Friday, September 15, 2017

InReach Fail?

Many of us carry and use InReach communication devices for safety and texting home or to people with other devices. They're expensive and even more so if they set off a false alarm for SOS.

Read the following and beware!

"Hey friends,

I'm writing to let you know I've had a problem with my Delorme inReach SE that has caused me and my parents a major scare and a large headache and put 8 Russian rescuers in a dangerous helicopter for no reason.  I'm hoping you might be able to help me out by testing the SOS feature on your own inReach SE and/or by passing this message on to others you know who use these devices and seeing what happens.  Here is the story in brief:

Earlier this summer, a friend and I were on an 18-day wilderness expedition in Kamchatka, Russia.  We were carrying an inReach as per our permit with the Russian government to travel independently without a guide.  On day 2, approximately 40 km from the main road where we were dropped off, a helicopter showed up and landed at our location.  After the initial confusion and scare--the second guy out was chambering a round in his rifle, thinking we might have had a bad bear encounter--we figured out that the SOS button on our inReach had been activated, though the lock switch was fully engaged.  In the meantime, my parents, to whom the device was registered, received a call from Delorme that no parent wants to hear--that their son had triggered a rescue.  The dispatcher surmised that this was likely a mistaken SOS signal, and indicated that this was not an isolated incident and that she had seen mistakenly triggered SOS signals in the past.  The Russian rescue team left, and we continued on our journey.  We assumed that a nearly impossible combination of buttons had been pushed on the device to turn it on and activate an SOS from the menu options.  We packed the device in a pot with a cut off bottle sleeve to protect from any accidental button pushes for the rest of the trip (which went smoothly and was delightful).  We were billed 4,400 US dollars for the rescue.

Upon returning to the US, we learned that the problem had not been a series of button pushes to turn the device on and activate the SOS.  Rather, with NORMAL pressure on the SOS button for 5-10 seconds, the SOS would trigger, WITH the lock switch FULLY engaged.  This was repeatable, and would happen every time the SOS was held.  I contacted Garmin/Delorme about this problem and requested reimbursement for the rescue cost, and received this reply:

"Hello NATHAN,

Unfortunately, we cannot offer reimbursement for the false SOS on the device at this time. This is stated within section 10 (Limitation of Liability) of our inReach Terms and Conditions found within the link below. We can certainly work with you in getting you into a new replacement if you choose, however with force and some objects, even when the lock is snapped in, can trigger in SOS. It would be a good idea to put the device separate area to ensure other objects do not bump into the device causing the SOS to be triggered. 

Learning that the "lock" switch was a complete misnomer, I replied that their response was "unacceptable" and that I believed that in addition to Delorme reimbursing me the cost of the helicopter, they needed to alert their current subscribers to this issue and post a warning on their website.  I was bumped to a higher level in the management team who requested I send in the device to "fully review your inReach in-house".  I did so, and in the meantime was able to test another inReach SE.  This device also triggered an SOS while the lock switch was fully engaged.  After several weeks, I finally received this reply to my response:
"Hello Nathan

Thank you for sending in the device and I am sorry you to hear about your experience. 

After careful investigation, both myself and a one of the Garmin hardware engineers who designed the device determined it was not defective. The inReach required significant force to bypass the SOS slide and also the Lock Screen setting was turned on. 

At this point the device appears to be working as designed, so we would not be in a position to provide you with any compensation as a result of this situation. 

Please let me know the IMEI number of the replacement unit we sent you and I will go ahead and transfer the service plan over to the new device. Also let me know of any questions you may have. 


This response is also unacceptable to me for many reasons.  At this point, I believe the inReach SE is posing a risk to wilderness travelers and to rescue service personnel and I am unwilling to drop the issue.  The money is besides the point and I do not think Delorme realizes the level of unnecessary human risk that is inherent in having a "lock" switch that does not function as stated.  I have since asked another friend to test his inReach SE, and he has also found that the SOS triggers easily with the lock switch engaged.  This is 3 for 3, and I'm realizing that this design flaw is in no way unique to my case.
I'm asking that you please test the SOS button on your inReach with the lock switch fully locked.  If you are also able to trigger an SOS, could you please take a video of your doing so and send it my way?  I am going to write to Delorme one last time, hoping they will make the situation right and communicate the need for a case or care in packing the inReach to their customers.  I would like to let them know that I am not alone with this issue.  I have no wish to hire a attorney, but if Delorme does not respond to my final plea, I will do so.
I've included the following attachments: 2 videos of 2 different devices triggering the SOS with lock engaged, a full transcript of my email correspondence with Delorme, a photo of the helicopter rescue, a translation of the memo from Russia's national rescue service requesting we pay for the helicopter time, and finally, the inReach Terms and Conditions PDF, which includes section 10 (Limitation of Liability).
Thank you for your help and for passing this message on.  I will update you on any new developments.
Nathan Shoutis"


  1. And another

  2. Dang bro! I literally just purchased one of these and received it from ebay. I haven't activated yet but I can confirm that the SOS can be activated with the lock engaged. CRAZY. I can even hear the button click.

