not identical, products are sold under the Comet brand.

Strobe Light

This bit of kit is of more use in the dark than day, and can be seen from several miles away. Batteries last for many hours.  Mountain rescue teams use them, but I suggest that the weight of a strobe could be exchanged for more useful emergency kit. So, I don’t own one.


Direct Communication

This is when a ‘message’ is sent that is addressed to a specific person or organisation.
The following list is in order of effectiveness:

Before Phone/Radio Contact

  • Location: Many of the gear we carry around can provide this information, check your maps, telephone, camera, watch and any gps-enabled aparatus. Give them landmarks. Is there a road in sight? Is there a 50×50 meter clearing close by for a helicopter to land? Tell them if you have flairs, beacons, makeshift signs and such. Tell them your last know location, general direction and time since.
  • Emergency. Give as much information as possible about why this is an emergency:
    • Wounded people? Immobile, bleeding internally, externally, in shock?
    • Stuck, pinned, lost, dead people?
    • Lost? Give them landmarks. tell them if you have flairs, beacons and such. tell them your last know location, general direction and time since.
  • Urgency. Why is help time-sensitive. Wounded people, pinned people, weather closing in.

Prepare to give rescue services as much information as available:

International Emergency Telephone Codes
& Mountain Rescue Services

Please help me filling this chart with the correct information!

CountryPhone numberRadio Channel & Frequencies
Albania
Andorra
Armenia
Austria140 / 144 / 112No Radio Call available
Azerbaijan
Belarus
Belgium
Bosnia and
Herzegovina
Bulgaria(088)1470 / (02)963200055.475 Mhz or 147.850 Mhz
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
England, Wales,
Scotland
999 / 112Radio call frequency restricted to the emergency services
Denmark
Finland
France112 transfer the calls to the mountain rescue unit.150 MHz range
Georgia
Germany,
Bavarian Alps,
low mountainrange
112Radio call frequencies restricted to the emergency services
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy118, activation of HEMS or mountain rescue teamsFor mountain rescue only 71.500 / 71.550
MHz, not available for the public.
Kazakhstan
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxemburg
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands112VHF Channel 10, Freq. 156.500
North
Macedonia
Norway112 (police) / 113 (health service)Channel 5. Restricted to professionals
Poland112 / 601100300Radio frequency 153.625 MHz
Portugal
Romania
Russia
Serbi
Slovakia
Slovenia112Usually 157.725 MHz (not for public use)
Spain112 / 062Radio call frequency, if there is one available: 146:175 MHz.
Sweden
Switzerland144 / 1414 / 112161.300 MHz
Turkey
Ukraine

Mobile Phone Voice

Use the telephone numbers in the list on top of this page.  This is the best option if available and must take priority over any other communication method you may have at your disposal.
Emergency Calls Only
If your phone is showing ‘Emergency Calls Only’, this means that you will be able to make a emergency call. However, you will not be able to receive incoming calls. Inform the operator of this, as the police and/or Mountain Rescue Team will need to call you back. If someone else in the group has a phone that is not showing ‘Emergency Calls Only’, use their phone for the emergency call, as it will allow incoming calls.
Saving Mobile Battery
The primary function of your phone when on a kayak trip, should be for communication in an emergency. In remote areas battery drain can be rapid, and quicker than urban locations, for a variety of reasons, and the following steps will ensure that you have sufficient battery if you do need to make a call.

  • either switch off your mobile, or set it to ‘flight’ or ‘aircraft’ mode. Flight mode switches off the phone’s search for a mobile network, and thus prevents battery drain.
  • make sure all unnecessary smart phone apps are closed down.
  • switch off data, Bluetooth and GPS connections unless required. Some phones allow activation even when in flight mode.
  • store your phone in your rucksack and in a waterproof bag or container, but be sure in the prevailing conditions that the ring-tone can be heard (if called for emergency services).

Mobile Phone text

If the signal is shaky or very weak, try SMS/text. Text and await a reply. You must have registered with the service before using. Include your number in case text is onward relayed.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

My ACR ResQlink

Reliably gets distress-alert message with position to SAR /emergency services via satellite, through the international Cospas-Sarsat system. Once tasked, SAR helicopters can source the homing transmissions.

Satellite Phone

Make a phone call from virtually anywhere (must be outside or under fairly transparent cover). Handsets relatively expensive and considerable ongoing financial commitment to keep active.

Satellite Messenger 

My Zoleo Device

Message sent via commercial satellite constellations. SPOT Messenger provides GPS position with each of additional three customised messages, with your SOS pre-set emergency info as the top level, involving the Emergency Services.. Emergency message sent to UK emergency services. Must be used outside in the clear to get GPS position and to access the satellites.

VHF Radio / Walkie Talkie

My Baofeng UV-9R

Of use especially in coastal mountainous areas. You will know if someone has received your message. VHF radios sometimes require an operator to be licensed. Even in places where usage is not permitted, if the means is available and there is genuine distress, it should be used.

Radio Communications Techniques

There are a few simple practices that can make a big difference in the effectiveness of radio communications. Handheld radios should be held away from the body with the radio and antenna in a vertical position. If the antenna is in contact with the operator’s body, the RF signal strength will be reduced. Holding the radio and its antenna as high as possible will increase the line-of-sight range. The antennas on both transceivers in a radio link need to be in the same plane, or polarization. For VHF/UHF mobile radios, handheld radios, and repeaters, the polarization is always vertical. Having the antennas in different polarities can result in up to a 100-fold loss of signal strength. To transmit a message, hold the radio 5 to 10 centimeters from the face and listen for several seconds to ensure the frequency is available. Press and hold the push-to-talk button for 1 second before speaking, this prevents the first word or two of the message from being dropped. Speak slowly and clearly in a normal pitch, using normal vocabulary. It is often a good idea for the receiving station to repeat radio messages back to the sending station to ensure that the message was correctly understood, particularly if the signal is weak or garbled. One should assume that all radio transmissions are being monitored and that anything said on the radio is being said in public.

