A handheld, submersible, Marine VHF Radio on high power is probably the best equipment you can have for reaching help in case of emergency. The VHF has a 5-mile line of sight capacity and there are Coast Guard radio-tower repeaters positioned around PWS, except not in Blackstone Bay, Harriman Fjord, or Icy Bay/Nassau Fjord. The VHF will allow you to contact passing boats or try to reach the Coast Guard directly. Be aware that you might have to climb a hill, go to other side of a point, or paddle to the head of the bay to make contact.
The Coast Guard monitors channel 16 and works channel 22. Once you contact them they’ll establish a communication plan, telling you how often to check in, or that they’ll contact you when they’re getting close. You can check the weather twice a day on Channel 2 or 3 (4 a.m./4 p.m.).
The high-power setting on a VHF is at 25 watts. A VHF battery pack can be expected to last for 8 hours, but you should still have a spare. Many guide services and outfitters rent these for @$20 a day and include a spare battery. You can buy a Marine VHF Radio for $200 - $400.
Cell phones work up to 10 miles out of Whittier, but reception fails once you pass Squirrel Point and enter Passage Canal. The only other place with sporadic reception is in the area of Main Bay & Eshmay Bay Lodge on the west shore of Dangerous Passage directly west of Knight Island. You can’t really rely on cell phone reception anywhere else in PWS, especially as your main form of emergency communication.
Satellite phone reception in PWS is generally reliable, but comes and goes. There are no places where you’re guaranteed to get a signal at any given time. Chances increase if you have openings in the bay or the mountains to the south.
S.P.O.T. Satellite Messenger is a compact, hand-held, beacon that sends brief messages over the internet. You can send messages of ‘911’, ‘Help’ (for non-life threatening), and ‘Check-in, OK’. It’s also capable of sending transmissions on Google Maps. These are functional, but kayakers should not depend on S.P.O.T. as their primary emergency communication. If a signal does get through, families can relay google transmission locations to search and rescue, but it’s hard for responders to convert latitude/longitude information from S.P.O.T. decives to the degrees, minutes, and seconds used by their navigational gear. Another problem is not being able to contact boat and air rescuers who are operating without an internet signal along the mountainous coast, especially in nasty conditions. S.P.O.T.s cost about $150.