Last month on Roman’s blog you may have read a report by and plea for help from Nathan Shoutis, about his experience with faulty S.O.S. lock switches on the DeLorme inReach SE and Explorer. He also shared his experience in a comment on this blog.
The short story is that while on an 18-day packrafting trip in Kamchatka, Russia, Nathan unintentionally sent an SOS message with his inReach, despite the lock switch being engaged. A helicopter “rescue” and a $4,400 bill ensued.
The concern is that this could be a widespread design flaw with the DeLorme inReach SE and Explorer, which have been since replaced by the Garmin inReach SE+ and Explorer+ but which still remain in widespread use. In these two videos, watch how an SOS message can be initiated even with the lock switch engaged:
Thankfully, the lock switch on my personal DeLorme Explorer appears to work properly:
What action you should take
Given Nathan’s experience and possibly that of others, I recommend that you:
- Confirm that the SOS lock switch works properly on your unit.
- Check regularly in the field that the SOS lock switch is engaged, noted by an audible click-to-lock sound.
The concern only pertains to the DeLorme inReach SE and Explorer. I know of no issues with the newer SE+ and Explorer+.
With all inReach devices (original and + versions), when carrying the device inside your backpack, I recommend that you enable the Screen Lock, which will greatly reduce the risk of unintentional button presses and an accidental SOS initiation. Personally, I have heard my device turn on (and then turn off, once the Screen Lock kicks in) multiple times inside my backpack, especially when packing or rummaging through my backpack.
When I received Nathan’s comment, I forwarded it to my Garmin contact, who is the Senior Product Manager that overseas the inReach program. He later sent me a response that can be shared with those interested in this issue.
Garmin’s response is thorough, but it does not address or acknowledge documented cases of faulty SOS switches, as demonstrated in the videos linked earlier and as claimed by Nathan. Therefore, I recommend that you still check your personal device to confirm that the lock switch works properly.
We want our inReach users to know that we take customer feedback very seriously and want to share the following information about the inReach SE and Explorer, the SOS Lock, and the ways that emergencies can be declared with the device.
The inReach SE and Explorer use a slider to prevent the SOS button from being accidentally pressed when in a backpack. To open the SOS Button Lock the user needs to press in on the slider and then push the slider to the left to release the SOS button. To close the SOS Button Lock the user needs to push the slider all the way to the right and click it into place. It is important to confirm that the SOS Button Lock is properly closed, we say “click it to lock it” to ensure that the lock is fully engaged.
There are two ways to trigger an SOS message with the inReach SE and Explorer.
The first method uses the SOS Button Lock and SOS Button previously described. During an emergency, the user can unlock the SOS button, press and hold the SOS button for five seconds, and then observe that a 20 second countdown timer announces that an emergency message is about to be sent. The user has 20 seconds to cancel this message and prevent notification from going to our search and rescue dispatch center, otherwise the emergency message will automatically send at the end of the countdown.
The second method of triggering an SOS involves the inReach Home screen and the SOS button shown in the lower-right corner of the page. The user can select the SOS page and follow a series of dialogs that lets them confirm that they have an emergency and want to send an SOS message.
While these methods for declaring an SOS have built-in safety precautions, there are times when users accidentally send an emergency message.
1. One type of accidental SOS message that we have observed can occur when the user has not properly engaged the SOS Button Lock. If the user has opened their SOS Button Lock to explore the slider mechanism but then failed to properly “click it to lock it” before their trip, they are at risk of accidentally pressing the unlocked SOS button. This is why the packaging, instruction text, and support site emphasize the “click it to lock it” process. We describe it on the opening flap of the inReach box and then again in the Quick Start Guide.
2. A second potential for an accidental SOS occurs if the user places the device in their backpack, powered on, without the Screen Lock engaged. This would allow accidental button presses to move the highlight around the Home screen and potentially access the SOS page. Keep in mind that there are five button presses that need to happen in a specific order and in a specific timeframe without any errant button presses for an accidental SOS to be declared. Given this potential, we strongly encourage people to keep their Screen Lock enabled if they plan to hike with their inReach in their backpack where it could be bumped.
3. If a significant amount of force is put on the SOS button, the plastics of the SOS Button Lock can be deformed to cause the button cover to touch the internal SOS button. If this significant level of force is maintained for the 5 second “press and hold” duration needed to declare an emergency the SOS countdown timer will trigger. We have verified this process and confirmed that the amount of force necessary to trigger the SOS is considerably greater than could be expected in a normal use case, so great that it is approaching a level that would damage the screen and display lens too.
We want to emphasize that the device was not designed for users to bypass the SOS lock by pressing with enough force to deform the plastics and trigger the alert.
We understand that a small group of users have triggered an accidental SOS. We encourage users to:
- Double check your gear before leaving, to make sure the SOS button has been moved all the way to the right, into the “click it to lock it” position.
- Enable the Screen Lock, especially if you carry the inReach SE or Explorer in a location where it could have accidental buttons presses
- Avoid placing their inReach satellite communication device in a location where it may be subject to undue pressure on the device, as one would with all electronic devices. While it is a rugged device, it is also an important piece of technology and should not be stressed under the weight of heavy objects in your pack.
We believe that following these precautions will ensure the inReach functions properly for messaging and tracking and that it is available to help should an emergency occur, all without the risk of accidentally sending any messages, emergency or otherwise, while being carried in a pack.
Please direct any additional questions regarding the inReach SE or Explorer to Garmin’s Customer Care team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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