Mirror

Usable if enough direct sunlight is available. As a highly directional signal, it should be used when potential help is sighted. Signal in threes to communicate distress.

Helicopters

At night, military Search & Rescue helicopter pilots hate strobe lights and flares at short range and would rather home in, after long range identification has been established, to a torch beam pointed and flashed at the ground.

Ground to Air Communication

When you’re in distress in the outdoors and you need to call for help, you may choose to use a number of different rescue signal techniques. But if you believe that an airplane, helicopter, or other airborne rescue parties may be searching for you, then you can use the five-symbol ground-to-air emergency code to signal a specific message in advance of the aircraft’s landing. Most importantly, the ground-to-air emergency code can help let rescuers know whether or not anyone in your party is injured, and it can guide them more effectively towards your location.

  • As with other visual signals, signaling in threes communicates and confirms distress.
  • Choose a large, open area as close as possible to your location for the signal location.
  • Choose to place signals on the highest, flattest terrain you can find near your location.
  • Choose a signal that will contrast with the underlying terrain. Choose dark-colored branches, for example, on top of the white snow.
  • Go big! Use several rows of rocks or debris to build each part of a signal letter so that it is thick enough and big enough to be seen clearly from above.
  • Be prepared to use a backup signal, such as a signal mirror, to confirm your location as soon as you see aircraft in the area.
  • The five ground-to-air emergency code symbols and their meanings are as follows:

V or X : Require Assistance

A V-shaped signal communicates that you need assistance, in general, but it doesn’t imply that you or someone in your party is injured.
Use the letter X to communicate that you or someone in your party needs medical attention.
Whereas the V symbol communicates a call for help, the X symbol communicates a more urgent request for assistance.

N : No or Negative

The N symbol can be used to communicate your negative response to a question that the aircraft or rescue organization has asked.

Y : Yes or Affirmative

The Y symbol can be used to communicate your affirmative response to a question that the aircraft or rescue organization has asked.

Arrow : Proceed in This Direction

Proceed in This Direction: Arrow, Pointing Towards the Location
Place an arrow-shaped symbol with the head, or point, of the arrow indicating the direction of your location. This symbol is a good one to use when rescuers may need additional information about how to reach your location after they have identified another ground-to-air signal, such as a group of X symbols in an open area indicating a need for medical assistance. Place the arrow in a position that will guide rescuers from the open area towards your location.

Helicopter landing space

When selecting and setting up a landing space mind the following:

  • Choose a large (half a football pitch), open area as close as possible to your location.
  • It needs to be firm and relatively horizontal.
  • Make sure there are no powerlines or other obstacles.
  • Light a beacon or have a smokey fire at the upwind side of te field, for the heli-crew to see wind direction and speed.

Waterproof?

Many of us are startled by the codes products get for their waterproofness.
I’l try to explain these codes without getting too technical or scientific.

The most widely used code is the IP Code (International Protection Marking).
IP codes are made up out of a;
first digit, indicating what size solid particles it can withstand. (solid particle protection)
second digit, indicating waterproofness (liquid ingress protection)

Using the 6 as first digit, because this typically is realistic, what you need to know is this:

  • Taking electrical or otherwise water-sensitive gear outside of your boat, requires IP68. (Whitewater can created a lot of pressure.)
    Think watches, camera’s, et cetera.
  • Taking electrical or otherwise water-sensitive gear inside of your boat, requires IP67.
    Think dry-bags, phones, et cetera.
  • Using electrical or otherwise water-sensitive gear off-water ideally has an IP65 or IP66 rating, but may be less, subject to the type of gear.

Underlying this, we’ll have a look at the second digit, protection against water., which is most relevant to us:

DigitTypeExplanation
0None
1Dripping
water
Dripping water (vertically falling drops) shall have no harmful effect on the specimen when mounted in an upright position onto a turntable and rotated at 1 RPM.
2Dripping
water
when tilted
at 15°
Vertically dripping water shall have no harmful effect when the enclosure is tilted at an angle of 15°.
3Spraying
water
Water falling as a spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical shall have no harmful effect.
4Splashing
water
Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect.
5WaterjetsWater projected by a nozzle (6.3 mm) against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.
6Powerful
waterjets
Water projected in powerful jets (12.5 mm nozzle) against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects.
7Immersion,
up to
1m depth
Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water of up to 1 m.
8Immersion,
1m or more depth
The equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water without harmful effects.

The first digit, solid particle protection:

DigitSize (mm)Explanation
2>12.5Fingers or similar objects
3>2.5Tools, thick wires, etc.
4>1Most wires, slender screws, large ants etc.
5Dust
protected
Ingress of dust is not entirely prevented, but it interfere with the operation of the equipment.
6Dust 
tight
No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact (dust tight).

WhiteWater Kayaking


The White Water River and Creek

‘Whitewater is formed in a rapid, when a river’s gradient increases enough to generate so much turbulence that air is entrained into the water body, that is, it forms a bubbly or aerated and unstable current; the frothy water appears white. The term is also loosely used to refer to less turbulent, but still agitated, flows. The term “whitewater” also has a broader meaning, applying to any river or creek itself that has a significant number of rapids.’

