FAQs - Avalanche Beacons/Transceivers

What type of downloadable Tracker how-to videos, product manuals, and resources are available?

What's the difference between the Tracker4, Tracker3, and Tracker S avalanche beacon models?

Please view the Tracker4, Tracker3+, and Tracker S product pages (which include a features comparison chart), and watch the video to learn about the differences between these avalanche beacon models.

Are there any software updates available for Tracker avalanche transceivers?

Currently, there are software updates only available for certain models of the Tracker2 and Tracker3.

Why should I use an avalanche beacon?

Traveling in avalanche terrain has inherent risks due to the distance from organized assistance should an emergency occur. In the event of an avalanche burial, the only chance of survival is through "companion rescue," or immediate recovery by a member of your party. When no visual signs (i.e., exposed body parts) are evident, transceivers are the only proven effective way to locate a completely buried victim while he or she is still alive. Everyone in your party should wear a transceiver and know how to operate it.

Do I need to take an avalanche safety course to use my beacon?

Technically, no --- practically, YES! No avalanche beacon can save lives without a fully trained user. Practice frequently with your Tracker before going into the backcountry. Learn and understand the inherent dangers of backcountry travel. Become educated in avalanche hazard evaluation, route selection, and self-rescue. In addition to your beacon, always carry a probe and shovel – and always travel with a partner. A beacon may or may not save your life if you get caught in an avalanche. To take an on-snow avalanche course, see our avalanche educators page.

What makes the BCA Tracker the easiest to use avalanche transceiver?

The BCA Tracker is the easiest-to-operate avalanche beacon because of its rapid processor and simple user interface. A real-time, digital display shows both direction and distance with bright red LEDs (light-emitting diodes). The distance is shown in meters, and indicator lights display the direction at the top of the beacon. It's easy to think of meters as "yards" and even easier to make sure the numbers decrease as you are searching with your Tracker. BCA Tracker avalanche transceivers do not require user interpretation. Instead, the beacon processes the information filters extraneous data, then clearly shows a searcher the direction and distance to the buried victim. While the Tracker is easy to use, practice is essential for a successful companion rescue. Remember, locating the person is only the first step in rescuing an avalanche victim. Shoveling is the most time-intensive component of any avalanche rescue.

Is the Tracker compatible with other avalanche transceivers?

Yes, BCA Tracker avalanche transceivers are compatible with any avalanche transceiver produced after 1996 using the 457kHz international frequency standard.

Does the Tracker meet international standards for avalanche transceivers?

The Tracker has been third-party tested (by TUV Product Service) to meet all the requirements of the European EN 300718 standard. This includes tests for durability, immersion, transmit power, receive range, and battery life. See the EU Declaration of Conformity.

Do cell phones affect Tracker avalanche beacons?

Yes, but only if the items are close to each other. Do not place cell phones, communication radios, GPS devices, digital cameras, or any other electronic equipment within 50 cm (20 inches) of your Tracker while performing a transceiver search. In search mode, irregular readings decrease range. Multiple burial indications can be caused by these devices and other sources of electrical interference, such as power lines, electrical storms, and electrical generating equipment. In transmit mode, keep your Tracker at least 20 cm (8 inches) from other electronic equipment or large metal objects.

Will cold weather affect the performance of the Tracker digital display?

No, cold weather will not affect the digital display on the Tracker avalanche transceiver. The LED display of the BCA Tracker avalanche transceiver increases in efficiency with decreasing temperature, unlike LCD displays, which can become sluggish in the cold.

How do I test my avalanche beacon to make sure it's functioning properly?

Before each use, you should make sure your beacon is transmitting and receiving correctly and that your digital display is lighting up correctly. The best way to conduct this is with your partner before you head out. This is commonly referred to as a "Trailhead Check." We recommend that you take an avalanche course and learn how to do this.

What does the series of codes that show on the Tracker LED screen indicate?

"99" – Battery power percentage number (or any two-digit number)

"Lb" – Low battery warning

"Tr/tr" – Transmit Mode (mode when sending out a signal)

"SE" – Search Mode (mode when receiving a signal)

"Ar" – Auto-revert Mode (mode used when having to perform a search in a dangerous area where a second avalanche is still possible)

"LO" – All sounds muted mode.

"SS" – Signal Suppression (mode used to help solve complex multiple burials)

"SP" – Special Mode (mode shows when the yellow SP button is held down) – Tracker S and Tracker 2 models only.

"BP" – Big Picture (mode used to help solve complex multiple burials) – Tracker 3 and Tracker 4 models only.

How do you turn on Transmit mode ("tr)?

