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From Grizzly Bears to Plane Crashes: Garmin SOS Data Reveals Latest Rescue Trends

An increase in driving-related SOS calls shows the benefit of having a GPS device when cellular service and 911 calls aren't possible, Garmin said.

garmin report mapA map showing the locations of Garmin SOS calls in 2023; (image/Garmin)
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The fastest-growing Garmin rescue call has nothing to do with hiking. In fact, the biggest increase in SOS calls from Garmin devices in 2023 came from driving-related incidents. That’s one of the major takeaways of the company’s annual inReach SOS report, which highlights trends of the past year.

While hiking and backpacking remain the most common activities for activating an SOS, driving and motorcycle incidents came in second place, and are growing more quickly. Don’t expect exact numbers, however, as Garmin declined to release any hard statistics in its report “for competitive reasons,” a spokesperson said.

Regardless, the report sheds light on rescue trends around the world, with SOS-triggered responses occurring on six continents, nearly 100 countries, and three different oceans. Causes of SOS triggers range from plane crashes and grizzly bear encounters to sinking sailboats, skiers in avalanches, stranded divers, and injured climbers.

“Behind these SOS incidents and rescues are dedicated emergency responders giving their time and energy to helping others,” Garmin said in the report.

The above graph shows what activities people were doing when they activated an SOS call in 2023; (graph/Garmin)

Garmin inReach SOS Report: Highlights

The increase in SOS calls for driving-related SOS incidents emphasizes “the importance of having an inReach on hand for situations when cell phone coverage is lacking,” Garmin said in the report. Specific reasons for those incidents include stranded or lost drivers, though boating accidents or wildfire reports ranked high as well.

“This is another benefit over relying solely on cell and basic 911 capabilities,” the report said.

Many SOS incidents were for the actual inReach user. However, over one-half were for a Garmin user’s party member or a third-party individual. In many cases, just the phone call to trained Garmin Response staff was enough to resolve the situation. That allowed inReach users to self-rescue nearly 10% of the time.

This graph shows the reasons why people actually triggered their SOS calls in 2023; (graph/Garmin)

Other big SOS increases came from climbing/mountaineering and fishing. Common activities for SOS calls also include boating, snowmobiling, camping, hunting, skiing/snowboarding, and off-roading.

In general, the top reason for SOS triggers was injuries, such as broken bones, lacerations, or blunt force trauma from a fall. The second most common reason was for medical issues, with top examples including altitude sickness, heart problems, or gastrointestinal issues.

While there were plenty of local police and ambulance services triggered by inReach SOS calls on major interstate highways, Garmin devices are clearly used nearly everywhere. That’s even for helicopter rescues on Mount Everest.

In 2022, Garmin reached its 10,000th inReach SOS call since it began tracking them in 2011. In a report with specific stats about those calls, hiking/backpacking represented 39% of all SOS triggers. Driving incidents accounted for 12%.

For more details, check out Garmin’s full SOS data report on the brand’s website. For more information about backcountry communication and rescue devices, see GearJunkie’s guide to Backcountry Communication. Or, if you’re shopping for SOS devices, read our guides to the Best Handheld GPS Devices and the Best Satellite Messengers.

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