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Calling for help  

In most areas of Britain there will be a search and rescue team willing to come out and help if you get into difficulties. The teams consist solely of volunteers, so there's no charge for being rescued (abroad you should make sure you have suitable insurance because a helicopter evacuation could be very expensive indeed). By the same token rescue volunteers have jobs and families, so it's worth pausing for moment to consider if you can get yourself out of the predicament. If the answer is 'no' then don't delay in getting help (especially if it's about to get dark).

What the rescue services need to know:

  • Your location (a grid reference if you have one or as much information as you can give about where you are and how you got there)
  • The nature of the predicament or casualty
  • The number of people in the party
  • What clothing and equipment you and your party have
  • Any medical conditions you know about (e.g. if the casualty is diabetic)

If you can use a mobile phone then make a call with this information. If you cannot you may need to send someone down to raise the alarm. If possible send two people to do this, with at least one remaining with the casualty. If there is a larger party and just one or two casualties you should consider how many need to remain to help - it can get very cold sitting around.

Mobile phones
It is well worth carrying your mobile phone when out walking just in case you need to make an emergency call, but bear in mind that in remote areas you may not be able to get reception. If you can't get reception your best bet may be to walk uphill for a while - it may just bring you into range of one of your network provider's masts. Call 999 and ask for Police (on the coast for Coastguard). The police will ask for assistance from Mountain Rescue if they need it.

112 will place an emergency call anywhere in the world, including in the UK.

Under a new agreement between mobile operators can dial 999 and, even if you have no network coverage from your provider, if there is another provider you will be connected. Note however that while you can call 999 out, emergency services will not be able to call you back. So make sure you give full information on your situation and location during the first call. You will still have to try and find a place with your own network coverage if you want emergency services to be able to call you back, perhaps so you can give a update on your situation.

If other members of your party have mobile phones it's a good idea to switch some of them off to conserve battery life and then use them as required.

Sending a text
If you cannot make a phone call it's always worth trying to send a text, as this can be done on a much weaker connection. You can either send a text to a friend or relative or, with a new 'EmergencySMS' service, send one to 999. The service is designed primarily for deaf and speech-impaired people, but there is no bar on using it to call for rescue from remote places. To be able to send a text to 999 you need to register your phone in advance.  Find out more about how to register your phone

Smartphones with GPS
Many smartphones have an integrated GPS. If you don't have a GPS mapping application installed (like ViewRanger) it is worth, at the very least, having an app that can read off your position. GPS Test, for instance, is a free Android app that can show your location as an OS grid reference.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs)
PLBs, of the type regularly carried at sea, are now legal to use on land. When activated the beacons send off a distress signal via satellite, along with an identification code. The better units have a GPS receiver and also send a position in latitude and longitude. By matching up the identification code with information provided when the PLB is registered, emergency services may also be able to discover details of the person who has activated the device, equipment carried, medical conditions, the size of the party and more. This could save a great deal of time in search, rescue and casualty treatment, but it depends on your providing a nominated contact when you register and, of course, keeping that person up to date with your plans.

Expect to pay £200-£300 or so for a device but no subscription is required for the alert service which will be routed through a control centre at RAF Kinloss to the local police. It is best to avoid devices that do not have the in-built GPS as position finding is then much slower and out of the scope of mountain rescue teams.  

SPOT
SPOT MessengerSPOT devices also use 100% satellite technology, so work beyond the range of mobile phone stations and VHF radio. As well as providing an emergency callout service, the SPOT software suite also allows users to check-in and share their locations with contacts back home and through Facebook and Twitter. In life-threatening emergencies, users can send SOS messages with their GPS location to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Centre (IERCC), who will initiate the appropriate rescue response. You need to buy the device and there is an annual subscription. More at www.findmespot.com.
 

Useful publications

Call Out Mountain Rescue?: A Pocket Guide to Safety on the Hill is an official publication of Mountain Rescue England & Wales. As well as having useful information on hill safety there is interesting background history on the formation of the mountain rescue teams. It is a handy little booklet in a sturdy metal ringbound format that will not fall apart easily if you carry it around in your sack. Profits from its sale go to Mountain Rescue.

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