Ski Patrollers: Become a cliff rescue expert.

Testing Your Avalanche Transceiver

You should perform a basic "function test" every time you head into avalanche terrain. This page provides general guidelines on a more thorough test of your avalanche transceiver. Obviously the most thorough test is to return your transceiver to the manufacture for testing, but the tests on this page will discover most problems. The information on this page was originally written by Jeff Lane and Jonathan Shefftz.

Test #1—Test the reception range with the antennas aligned

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    Switch a second transceiver on transmit and place it on the ground with the housing's long axis pointing directly at the searcher.
  2. Starting approximately 200 feet from the transmitting beacon:
    1. Switch your transceiver to receive (aka Search).
    2. Point your transceiver directly at the transmitting beacon.
    3. Walk toward the transmitting beacon.
    4. Note the distance when your transceiver receives a signal.
  3. Switch your transceiver back to transmit and repeat the above steps a few times.

Results: The average distance when your transceiver receives a signal should be similar to other transceivers of the same make and model plus-or-minus about five meters. Anything less than 30 meters is definitely unacceptable. (Read the details about how we test reception ranges.)

Test #2—Test the reception range with the antennas perpendicular

  1. Repeat Test #1, but this time hold your transceiver so it is perpendicular to the transmitter (i.e., so the antennas are in "worst case" alignment).

Results: The average reception range should be at least 50% of the distance measured in Test #1. (In the case of the Pieps DSPs, it might even be longer.)

Test #3—Test the transmission range

  1. Repeat Test #1, but this time use your transceiver as the transmitting beacon and a second transceiver as the receiver.

Results: As with Test #1, the average distance when the receiving beacon receives a signal should be similar to other transceivers of the same make and model plus-or-minus about five meters. Anything less than 30 meters is definitely unacceptable.

Test #4—Test the directional indicator

  1. Stand approximately 30 feet from the transmitter and switch your beacon to receive.
  2. Point your beacon at the transmitting beacon. The direction arrow on your beacon should point straight ahead (toward the transmitting beacon).
  3. Slowly rotate your transceiver 45-degrees to the left and then 45-degrees to the right. Your beacon's direction indicator should continue to point at the transmitting beacon.

Results: During this test the direction indicator should point at the transmitting beacon within about two beeps.

Test #5—Test spike handling

You can see if your transceiver handles spikes using this simple spike test.

Test #6—Test the transmission frequency

Testing the transmission frequency is less necessary on digital transceivers, but worth doing if you can. Poor performance in Test #3 may indicate an incorrect transmission frequency, but a beacon can pass Test #3 yet be transmitting outside specifications.

Refer to the comparison table to see which transceivers can test other beacons. (You can read about the DSPs testers here.) Many of the individual transceiver reviews explain how to activate the "test" or "group check" mode.

Test #7—Physically inspect the transceiver

  1. Inspect the harness for loose stitching or broken buckles.
  2. Inspect the casing for damage or cracks.
  3. Inspect the beacon's display for function and damage.
  4. Inspect the switches for function and damage.
  5. Inspect the battery compartment and terminals for any corrosion. Make sure the batteries fit snugly.
  6. With your transceiver set to receive, give it a good shake. It should continue to receive without resetting (which can happen if the batteries or internal connections are loose).
  7. Test the functionality of all buttons and switches. Do they do what they're supposed to do (power on, off, search, send, mark, etc)?
  8. If the beacon is set to automatically revert to transmit after a specified number of minutes, does it? If the beacon is supposed to revert only if motionless, does the motion sensor work?
(Random photo from an avalanche mission)
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