PLB / EPIRB activation – A “lost in Tasmania” experience

When should you set off your PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)?

What do you do if you’re lost while hiking?

Should you turn off your beacon once you are “not lost”?

In this post, Talie, a wonderfully adventurous lady we have been communicating with for a while,  tells us about the time she was “lost” in the Frenchman’s Cap area in Tasmania.

Talie generally bushwalks solo and,  from reading her different hiking trip reports from around the world, is very safety conscious and careful.  In this trip last year, she became “geographically challenged” and spent a night out in the bush.

Here is her story:

I was hiking the Frenchman’s Cap track.  I had camped by the second bridge next to the Loddon River.  I put most of my gear in the bottom of my pack, having removed the top and the hip belt, and hung it in a tree (along with my food bag).  The “day pack” that I took the next morning (which was made up from the backpack top and the hip belt) had in it:  Rain jacket, dry shirt, lunch food, water, bug repellent, map, and sun screen.

Later I was very upset with myself for omitting what I call my “emergency bag”.  It was still in my pack at the campsite! What  I had left behind was a compass, candle,  lighter,  small torch (headlamp) and basic first aid.  Bummer!

Lake Vera

Lake Vera

I hiked up to Lake Vera and the hut up there – then turned around and headed back.  Since I was “light” I was traveling rather fast (probably another error).  The “Sodden Lodden” area which is very muddy, has lots of “side” tracks getting around the mud.  I took one of those and before I realized it I had gone pretty far away from the track.  (At that point I really should have just retraced my steps.)    But I figured, I had my map and I could just go down to the river and follow the river to my campsite – bad choice in Tasmania I was soon to find out!  Anyway, I kept digging my self deeper and deeper in to the bush – I guess there are times that I am way too hardheaded.

Somewhere my watch got pulled off my arm, and I didn’t even realize it.  And then at one point I slipped at the edge of the river and there went my reading glasses (things were going from bad to worse!).  Finally I realized that I was going to be there overnight – so I got up out of the river bed (unfortunately my feet were still very wet) onto the side of a hill where there was a little less brush.

As it got dark, I put on my dry shirt (I had a light weight fleece and my rain gear on my top) and placed my damp shirt around my legs, which actually did keep them a bit warmer.  I was very glad of the bug repellant since the mosquitos were hungry!  It was a long night and very dark!  A possum came by, I could hear him moving in the bush, and scolded me for about 20 minutes (I guess).  There wasn’t much I could do – since I couldn’t see him.

The next morning, when it got light – I followed the creek a little while longer, and then realized that that was fruitless.  So I came out of the woods, to realize that I had really gone in a circle – classic lost person stuff!  I wandered out into the button grass (my legs wouldn’t take any more bush-bashing).  I knew that the weather was supposed to change the next day, and the clouds were coming in pretty fast.

Scratches on Talie"s leg

Scratches on Talie"s leg

That was when I decided that I needed to “pull the plug” and activated the EPRB/ PLB  (I really wish I had given it another hour!).  After staying in one spot for about 2 hours – I was going slightly hypothermic, I knew I needed to move.  So I headed out following the button grass – figuring that between me and the far ridge, the trail had to be there.  Sure enough, after about 1/2 hour, I saw some heads bobbing on the track – and was happy to become “unlost”.

I decided to de-activate the beacon hoping that the “troups” weren’t on their way.  I got to my camp in about an hour and a half, gathered up my gear, and started heading out.  I was partway up the hill when I heard the helicopter come into the valley.  Bummer!  I didn’t know how to contact him (they told me later that I should have left the beacon on) – so I continued to hike out, planning on contacting them when I reached the trailhead.

As I came up into the carpark, the helicopter landed right there and we had a long discussion about how the whole experience had unfolded.  There were very professional, caring and efficient – and I have since sent a donation to the Tasmanian Air Rescue Service!

The "Rescue" chopper

The "Rescue" chopper

Many thanks to Talie for sharing her story. Talie is very much a “died in the wool” solo backpacker.  Three days after her Frenchman’s Cap adventure, she soloed the Overland Track (and loved it!).  (And the week before she soloed the Walls of Jerusalem.)  She then headed off to New Zealand, still soloing and getting off the beaten track here (but not too far off the “track”! :-)

You can read all of Talie’s adventures at her blog: TalieM’s Weblog..  She is a very busy woman!

This is the link to her Tasmanian hikes

Have you ever been “geographically challenged” while hiking?

Have you had to set of a PLB / EPIRB?

We would love to read about your experiences.  Leave us a comment below if you would like to share.


  1. says

    I’m not sure what I would have done in the same situation and I’m not going to second guess you. The problem with plb’s is that you can’t call off the dogs when the device is activated.

    They say that you shouldn’t compound one mistake after another if you get into trouble hiking, especially in winter. Maybe that is the lesson here – to go back and get your survival pack before venturing further off, once you realized you left it behind. Thanks for sharing this tale.

    • Frank says

      Fair enough Philip, not sure what I would have done. I know those braided tracks are really confusing, you just get so disorientated. Happened to a mate of ours in the South Coast area and he was totally lost, luckily someone heard his yelling.

  2. Liam says

    I’m not entirely sure i agree with the comment about Tallie being very safe in her walking practices – 1) walking alone?
    2) not checking your bag before heading off
    3) what good is your map without the compass or watch etc
    4) not only walking alone but obviously not familliar with tassie geography either….. very luck lady – THIS TIME

    always ensure Protection, Rescue, Water, Food = live another day.

    chalk it up to a learning experience huh?!

    • Frank says

      Fair enough Liam,
      She was very lucky and freely admits she was dumb in heading off without her emergency bag.I am sure this will not happen again!

      It is very easy to get lost in the tea tree etc.

      The other reason I was keen to put up the story was to educate people about NOT turning off their device once activated.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment

  3. john says

    I walk alone occasionally, I can’t say it’s a particularly good idea but its not always possible to get someone to go along. These plb’s sound like a good idea.
    Good point about not turning it off, might help them if they know you are in the car park :)
    I don’t suppose anyone knows of a good one to buy.

    As far as Tallie’s mistakes are concerned, we all make them.I am sure she has learnt from them. I used to be perfect but I was a much younger man:)

    • Frank says

      Hi John,
      I think walking alone is a good idea. I just reckon in this age where the technology is available, like PBS, we should use it. At least if you set it off you are not wasting searchers time just looking in a general area. The PLB will give a reasonable indication of where you are. Not just “off in the mountains” somewhere!
      Yep, Talia won’t do that again!

  4. Andy says

    Also bear in mind that once a call for help has been initiated, wether by mayday radio call, 000, or PLB, EPIRB etc the authorities must make contact with that individual. They cannot say ‘oh well, the beacon’s gone off they must be fine’ and go home. Keeping the beacon on ensures they can find you wherever you are and thus cease their search. They do no know if the beacon has become damaged in someway and the individual still requiring help. On mine (and I presume all) there is an emergency number that one can call if you do get back to cell range or a landline, so as to alert the control room that your emergency is now over.

    I don’t see a problem with hiking on one’s own, I do it very often (or used to anyway). But, as with climbing and sailing too, safety must come first…a PLB when solo walking is a must I think, along with educating yourself with various bush survival skills and all the other things outlined already. A great warning tale for those who think hiking’s easy 😉 lol.

    Thanks for sharing.

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