International scale of river difficulty

There are six main “categories” in whitewater kayaking:
There are six categories, each referred to as grade or class followed by a number. The scale is not linear, nor is it fixed. For instance, there can be difficult grade twos, easy grade threes, and so on. The grade of a river may (and usually does) change with the level of flow. Often a river or rapid will be given a numerical grade, and then a plus (+) or minus (-) to indicate if it is in the higher or lower end of the difficulty level.
While a river section may be given an overall grading, it may contain sections above that grade, often noted as features, or conversely, it may contain sections of lower graded water as well. Details of portages may be given if these pose specific challenges.
Class I:
Easy Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
Class II:
Novice Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily avoided by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and group assistance, while helpful, is seldom needed. Rapids that are at the upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class II+.
Class III:
Intermediate Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.
Class IV:
Advanced Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must make” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. For kayakers, a strong roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively.
Class V:
Expert Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. Proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.
Because of the large range of difficulty that exists beyond Class IV, Class V is an open-ended, multiple-level scale designated by class 5.0, 5.1, 5.2, etc. Each of these levels is an order of magnitude more difficult than the last. That is, going from Class 5.0 to Class 5.1 is a similar order of magnitude as increasing from Class IV to Class 5.0.
Class VI:
Extreme and Exploratory Rapids Runs of this classification are rarely attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class VI rapid has been run many times, its rating may be changed to an appropriate Class 5.x rating.

River running

Riverrunning (practitioners use one word) is the essential form of kayaking. Whereas its derivative forms have evolved in response to the challenges posed by riverrunning, such as pushing the levels of difficulty and/or competing, riverrunning, of its own right, is more about combining one’s paddling abilities and navigational skills with the movements and environments of rivers themselves. Important to a riverrunner is the experience and expression of the river in its continuity rather than, say, a penchant for its punctuated “vertical” features (e.g. standing waves, play-holes and waterfalls). As for kayak design, a “pure” riverrunning boat can be said to have “driving ability” – a blend of qualities that enables the paddler to make the most of the differential forces in the river’s currents. For example, instead of spinning or pivoting the boat to change its direction, a riverrunner will drive the boat in such a way as to make use of the river’s surface features (e.g. waves, holes and eddylines) thus conserving the boat’s speed and momentum.

Creeking

Creeking is perhaps best thought of as a subcategory of river running, involving very technical and difficult rapids, typically in the Grade/Class IV to VI range. While people will differ on the definition, creeking generally involves higher gradient (approaching or in excess of 100 ft per mi (19 m per km)), and is likely to include running ledges, slides, and waterfalls on relatively small and tight rivers.

Slalom

Slalom is a technical competitive form of kayaking, and the only whitewater event to appear in the Olympic Games. Racers attempt to make their way from the top to the bottom of a designated section of river as fast as possible, while correctly negotiating gates (a series of double-poles suspended vertically over the river). There are usually 18–25 gates in a race which must be navigated in sequential order. Green gates must be negotiated in a downstream direction, red gates in an upstream direction. The events are typically conducted on Grade/Class II to Grade/Class IV water, but the placement of the gates, and precision necessary to paddle them fast and “clean” (without touching a pole and adding 2 seconds to the total time), makes the moves much harder than the water’s difficulty suggests.

Playboating

Playboating, also known as Freestyle or Rodeo, is a more gymnastic and artistic kind of kayaking. While the other varieties of kayaking generally involve going from Point A to Point B, playboaters often stay in one spot in the river (usually in a hole, pourover or on a wave) where they work with and against the dynamic forces of the river to perform a variety of maneuvers. These can include surfing, spinning, and various vertical moves (cartwheels, loops, blunts, pistol and donkey flips, and many others), spinning the boat on all possible axes of rotation. More recently, aerial moves have become accessible, where paddlers perform tricks having gained air from using the speed and bounce of the wave.

Surf kayaking (‘out of category’, but relevant)

Surf kayaking is the sport, technique, and equipment, used in surfing ocean waves with kayaks. Surf kayaking has many similarities to surf board surfing, but with boats designed for use in surf zones, and with a paddle. A number of kayak designs are used, but all are aimed at better using the waves to propel the craft.


Creek kayaks

Creek kayaks are designed primarily for downriver paddling. In general, creek boats are designed to run tight, steep, and technical whitewater (while river runners are designed for down-river speed, catching eddies, and the occasional surf on a green wave). There are a few design characteristics set creek boats apart: Weight, rocker, edge profile and volume distribution.

Weight

We’ll start with the most obvious. Weight is not your friend. Neither kayaking, loading it onto your car, during portage or in a rescue and retrieval situation.

Rocker

The term rocker refers to the curvature or angle of a boat’s hull towards the bow and stern. Boats with longer effective waterline / lower rocker are faster but do not turn as easily as boats with shorter effective waterline. Boats with longer effective waterlines typically are better suited to river-running, where speed is key to moving through large waves and holes and the boat needs to avoid being easily knocked off line.
Shorter waterlines / higher rocker tend to be slower but turn more easily. These boats are better suited to more technical whitewater where manoeuvrability is more important than speed.

The shape of the rocker largely determines how a boat will behave when entering the water from a vertical drop (i.e. a waterfall). The advantage of a progressive rocker is twofold:
first, it takes stress off the paddler’s back when landing larger drops, a
nd second, it allows for more efficient transfer of vertical energy (from falling) into horizontal energy (moving quickly away from the hole at the bottom of the drop).
This makes progressive rocker very desirable on creek boats and less common on river-runners.

Edge

Creek boats with indistinct or soft edges tend to have a “mushy” feel, because they do not engage with water as much as hard edges. They do allow for faster “pivoting” turns, however, as well as smoother moves off rocks, and do not get hung up in boily water as easily. Creek boats tend to have softer edges.

Volume displacement

Boats with proportionally more of their volume distributed into the bow and stern tend to resurface more quickly and under more control. This is the result of increased buoyancy in the bow and stern.
They also tend to be more resistant to burying the bow off ledges, and punching holes (instead they ride over holes).
For these reasons, creek boats tend to have more volume distributed in the bow and stern than river-runners.

