Editor’s note: Our in-house beacon expert Jonathan Shefftz found what he considered to be an issue with his new Ortovox 3+ when he updated his review last week. Below, Marcus Peterson of Ortovox North America responds in what I feel is a very thorough and thoughtful way. If you’re new to this, please read Jonathan’s post before you read below. Otherwise, have at it. (And thanks Marcus, for taking the time to work this.)
Lou and WildSnow readers, thanks for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
I would like to preface my remarks by saying that I have known Jonathan Shefftz for several years and have always found him to be conscientious and of the highest integrity.
Regarding Jonathan’s comments on How Well It Works… on the recent Ortovox 3+ blog post and thread, my thoughts focus on Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI).
Page 26 of the 3+ Owner’s Manual affirms that the 3+ complies with Part 15 of the FCC Operation Rules. Specifically: (1) the device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) the device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation. This is a requirement of every transceiver sold into the U.S.A.
Luckily, most rescues and recoveries are performed in remote areas where EMI is not a factor. Practice sessions and beacon drills in an urban setting are a completely different matter. To insure a “quiet” practice site, it is recommended that (if available) one use an older analog beacon to provide a baseline for your practice site and help identify suitable practice sites. Switch it to “receive”, adjust the manual volume control to the highest setting and listen to the amount of “crackling” noise (EMI) heard, paying special attention to whether or not the crackling is concentrated in a specific area.
The test we performed at Stratton Mountain was done approximately 30 meters from a lift transformer, in the middle of a cluster of 4 lifts (one being a gondola) and a row of commercial buildings next to the slope. No visible overhead power lines. The 3+ did display some “flutter” among all that EMI, however, pin point searches were able to be performed. Jonathan’s video shows “flutter” for approximately 10 meters, which would indicate some source of EMI in the immediate area. Of additional note is the fact that in acquiring and following a signal, left to right movement of the unit should be minimal (typically less than 5 degrees off center) and deliberate. Broad, sweeping movement can slow searches because the processor is forced to continually re-evaluate position.
I have performed hundreds of searches in my “backcountry” practice field and have never experienced 180 degree “flutter”, even with pre-production models this past summer. I spent 4 hours outside with Jonathan’s unit (in two locations). In my backyard practice field, I performed at least 20 different scenarios of single and double searches with no “flutter” in single burials. With double burials, I could have been vectored up to 90 degrees depending on the orientation of the second transmitter.
The other site was in the front yard where underground electrical service bisects the search area. I performed 15 single searches with no “flutter”, even directly above the buried electrical service.
I was unable to replicate his “flutter”. Not in a backcountry setting. Not in a setting with some EMI. Below, please see a video of my testing.
I also reviewed the search on facewest.co.uk and my overall opinion is that the beacon worked as designed with one “flutter” at five (5) meters. The searcher completely stopped rather than continuing the search. The processor in any beacon needs information in order to perform calculations; this is accomplished by MOVING! Movement to adjust direction should be deliberate and ONLY enough to get the center arrow to turn “on”.
Just for the record, my definition of optimal (best coupling) range is when the beacon shows numbers and, in the case of the 3+, an arrow in any direction.
I would also like to address Jordo’s comment regarding opening his “new” 3+. All Ortovox beacons for the past 30 years have used Energizer batteries, which ship installed in the units. Ortovox manufactures tens of thousands of beacons annually, and four (4) different models. All of our beacons are tested at each step in the assembly process and must successfully pass at each station before progressing to the next. At the last station, batteries are installed for final test. All units leave the factory within specification and in good working order. On rare occasions circumstances out of our control enter the equation and a purchased unit right out of the box might not function properly. The unit could have been damaged in transit or mishandled once leaving the factory. Jordo should return the unit to us in New Hampshire (455 Irish Hill Road, Hopkinton, NH 03229). We’ll send him a new unit and his will be shipped to the Product Manager for a thorough examination.
One other thing: When commenting on Interface and Controls, Jonathan hoped the production model would have a “cheat sheet” (for errors) affixed to the back of the beacon. According to the EN 300-718 standard, 4.2.10: “A short form of operating instructions shall be printed on the case”. While an error “cheat sheet” would certainly be a benefit, there is simply no extra room on the back of the unit after the operating instruction requirement is fulfilled.
Marcus Peterson, Ortovox
Marcus Peterson has been the voice and business sense behind Ortovox USA for many years. He is well known in the backcountry skiing industry for his expertise, as well as his willingness to question and debate any mythology or unsubstantiated claims made about various avalanche rescue equipment. We appreciate his voice.