Every backcountry skier carries an essential pack for their time out in the wilderness, something along the lines of a: Beacon, Probe, Shovel, Energy Bars, Water, I-pod, Phone, Lighter, and obviously some other basic items. The risk of skiing in the backcountry is always at a high.

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Do Electronics Interfere With Beacons?

How to search a person with a beaconEvery experienced backcountry skier should be carrying an essential pack for their time out in the wilderness, something along the lines of a: beacon, probe, shovel, energy bars, water, phone, lighter, and obviously some other basic items. The risk of skiing in the backcountry is always at a high. It’s our safety gear like beacons and probes that will keep you alive if things go south.

Today, many skiers are carrying an excessive amount of electronics into the backcountry which has led to a question among backcountry enthusiasts; can these electronic devices interfere with the beacons flux-line? (A flux-lines is what a beacon produces with an electromagnetic signal allowing a person to identify an accurate spot of a transmitting device)

How A Beacon Works

John Barkhausen, of Alaska Pacific University, organized a field study to test the theory of electrical interference.

“There is no noticeable effect on a transmitting beacon signal from common, powered-on electronics, but when held near a searching beacon, electronics do negatively affect the beacon’s ability to follow a signal”

To summarize, only electronics within close range of a beacon can affect the search. Mr. Barkhausen and the Snow Science Workshop concluded that electronics should be kept 60 cm (24 inches) from your beacon.

 Don Sharaf co-owner at the American Avalanche Institute stated. “The bottom line is, that in most search situations, you can make that distance happen easily. What we tell our students is that it is good to have a cell phone on you, so you can make a call for help. You can always stuff it in a back pocket afterwards; you don’t want to take the time to power it down.”

 

 

 

16 comments
  • mdskier

    Unlikely to interfere except if your gadget TRANSMITS on the same frequency as a beeper (457 Khz) or transmits on other frequencies with 100 or 1000 times more power. Cell phones are on Gigahertz frequencies (way higher!)

  • Tim

    Iphone 5 could possibly interfere with my becon? I was having very off numbers while testing my becon in search mode, i thought it was just because its 7 years old but this is good info.

  • Yobrobra

    Good article. Beacons actually will pick up other electronic devices in search mode. My Barryvox registers my iPad as a multiple burial (when searching for my Pieps) in the living room. You can search for your computer in analog mode. If you have a digital only beacon you may get a multiple burial signal if you have another beacon on within a few feet. It doesn’t matter what the device is, any thing with a battery and thus a magnet emits EMF albeit weakly. You can corrupt a compass reading with a 9v battery, same idea. A beacon has ferrite antennas, and so is subject to EMF interference.

  • GoPro?

    I have noticed that my gopro will actually register as a signal if it is on and my beacon is in search. This could be very bad if you are wearing a cam on your chest and trying to find a buried victim.

  • Drannan Hamby

    Judging from some film of rescues I’ve seen on the internet lately; we might better spend time discussing improved ways of carrying our beacons so that we are not fumbling with clothing for several minutes trying to get the beacon out from under three layers and tangled with other gear.

    • Ski Bum

      Good point. Should be worn right under your jacket on the top layer of clothing. Meaning when you unzip your jacket, there’s the beacon.

  • Practice and see for yourself

    Whatever beacon you have and wherever you wear it, know well how it works and what devices you may have that could interfere with it. How fast can you get it out and into search mode? 5 seconds or less would be nice, right? Try to avoid carrying electronics that interfere in your front pockets (a backpack seems like a good place for a cell phone), and know where they are. Know what to do next when your beacon gives you a weird signal, and how to differentiate “weird signals” from normal ones. This is achieved through regular practice. Safe Travels.

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