    1. Hey Mikey, This is Nathan from the above email that Roman was nice enough to post. Any chance you can shoot a quick video of that and send it my way? I'm building a collection to send Garmin/Delorme in hopes that they do the right thing. Thanks! Sorry to hear about your new device, but at least you know now and can pack accordingly...

    2. Hi Nathan - Very sorry to hear about this incident, and hope Garmin owns up to what is clearly a design issue. Just for clarity - Is this the older SE/Explorer device manufactured by Delorme before Garmin bought out the company? Or is it the new device designed by Garmin?

    3. This is the older inReach SE manufactured by Delorme before Garmin bought them. From some of the reports I'm hearing, it seems like the older inReach Explorer is not having the same issue as the SE. Need more data. Thanks for the note.


    4. You might be right. I just checked my older Delorme (not Garmin) Explorer last night. As long as the lock button is fully engaged with an audible click (its easy to just slide it to the right and not have it lock fully), the SOS will not engage.

  3. Roman's video shows an older DeLorme, not a newer Garmin) InReach SE. I have an identical unit and tried this. When the lock switch was fully locked with an audible click -- then pressing the SOS button hard did not trigger an SOS. The lock worked as intended. Roman's video shows the lock being fully engaged with an audible click, but the SOS still being triggered. Apparently my unit does not have the mechanical problem.

  4. I have a DeLorme made inReach Explorer and when the lock switch is hard clicked to the right, the SOS button won't even depress, let alone trigger an SOS. With that said, if the lock looks locked, but didn't click, it does trigger the SOS.
    Sorry you have to deal with this. DeLorme/Garmin customer service is far from good. Thanks for sharing though as it made me much more aware of the issue

  5. I have two of the inreach SE devices (one that works, and one that was DOA when I bought it) , for one of them the sos button is impossible to push when the lock is engaged, the other pushes pretty easily when the lock is engaged. Perhaps it is a problem with only some of the devices, maybe different manufacturer runs?

    IMHO Garmin should warranty the ones where it is possible to push the sos button on when it is locked, that seems like a major flaw.

  6. I'd say everybody should check theirs and then pack accordingly, and those with ones that fail to truly lock send it back to DeLorme, right?

  7. One of the interesting things in this case is that Garmin/Delorme claims that the lock IS designed to be triggered with the lock switch fully in place (this is as per my correspondence with them--there is nothing clear in the instruction manual that says this, or warns that it must be packed in a certain way to prevent an accidental push). But then there are just as many instances where the SOS will not trigger with the lock switch on, or requires more or less pressure to activate it. Bottom line is that they have a dangerous design, regardless of what they intended with the switch. I agree w/ Roman that everyone should check their device and pack accordingly, but as for sending back to Delorme--I wouldn't hold my breath given the terrible responses I've gotten so far. We'll see...

  8. hi Roman, I also checked my device which is the inReach SE version like descript. I noticed also when the safety switch is not COMPLETELY (and I mean COMPLETELY) latched to the right, you can enable the SOS button (you hear the click of a SOS enable). If you use only normal finger power to the safety latch it will not be SWITCHED OFF completely. You need both finger to force the safety latch to be completely switched to the right. There is a slight difference in finger power. Nonetheless I feel it as being a Delorme design error.

    Also read the below post.

    Grts from Belgium
    Steve, Katrijn and Lotta

  9. I have the Delorme inReach SE and I can trigger the SOS button with relative ease when the switch fully locked. It could easily be triggered in a pack. Are you still looking for videos? This is certainly a design flaw that is unacceptable in my opinion. This design flaw could decrease the credibility of an SOS call from an inReach, and put rescuers into a very unnecessarily risky position.

    Thank you for posting about this. I have had my inReach for less than a month and have already had it turn on twice from bouncing around in my backpack. I think I was very lucky the SOS was not triggered....