From the 'Off' position, pull the sliding lock in the direction of the arrow and turn the dial switch on top of the Tracker to the transmit position (Figure D). The battery life is then shown as a percentage in the distance/battery power display. On the Tracker3 and Tracker S, the battery life will be shown in the distance/battery power display. Additionally, the Tracker4 will illuminate a battery symbol in the upper right-hand corner and a percentage symbol next to the number. When in transmit mode, the Tracker cannot be turned to off or search without pulling back the sliding lock.

Note: the battery percentage is approximate. Replace batteries reaching 40 percent.

How do you turn on Search mode ("SE")? 

Pull the sliding lock and rotate the dial switch to the search position. In search mode, the display will periodically flash "SE" until a signal is detected. Upon detecting a transmitting signal, Tracker will begin to display distance and directional readings. At distances of less than two meters, the directional lights are no longer shown.

Return to transmit: When in search mode, the sliding lock does not need to be moved in order to return to transmit mode. Simply rotate the switch back to the transmit position. The Tracker will beep and flash "TR/tr" before it begins to transmit. After 30 minutes in search mode, Tracker will beep every two minutes. After approximately 12 hours in transmit mode, it will beep every two minutes.

Why do the Tracker avalanche transceivers have "auto revert" (Ar) mode?

Auto-revert is beneficial when having to perform a search in a dangerous area where a second avalanche is still possible. If your Tracker is in auto-revert and you are in search mode, it will revert back to transmit if it hasn't moved for more than one minute. Even if you are moving, it will still revert back to transmit after five minutes. This means that if you get buried while searching, but you're struggling to get an air pocket, the Trackers motion sensor won't prevent it from eventually going back to transmit (Trackers is the only transceiver on the market that offers this redundancy). Remember, you need to determine if the situation is safe for you before you begin any search! More likely, auto-revert will come in handy if you do a trailhead test at the beginning of your tour, but you forget to go back into transmit. Auto revert mode will automatically switch your Tracker back to TR/tr (transmit) if the searcher remains in search mode for an extended period.

  • Tracker S detects inactivity (no interaction with buttons) and sets a five-minute timer to revert the beacon to transmit automatically.
  • Tracker3 and Tracker4 use an accelerometer for auto revert. If there is one minute without motion, the beacon will automatically revert to transmit. If the accelerometer detects constant motion, a secondary five-minute timer will automatically revert the beacon to transmit.

An alarm will sound 30 seconds before the unit returns to transmit mode. This can be avoided by pressing the Options button or turning the dial switch before the 30-second warning period has elapsed. Auto revert mode is activated by holding down the Options button while turning on the device, in either transmit or search mode. You must continue to hold down the Options button until "Ar" is shown on the display. Before "Ar" is shown, other diagnostics will be displayed, including the software version number and battery power percentage. If choosing to use auto revert, it must be activated every time the unit is turned on. Otherwise the unit can only be switched to transmit mode manually.

Can the sound be muted on the Tracker?

The sound in Search mode can be muted by pressing the Options button while switching from transmit to search mode. "LO" will appear in the display, and all sounds assisting the search function are muted.

What happens when the 'Low Battery' (Lb) code comes up on the Tracker display?

When the battery power becomes too low to operate, the transceiver will display the "Lb" sign. When you see this, replace the batteries before further use. When batteries are too low to do startup routines, a simple "Lb" will blink on the display. Mismatched batteries can act unpredictably at various temperatures, and low batteries can die unexpectedly fast. Thus, we strongly recommend changing batteries once the battery power indicator reaches 40 percent. NOTE: Never mix new and used batteries in your transceiver–or batteries of mixed brands. Never use lithium or rechargeable batteries. These may all lead to an inaccurate battery power indication

How long will the battery power last on a Tracker?

Minimum 1 hour in search mode after 200 hours in transmit mode (approximately 250 hours in transmit only, or 50 hours in search only). This is the standard all beacons are required to pass for European approval.

What kind of batteries can I use in a Tracker?

Use AAA alkaline batteries only. Do not use rechargeable, lithium, Oxyride, PowerPix, or any other non-alkaline battery. Batteries should be removed during long periods of inactivity, for example, during the summer.

What is signal suppression (SS) mode?

