Technical Rope Rescue Communications

Key Concepts:

  1. Be able to recite all the key terms listed under Technical Rope Rescue Communication Basics
  2. Understand and be able to list or define the SUDOT whistle command system

Effective communication can make or break a rescue mission. Due to ineffective communication, I have witnessed hasty teams respond to the incorrect field site, lacking proper medical equipment for a call, unwanted ambulances staging for subjects not requiring ambulances, not enough ropes for a mission, and a plethora of other frustrating mishaps that added to the difficulty of the mission. In this chapter, I will discuss several important communication principles that can help your team communicate more effectively.

Radio Communication

Communication over handheld UHF/VHF and 800 radios is very common in mountain rescue. Small 5-watt handheld radio transmissions can be very limited by mountainous terrain requiring a direct line of sight communication unless there are radio repeaters nearby that can boost the radio transmission power and relay the transmission. When transmitting on a particular channel, remember that the channel is now closed to everyone else, meaning only one person can speak at a time. If you accidentally key the transmit button without knowing it no one else can use that channel. So based on this, radio communication should be short and sweet. Think about want you are going to say before you broadcast your transmission over the radio that literally hundreds of people may be listening to.

*All radio’s used in vertical environments should be secured with a leash or lanyard to prevent accidental drops.

Technical Rope Rescue Communication Basics

Each team or group should identify the terminology and signals they will use in their rescue operation.  If this hasn’t been determined ahead of time figure this out during the ABCs of your over the edge checklist (under F:  Formulate a plan).

Technical Rope Rescue Terminology

Quiet All rescuers prepare for the technical operation.  No “small talk”, everyone focus.
Main Ready? The Mainline operator confirms he has a climber or rescuer on belay and is attentive.
Belay Ready? Belayer confirms he has a climber or rescuer on belay and is attentive.
Litter Ready? Litter attendant or rescuer going over edge confirms they are ready.
Edge Ready? Edge line attendant confirms they are ready.
Pre-tension the System Pre-tension the system confirming all system elements/components are safe.
Approaching the Edge Slowly approach edge ensuring anchors are evenly weighed.
Down Slow Main Lines lower load slowly.
Up Slow/Up haul Main lines raise load slowly.
Stop All rescuers stop operation (stop lowering/raising).
Tension/Take Apply tension or take in any slack in the rope.
Slack Give slack or feed some rope to the indicated line.
The above terminology is just one example of the terms that a rescue group may deploy.  Ensure you know what commands will be utilized before committing to going over the edge!

Whistle Communication for Rope Rescue


S:  STOP 1 Whistle blast to call for a stop.
U:  UP 2 Whistle blasts to call for a raise.
D:  DOWN 3 Whistle blasts to call for lowering.
O:  OFF-ROPE 4 Whistle blasts to call for off rope or off belay.
T:  TROUBLE Continuous whistle blasts indicate emergency stop and fix the problem ASAP!

Utilize the SUDOT technique above when your group doesn’t have radio communication equipment.