Two Red Canoes

Camping and canoeing resources.

Emergency Locators

The most important consideration on any outdoor adventure is your safety and the safety of those with you. If your camping/canoe trip is remote enough (i.e. outside of regular cell phone coverage area and more than a few hours from help) you might consider renting or purchasing an emergency locator. It could save your life!

Satellite Phone

Not only does a satellite phone offer insurance in case of a serious accident it also has practical use of allowing you to contact your outfitter to let them know when you've arrived at your pick-up point, or to let them know you will be delayed in arriving at your pick-up point. And if the relatively high cost of usage doesn't bother you, then you can even call home periodically to let your family know you're okay.

There are two satellite phone networks available to the public: GlobalStar and Iridium. GlobalStar claims to have good coverage everywhere up to 70 deg. latitude but some in the canoeing community have reported signal problems in locations well below 70 deg. lat. Therefore Iridium is the system of choice for high arctic adventurers and should be considered for trips in the northern parts of Canada, including Northern Ontario, Quebec and Labrador.

Personal Locator Beacon

Also consider a 406 MHz Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) for trips that are extremely remote and there is a good chance of serious injury or equipment failure (e.g. damaged canoe). Strap the PLB to your life jacket so that it always with you. A PLB can be purchased (~$300-$400 in 2013) or rented (~$45-$60/week) and there are no annual fees associated with a PLB. Units are coded based on your country of residence.

Like Sat phones, PLB's rely on a network of satellites to relay location information to search and rescue organizations. PLBs use the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite network and provides superior world-wide coverage than do satellite phone networks. Use of the COSPAS-SARSAT network is free and is sponsored by Canada, France, Russia, and the United States.

Read additional information at:

NOAA Satellite and Information Service
Equipped To Survive (over 150 FAQ's answered)
Rentals - Canada
Rentals - U.S.

One such device called the McMurdo FastFind Ranger PLB is available at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). It is a simple (doesn't include the "fun factor" that the SPOT device has), subscription-free way to get help in an emergency situation by transmitting on the 406 MHz. This is the frequency reserved for distress beacons and allows the FastFind Ranger to include digital information such as the device's unique ID and GPS coordinates. Although a bit pricey at $265 CDN (as of Dec 2013), there is no subscription required and still represents a relatively inexpensive insurance policy went travelling in more remote areas.

REI has a good summary of PLBs and Satellite Messengers.

SPOT - Personal Tracker and Messenger

Another option available to assist you should you get in trouble in a remote area is a service called Spot - a subsidiary of Globalstar, Inc. Spot is a "Personal Tracker" and "Messenger" and uses a handheld device that contains the functionality of a GPS (to determine your position) and satellite phone (to relay your position to friends, family, or emergency services).

The "Gen3" model of the SPOT handheld device, which isn't much bigger than any other portable GPS unit, will cost you $170 (Sep 2013) or $99 (Sep 2013) for the SPOT "Satellite GPS Messenger". It is available at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). After purchasing the device you are required to subscribe to a service for an annual fee. The fee depends on the level of service you require and is fairly reasonable starting at $99 USD for the first year, or $150 for the first year for the "Gen3" (Sep 2013). Alternatively, a SPOT device with service can be rented for around $25/week.

Although considerably less expensive than renting a satellite phone, the SPOT does not allow you to transmit details of your emergency, but, should an emergency happen, it can summon help and provide your location (within the limits of GPS). Note that SPOT relies on the Globalstar satellite network and therefore cannot be used everywhere in the world. Check the Globalstar coverage map before purchasing or renting SPOT. Do your own research before betting your life on SPOT or any other emergency locator.

Read about my personal first-hand experience using the first generation SPOT in 2008. (It should be noted that considerable improvements to features have been made since this review was written.):

SPOT First-Hand Evaluation

Also, read more about SPOT at:

Equipped To Survive (very detailed description)

A device similar to SPOT is made by DeLorme and is called inReach. It uses the Iridium satellite system and overcomes one of my dislikes of the original SPOT, it has a limited two-way communication to provide confirmation that your messages have been received. It is also available at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).