InReach Satellite Texting Devices and Outdoor Recreation

Important considerations for using a satellite texter during a critical incident response

Effective and efficient use of communications devices is an important part of competent critical incident response. Increasingly, outdoor recreation professionals carry satellite texting devices (such as an InReach Mini) in addition to, or in replacement of, satellite phones or radios. Whether whitewater rafting on a multiday adventure or guiding horseback riders for an afternoon out, satellite texters can be effective emergency communication tools. Outdoor professionals, however, must understand potential problem areas with the devices, and be adequately trained on best practices for use.

To effectively use a satellite texter during an incident response, outdoor businesses and organizations should understand search and rescue response in their area, create an on-scene response tool, practice with devices, and discuss satellite texters with the group prior to the activity.

What Happens When You Press The SOS Button on an InReach?

When using a satellite texter, you should understand precisely what will happen if a guide, instructor, or participant pushes the SOS button. For example, with a Garmin InReach, initially, the SOS call will be routed to Garmin’s call center.  Where this information is routed next and what your jurisdiction’s search and rescue will do with the information varies significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. You cannot assume that help will quickly arrive simply because you have pressed the SOS button.

It is important that you know the jurisdictions in which you are operating and how they will function in these scenarios.  If you don’t have an existing contact for your area’s Search and Rescue (SAR) office, a good place to start may be by calling the local non-emergency sheriff line in your region of operation.

Ask your SAR contact the following:

  • If someone presses the SOS button on their satellite text device and Garmin receives that SOS call, what happens next from the sheriff’s perspective? Outline each step.
  • Is SAR dispatch able to receive texts directly from an InReach? Note: if the answer is no, a system should be put in place for on-scene staff to reach in-office staff, and in-office staff to contact SAR via voice call. This requires someone being “on-call” anytime staff are on-scene.
  • Under what circumstances will SAR respond to notification of an SOS, and what exactly does that response look like?
  • What information does SAR need about the incident in order to respond adequately and quickly?

Create an On-Scene Response Tool

We encourage outdoor recreation businesses and organizations to create a simple, 1-2 page flowchart to help their on-scene staff respond to a critical incident. The flowchart should include instructions for how and when to use the satellite texter within the response. An on-scene flowchart tool customized to our client’s unique operations is a standard part of all Recreation Law Group created Critical Incident Response Plans.  This is an invaluable tool for on-scene staff handling a stressful incident.

Likewise, a good Critical Incident Response Plan will include clear instructions for the off-site incident command staff.  This part of the tool works hand-in-hand with the on-scene tool, ensuring that both aspects of the response are well coordinated.   The off-site portion of the tool should include step by step instructions and a thorough call list with emergency contacts and instructions on who to call for a given situation.

Practice! Then Practice Again

Annual Training with Satellite Texters

Staff should be trained annually to use their satellite texting device, including real practice sending and receiving texts under pressure. Training should include pairing the device to a cell phone, if appropriate. For example, the Garmin InReach device can be paired by Bluetooth with the Earthmate application, for more efficient texting.  Texting through the Earthmate app is far faster than using the texting pad on an InReach mini.

More information on how SOS communications are conducted and real life stories of Garmin responses can be found on the Garmin website.  It is also possible to schedule an SOS test with Garmin, which will give you the opportunity to experience the communications first hand and to verify the emergency contacts you have associated with an SOS.

It is critically important that staff understand exactly how to use the device and can do so quickly and effectively.  A delay in triggering an evacuation due to staff’s failure to use the device quickly and appropriately can create serious potential for legal exposure for the company or organization.

Technical Considerations for Satellite Texters

Staff should also be reminded that, based on satellite positioning and topography, there may be a delay in text messages being sent or received. When texting, it should be assumed a message has not been fully sent until a reply is received.  Texts can also seem out of order based on the delay between send and receive.  Understanding this is important, as it can help both off-site incident command and the on-scene guides or staff pinpoint sources of potential confusion during communications.

Support from Recreation Law Group

Recreation Law Group offers critical incident scenario trainings in which staff are led through a simulation of an incident and must complete the full response, including using communication devices.

Often, during these scenarios, teams who before were confident in their ability to use satellite communications are reminded of gaps in knowledge and areas for improvement. This always reminds us of the importance of training regularly with communication devices. You do not want an actual emergency to be your first practice run for how to use your communication devices.

Note: The exception to the above is engaging the SOS button. Do not engage with SAR in any manner during a training activity. Instead, designate a manager or staff’s cell phone to roleplay a SAR number.  If you wish to test the SOS on an InReach you must schedule a test on the Garmin website and follow their strict instructions.

Discuss Satellite Texters with all Trip Participants

With increasing participants and staff carrying personal satellite texting devices, it is important to reduce conflicting information if an incident occurs.  Receiving multiple SOS notices from a single party may confuse response efforts and decrease the efficiency and clarity of incident communications. Staff can be trained to designate an On-Scene Manager early in a response.  This person will organize the big-picture and communicate response plans expectations with the full group.

Staff and participants should also be instructed to minimize texting to outside parties during an incident. During an incident, it is important for a business or organization to adhere to the “one voice” rule to protect the dignity and privacy of victims. Further, any written communication, including personal communications, may be discoverable in litigation.

A Critical Incident Response Training can help contextualize and highlight these important concepts for your staff.


Overall, carrying satellite texting devices is an emerging industry standard for outdoor professionals. Satellite texters, if trained on and used properly, can be an important part of a competent and efficient incident response.

Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice, nor should it be viewed as such. Legal advice can only be provided based on specific facts. Receiving or viewing this blog post does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.

Recreation Law Group may utilize technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), as appropriate to provide the best service to our clients and to ensure educational materials are robust and well-researched.

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