How well does Garmin InReach Mini work to notify the coast guard in a paddling emergency in a remote (no cell service) location?
Hi @CPlayer - Thanks for reaching out! We're glad to hear that you are thinking about some kayaking plans.
While we cannot make any guarantees on the effectiveness of the InReach Mini in an emergency situation, we wanted to tag some fellow community members who have talked about the device to see if they have any experience to pass along.
I'm not much of a paddler but generally for offshore water use my first choice would be a traditional VHF marine radio because that broadcasts to local boats that may be able to give you immediate assistance and a beacon (aka PLB) because the signal is supposedly more effective and it provides a continuous signal in what can be a very dynamic environment.
For casual kayaking that setup might be impractical. You need a license a marine radio and PLBs are only for life threatening situations. The InReach provides a sort of compromise and some additional features which give it broader application outside of emergencies...eg. weather forecasts and casual messaging. It does not however broadcast to local boats. Having all three and a cell phone would be ideal.
As far as how well the InReach communication works, on the water it can see the sky so there should be no problem with the signal in most reasonable conditions. Iridium satellites supposedly have world wide coverage. But I have not used one in that environment so I have no personal experience. Garmin do sell a "marine" attachment for the mini so I'm sure there are people using them but I haven't come across much about it. Here is an article that indicates Iridium communication should theoretically work fine with heavy cloud cover...
InReach SOS works by dispatching via the GEOS International Emergency Rescue Coordination Center (IERCC) to the SAR service that covers the location you SOS from so it is indirect which adds to delays etc. However you can also send messages to people you know which provides some redundancy and you get 2 way communication of a sort to indicate what is wrong. You also get tracking indicating where you were and might have been going if you go missing without sending an SOS.
The InReach SE+ or Explorer+ may be an bit easier to use in a marine environment being bigger having larger fonts and having 2D letter selection for messages vs 1D on the Mini. Also they have a longer battery life which is useful in an environment where recharging may be difficult. However, the Mini's screen may be easier to read in full sun being a simple LCD and it is easier to take along and keep tethered to you. The antenna should be upright and as high as possible...a shoulder is good.
Here is an article that may be of interest...
It will be great for paddling. I've used it in coastal waters sailing and the lack of tree cover generally means that the messages go through reliably and quickly. And the GEOS service is plugged in to the USCG so no worries there. If you want a full dive on how the emergency flow goes, checkout the articles on HikingGuy com. But get the Mini, it will serve you well.
I'm not a kayaker but I do have the InReach mini and have used it quite a bit in the backcountry when I've had zero cell service. Thankfully, I haven't had to use the SOS function but I've been pleased with the tracking and messaging features and my experience with those gives me (and my wife) comfort that the SOS will work as advertised. I typically use a combination of the free messaging and tracking to notify my wife when I'm starting the trail (if I have no cell service), when I'm at camp (if I have no cell service) and when I'm starting back (if I have no cell service) and I keep the tracking going from start to finish so that she can always see where I'm at. If I don't check in, she can tell emergency responders where I am, my direction of travel, etc.
Again, never used it on the water but, as @HikingGuy mentioned, the unobstructed view of the sky from the water should work in your favor and the GEOS would have direct access to the USCG.