Avalanche Transceiver Interference From Electronic Devices – What To Do
Mountain Safety
December 21st, 2022

Avalanche Transceiver Interference From Electronic Devices – What To Do

There have been so many posts on social media lately about avalanche transceiver interference from electronic devices. This is good discussion because it is a real problem, and many people still seem surprised to hear this information even though we have been talking about it in the safety world for some time.

With Christmas right around the corner, and the certainty of some new electronic gadgets being under the tree, it is a great time to bring up the possible negative effects that electronics can have on our transceivers in both send and search mode, and what to do about it.

Avalanche Transceiver Interference From Devices

Avalanche Transceiver Interference From Electronic Devices

We are seeing new posts pop up every day singling out individual pieces of electronic equipment for causing avalanche transceiver interference. Helmet cameras, cell phones, heated clothing, Bluetooth devices, satellite communicators, huge LCD screens—the list goes on. Let’s keep it easy and group all electronics together in one basket.

Yes! Transceiver interference is a real thing. When you are searching, transceivers CAN be susceptible to interference, and this can negatively affect search times or even render a searcher’s transceiver completely useless.

Avalanche Transceiver Interference From Devices

Electronic interference can make a transceiver search difficult to accomplish quickly or impossible at worst.

Unfortunately, this problem not going to get better any time soon. We’ve increasingly grown accustomed to the benefits of using electronic devices in our lives, and we don’t like leaving them behind. I REALLY like my heated socks for example, so I am certainly not innocent here. But I am aware of the potential issues and act accordingly in practice and real life. More on this later.

There is no perfect answer to this situation, because realistically no rider is going to leave all their electronics at home.

So the best we can do is to be aware of how to reduce avalanche transceiver interference from electronic devices and make it reasonable to implement.

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Frozen Pirate instructor Marshall Dempster demonstrating a transceiver fine search to a class of Avalanche Skills Training students.

What To Do About Avalanche Transceiver Interference From Electronic Devices

For now, the best answer we have is to remove any and all sources of interference prior to searching.

In an emergency, the best outcomes are from those who take a few precious moments to plan and strategize. This is true for any emergency, not just an avalanche.

Avalanche rescuers now need to add the quick step of removing electronics before starting our transceiver search.

This important step must be added into our routines and training sessions to make it habitual. It needs to become an automatic part of the companion rescue process, just the same as checking for scene safety and switching all transceivers to search (or rescue send).

Historically, we’ve taught that the order of a companion rescue is to:

  1. Choose a leader
  2. Assess safety
  3. Assess how many people are missing
  4. Turn all transceivers to search and do a physical check

This can all happen quite quickly. But it is at this fourth stage (all transceivers to search) that those rescuers who will be dedicated to searching must also now add the step of turning off and removing (if possible) all sources of interference. Call it Stage 4 (a).

When conducting a transceiver search, the standard is to keep any metal or electronic devices at the very least 50 cm (20 in.) away from your transceiver. This is not as hard as you think, as most people’s arms are longer than that. But we still need to be aware of things like smart watches, rings, heated gloves, items in our pockets, etc.

Avalanche Transceiver Interference_-2
Rescuers who are tasked with performing a transceiver search should now add the step of turning off and removing (if possible) any sources of electronic interference before commencing the search.

Reducing Avalanche Transceiver Interference

The most effective method by far to reduce avalanche transceiver interference is to remove all sources of potential interference, but sometimes this is just not possible.

Returning to the case of my heated socks; the best option here is to not wear them at all, but that is unlikely. The next best alternative is to turn them off before conducting a transceiver search, because removing them is not a realistic possibility—I can’t perform a transceiver search barefooted.

But even when my heated socks are powered off, I still need to be aware and keep my transceiver well away from them, particularly in the fine search phase when my transceiver is low to the ground (near my feet).

Avalanche Transceiver Interference_

Remember, once an avalanche has occurred, adding a few seconds to group up, assess safety and plan an effective companion rescue can save valuable minutes, which can save lives.

This is just a snip of information on transceiver interference. Avalanche Canada has posted some great information here. I highly recommend giving this a read, but also, to take all of this information and implement it into your practice.

Just like any human factor, simply knowing about transceiver interference does not stop us from falling victim to it. We need to talk about it and address it.

Ride safe.

– Curtis


Curtis Pawliuk is the owner/operator of Frozen Pirate Snow Services and CAA Professional Member @frozenpirate