Signal Suppression mode suppresses the strongest signal and shows the searcher the second strongest signal, including directional arrows. Always stay in standard search mode when searching for the first transmitter. Once the first victim has been located, and your fine search is complete, you are ready to use Signal Suppression. Signal Suppression mode is activated by pressing the Options button until "SS" is shown on the display. To enter Signal Suppression mode, the 'Options' button must be released before "BP" is displayed. The multiple victim icon will flash alternately while in SS mode. Suppression of the strongest signal will last for one minute, giving the searcher time to move away from the suppressed signal and lock on to the next transmitter. The Tracker will automatically default from suppression mode to standard search mode after one minute. This can also be done manually, by pressing the Options button until "SE" is displayed. When returning to search mode, the multiple victim icon will stop flashing, and the Tracker will isolate the strongest signal. NOTE: Signal suppression can be unreliable when attempting to suppress older analog transceivers.

What is Big Picture Mode (BP) on the Tracker4 and Tracker3 models?

Big Picture mode is the closest thing to an analog transceiver in the digital world. It displays distances and directions of all the transceivers that are transmitting within range. With Big Picture mode, you can estimate how many transceivers are in the search area along with their approximate direction. You can also perform a search in BP mode, but always remember to return to normal search mode during the fine search when you're getting close to the victim. Big Picture mode is activated by holding down the Options button until "BP" flashes in the display. You must continue to hold down the Options button to stay in BP mode. Once the mode button is released, the Tracker will automatically return to search mode and isolate the strongest signal. NOTE: When switching from SS to BP mode (and vice versa), it is necessary to first go back to SE mode.

What is Special mode (SP) on the Tracker 2 models?

Special (SP) mode enables the Tracker to display the distance and direction of signals other than those of the closest beacon. It also reduces the Tracker's search '" window" to the center three directional lights, enabling the searcher to mask out beacon 1 to differentiate it from beacon 2. The Tracker acts like a spotlight with a narrowed vision: approximately 75 degrees in front and in back of the searching beacon. The 75-degree angle corresponds to the Tracker's center three lights. SP mode is used to determine approximately what direction and distance to go to get closer to beacon 2. Once you are closer, always switch back to Search (SE) mode. Remember, SP mode can be susceptible to the same hang-ups as beacons with marking features. To use SP mode, hold the Tracker steady at the lowest possible distance reading. Switch the Tracker to SP mode, then rotate (do not sweep) the Tracker slowly until another signal is detected (beacon2), most likely with a larger distance reading. If the Tracker is rotated more than about 40 degrees away from the signal of beacon 1, that signal will disappear, allowing you to focus on the signal from beacon 2. However, it is possible to capture more than one signal in SP mode. If no other signal is captured in SP mode and you suspect victims are nearby, stand up and try again at chest height. If still no signal is detected, take three steps back and repeat (or revert to SE mode and use the three-circle method).

How well does the Tracker avalanche transceiver perform in multiple burial situations?

Many certified mountain guides throughout the world have successfully used the Tracker to pass their rigorous multiple burial exams. In the U.S, the BCA Tracker holds the record for the fastest multiple avalanche burial search time. Tracker avalanche transceivers are designed to simplify multiple burial situations. Once a signal is found, the Tracker directs the searcher to that signal. If a second transmitter is detected during the search, the Tracker stays on course and continues to guide the user toward the strongest signal. Once the first victim is located and uncovered, the transmitting beacon should be switched off and the search for the next buried individual should begin. In multiple burial situations, it is important to concentrate avalanche rescue efforts on one victim at a time. Research indicates that if a person is rescued from an avalanche in under 15 minutes, the survival rate is 92%; if a person is recovered in less than 35 minutes, the survival rate drops to 35%. If there are enough rescuers to locate and uncover multiple people simultaneously, locate the first victim, then begin another beacon signal search for the additional victims. The Tracker will always direct a searcher to the strongest signal in the area. In rare cases (approximately 1% of complete burials), the victims might be in close proximity to one another (less than ten meters). In these rare instances, it can be helpful to use advanced techniques such as Signal Suppression and Big Picture or the Three Circle Method, which are explained in our Tracker Owner's Manual.

What is a flux line?

Avalanche transceivers emit a signal in a so-called "electromagnetic flux pattern." The shape is similar to the curves of an apple or onion, converging at both ends of the core. When searching with any beacon, you will often find yourself traveling on a curve rather than a straight line. This is because the beacon leads you along the curving "flux lines" or "field lines" of the transmitting beacon.

Do I ever need to send my avalanche beacon in to be recalibrated?

BCA Tracker avalanche transceivers do not need to be recalibrated at any time. However, if you notice misleading signals or any other problems, please visit our warranty service page for a return authorization number. Generally, issues are usually physical, not electronic, and are related to trauma. But rest assured that the Tracker is the most robust and strongest beacon on the market.

My beacon is displaying an error message, what should I do?

Our beacons are not programmed to show error messages, you are most likely seeing the beacon flash ‘tr’ to indicate transmit mode.