Statistically, kayaker emergencies have rarely happened, and when they have, paddlers have either flagged down a boat to relay a message to the NPS or gotten back to the drop-off/pick-up sites for an early ride back. However, in a worse case situation being able to send out an emergency message or trigger an emergency transmitter, may save a life.
Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks, does not have any communication devices for you to borrow or rent. If you decide that you would like to have a communication device while in the back country, you will need to arrange for this ahead of time. There are several devices on the market that we’ve listed below that you may use in Glacier Bay National Park.
- Learn how your device works before you take it into the backcountry. You may need to pre-set your contacts, messages, and sync or adjust your device to your destination.
- Designate a trusted personal friend as your contact person at home and have them make your continued communication needs on your behalf.
For example, you may contact your friend to relay a message such as this: “We are fine, but we missed our pick up. Please contact Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks to let them know to reschedule our flights and also let NPS know that they should not to send out a rescue and that we will be at the pick up tomorrow.”
There are no cell sites in the bay and both trees and mountains hinder the signal from Gustavus in the lower bay. Your cell phone won’t work in Bartlett Cove, but will work in most locations in Gustavus. There are two cell sites in Gustavus: AT&T & ACS/Verizon.
Marine VHF Radio
A handheld VHF radio would allow you to communicate with a vessel that could relay any message for you to the NPS. For the most part, VHF radios in the bay, may only communicate with a vessel you can see ‘line of sight.’ We do not rent VHF radios.
Marine VHF radio refers to the radio frequency range between 156 and 174 MHz, inclusive. The “VHF” signifies the very high frequency of the range. In the official language of the International Telecommunication Union the band is called the VHF maritime mobile band.
A marine VHF set is a combined transmitter and receiver and only operates on standard, international frequencies known as channels. Channel 16 (156.8 MHz) is the international calling and distress channel. Transmission power ranges between 1 and 25 watts, giving a maximum range of up to about 60 nautical miles (111 km) between aerials mounted on tall ships and hills, and 5 nautical miles (9 km; 6 mi) between aerials mounted on small boats at sea level. A handheld has less power and range than a vessel radio with a stronger antenna. Hence the need for a larger vessel with a stronger antenna to relay your message down bay to the NPS Visitor Station.
Emergency Position Device
An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. It does this by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite and earth stations to the nearest rescue coordination centre. Our understanding is that an EPIRB that is set off in Glacier Bay will contact the U.S. Coast Guard station in Juneau who will then contact and coordinate a rescue with the NPS.
Garmin inReach Device
With inReach satellite technology from Garmin and a satellite subscription, you can stay in touch globally. You can send and receive messages, navigate your route, track and share your journey and, if necessary, trigger an SOS to get emergency help from a 24/7 global monitoring center via the 100% global Iridium® satellite network.
Satellite Systems and Coverage
Satellite phones have been used by campers in emergencies. If you would like to rent one, there are Satellite Phone rental companies in Ketchikan, Anchorage and Fairbanks. Instruct them to mail the phone to us priority mail and allow plenty of time. We’ll pick it up and bring it to your kayak orientation. We can mail it back for you and charge your credit card for the postage.
Important to note: There are three global satellite telephone systems in place: Iridium, Globalstar and Inmarsat. Iridium is considered to be more dependable.
Inmarsat’s satellite coverage is provided by just three satellites. These orbit the earth at very high altitudes (over 22,000 miles, incredibly). This height achieves what is known as a ‘geostationary orbit,’ meaning that the satellites appear to remain fixed in the same position in the sky all the time. In contrast, Iridium and Globalstar’s coverage is provided by many satellites which are constantly orbiting around the earth.
With all of these systems, if you have a clear line of sight to any one of the satellites then you will be able to make and receive calls. However, if your view to the satellite is obscured (by nearby buildings, trees, mountains, etc.) then you will not get a signal at all, and you will not be able to use your phone. Therefore, because Inmarsat’s satellites are in a fixed position, it means that if you can’t “see” the satellite from where you are then you can’t use your phone – simple as that. You will have to move yourself to a different location where a clear line of sight to the satellite is available. With Iridium and Globalstar, however, even if your view to the satellite is currently obscured it’s only a matter of time before the next one comes into view and you can make your call. With Iridium and Globalstar the satellites move to you, but with Inmarsat you must move to the satellites. Obviously, there is a big advantage to the Iridium and Globalstar service, but conversely this movement of the Iridium and Globalstar satellites will inevitably lead to some variability of the signal strength, and occasional dropped calls. With Inmarsat, as long as you maintain a clear line of sight to the satellite then your signal strength is assured, and dropped calls are much more unlikely. If voice clarity is important to you, then Globalstar is a clear winner; Iridium and Inmarsat can suffer poor quality calls at times.
To confuse things further, another significant difference is that Inmarsat’s satellites orbit the Equator, while Iridium and Globalstar’s satellites are moving around all over the place. This might not sound significant, but it does mean that with Inmarsat, the further you travel from the Equator, the more difficult it will become to achieve that all-important line of sight to the satellites. In equatorial regions Inmarsat’s satellites will be very high in the sky, thus very easy to connect to; but, the further north or south you travel, the lower the satellites will be in the sky, and thus the harder it will be to be confident of getting a clear line of sight to the satellites. Moreover, as you approach the polar regions the Inmarsat satellites will be so low in the sky that it will not be possible to connect to them at all. Iridium gives you the only truly global coverage solution: With Iridium, the satellites will always be passing overhead, wherever you are in the world, so coverage is always assured, even at extreme latitudes. With Globalstar, although the satellites are moving, they don’t give you global service.