Safety


Whitewater Safety

Whitewater safety is a topic that needs attention. Accidents happen. These accidents often result in two safety related stages of aid.

  • Rescue: Extricating/rescueing persons and recovery of boats & paddles.
  • First Aid: Taking care of wounds and injuries.

Getting pinned in whitewater is a potentially dangerous situation and needs to be solved swiftly and effective. Over the years I have broken several ribs, damaged fingers, toes and what not. Some say injuries are inevitable when pushing limits, no matter how carefull you are.
The first step is to be prepared for these occasions, with both tools and knowledge.
Preparation starts by checking rescue- and first aid kits whilst your still able to replenish your necessities. Make sure you know how to use the kits. Practise your rescue techniques and know how to find things in your first aid kit. When you are ready to board, check for any known health issues within the group that can cause complications during the trip. Also check if all boats have adequate buoyancy blocks & air bags. (If not, consider not risking safety and injuries recovering that boat.) Last but not least, agree on signals to use in an emergency situation. Especially among those that aren’t in distress. (Like ‘stop, we have an emergency!’, ‘come and assist!’, ‘go to the other bank!’, et cetera.) Whilst on the water, both kits need to be easily accessible. Make sure kits are strategically located within the group. The most experienced paddlers are likely to be able to help first when things go wrong.

As a former (Rescue 3 Europe Whitewater (WRT-REC) and WRI Swiftwater) Rescue Technician, I had to seriously update my knowledge to comply with modern day standards, like the ‘Clean principle’. This means I have to update my gear as well. Underneath I’ll keep you posted on my progress, findings and tips. The “Clean Principle” tells us to be aware of any gear snag hazards, that could result in entrapment. Remember: Rope and swift water are a bad match.

Gear

Kayak

Make certain you have the right kayak for the trip!
Check usability, security and strength of grab-handles (all kayaks should have these, preferably no rope loops!). Make sure that the kayak will float when full of water by adding adequate airbags. Check all screws, bolts, footrest and/or bulkhead. Ensure that your spray skirt has a pull-cord for release and is a tight fit.

PFD

Wear a CE-approved buoyancy aid when on or near the river, check its floatation and make sure it is in good condition and the correct fit. Ensure all buckles and zips are fastened. Check your PFD for loose straps!

Cowtails/Towing tether

A cowtail is a very useful tool to recover a kayak ‘on the loose’, but only if you are able to run the river safely towing a water filled boat!
Use the absolute minimum length required for towing and only use it with a release buckle system. Tug any slag underneath your PFD.
I use a 50cm (extending to 90cm), CE approved, tubular webbing with integrated bungee tether, fitted with a Petzl William carabiner (position-secured by a Petzl ‘String’ webbing protector). The 50cm tether fits snugly around my PFD, minimising the chance of entrapment. (image above)

Helmet

Wear a CE approved, fastened, kayaking helmet when on or near the river. Ensure it fits correctly and snug. It helps if the colour stands out on the river (unlike mine).

Protective clothing

Wear and/or carry sufficient warm protective clothing for the trip. I always wear/carry a paddle jacket, neoprene shorts and rashguard shirt in summer. In winter I add a long john wetsuit, neoprene paddle jacket, a neoprene hat and pogies. A dry suit would be a great addition.
Wear footwear suitable for carrying your kayak up- and downhill or scouting the river. Footwear should be free of anything that could catch.

Throw bag

The way most brands configure their throwbags is not suitable for whitewater use. Throwbags should not have any loops or knots that can get snagged. Nor should they have any hardware attached that can injure swimmers. I prefer to carry two throwlines:

  • An 8,5 mm, 18m, polypropylene rope, ideal for quickly bagging swimmers. Small bag, quick deploy, right in front of my seat.

  • And a 9,5-10mm (better grip than 8mm), 20-25m throw line, containing a Spectra core. The Spectra core will increase the breaking strength from 9kN (polypropylene) to 16kN. This strength is needed for heavy lifting and moving big loads, like when unpinning a kayak. I store this behind my seat.

Unpin kit

Together with other rescue related items on this page, stowed in an 8 liter drybag, inside the kayak:

  • Four Locking carabiners
    Personally, I like the Petzl William carabiners, being lightweight, large-gated and yet rated at 27kN. I only use locking biners, as non-locking/snap/wire biners are not ‘Clean’.

    Mind you, some older locking carabiners have snagging noses, like most non-locking biners have. Do not use those.
    Green: a Petzl William nose. Red: a snagging nose.
  • Two pulleys
    I have an additional blocking pulley (Mind you: they can cause wear on your rope.)
  • Two 5mm Prusik loops
  • Three 120cm Webbing slings

Flip line

Flip lines can be used for many different kayaking purposes, the most common being as an anchor line to secure your boat, for a reach rescue and as a rescue anchor. I use a 4 meter webbing sling, with a Petzl William carabiner. Made from strong tubular nylon webbing‚ its two sewn end loops can be joined with a carabiner to make a continuous loop‚ or left apart as a 4 m straight sling. A flip line should be carried inside your PFD or stowed in your kayak, not around the waist, as this is dangerous and not ‘Clean’.

Knife

Knives are an essential piece of gear, especially when working with rope. Your knife needs to be easily accessible with one hand. It should cut rope easily (serrated blade) and not have a sharp point. Do not tether the knife as this is not ‘Clean’.
I use a NRS Co-Pilot Knife (that is small enough to fit my current PFD) and a Wichard Rescue Knife (which is slightly bigger and better cutting).

