I often get asked which form of essential remote travel communication is best for me?. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect one stop solution to cover all facets of communication as there are different communication devices for different scenarios.
-For General Communication-
Vehicle to vehicle communication is a relatively simple solution with the popular Ultra High Frequency (UHF) 2-way radio which can be vehicle mounted or a handheld unit.
The vehicle mounted units are traditionally 5-watt units that cover more area and have a longer range (depending on aerial size and the mounted position). Aerial selection usually depends on where you plan to travel. The long 1.8 metre 9 Db aerials work best in open country where it is relatively flat. The medium sized aerials 1-1.2m 6 Db are a good all rounder also suitable for Bull bar mounting and can do long distance coverage (not as long as the 1.8m 9 Db) and short distance coverage to a certain limit. The small 3 Db aerials are approximately 30-40 centimetres and good for short distance use. These aerials (bulbar/ gutter or roof rack mounted) are less likely to get caught on branches when going through dense bush.
Small handheld UHFs are a handy accessory when on tight tracks and an observer maybe giving the driver instructions from outside the vehicle. The smaller handheld UHF radios are usually 0.5 watt and are only good for close range operation.
UHF radios are the most commonly used 2 way with no ongoing subscription costs.
There are a number of other 2-way radios on the market being the AM radio (mainly used by enthusiasts), the Very High frequency (VHF) radio (mainly used in the marine industry) and the High Frequency (HF) radio (mainly used by enthusiasts and remote cattle station owners/ truck drivers due to its very large coverage). A license is required to operate a HF radio.
There are a few options in this category, but they do differ significantly when it comes to emergency communications.
Some people choose to have a Personal Locating Beacon (PLB) or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) which are affordable for long term ownership and there are no ongoing subscription costs. GME Electronics PLB’s retail around $400. Please note an PLB/EPIRB must be registered with the relevant authority for the distress signal to be received by them. Refer to https://beacons.amsa.gov.au/ .
PLBs/EPIRBs are popular as they are simple to use and once the beacon is activated then your exact location is sent to Emergency Services immediately. If the PLB/EPIRB is used for a vehicle breakdown and/or a non-life-threatening situation, then consider you may be issued with a substantial fine due to the use of services for a non-emergency.
Another option is a Satellite phone or Sat sleeve which converts your mobile/cell phone into a satellite enabled phone. They have 100% coverage of Australia and a certain amount of ocean coverage depending on which satellite system the phone is operating on.
A satellite phone is best if you are in the remote desert and have a vehicle breakdown and require ‘non-life threatening’ assistance. Although in a life threatening emergency you will need to consider the time delay as the satellite phone works on location and relaying information to the correct authorities via the satellite.
Consider carrying more than one type of emergency communication (anPLB/ EPIRB or Satellite phone/ sleeve) when travelling remotely as the ‘emergency’ contact depends on the type of incident.
– Another option – SPOT Tracker –
The SPOT Tracker unit is another communication option with 4 units available offering different features that can send an SOS as a communication message or as an emergency. When activated it sends your co-ordinates similar to an EPIRB with a pre-scripted text message to friends and family advising them of your location via the satellite network. Alternatively they can log on to the website and see your location. The SPOT tracker system does attract a monthly subscription fee which starts from $15.35 USD per month, with an activation fee of $32.95 USD (at time of writing).
The spot unit would suit someone who travels overseas/ does remote travel or hiking/ bush walking due to the units compactness.
Personally, in my 200 series Landcruiser I have an 80 channel GME UHF vehicle mounted radio for general convoy communication with a 1.1metre 6Db aerial on bulbar. When travelling remote we also carry a satellite phone for breakdowns etc and a GME PLB/EPIRB if needed for an emergency.