7
$\begingroup$

A friend and I are going rim to rim to rim in the Grand Canyon this Wednesday. It's a 46mi, 20+hr "hike" with some very physically challenging sections. We are packing the minimal amount needed - meaning not too much extra in case of an emergency - it's especially risky given the below zero (fahrenheit) temperatures this time of year. Normally for something like this, I would bring my Spot - to call for help if I needed to, but it's not working.

If I brought my VXA-220, would it be legal to use it to call for help? From what I understand, most airliners are tuned into 121.5. Could I tell them to send a helicopter for rescue?

Obviously, in a life or death situation it's not going to matter if I'm braking the law. But it would be nice to know how such a situation would be handled.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Even if you get a good answer here, you may want to ask on outdoors.stackexchange.com as well, if you haven't already $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Nov 25 '14 at 3:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I agree with @Pondlife that this question is more suitable for The Great Outdoors, because it more related to rescue than aviation. God forbid if you are in such situation, you won't mind if an ambulance is sent rather than a helicopter. $\endgroup$ – Farhan Nov 25 '14 at 14:35
7
$\begingroup$

Yes, this is legal. As far as I understand, it used to be common practice, and some hiker's beacons still squawk 121.5. Nowadays, more advanced beacons are suggested, but it sounds like yours isn't working. Some police and EMT stations still monitor 121.5, too. The only caveat is that you may have to pay the search and rescue cost, even if it is a legitimate emergency.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the info. From what I understand (at least in the grand canyon), search and rescue is covered by tax dollars. Would this be different calling via handheld radio as opposed to using a SPOT or similar? $\endgroup$ – Keegan Nov 25 '14 at 3:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I have no reason to think it'd be different. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Nov 25 '14 at 3:34
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ For a bit more clarity, much like FAA rules, the FCC allows emergency deviation from any rule for amateur radio operators. See 47 CFR 97.403 and 97.405. Perhaps one could argue this blanket exemption overrides the rules for a license at all. In any case, if it is truly life threatening and someone thinks it's illegal -- maybe they'll rescue and arrest you -- but point is you're still alive. $\endgroup$ – dougk_ff7 Nov 26 '14 at 4:50
  • $\begingroup$ @dougk_ff7 I was taught that unlicensed operation was allowed in an emergency when studying for my amateur license; however, those two rules are restricted to amateur stations (so it doesn't seem like it'd apply to someone carrying non-amateur-band radios with no amateur license, only if there's already an amateur station present). For other services like CB, there's no corresponding rule (see 47 CFR 95.418); for ships, the call must be on the authority of a licensee (80.311); in general, it seems like the amateur rule is the exception rather than the norm. $\endgroup$ – cpast Dec 1 '14 at 2:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That said, the FCC may well turn a blind eye to distress communications regardless of legality (particularly if you didn't plan to rely on that fact), necessity might be a partial defense, and an FCC fine beats death. $\endgroup$ – cpast Dec 1 '14 at 2:28
1
$\begingroup$

Bear in mind that the effective transmission range of many handheld airband radios is pretty poor - typically rather worse than the reception range. And despite the NOTAM requesting aircraft to monitor 121.5 "when able", many do not. So while it's better than nothing, it's probably not a good idea to rely on this means of calling for rescue.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.