The key to safety on the land: be prepared

“Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic”


Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.

These words cannot be repeated often enough for Jimmy Akakvak, the RCMP’s Iqaluit search and rescue media spokesperson, when he’s asked what to do if you find yourself lost on the land.

“I have been lost. It is an awful feeling. Panic set in and I started picturing my family and thinking I wouldn’t make it home,” Akavak said. “But I started breathing, stopped driving around wildly and stayed put until I was found.”

Akavak says the single greatest guarantee of personal safety when going out on the land is to have a plan and stick to it.

“Experienced hunters have a plan,” Akavak said. “If they break down they have a family member or a friend that is going to come get them. We rarely get calls from them.”

The first thing to remember before going hunting or fishing is to leave as much detail as you can with a relative or the local search and rescue office, he said.

Let them know where you plan to go and how long you plan to stay out.

Without this information, if a search is necessary, it puts searchers at an immediate disadvantage.

Nunavut makes up about 20 per cent of Canada’s land mass. But with only 31,000 inhabitants. it isn’t hard for people to get lost.

Akavak says the Iqaluit Search and Rescue committee is involved in about 10 searches a year.

“The hardest thing is when we are involved in a search and rescue and we don’t have any idea what direction a person went in,” Akavak said, “We will start off searching common trails, but it’s all a guessing game.”

And even if searchers can pinpoint where you are, that doesn’t mean they can get to you right away.

If weather conditions are bad, it might take a couple of days until rescuers can even reach you.

“Even if you are only planning to go out for a couple of hours, bring enough gear to last a couple of days,” Akavak said.

Akavak also suggests packing a survival kit with dry soup, hot chocolate and biscuits, and keeping it with your hunting gear all season.

And pack a small shovel, a saw, and a snow knife. These items will be helpful if you need to build a shelter, Akavak said.

“The most important thing to remember is that preparation is the key to coming home again.”

While emergency communication devices, such as satellite phones and GPS units can certainly save your life, Akavak recommends taking a crash course in the proper use of the equipment.

Parks Canada or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada often offer free courses in outdoor survival, he added.

“It is great to have sat phones and GPS, but you have to know how to properly use them for them to be effective,” Akavak said.

While weather can be unpredictable at the best of times, checking for updates and double-checking the weather visually can give you a fairly accurate idea as to what to expect on your trip.

And if you’re travelling on a snowmobile, make sure you do a complete maintenance check a couple days before you go out.

This will give you time to fix any mechancial problems before you leave.

And the last thing Akavak wants people to remember before heading out is to go with a friend or two.

That’s because most searches involve people who have set out by themselves.

“Having someone with you increases your chances of everyone coming home safely,” Akavak said.

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