Spare paddle

At least one member of the group should carry a spare paddle. Any decent paddle will do, but mind the weight.
I carry an rescued 4-piece old Robson (?) 197cm paddle, which I split myself. Kevlar Carbon blades and carbon shaft. Weight: 1008 g.

Emergency Bothy Bag

I recommend everyone to carry an emergency shelter. My Lomo Emergency Storm Shelteris a 2-3 man ‘Bothy Bag’. It provides protection from the wind and rain when you are in dire straights. It’s lightweight, easy to carry and can be pulled over 2-3 people to help keep the elements off them in an emergency. The shelter is made from high-viz orange, PU-coated polyester and has two large retro reflective patches on the front to help reflect the torch light from a search party or helicopter searchlight. A viewing window is also included to let the occupants see out whilst keeping sheltered and two air-vent snorkels aid ventilation. These can be adjusted or closed in heavy winds and rain. Two people can sit inside the shelter and have enough room to face each other and still have an area in the middle to eat. Three people in the shelter is a bit more crowded. Made out of 190T PU-coated polyester, it’s sized 1.3m Long x 96cm high x 45cm wide, but packs as small as 21cm x 10cm and weighs 360 grams.

First aid kit

Focused on cuts, bleeding, broken bones and pain.
I carry a bigger SAM splint (for limbs) and a SAM finger splint. Wound closure and dressing materials. Small tampons for nose bleeds, tape, water purification tablets and 2 Rescue blankets. Medicins like Immodium, Paracetamol and Anti-hystamine. This is my smaller day-trip kit.

Cell phone, WalkieTalkie and PLB

For when there is no cell phone signal, I carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), currently an ACR ResQLink. A last resort for extreme emergency situations. Not to be used lightheartedly as it will result in the activation of a (helicopter) rescue team, guiding them to your location. For communication within the group a walkie talkie is a proper safety device.

Whistle

For communicating when your voice isn’t strong enough.
I use an Acme Tornado 2000 professional referee stadium whistle, which blows out any water easily and has loads of volume (up to 122 decibel).

Wood Saw

For clearing your way through a blocked river or freeing a trapped paddler.
I use a Silky Pocket Boy, with 170/10 blade.

Gaffa/Duck tape

For al unforeseen repairs and whatnot.

Abilities and knowledge

  • All the gear above should be used by trained individuals. Follow a Swiftwater rescue course. Practice regularly and keep refreshing your knowledge!
  • Know the whitewater class you can handle and be prepared to portage rapids beyond this ability. If you are not sure, buddy up with an experienced group member.
    • Class I: Beginner
      Fast moving water with riffles and small waves.
    • Class II: Novice
      Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional manoeuvring may be required.
    • Class III: Intermediate
      Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid. Complex manoeuvres in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required.
    • Class IV: Advanced
      Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. A strong Eskimo roll is highly recommended.
    • Class 5: Expert
      Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk.
    • Class VI:
      Extreme and Exploratory Rapids
      These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger.
  • Be prepared to self rescue, including whitewater swimming and a reliable Eskimo roll.
  • Know Basic Life Support and have a current first aid certificate.

Sometimes medical care is necessary. If so, you need to carry the tools that fit your skills and to a level of injuries you can handle. I believe it’s best that each paddler carries a medical kit according to those criteria. The contents of a first aid kit needs to be checked every year for it’s expiration dates.
Being trained both as a field medic in the army (commandos) and as an outdoor first responder, my kit is composed to my level of expertise.


First Aid

My WhiteWater First Aid Kit

My first aid kit is packed in a waterproof bag. This bag contains a venom extractor kit, a windlass tourniquet and a adapted First Aid Kit.
My kit contains:

  • Wound plasters 19×38 mm, 5 pieces
  • Wound plasters 25×72 mm, 5 pieces
  • Wound plasters 60×100 mm, 2 pieces
  • Trauma dressing 12×12 cm
  • Butterfly bandage, roll 1.25 cm x 1 m
  • Needle and syringe 0.6×25 / 5 ml, 6 pieces
  • Wound plasters 10 x 25 cm
  • Sterile compress 5×5 cm
  • Hydrophilic bandage 5 cm x 4 m
  • Suture & needle 75 cm/nylon
  • Blood lancet, 4 pieces
  • Vinyl gloves 1 pair
  • Alcohol wipes, 10 pieces
  • Trauma shears
  • Tweezers
  • Tick tweezers
  • Scalpel
  • Mouth-to-mouth shield
  • Safety pins
  • Immodium
  • Paracetamol
  • Epi-pen adrenaline-autoinjector
  • Glucagen Pen
  • Athletic tape
  • Small tampons
  • Finger Splint
  • Splint 36″
  • Laceration Kit
  • Blister plasters
  • Electronic thermometer
  • Oral Rehydration Salts Sachets
  • 2 Rescue blankets
  • Betadine
  • Silk fixation tape
  • Spray Plaster
  • 2x elastic finger plasters
  • 2x knuckle plasters
All packed in a 5 liter Dry Bag.


Individual First Aid Kit: IFAK

Fenix Protector Individual First Aid Kit: IFAK SF. This firm bag is very well designed with regards to practicality. The Molle part is firmly attached to my pack, whilst the tongue/velcro/buckled bag is easily detached for quick use. I use this when backpacking.

Pills: watertreatment, diarrhea, constipation, pain relief, etctera.
Sports tape, rescue blanket, disinfectant, tick tweezers, tweezers, scissors, betadine, blister patches, ORS, Alcohol wipes, bandages and plasters.


Tourniquet in Pouch

I use a Fenix Protector PO-162 radio pouch for storing my (generic) tourniquet.


