spot locator beaconI was reading an article yesterday about the proliferation of cheap portable satellite beacons, and the nickname Search and Rescue teams have for them – Yuppie 911.

As a most-often-solo hiker and backpacker, I always carry a satellite beacon with me – but in my years of hiking, I have never once used it for anything other than to send simple “I’m OK” messages to my friends and family, and I would never use it unless I found myself in some serious trouble – lying in a ditch with broken bones or some other nasty trail accident. But apparently, I am in the minority.

While they don’t keep statistics on it yet, the head of the California Search and Rescue team has noticed a dramatic increase in beacon-signaled rescues since the cost of the devices dropped into the affordable-range. Many of the rescue requests end up being accidental activations – from the beacons hitting something in the backpack, for instance – but there are also a lot of examples of people abusing the beacons – like a father and son team who used their beacon three days in a row in the Grand Canyon, or hikers who just get cold or tired on the trail and want a lift out.

I’m sure most of the time, the wolf-cryers foot the bill for the rescues, but the article suggests the problem is two-fold – one, that all the non-essential service requests tie up the rescue teams from actual rescues, and two, that the sense of security that comes with a satellite beacon encourages hikers to go far beyond their skill level and take risks on the trail they wouldn’t otherwise take.

What do you think? Do you or would you carry an emergency beacon on the trail? Do you think these so-called Yuppie Hikers should be hit with an additional fine for calling in the cavalry?

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