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Where Should My ZOLEO, inReach or Other Satellite Communicator Be? Advice For Our Wheeled Adventurer Friends

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Jean-Stéfane (J.S.) Bergeron
Founder

June 23, 2024

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Have you ever considered where your satellite communicator should be while adventuring? Based on our experience and what we’ve learned from our users, here is our best advice.

It depends on whether you are wearing a seatbelt, which usually aligns nicely with whether you are on two or four wheels. Here’s our thinking.

What do seatbelts have to do with my ZOLEO or inReach?

In an emergency, you (and your adventure partners) need to know where to find your satellite communicator. The last thing you need to do is look for the device when you need to trigger an SOS.

In a car, truck, side-by-side, or any other vehicle with seatbelts, this means ideally, your satellite communicator will be secured on a mount, whether a mount by your device’s manufacturer or another suitable sturdy mount, where it can always be found when you’re out there.

Ideally, the location will be accessible to the driver and front-seat passengers with their seatbelts ON.

That location will ensure that your device is always accessible and can always be found in the same place when needed. And, in the case of a crash, the driver and the front seat passengers should be able to trigger an SOS even if they can’t exit the vehicle, remove their seatbelt or before help arrives to help them out of the vehicle.

You are wearing your seatbelt so you won’t be ejected from the vehicle, and your device is securely mounted so no one is scrambling to find the device on the ground outside the vehicle.

I’m on a motorcycle, bicycle, etc. and don’t have seatbelts

Using the same reasoning, you need to know where your device will be when you need it, either to trigger an SOS for one of your riding partners or yourself. After a crash, you may not be within reach of your bike. Or you may be hustling to help one of your riding partners and don’t want to run back to your bike to trigger an SOS while your partner needs help.

The best place for your device is securely attached to you. Attach your device securely to your riding gear or pack, ensuring the device won’t be ripped away in a crash.

I always worry that a device clipped to your pack with a small utility carabiner might not be secure enough for many users. Consider your options carefully, considering how dynamic a potential crash may be. A more rigid plastic mount attached by threading your pack’s webbing, like one of the optional ZOLEO mounts, is more likely to survive a crash than simply using a carabiner dangling off your pack. Of course, if you are bikepacking instead of on a dual sport bike, your mount may not need to be as sturdy.

What? I want to see my device while riding.

Yeah, me too! I love the powered mount for my Garmin inReach GPS66i, which is mounted on a RAM mount within view. It is SO convenient. But it’s now on duty only in the truck.

Unfortunately, that convenience can be a killer in a severe crash. If you’re riding alone, crash out, and find yourself pinned under the bike or, worse, down a slope away from your bike, out of arms’ reach of your device, you may not be able to trigger the SOS that could save your life! Or, at the very least, it may delay your SOS significantly, and time matters in your successful rescue.

Instead, consider using your phone, tablet, or other screened device paired with your satellite communicator to view a map, an incoming message, or one of our alerts. There are some incredible solutions from Garmin for an inReach device or from companies like Carpe Iter, Thork Racing and others that are compatible with various devices.

Keep your satellite communicator securely attached to you, within arm’s reach.

Unfortunately, that means you forgo the convenience of charging your device while riding. But if it saves your life, I think it’s well worth it!

Make sure your adventure partners know where to find your device.

You have hopefully noticed a recurring theme—your adventure partners. When you are out as a group, it's unlikely that everyone will have their own satellite communicator, especially our four-wheeled friends.

Your group's safety depends on being prepared. As part of your preparations, you should discuss who will have an inReach or ZOLEO and where to find them if needed. Make sure everyone knows who will have a satellite communicator. Ensure everyone knows where your satellite communicator will be; “It’s always in a mount in the center of my rig within arms reach of the driver”; “When I’m riding, it’s always on my right side, by my shoulder, etc.”

You should also ensure others in your party know how to trigger an SOS and operate your device. They must also understand what to expect when you have triggered an SOS. Imagine if you are incapacitated and the rest of your party doesn’t know how to activate an SOS or how to provide additional information to the response center. Trying to figure that out in an emergency is a brutal and ineffective way to get help when minutes count.

Having a clear plan before the start of your adventure is critical, and a quick daily reminder should be part of your routine, particularly if people switch from one vehicle to another during a multi-day trip.

Clear View of the Sky

As impressive as satellite communicators are, there are some limitations. After all, your device communicates with satellites approximately 780 kilometres (485 miles) away, travelling at 27,000 km/h (17,000 mph). They have a challenging task.

As a result, making sure your device has as clear a view of the sky as possible is essential.

A good view of the sky allows timely messages, including location updates (You likely already know how fond we are of frequent location updates), which also helps your device’s battery life. A clear view of the sky also helps you receive timely alerts when severe weather or another safety risk threatens you.

Be careful about placing your device closer to you and further from the windshield in some cars or trucks. Much of the vehicle’s roof could obscure your device’s view of the sky.

In-Camp and Overnight

You’ve arrived at your destination, and it’s time to relax and enjoy your beverage of choice, a great meal and quality time with friends or family.

Before you get too comfortable, now is the time to make sure your inReach, ZOLEO, or other satellite communicator is ready for the evening, night, and the next day’s adventure. This is the perfect time to charge your device.

If you’re covering your windshield with a reflective shade to keep your vehicle cool, consider how it might limit your device’s ability to receive alerts, messages, and provide location updates.

Again, ensure your device is in an accessible and consistent location with which everyone in your party is familiar. Finding where the satellite communicator is before triggering an SOS only adds to a difficult situation.

Lastly, consider where you will keep your device overnight. You want your device to have a clear view of the sky and be close enough for you to hear a new message. It could be a severe weather alert warning you of flash flooding or a violent thunderstorm!

Where your device shouldn’t be!

Hopefully, our advice has been helpful so far. Here are some locations where your device should NOT be, ever:

  • Sitting loosely on your vehicle’s dash
  • In your glove compartment or center console
  • In a pannier, tank bag, etc.
  • At the bottom of your backpack

If your device is sitting at the bottom of a bag, in your Oh Shit bag, in your glove compartment or a pannier, you almost might as well have left it at home. Could it come handy, of course but it will significantly complicate an already difficult situation if you or someone from your party needs to trigger an SOS. And it may be too late when you decide to check for one of our severe weather or other safety alerts.

There are no absolutes when it comes to safety, and while I’d love to tell you I have always followed this advice, the reality is that I’ve made some mistakes over the years.

Summary

Your satellite communicator should be attached securely, and everyone in your adventure group should know where to find it and how to operate it.

  • If you are in a vehicle wearing a seatbelt, attach your device securely within arm’s reach of the driver (and other front seat passengers if possible),
  • If you are in a vehicle without seatbelts, attach your device securely to you (or your pack) so that it will not be torn off in a crash,
  • Make sure everyone in your party knows where to find the satellite communicator(s) if needed,
  • Make sure your device has a clear view of the sky, which is particularly important when mounting it inside a vehicle, behind a windshield,
  • Make sure everyone knows how to operate the satellite communicator(s) and what to expect once an SOS is activated and
  • Once in camp and overnight, make sure your satellite communicator can receive messages (including our severe weather or safety alerts) and that you will hear a new message.

This article should encourage you to consider how to use your device better. I also hope this article will lead to conversations, even spirited conversations, that help everyone be less complacent and better prepared. It could help us be more accountable to our adventure partners.

We care deeply about outdoor safety, about your safety. It’s one of the reasons you trust us to help you stay safe.

Updated: June 24, 2024

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