SOL Escape Lite Bivvy

I allways carry an emergency bivouac sack. Presently this a Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL) Escape Lite Bivvy It is lightweight at 165gr and packs incredibly small. The fabric lets moisture escape and keeps rain, snow, and wind on the outside – all while reflecting your body heat back to you. If necessary it can be used as a liner to enhance the warmth of your traditional sleeping bag.


Outside Help

If the worst comes to the worst, you’ll need outside help. But only in circumstances that are serious enough.
This section looks at the full range of communication methods of calling for help, with the proximity of your route to civilisation sometimes determining the appropriateness of each method, which should be factored into your planning. Take the appropriate kit for your route.

Undirected/Passive Communication

This is when a general communication is sent, being addressed to no one in particular, but in the hope that someone will see or hear a distress communication. The following list is in order of effectiveness:

Weather & Emergency Radio

Sangean was please with my review and offers visitors to my website €20 reduction. (See below)

Basecamp, Camping or at Home, as soon as the internet is not available an Emergency Radio can get you the needed information about weather, disasters and what not. But, radio’s need power, so I use the Sangean Survivor because it accepts Micro USB, the hand crank and the solar panel to charge it. You can see if the device is charging with the LED indicator. This radio offers both analogue FM reception and it’s digital successor DAB+. So all you have to do is check the emergency frequencies in your area. The radio will also play your music via speaker or earphone, charge your phone, it has a clock, 20 station presets (10 DAB+, 10 FM) and it has a flashlight with Morse Code SOS.

Visitors of my website are offered a €20 reduction on the Sangean website ánd after registration the standard two year guarantee is upgraded to five years. All you have to do is use the reduction code: Whitewatergear

Whistle or Torch

An essential piece of kit for everyone to carry is a torch and whistle, with the sole purpose of the whistle being for emergency signalling.
The International distress signal is 6 blasts repeated with an interval of one minute between each series of 6 blasts. If your whistles are heard, you should hear three whistles in reply. Keep repeating the whistle blasts so that your location can be determined. Help may take some time to reach you, so keep whistling every minute until you are certain that rescuers are on the way, i.e. you can see a dozen bobbing head torch beams making their way to you.
Follow the same process for torchlight, flashing the light instead of whistling. However, If a Search & Rescue helicopter is nearby, shine the torch on the ground, not at the helicopter, as the bright light will affect the pilot’s Night Vision equipment.
The obvious limiting features are that someone has to hear or see you, and if you’re in a remote valley after everyone else has left, your signals could go unheard.

Pyro signals

Wether you go kayaking, paragliding, hill-walking, climbing, skiing and or any other outdoor adventure, you’ll need to think about safety. Pyro signals are among the possible aids at your disposal. Here’s what I have and use:

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Fire

When in distress, a fire can be helpfull in many ways. For attracting attention, place a fire on high ground, preferably within hearing distance. When out of hearing distance, leave an arrow pointing towards your location. When sight is compromised by rain, mist or clouds, the smell of a fire will give an indication of your location. I pack a lighter and a couple of strips of inner tube. They are argueably the quickest way to make a rescue fire. (And it smokes and stinks!).

Compact Distress Signal

I use these Compact Distress Signals. The bare minimum that one should take when going into the outdoors. These signals, used to reveal your location when rescue services are sighted, are for day or night-use. Each cartridge projects its payload to a height of 50 metres, burns for over 5 seconds at a minimum of 10.000 candela and is visible for at least 5 miles in daylight increasing to 10 miles at night, depending on weather conditions. 74 g (2.6 oz)

Handheld Flare

The Red hand-held, short range distress signal is used to pinpoint location by day or night. It burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela (25.000 lumen). I pack this Red Handflare Mk8. These are the standard flares you’ll find on most lifeboats across the world. They feature a telescopic handle making it very compact and space saving. Easily extended and pull wire operated, they help helicopter pilots to pinpoint casualty location and give vital information about wind speed and direction. Flares must not be used near Search & Rescue helicopters at night, as they will seriously compromise the effectiveness of Night Vision equipment. These flair can be submersed when burning, without extinguishing. It burns for 60 seconds at 15.000 candela. 176g (6.2 oz)

Rocket/Parachute Flares

Rocket/parachute flares are set off from the hand, can reach a height of 300 metres (about 1,000ft). Personal/rocket flares have that initial height (can be seen from further afield), a bang, which may grab attention if there’s anyone around. I pack the Para Red Rocket Mk8A. These are the standard rockets you’ll find on most lifeboats across the world. Designed to withstand exceptional environmental exposure and to perform reliably even after immersion in water, the pull wire ignitor and improved grip provides easy handling. Ejecting a red flare on a parachute at 300m (1.000ft), burning for 40 seconds at 30.000 candela. 235 g (8.3 oz)

Smoke Beacons

When indication of rescue services nearby, these are used to mark the landing spot for a helicopter, showing the spot, the wind direction and -speed. I pack the Lifesmoke Mk9. It’s a compact, flat top, day time distress signal designed to be easy and safe to handle. It provides effective position marking during rescue operations and can be used to indicate wind direction, producing dense orange smoke for a minimum of 3 minutes. See helicopter information lower on this page.

Storage

I have these pyro’s stored (at home) in an ammo tin. Besides that, I have the Large Polybottle (waterproof) of 12 litre (2.64gal) capacity. It is really large. W218xH400xD218mm, weighing 0.6 Kg. Having said that, none of the two options above are light and small enough to take the selection of appropriate signals on a trip. What you probably need (which I do not have), is the Mini Polybottle Mini Polybottle, with a 3 litre (0.8gal) capacity.


The Pains Wessex company has been a leading supplier of marine distress signals for over 100 years, with distributors all around Europe. If you have problems finding the Pains Wessex products, by advised that similar, if not identical, products are sold under the Comet brand.


Available at Kanocentrum Arjan Bloem.

