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Transceivers — frequently asked questions
What are they used for?
Avalanche transceivers should be worn by all members of a party at all times when skiing in the backcountry. They are used to locate people who have been buried in avalanches. The use of an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe is a must for all backcountry skiers.
How do they work?
Transceivers work by using electromagnetic signals. The victimâ€™s transceiver emits a signal which can then be picked up by another transceiver. The person receiving the signal can then home in on the location the beacon is being transmitted from. With analogue transceivers, this signal will be an audible tone and a visible LED light signal. Digital transceivers will have the technology to home in on the exact distance and direction of the victim.
How have they evolved?
The original transceivers converted the radio signal into an audible sound that would get louder the closer a person got to the buried victim. Advances have meant that LEDs have been added to analogue transceivers, meaning there is a visible signal as well as an audible one, and earpieces have been fitted allowing the person to better hear the sound.
The technology has been further developed in the digital transceivers, which can use the signal to work out the distance from and direction of the buried transceiver. Digital transceivers are now much easier to use than analogue ones, although their range is often more limited than with analogue transceivers.
Digital transceivers have evolved since their first inception with faster processors, extra antenna to aid in searches, and more advanced multiple burial search functions.
How do you wear them?
Transceivers are sold with a special harness or strap to attach to your body. They are typically worn against your chest and must be worn under your jacket against your first layer of clothing. The transceiver must be switched on at all times while skiing which will automatically put it in the ‘send’ mode, so it is constantly emitting a signal.
What frequency are they on?
457,000 Hz (457 kHz) is the standard transmit frequency for avalanche transceivers across the world. All modern avalanche transceivers are compatible with each other — it does not matter if you and your partners have differing brands.
What is RECCO ?
RECCO is a system used to find people buried under the snow. The RECCO method comprises two parts: a reflector and a detector.
The reflector is built into the clothing (such as boots, jackets, helmet, protective gear) of the skier or snowboarder. The rescue team then has the detector.
When searching for a victim buried under the snow, the detector will emit a signal. This signal will then be reflected off of the reflector and alert the rescue team as to its whereabouts.
The RECCO system DOES NOT replace the use of transceivers. Using the RECCO system requires alerting a rescue team with the correct equipment and awaiting their arrival by which time it could be too late. The majority of avalanches occur away from the lift systems meaning the rescue services will not be on hand. Time is the most important factor in any avalanche rescue and avalanche transceivers can enable a group to perform their own rescue on the spot.
What is Analogue and what is digital?
Analogue transceivers convert the radio signal transmitted into an audible sound and light signal to help locate the whereabouts of the buried transceiver.
Digital transceivers use the radio signal to provide the searcher with a digital distance and direction reading. The latest digital transceivers also have faster processing times and advanced multiple burial functions.
Digital transceivers are generally easier to use but do have a smaller range (typically 40-50m) than analogue transceivers (up to 80m).
What is the difference between 1, 2 and 3 antennas?
The advantage of extra antenna is in the search mode. Transceivers with 2 antennas show when you need to adjust your position to line up with the flux lines of the transmitting transceiver as you search. The Tracker DTS has arrows that light up to point you in the right direction along the flux lines. When the middle arrow lights up, both antennas are receiving equal signal strength, and you are along the flux line or the path of the strongest signal. Side arrows light up to point you in the correct direction when one antenna is getting a greater signal than the other.
This makes searching far easier than the grid search pattern given by the single antenna analogue models. Single antenna transceivers, however, do typically have a longer search range.
The newer transceivers now have a third antenna included which is for use in the final phase of the search as you approach close to the victim. The benefit is to eliminate “spikes” — a phenomenon where you receive the shortest distance reading at a point close to but not directly above the victim. By eliminating these ‘spikes’ in the reading, 3-antenna transceivers are the most accurate and reliable on the market.
The third antenna typically comes into play about 2m from the victim and analyses the flux lines in order to lead you to that point directly above the victim — saving valuable time in the search.
Which transceiver should I buy?
Due to the wide choice on offer and a great variety in price, picking the right transceiver can be difficult. Digital transceivers are the best models for those who are new to transceivers, as they are the easiest and quickest to learn how to use.
There are some key considerations to make:
- Clarity of display
- Number of antenna
- Processor speed
- Multiple burial functions
Whatever transceiver you choose you should be very comfortable and familiar with it. It is important to regularly practise with your transceiver as well as in your probing and shovelling techniques.
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