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Garmin responds: S.O.S. lock switch failure on inReach SE & Explorer

Last month on Roman’s blog you may have read a report by and plea for help from Nathan Shoutis, about his experience with faulty S.O.S. lock switches on the DeLorme inReach SE and Explorer. He also shared his experience in a comment on this blog.

The short story is that while on an 18-day packrafting trip in Kamchatka, Russia, Nathan unintentionally sent an SOS message with his inReach, despite the lock switch being engaged. A helicopter “rescue” and a $4,400 bill ensued.

The concern is that this could be a widespread design flaw with the DeLorme inReach SE and Explorer, which have been since replaced by the Garmin inReach SE+ and Explorer+ but which still remain in widespread use. In these two videos, watch how an SOS message can be initiated even with the lock switch engaged:

Thankfully, the lock switch on my personal DeLorme Explorer appears to work properly:

What action you should take

Given Nathan’s experience and possibly that of others, I recommend that you:

  1. Confirm that the SOS lock switch works properly on your unit.
  2. Check regularly in the field that the SOS lock switch is engaged, noted by an audible click-to-lock sound.

The concern only pertains to the DeLorme inReach SE and Explorer. I know of no issues with the newer SE+ and Explorer+.

With all inReach devices (original and + versions), when carrying the device inside your backpack, I recommend that you enable the Screen Lock, which will greatly reduce the risk of unintentional button presses and an accidental SOS initiation. Personally, I have heard my device turn on (and then turn off, once the Screen Lock kicks in) multiple times inside my backpack, especially when packing or rummaging through my backpack.

Garmin’s response

When I received Nathan’s comment, I forwarded it to my Garmin contact, who is the Senior Product Manager that overseas the inReach program. He later sent me a response that can be shared with those interested in this issue.

Garmin’s response is thorough, but it does not address or acknowledge documented cases of faulty SOS switches, as demonstrated in the videos linked earlier and as claimed by Nathan. Therefore, I recommend that you still check your personal device to confirm that the lock switch works properly.


We want our inReach users to know that we take customer feedback very seriously and want to share the following information about the inReach SE and Explorer, the SOS Lock, and the ways that emergencies can be declared with the device.

The inReach SE and Explorer use a slider to prevent the SOS button from being accidentally pressed when in a backpack. To open the SOS Button Lock the user needs to press in on the slider and then push the slider to the left to release the SOS button. To close the SOS Button Lock the user needs to push the slider all the way to the right and click it into place. It is important to confirm that the SOS Button Lock is properly closed, we say “click it to lock it” to ensure that the lock is fully engaged.

There are two ways to trigger an SOS message with the inReach SE and Explorer.

The first method uses the SOS Button Lock and SOS Button previously described. During an emergency, the user can unlock the SOS button, press and hold the SOS button for five seconds, and then observe that a 20 second countdown timer announces that an emergency message is about to be sent. The user has 20 seconds to cancel this message and prevent notification from going to our search and rescue dispatch center, otherwise the emergency message will automatically send at the end of the countdown.

The second method of triggering an SOS involves the inReach Home screen and the SOS button shown in the lower-right corner of the page. The user can select the SOS page and follow a series of dialogs that lets them confirm that they have an emergency and want to send an SOS message.

While these methods for declaring an SOS have built-in safety precautions, there are times when users accidentally send an emergency message.

1. One type of accidental SOS message that we have observed can occur when the user has not properly engaged the SOS Button Lock. If the user has opened their SOS Button Lock to explore the slider mechanism but then failed to properly “click it to lock it” before their trip, they are at risk of accidentally pressing the unlocked SOS button. This is why the packaging, instruction text, and support site emphasize the “click it to lock it” process. We describe it on the opening flap of the inReach box and then again in the Quick Start Guide.

2. A second potential for an accidental SOS occurs if the user places the device in their backpack, powered on, without the Screen Lock engaged. This would allow accidental button presses to move the highlight around the Home screen and potentially access the SOS page. Keep in mind that there are five button presses that need to happen in a specific order and in a specific timeframe without any errant button presses for an accidental SOS to be declared. Given this potential, we strongly encourage people to keep their Screen Lock enabled if they plan to hike with their inReach in their backpack where it could be bumped.

3. If a significant amount of force is put on the SOS button, the plastics of the SOS Button Lock can be deformed to cause the button cover to touch the internal SOS button. If this significant level of force is maintained for the 5 second “press and hold” duration needed to declare an emergency the SOS countdown timer will trigger. We have verified this process and confirmed that the amount of force necessary to trigger the SOS is considerably greater than could be expected in a normal use case, so great that it is approaching a level that would damage the screen and display lens too.

We want to emphasize that the device was not designed for users to bypass the SOS lock by pressing with enough force to deform the plastics and trigger the alert.

