Be prepared: triggers and use for Garmin incident detection

In this article we explain how to use Garmin Incident Detection, what triggers it, which devices have the feature and more.

Jump to:

Incident Detection – what is it?
What triggers it?
Limitations your should be aware of
List of compatible devices
How to set up
What is the difference between Incident Detection and Assistance?

Garmin Incident Detection – what is it?

Few of us take the time to actually think about the risks we undertake when we leave for runs or rides alone. It can be dangerous at times. Unfortunately, accidents can and do happen.

Incident Detection was launched on Garmin watches for the first time in 2019. It has also been available on a select group of bike computers for a while now. As the name implies, this is a safety feature. When the device on your wrist (or bike computer) determines you have been in an accident, it will automatically send your name and location (if available) to a preset list of up to three emergency contacts.

This is done via a SMS message. Those that receive it will be able to click on the included link in the message to see your position on Google Maps. This will make it easier to find you.

Your location is determined using the Garmin LiveTrack location tracking feature. This creates a real-time feed of your position while you are engaging in an activity.

Garmin stresses that Incident Detection will not work 100% of the time so should not be used as the only method to obtain assistance. Think of it as a safety valve or an extra layer of protection which can be particularly useful if you exercise solo.

Of course, there’s always the danger of false emergencies. To avoid this the text appears on your device and smartphone for 30 seconds before actually going out. This gives you time to cancel it.

What triggers Incident Detection?

An often asked question is – what specific behaviours is Garmin looking for to trigger the emergency alerts? The watch manuals typically say that Incident Detection is triggered when an accident is detected. Not very informative, is it?

Unfortunately there is no further detail on the specific algorithms. Presumably the device is using the combination of the accelerometer and GPS to determine when you’ve come to a sudden stop, trip or fall.

Of course this also depends on the speed at which you were going prior to making the quick stop. If you are going from 25km/h to zero, the algorithm might suspect that you’ve hit that truck which wasn’t paying enough attention to the cycling lane. So drastic deceleration is required or impact – meaning a fall is not necessarily needed. But a hard enough fall will also trigger it.

Incident Detection limitations you should be aware of

There are several limitations your should be aware of when it comes to Garmin Incident Detection. For starters, the watch or bike computer is not actually contacting 911 services. Your emergency contacts will need to do that for your after they receive the emergency alert.

Also, in order for Incident Detection to work, your Garmin device needs to be connected via Bluetooth to the Garmin Connect app. Alternatively, you must have something that works untethered – such as the Forerunner 945 LTE with cellular connectivity enabled. So there must be network coverage where data connectivity is available.

Essential readingBest fitness trackers and health gadgets

The device should also have GPS switched on in order to be able to monitor your activity and location. Which means the feature might not work as well in remote areas where obtaining this signal is difficult. If you lose connectivity and are in an accident, LiveTrack link will send your last registered location.

Incident Detection does not work for all types of activities. For watches, the list includes: Run, Track Run, Trail Run, Ultra Run, Bike, eBike, Gravel Bike, Bike Commute, Bike Tour, Road Bike, Walk, Hike and Snowshoe. Not all profiles will be supported by all watches. 

Garmin Incident Detection – compatible devices

When Incident Detection was made available for the first time you could only access it on a handful of watches and bike computers. The list has been expanded since then and includes quite a few devices:

  • vívoactive 3 Music and above
  • Venu 2, 2 Plus, Venu Sq 2
  • Vivomove 3 and above
  • Vismart 5
  • fēnix 5 Plus Series and above
  • Forerunner 45, 55, 245, 255, 645, 745, 945, 955 series
  • Instinct range
  • Epix 2
  • Enduro range
  • Quatix watches
  • Edge devices (130 Plus, 520/520 Plus, 820, Explore 820, 530, 830, 1030/1030 Plus, 1040/1040 Solar, Explore 2

If you have a compatible watch or bike computer, you should consider turning Incident Detection on. As they say, it is better to be safe that sorry. Also, make sure that you have a list of emergency contacts loaded up and that their contact details are up to date.

How to setup Incident Detection?

In order to use the feature, you must set up Incident Detection and emergency contacts in the Garmin Connect app. Otherwise it will not work.

Follow these steps.

  • Open up Garmin Connect and click on the three horizontal dots in the lower right-hand corner
  • Select the Contacts menu item
  • Add contacts by clicking on the three vertical dots in the top right-hand corner.
  • This will allow you to either Choose Phone Contacts or Create Contacts from scratch. Preferably, you should have at least three names in there.
  • Go back by clicking on the arrow in the top left corner.

You have now added a few contacts. The next step is to enable Incident Detection.

  • Tap on Safety & Tracking
  • Choose Safety Features
  • You’ll be presented with a screen allowing you to set up safety features. Click on Begin Setup.
  • Enter your information (name, city, state) and click on Next
  • Choose up to three contacts which will be designated to receive your emergency alerts.
  • Incident detection will automatically turn on once you have synced your watch.

That’s all there is to it. Setup is quite simple.

If you don’t wish to use the feature, Incident detection can be switched off in the Garmin Connect app. The alternative is to do this on the watch or bike computer by going into Settings > Safety & Tracking > Incident Detection. Simply toggle off the feature.

What is the difference between Incident Detection and Assistance?

The Assistance option does the exact same thing as Incident Detection, the only difference being that you need to activate it manually. Its use is therefore wider than for walking, running, hiking or cycling. Whenever you feel in danger, simply activate Assistance and a message with your location will go out.

To activate Assistance hold down the top left button on your watch for 7 seconds until you feel it vibrate three times. This action will discreetly send a message to your chosen contacts. The other option is to hold the top left button for 2 seconds, scroll through all the icons and choose Assistance. This second option, however, takes longer.

Like this article? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter and never miss out!

Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

One thought on “Be prepared: triggers and use for Garmin incident detection

  • Hi. If incident detection doesn’t work on walks or hikes, then what setting would it need to be on, if I was hiking or walking? (This was one of the reasons that I was going to purchase a watch – Forerunner 955)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.