    1. Trevor, yes send a video to garmin. see below for emails.

      I think I'm going to cancel my subscription and sell my device, if that's even possible.

  10. Hey Trevor, I shot another email to Garmin and shared several videos with them. I haven't heard back from them yet, but I don't think it would hurt to contact them yourself and complain. I think the more people who let them know that this isn't safe and that they need to stand by their product the better. Garmin has a responsibility to--at the least--alert the user community so we know that there is a strong need to pack these safely. Here are some email addresses to try:,,

    If Garmin is still unresponsive, I might post back and will be looking for more videos and stories. Thanks for the response, spread the word!


  11. My SE has same problem. With audible click of lock button I can still depress the SOS button, which clicks when I depress it. I uploaded video to Roman Dial Facebook post. Definitely a design failure that lock button clearly does not lock the SOS button.

  12. Small claims court, Nathan? I don't even know if that would apply in Russia.

  13. The issue that motivated me to post on Nathan’s false SOS was Garmin's response to the false SOS, more so that the false SOS.

    A side benefit is that many more people, including me, are now aware of the possibility of a false SOS and may take some precautions to avoid their own expensive, fake rescue.

    However, it seems that (a) Garmin/DeLorme should be more upfront about the issue and (b) rescues are expensive, and false ones even more so.

    Obviously this issue is not new. More importantly is if this issue is not new, and is instead long-standing, well-known, and widespread, then it’s likely DeLorme/Garmin have received complaints from others about this issue of false SOS.

    And maybe many others who got stuck with a bill. A bill that they think DeLorme/Garmin is responsible for in some sense.

    But DeLorme/Garmin is pointing out that we apparently agree to paying for false rescues caused by their faulty devices as stated in their “27 pages” (or whatever it is) of terms and conditions.

    That's the issue that makes me want to quit using the device. Not the fact that I can easily pad the device, or carry a case, or whatever the mechanical solution might be.

  14. I will have to test my InReach to see if it has this issue. I don't know if this is bad practice but I usually don't have my InReach on when it is in my pack to save battery life. I figure I can easily turn it on if I needed to use the SOS. It is fast and easy to turn on. This would ensure that the SOS would not be accidentally activated. The only time I turn it on is in the evening around camp when I send my wife a message and check if she has sent me anything. I did not see that anyone else simply leaves it turned off. But yeah, it is a bummer that DeLorme/Garmin even sells a device with this kind of known defect.

    1. Some report that the SOS can be activated with the device in the OFF position.

    2. Wow, the SOS can be activated when the device is off? I had no idea. I'll be testing mine asap.

  15. This is my favorite, most concise response to this inReach fail as distilled by another packrafter: "Spread the word, the InReach SE device is defective. The device sends an SOS even in locked and off positions. Even after software update.

    Garmin is trying to sweep this under the rug. They claim I must have broken it and say they will replace mine for $150!

    Tell Garmin to replace yours for FREE!"

  16. Ouray Mountain Rescue Team responded to a personal emergency GPS beacon (Spot, InReach) last Saturday on Mt. Sneffels. This turned out to be a false alarm where the individual's device was activated in their pack inadvertently. These devices are great for emergency situations, but make sure you know how to use one before you take it into the field. This false alarm cost OMRT $400 in damages to one of our vehicles, & risked the lives of rescuers. This was the second such call in a week under similar circumstances. Be smart out there!

  17. I have a DeLorme InReach SE purchased in May 2014. If the lock is fully engaged (hard pressure to the right until it clicks audibly, which is pretty hard to do on my unit) the SOS button will not engage even with fairly strong pressure from my finger. It won't even budge. I wonder if there's a bad batch of units out there?

    1. Same here, the button wont budge if the lock is engaged. Got mine in 2016.

  18. I received an email, too:

    "Hi there!

    This year I hiked the PCT in the USA and carried a DeLorme InReach.

    To cut a very long story short, I can assure 100% that my InReach has EXACTLY the same design flaw.

    When I press the SOS button (EVEN IN LOCK POSITION, AND EVEN IF THE DEVICE IS TURNED OFF!!), the SOS will be triggered.

    A friend of mine who hiked with me had the same case as you do. (I assume he will write you as well, as he is the one who sent me your blog entry). His alarm was triggered while the SOS button was locked and the device turned off. It happened at night while he was sleeping (his device was in his tent).