We understand that a small group of users have triggered an accidental SOS. We encourage users to:

  • Double check your gear before leaving, to make sure the SOS button has been moved all the way to the right, into the “click it to lock it” position.
  • Enable the Screen Lock, especially if you carry the inReach SE or Explorer in a location where it could have accidental buttons presses
  • Avoid placing their inReach satellite communication device in a location where it may be subject to undue pressure on the device, as one would with all electronic devices. While it is a rugged device, it is also an important piece of technology and should not be stressed under the weight of heavy objects in your pack.

We believe that following these precautions will ensure the inReach functions properly for messaging and tracking and that it is available to help should an emergency occur, all without the risk of accidentally sending any messages, emergency or otherwise, while being carried in a pack.

Please direct any additional questions regarding the inReach SE or Explorer to Garmin’s Customer Care team at [email protected]

21 Responses to Garmin responds: S.O.S. lock switch failure on inReach SE & Explorer

  1. Nathan Shoutis October 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm #

    This is Nathan from the above mentioned unintentional SOS with the lock slider clicked into place. I’d like to add a few things to Garmin’s response.

    While the advice that Garmin gives is helpful, it does not address the fundamental problem. There is a design flaw that allows the SOS signal to be triggered with a minimal amount of force, with the lock slider fully clicked in place and the lock screen also engaged. This occurs with relatively little force on the SOS button, nothing close to an amount that causes the plastic to deform. I recommend that you double check your device to see if you are able to trigger an SOS with the lock slider FULLY CLICKED INTO PLACE.

    From devices I’ve personally tested, reports online, and people who’ve emailed me, here are the numbers of people with issues so far:

    Able to easily trigger an SOS with normal button pressure and lock slider clicked in: 21
    Able to trigger an SOS with significant button pressure and lock slider clicked in: 6
    Will not trigger with SOS lock on: 12
    inReach turned on in pack or activated SOS in pack or luggage: 6 (including mine)

    Garmin is not addressing or acknowledging this issue, and this response from them has only come after much discussion online with other users experiencing the design flaw. This response from Garmin is not nearly enough–this is putting lives at risk.

    If you have a device that is not behaving as described by Garmin’s engineers, please:

    – leave a post about it.
    – contact Garmin
    – contact me at “shoutdiggity at hotmail.com”. Unless Garmin does more to acknowledge the design flaw and notify users, I will be pursing further action. This product flaw is actively putting users and rescuers in dangerous situations.

    Here are links to further discussion:

    https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/delorme-inreach-lock-failure/#post-3492636
    https://www.facebook.com/ouraymountainrescue/posts/2074244852830684
    http://www.9news.com/news/false-alarms-on-the-rise-for-search-and-rescue-teams/481204929
    https://www.facebook.com/KCPublicSafety/posts/1945864642097455
    https://www.reddit.com/r/Ultralight/comments/70hc70/inreach_fail_the_roaming_dials/
    https://packrafting.blogspot.com/2017/09/inreach-fail.html?showComment=1506203902824#c7593937013227305894
    http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8025522&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0
    http://packrafting.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=31&p=14744&sid=13ec950e65658401916a0bbee811eb1b#p14744

    • Bob S. October 9, 2017 at 12:23 am #

      The issue with the SOS lock button on my Explorer is sometimes it takes several attempts to get it to click into the lock position. I’ve only had the lock button become disengaged once and I have no idea how it happened or how long it had been that way. I now follow Garmin’s recommendations, verify the lock button is locked in place as part of my gear checklist and verify that the unit is off in my pack and I keep it in a padded case. When it is on it is usually clipped onto the outside of my pack. I use my inReach Explorer daily and it has exceeded my expectations in all ways except for the lock button. So far, it has not sent an erroneous SOS but it’s always in the back of my mind it could happen.

      My best guess is Garmin does not have a fix or it is too expensive to issue a recall. If Garmin wanted to keep their customers happy they could offer a $150 buy-back for the SE and $175 for the Explorer toward the purchase of a new inReach. Garmin probably makes most of their money off subscriptions and even though I have a Freedom plan I would be willing to sign a 1 year contract if I could replace my current explorer with the newer model for under $300.

  2. Doug October 9, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

    I have an InReach SE and my device is also malfunctioning, While it is turned OFF and absolutely in the SOS locked position I am able to apply moderate pressure to the SOS button and the device turns itself on and sends out an SOS.

    I have contacted Garmin and there reply was useless and they did not admit that this is a serious flaw.

    They should be offering a fix or a full refund–PERIOD–

  3. R V October 11, 2017 at 3:15 am #

    I see the same behavior as Doug above on my Inreach Explorer.

  4. 205guy October 12, 2017 at 8:43 pm #

    I don’t have any skin in this game, no InReach, but I used to have a DeLorme GPS and just bought a Garmin one to replace it. So I am interested in product failures by these companies and seeing how they respond. So I’m glad you’re brining up the topic, adding your experiences, and getting more responses from Garmin.

