Always carry a map and compass. Have an experienced navigator in your party and take every opportunity to improve your own navigation skills. Pay attention to geographical features and general terrain and regularly identify your position on your map.
Always leave a record of your trip intentions and possible alternatives with a reliable contact who can initiate a search if your party is overdue by a predetermined time. The free Trip Intentions web site provides a facility for you to record the details of any trip into the outdoors and send the details to people you nominate. This is good practice for any trip in the wilderness or outdoors. This service is provided free of charge in the interests of improved safety for outdoors and wilderness trips and adventures.
Although a mobile telephone is potentially useful to a lost party, it should not be regarded as security against becoming lost. Most mobile phones will not operate in many of the locations in Victoria popular with bushwalkers, particularly in the more remote areas of the country. Satellite mobile phones offer the promise of operating in more areas although the early systems are very expensive and have been reported to have unsatisfactory response in typical bushwalking locations.
Similarly, emergency personal locator beacons (PLBs) are not a substitute for bushcraft and navigation skills or party numbers. They are a device that should only be considered as an extra safety margin for a venture which is properly resourced in all other respects. They should only be used as a last resort in a situation posing grave and immediate danger to lives. In addition, the beacon signal is not reliably received from deep valleys or densely forested terrain, nor does it allow transmission of any information by voice.
When features on the ground do not agree with those on the map, STOP and assess the situation before a temporary disorientation becomes a major loss of position.
STOP. DO NOT PANIC.
Stop and think. Your brain is your best survival tool. Stay together and pool your knowledge and expertise. Identify your last confirmed position and estimate your present location. Except in specific areas of known magnetic anomalies, believe your compass and remember that modern topographical maps have few major errors, although logging tracks are notoriously time dependent.
If possible, retrace your steps to where you were comfortable that you knew your position. Alternatively, if possible, proceed on a course which MUST bring you to a known feature in a reasonable time, such as a road or stream. Otherwise, remain where you are and make phone contact with police if possible. Keep calm, warm and seek shelter whilst waiting for assistance. Be prepared to devise ways to attract the attention of searchers in the air or on the ground. This may require moving to a location above the tree line, into a clearing or an open section of a creek. Place any brightly coloured items to form a block of colour to attract attention from the air. Bushwalking Victoria sells bright plastic bags as pack liners that could be used to this effect. Lighting a smoky fire is another way to attract attention to your location.
Listen for calls or whistles from ground search parties. Remember that ground searchers are listening as well as looking so attract attention to your location the recognized distress signal of three regularly spaced calls. The "three calls" can be made by whatever means possible such as shouts, whistle blasts or even banging a spoon on a billy. At night use three torch flashes. This signal sequence should never be misused.
Always regroup at track junctions and maintain sight contact on untracked or poorly marked routes. With larger groups use an appointed whip. It is generally safer to encourage slower members to walk toward the front of a group, and special care is needed with children who inevitably like to run ahead.
If your party becomes separated, a search should be undertaken in the immediate area and the location where the missing persons were last seen or likely to have made a wrong decision. However, if they are not found within 3-4 hours (longer in a remote area) it is unlikely that your party will have the resources to undertake a full scale search and you will need to seek external assistance. If communication by phone is not possible, a competent subgroup should be sent for the nearest help, with others remaining as visible as possible near the last point of contact.
The police are responsible for all search and rescue operations in Victoria, and should be the first source of contact for assistance in an emergency.