    After this incident I tested my device, to see whether it is really possible to trigger an alarm even in LOCK position and EVEN if it is switched off (which is even more shocking!). And sure enough it triggered an alarm.

    I have already signed off my contract, so I can't send you a video. But I am happy to certify that this is exactly what happens with my device. Which I should now send back to Garmin as well, now that I realize that this definitely is a design flaw which they need to know about!!!

    Let me know if you need anything from me that helps your case!

    Regards, Heidi"

  19. I triggered a false SOS with the InReach in my pack and turned off Saturday. Fortunately , I was literally 10 minutes from coming in to cell service, and got a text message about the SOS as well as a call and was able to tell people false alarm no rescue needed.

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  21. First week of December 2017 I had a erroneous SOS signal sent out while I was on a backcountry ski trip in Cooke City Montana. Local Search and Rescue were dispatched and came right to our location. My GPS coordinates were being shared with them. Luckily I was not charged for the dispatch. When I opened my backpack I was shocked to see that the InReach was in SOS mode despite the screen being locked and the SOS button in the locked position. I felt absolutely terrible and really angry. Someone died in an avalanche a couple of days before and the SAR people were on edge. The SAR team were volunteer and had to leave their jobs and shops to respond to the call. I consider the unit defective and think that users of it should be upgraded to a newer model at no cost. I have another friend who had his inReach activate while in a back pack and his unit was shut-off!!!

  22. We need to put pressure on Garmin to acknowledge and fix this.
    Contact your state consumer protection agency.

    Write a review where you bought the product. Or tell the shop owners.

    Tell your local rescue agency, police, troopers etc. they can’t ( or shouldn’t ) ignore an SOS but at least they can pass the word when people ask what tools to buy.

  23. For looking at this from a legal standpoint, I would to other cases at devices failing and causing harm (physical or financial) even if they stated they were not liable. First one that comes to mind is the case of a Taser. They state their device can't harm someone but it can. Garmin says their device can not be activated with the safety but it can. It's on totally different levels but just because they state it in there limitation of liability having knowledge of this issue and not making it know makes them therefore liable for such instances. It is also interesting how in there limitations of liability they don't state anything about wrongful activation, just of complete failures of the device.

  24. I had this happen to me this past weekend on an overnight paddle trip with a group. I had been tracking our trip, turned off the tracking and took my unit and gear to where I was setting up camp. My Unit was in LOCK position. As I am setting up my camp I hear a ringing coming from my unit. The message stated an SOS has been sent are you ok. I was not even near the inreach, Myself and another owner of the same GPS unit could not figure out how to reply, we reset it, and no luck, finally my friend figured out how to get out of that screen to the sos screen to reply. By then it was too late, spouse had been called and help dispatched, we had 6 vehicles show up across the river, from Sheriff to fire department. It certainly was not as direct as they state in the manual.

    The problem is I carry this unit as I have a disease that my body does not produce cortisol, in other words when there is an adrenilan producing emergency my body does not produce the cortisol but uses the meds I have taken for that time period. Due to the stress of the entire ordeal, the next day I started going down hill even though I tried to take more medicine to over come it, by Sunday night at home I was crashing and started to go into crisis on Monday.

  25. Garmin InReach Explorer plus: SOS-Button works fine, but no positioning in valleys, canyons, rock, forest. I tested 6 receivers at the same time and location, Garmin was the worst. GPS on my smartphone (iPhone SE) worked better.

  26. Hi Roman,

    As recently as June, I worked at the National Park Service Dispatch Center for all of the parks in Alaska. I served at this dispatch center for over 7-years. As the centralized dispatch, we organize our agencies us of inReach and receive emergency signals from IRECC for our agency.

    Back in 2017, I was forwarded your post and took heed. I contacted Garmin to learn more, though they only provided a nominal buy back offer as a enterprise account, and to advise field staff accordingly.

    As you know Garmin changed the inReach design a bit before this discovery and since the redesign, I have not heard much more about false activations. However this year we have had a number of accidental activations in Denali and on the mountain itself. One hypothesis is more devices, more accidentals, but I happened upon this podcast by Radio Lab that suggests that cosmic rays might be at work. Furthermore, a device like an inReach is not expensive enough to necessarily get a redundant system, which could explain why they may trigger with out any force at all, new or old style.

    If this has already occurred to you or been shared, great! I could not pass the opportunity to forward it along in case your readers find it helpful.


    Brian Napier

    Healy, AK


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