    However, from my understanding, your video does not show you testing the failure mode (otherwise it’s a fine InReach how-to). You’re supposed to engage the lock and then hold the button pressed for 5+ seconds. Maybe you did that, but you didn’t write about it either. Under “What Action Should You Take,” I also suggest modifying your 2 points:

    1. Confirm *whether or not* the SOS lock switch works properly on your unit. It seems like a large number (maybe 50%) of users are reporting the failure.

    2a. If your lock switch works, check regularly in the field that the SOS lock switch is engaged, noted by an audible click-to-lock sound.

    2b. If your lock switch doesn’t work, contact Garmin and wait for a response, and also improvise a cover over it in the meantime.

    • mkt42 October 13, 2017 at 6:04 pm #

      “You’re supposed to engage the lock and then hold the button pressed for 5+ seconds.”

      Eh? Where in the instructions does it say to hold the button for five seconds? Here’s what the instructions say:

      “Slide left to unlock and slide right until you HEAR IT CLICK to lock it! If you do not HEAR IT CLICK, then the SOS is not locked.”

      And that’s exactly what they did in the video. Yet the InReach started to send out an SOS despite being locked with the audible click.

      That said, my InReach Explorer does not send out SOS messages when it’s locked. So I am happy with it so far. (I only started using it in August.)

      • 205guy October 16, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

        To test the failure mode (locked but still triggering an SOS), you have to lock it and then hold the button for 5+ seconds, as demonstrated by the *linked* videos. In Andrew Skurka’s own *embedded* video, he does not do this (he taps it once or twice, without holding it down), yet he seems to claim the video demonstrates that ” the lock switch on my personal DeLorme Explorer appears to work properly.”

  5. MikeW October 13, 2017 at 8:09 pm #

    I have a brand new Delorme InReach Explorer purchased Aug 26 2017. With the sliding lock fully engaged and the unit powered OFF, applying very modest pressure on the SOS button for 5-10 seconds powers on the unit and triggers the sending of an SOS message.

    Sorry Garmin but I’m talking very modest pressure on the button…not “enough force to deform the plastics and trigger the alert.”

  6. Dan Durston October 15, 2017 at 9:19 pm #

    My InReach SE will also send an SOS when it is off and the lock clicked into place. It takes a decent but not unreasonable amount of force.

  7. Sandy Sandelin October 17, 2017 at 11:24 pm #

    I did the test and my InReach SE failed. It was off and the lock was audibly clicked in to position. With a bit off pressure ,but certainly not plastic case and button deforming, it turned itself on and started the SOS process. I’ll have to be careful where I stow it and how I put my pack down. Not cool Garmin.

    My apologies to Dan D who I sent a reply thinking I was replying here. What a noob I am.

    Andrew, thanks for all the great info and inspiration get out there.

  8. John October 19, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

    I guess my question is…..so nobody hears the alarm when the SOS goes off? Why is it buried in your backpack so that you can’t hear it? What if you become separated from your backpack?

    • Steve October 22, 2017 at 8:33 am #

      Because some of us travel by motorcycle. Mine turned on while riding through Colombia. I was able to cancel with when my girlfriend sent me a text freaking out because delorme called her.

  9. Jeroen October 20, 2017 at 2:52 pm #

    My SE does not show this behavior, and it’s from June 2014 so an early production run.

  10. Scott Anderson October 22, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

    I own the Explorer and confirmed this flaw today. I did this after partaking in a Search & Rescue mission this morning that started with an InReach SOS. 7 volunteers on 4 ATVs and a Flight for Life helicopter were all deployed into the field to respond to this SOS. It was a false trigger. This is the 3rd false triggered InReach that our team has responded to in the past 18 months.

    If Garmin doesn’t address this issue and get it fixed someone is going to get hurt or die in a rescue attempt for no reason.

  11. Gerry Brucia October 29, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    I tested my Explorer SE and I too was able to trigger the SOS with only modest pressure when “locked”. To prevent an accidental trigger, I cut a piece of clear rigid plastic from some plastic packaging that I detest. I then cut a piece to size and secured the two ends with a strip of tenacious tape, leaving the bottom untaped so that in an emergency the strip is not too difficult to remove. I will contact Garmin to add my voice to everyone else’s since this problem is serious and should not be ignored. But in the meantime, I want piece of mind to know that I will not accidentally trigger an SOS on my unit.

  12. David Alxander October 30, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    What a disappointing non-answer from Garmin. Glad you’re covering this though, I will be checking my unit. Wish Garmin would acknowledge the design flaw being demonstrated in the video and offer some assistance to other users who may find their units defective.

  13. Michael Sauer November 7, 2017 at 8:39 am #

    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!!!

    • Andrew Skurka November 7, 2017 at 8:40 am #

      Was this recent?

      • Michael Sauer November 7, 2017 at 8:40 am #

        First week of December, 2017

  14. BCap November 24, 2017 at 7:46 pm #

    Just dug my inreach out to reactivate for solo winter hiking. Just tested it and, Wow… that really is easy to trigger. Glad it never auto triggered on the PCT since I sure wasn’t that careful. I will definitely be taping a piece of hard plastic over that button for insurance.

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