Strobe Light

This bit of kit is of more use in the dark than day, and can be seen from several miles away. Batteries last for many hours.  Mountain rescue teams use them, but I suggest that the weight of a strobe could be exchanged for more useful emergency kit. So, I don’t own one.


Direct Communication

This is when a ‘message’ is sent that is addressed to a specific person or organisation.
The following list is in order of effectiveness:

Before Phone/Radio Contact

  • Location: Many of the gear we carry around can provide this information, check your maps, telephone, camera, watch and any gps-enabled aparatus. Give them landmarks. Is there a road in sight? Is there a 50×50 meter clearing close by for a helicopter to land? Tell them if you have flairs, beacons, makeshift signs and such. Tell them your last know location, general direction and time since.
  • Emergency. Give as much information as possible about why this is an emergency:
    • Wounded people? Immobile, bleeding internally, externally, in shock?
    • Stuck, pinned, lost, dead people?
    • Lost? Give them landmarks. tell them if you have flairs, beacons and such. tell them your last know location, general direction and time since.
  • Urgency. Why is help time-sensitive. Wounded people, pinned people, weather closing in.

Prepare to give rescue services as much information as available:

International Emergency Telephone Codes & Mountain Rescue Services

Please help me filling this chart with the correct information!

CountryPhone numberRadio Channel & Frequencies
Albania
Andorra
Armenia
Austria140 / 144 / 112No Radio Call available
Azerbaijan
Belarus
Belgium
Bosnia and
Herzegovina

Bulgaria(088)1470 / (02)963200055.475 Mhz or 147.850 Mhz
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
England, Wales,
Scotland
999 / 112Radio call frequency restricted to the emergency services
Denmark
Finland
France112 transfer the calls to the mountain rescue unit.150 MHz range
Georgia
Germany,
Bavarian Alps,
low mountainrange
112Radio call frequencies restricted to the emergency services
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy118, activation of HEMS or mountain rescue teamsFor mountain rescue only 71.500 / 71.550
MHz, not available for the public.
Kazakhstan
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxemburg
Malta
Moldova
Monaco
Montenegro
Netherlands112VHF Channel 10, Freq. 156.500
North
Macedonia

Norway112 (police) / 113 (health service)Channel 5. Restricted to professionals
Poland112 / 601100300Radio frequency 153.625 MHz
Portugal
Romania
Russia
Serbi
Slovakia
Slovenia112Usually 157.725 MHz (not for public use)
Spain112 / 062Radio call frequency, if there is one available: 146:175 MHz.
Sweden
Switzerland144 / 1414 / 112161.300 MHz
Turkey
Ukraine

Mobile Phone Voice

Use the telephone numbers in the list on top of this page.  This is the best option if available and must take priority over any other communication method you may have at your disposal.
Emergency Calls Only
If your phone is showing ‘Emergency Calls Only’, this means that you will be able to make a emergency call. However, you will not be able to receive incoming calls. Inform the operator of this, as the police and/or Mountain Rescue Team will need to call you back. If someone else in the group has a phone that is not showing ‘Emergency Calls Only’, use their phone for the emergency call, as it will allow incoming calls.
Saving Mobile Battery
The primary function of your phone when on a kayak trip, should be for communication in an emergency. In remote areas battery drain can be rapid, and quicker than urban locations, for a variety of reasons, and the following steps will ensure that you have sufficient battery if you do need to make a call.

  • either switch off your mobile, or set it to ‘flight’ or ‘aircraft’ mode. Flight mode switches off the phone’s search for a mobile network, and thus prevents battery drain.
  • make sure all unnecessary smart phone apps are closed down.
  • switch off data, Bluetooth and GPS connections unless required. Some phones allow activation even when in flight mode.
  • store your phone in your rucksack and in a waterproof bag or container, but be sure in the prevailing conditions that the ring-tone can be heard (if called for emergency services).

Mobile Phone text

If the signal is shaky or very weak, try SMS/text. Text and await a reply. You must have registered with the service before using. Include your number in case text is onward relayed.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

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My ACR ResQlink

Reliably gets distress-alert message with position to SAR /emergency services via satellite, through the international Cospas-Sarsat system. Once tasked, SAR helicopters can source the homing transmissions.

Satellite Phone

Make a phone call from virtually anywhere (must be outside or under fairly transparent cover). Handsets relatively expensive and considerable ongoing financial commitment to keep active.


Satellite Messenger / Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

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The Zoleo is expected to be available in Europe by the end of 2021

This little unit is my main device to keep contact whilst on route. The Zoleo satellite communicator. Connected to the Zoleo app it’ll use the cheapest way to send and receive messages. It’s core functions are:

  • Send and receive messages anywhere over Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite, trying in the following order: Wi-Fi, cellular data, then over the Iridium satellite network, via the ZOLEO device. (Basically the least cost route for the message.)
  • Messaging is possible by SMS, email and app-to-app.
  • Send Check-in messages with one touch, to let others know you’re OK. Both the device and the app have a dedicated button for this. Your check-in message will be sent to your check-in contact(s). You can also include your GPS coordinates if desired.
  • Send an SOS alert to activate Search & Rescue, with 24/7 emergency monitoring and dispatch included (provided by GEOS), alike a PLB.
    • Both the device and the app have a dedicated button for this.
    • When GEOS receives your SOS alert, they’ll know the GPS coordinates of your ZOLEO communicator. They’ll contact the appropriate emergency response authorities for your location, and reach out to the emergency contacts you designated when creating your ZOLEO account.
    • Using the ZOLEO App, you’ll also be able to message back and forth with GEOS to exchange updates, until your emergency situation has been resolved. Two-way SOS simply isn’t offered by one-way communicators, PLBs and EPIRBs.
    • Even if you’re using the ZOLEO communicator on its own, without the app, you’ll get confirmation that your SOS message was received (via the LEDs on the device).
  • Get DarkSky weather forecasts.
  • Share your GPS location with others, via messages. (The Zoleo doesn’t provide a following/tracking feature.)
  • Automated updates.

