If you are held back a few days by bad weather or some other unforeseen natural circumstance and you know emergency services are looking for you because you can hear the helicopters but you know you can saftely walk out on your own - would it be reasonable to activate your PLB to save them time and money looking for you even though you are safe and there is no emergency?

  • 2
    Yes, this Q is related to outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/749/…, but it is different enough to warrant keeping it open. None of the answers to the older question address this question. I'd say it depends on (a) how long it will take you to walk out (hours or days); (b) can you quickly get to an open spot to signal the helicopters; and (c) how sure are you that they are looking for you and not someone else?
    – ab2
    Aug 8, 2016 at 3:18
  • 1
    A relevant piece of information is whether you have any other way of being found. Lighting a smoky fire, moving to an open space on the shore or at the top of a ridge, things that make you visible to the helicopters, will help the search stop without falsely proclaiming that you are in trouble. I know this is hypothetical, but narrow it down anyway. Are you canoeing, climbing, hiking, ... ? It makes a difference. Aug 8, 2016 at 13:14
  • @KateGregory Would you please make that into an answer? Your comment provides response ideas than the posted answers.
    – Loduwijk
    Jan 30, 2018 at 20:28
  • And this is why it's better to bring a satellite phone than a PLB.
    – gerrit
    Oct 1, 2018 at 11:49

3 Answers 3


The PLB is very much for highlighting to the emergency services that you are in an emergency situation and need a rescue. It can incur significant costs as the services are called out but gives a fairly accurate location so the search is short.

One of your challenges here is that you may not know it is you they are looking for. Potentially the helicopters you hear could be working on something entirely unrelated.

That said, if you feel it is a reasonable likelihood that they are searching for you, perhaps because you had a checkpoint you failed to call in and you know your contact will have raised the alarm, then not activating the PLB will incur costs as they continue to search.

So activating the PLB will, in this scenario, reduce the cost and effort the emergency services need to expend - and I'd suggest that it makes sense to do this. It will also significantly improve their safety as they will not need to continue exploring - they will know where you are and can work out the most effective way to reach you.

  • 1
    It may reduce the overall cost, but a using it in a non-emergency may make it easier for the costs to be passed on to you. E.g. the rescue may be funded out of an existing ops budget or state fund, but by triggering a PLB you've just opened yourself to penalties for inappropriate use, and the liability can then easily transfer to you. (This is perhaps more relevant outside of developed countries where arbitrary costs and legal liability can get you into a load of trouble.)
    – requiem
    Aug 8, 2016 at 19:31
  • If the emergency services are already mobilised because your contact alerted them, I'd expect the costs will still come to you.
    – Rory Alsop
    Aug 8, 2016 at 21:21
  • 2
    This answer could be improved by addressing the safety of the search and rescue team. In most cases, they will be coming in for you on foot, not in a helicopter. If they are moving through treacherous terrain such as steep canyons, then this can be very dangerous for them. The danger and difficulty are greatly decreased if they know exactly where you are.
    – user2169
    Aug 8, 2016 at 21:44
  • This answer does not address that well-established practices for signalling to helicopters whether or not you need help already exist.
    – gerrit
    Oct 1, 2018 at 11:54
  • Hi @gerrit - the question does not state that you can see helicpters. It specifically asks whether you should use a PLB when you know a search has started.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 1, 2018 at 13:33

If you are overdue, and the search party know you have a PLB, the fact that they have not received an alert from it suggests either

  • you are merely delayed, and will turn up soon, or
  • you are so incapacitated that you could not use the beacon (probably already dead - sorry!)

However, if you activate the PLB, the level of concern will likely increase - you've indicated that you need help, and soon. More resources may be deployed, possibly impacting any other callouts.

My recommendation is to proceed directly to habitation (without delay, but without taking unnecessary risk) and make an emergency phone or radio call (use the 112 emergency number, or the national equivalent if you're in a country that still hasn't adopted the standard; on radio, you'll want a Channel 16 "Securite" message) to ensure that the "stand down" message gets to the team who would have been activated.

Alternatively, find a big rock and drop it on your leg hard enough to break it. You can now activate your beacon with a clear conscience.


No, do not activate a PLB unless there is an emergency.

There is already a standard for signalling to a helicopter whether or not you are in need:

help needed?
Source: Parks Canada Mountain Safety

If you are in need for help: raise both arms.

If you want to signal that you are not in need for help: raise one arm and lower the other.

Do not move/wave your arms.

If the helicopter is looking for you and you wave no, they can return to their base and inform your loved ones that you are OK.

If the helicopter sees you waving yes they know you are in trouble, regardless as to whether it's you they're looking for or not.

  • I have only downvoted because you have misread the question. The OP cannot see helicopters so is concerned whether to use a PLB knowing a search has started.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 1, 2018 at 13:34
  • @RoryAlsop I see no indication in the question that the OP cannot see the helicopters. If they can hear the helicopters they should be able to locate them.
    – gerrit
    Oct 1, 2018 at 13:36
  • Sadly that is very much untrue - it is often possible to hear helicopters when there is no chance of seeing them in mountainous country.
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 1, 2018 at 16:09

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