Each Zoleo has it’s own unique cellnumber and e-mailaddress which it’ll use to send and receive messages.
The app and device have the ability to send app-to-app messages, SMS, and email messages. You’ll must be outside in the clear to get GPS position and to access the satellites.
Cost. For most types of use the Zoleo is the most cost effective, both the device as the (‘In Touch’) plan. It also has service enabling you to suspending the plan, for a small fee.

Technical specs:

  • Weight: 150 g
  • Size (L x W x D): 9.1 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm
  • Ingress Protection: IP68; dust- and water-resistant to 1.5 m for 30 min.
  • Shock-resistant: MIL-STD 810G (surviving 30 drops from 1,8 meter height).
  • Power input: Micro-USB Type B connector
  • Covered SOS button prevents false alarms (also cancellable)
  • Audible alerts for messages (user-selected tone)
  • Internal GPS chip, location-aware (accurate to 2.5 m)
  • LEDs for: messages, SOS, check-in, and power
  • Battery: Rechargeable internal Lithium Ion
  • Battery life: 200+ hours
  • Charging time: 2 hours using 1.5 A charger
  • Satellite network: Iridium
  • Connects via Bluetooth LE (one connection at a time; range of up to 50 m)
  • Global Navigation Satellite System: GPS, GLONASS

(Disclaimer: The Zoleo is expected to be available in Europe by the end of 2021.)


VHF Radio / Walkie Talkie

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My Baofeng UV-9R

Ideal for group communication as well as in habitated areas and when navigating open water as these can be used on frequencies used by ships as well. You will know if someone has received your message. VHF radios sometimes require an operator to be licensed. But, if the means is available and there is genuine distress, it should be used.

Radio Communications Techniques

There are a few simple practices that can make a big difference in the effectiveness of radio communications. Handheld radios should be held away from the body with the radio and antenna in a vertical position. If the antenna is in contact with the operator’s body, the RF signal strength will be reduced. Holding the radio and its antenna as high as possible will increase the line-of-sight range. The antennas on both transceivers in a radio link need to be in the same plane, or polarization. For VHF/UHF mobile radios, handheld radios, and repeaters, the polarization is always vertical. Having the antennas in different polarities can result in up to a 100-fold loss of signal strength. To transmit a message, hold the radio 5 to 10 centimeters from the face and listen for several seconds to ensure the frequency is available. Press and hold the push-to-talk button for 1 second before speaking, this prevents the first word or two of the message from being dropped. Speak slowly and clearly in a normal pitch, using normal vocabulary. It is often a good idea for the receiving station to repeat radio messages back to the sending station to ensure that the message was correctly understood, particularly if the signal is weak or garbled. One should assume that all radio transmissions are being monitored and that anything said on the radio is being said in public.

Mirror

Usable if enough direct sunlight is available. As a highly directional signal, it should be used when potential help is sighted. Signal in threes to communicate distress.

Helicopters

At night, military Search & Rescue helicopter pilots hate strobe lights and flares at short range and would rather home in, after long range identification has been established, to a torch beam pointed and flashed at the ground.

Ground to Air Communication

When you’re in distress in the outdoors and you need to call for help, you may choose to use a number of different rescue signal techniques. But if you believe that an airplane, helicopter, or other airborne rescue parties may be searching for you, then you can use the five-symbol ground-to-air emergency code to signal a specific message in advance of the aircraft’s landing. Most importantly, the ground-to-air emergency code can help let rescuers know whether or not anyone in your party is injured, and it can guide them more effectively towards your location.

  • As with other visual signals, signaling in threes communicates and confirms distress.
  • Choose a large, open area as close as possible to your location for the signal location.
  • Choose to place signals on the highest, flattest terrain you can find near your location.
  • Choose a signal that will contrast with the underlying terrain. Choose dark-colored branches, for example, on top of the white snow.
  • Go big! Use several rows of rocks or debris to build each part of a signal letter so that it is thick enough and big enough to be seen clearly from above.
  • Be prepared to use a backup signal, such as a signal mirror, to confirm your location as soon as you see aircraft in the area.
  • The five ground-to-air emergency code symbols and their meanings are as follows:

V or X : Require Assistance

A V-shaped signal communicates that you need assistance, in general, but it doesn’t imply that you or someone in your party is injured.
Use the letter X to communicate that you or someone in your party needs medical attention.
Whereas the V symbol communicates a call for help, the X symbol communicates a more urgent request for assistance.

N : No or Negative

The N symbol can be used to communicate your negative response to a question that the aircraft or rescue organization has asked.

Y : Yes or Affirmative

The Y symbol can be used to communicate your affirmative response to a question that the aircraft or rescue organization has asked.

Arrow : Proceed in This Direction

Proceed in This Direction: Arrow, Pointing Towards the Location
Place an arrow-shaped symbol with the head, or point, of the arrow indicating the direction of your location. This symbol is a good one to use when rescuers may need additional information about how to reach your location after they have identified another ground-to-air signal, such as a group of X symbols in an open area indicating a need for medical assistance. Place the arrow in a position that will guide rescuers from the open area towards your location.

Helicopter landing space

When selecting and setting up a landing space mind the following:

  • Choose a large (half a football pitch), open area as close as possible to your location.
  • It needs to be firm and relatively horizontal.
  • Make sure there are no powerlines or other obstacles.
  • Light a beacon or have a smokey fire at the upwind side of te field, for the heli-crew to see wind direction and speed.