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GernBlansten

SPOT satellite messenger

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Last year, I got the bug to get a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). The problem with PLBs is that they are for emergency only. You push the button and helicopters descend to save you.

 

So I was in the reading room checking out the latest Outdoor Mag, and there's an ad with Les Stroud pushing the SPOT. I go the website and man, this thing is pretty cool.

http://www.findmespot.com/en/

It has three functions, I'm OK, Help and 911. You turn it on, it uses GPS to acquire its location, then you hit one of the three buttons. OK sends a message to the satellites which is then relayed to their systems and emails your coordinates and I'm OK message to your loved ones. Help does the same, but the message indicates you need help, but non-emergency. 911 activates the emergency system. They (SPOT) sends help.

 

You can't use it for navigation, nor can you send custom messages. Just OK, help and 911.

 

The system is $149 at REI and requires $99/year subscription.

 

I think the price is cheap considering the value.

 

Scenario 1, we are heading to NTier Bissett, MB with two adults and 7 youth this July. Deep wilderness. Every parent is configured into the system to receive messages. When we get to camp, we send a message, I'm OK. They sleep well that night. They can also check google earth to track our trek.

 

Scenario 2, a patrol wants to do a patrol backpack trip. No adults. They have the SPOT and send a message when they reach camp they are OK. If they have a problem, they hit 911 or Help. Might smooth some ruffled helicopter parents feathers.

 

Scenario 3, my son is type 1 diabetic. When he camps without me, I don't sleep well. But he's becoming independent and I don't want to camp with him all the time. He is staffing NYLT this summer. Its out of cell range. He is instructed to send an I'm OK every night before bed. This is more for me than him.

 

I sure don't think this should be mandatory. But I do see value to scouting here, especially in our helicopter parent society.

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I agree the PLB is a superior emergency only device (homing beacon). But I disagree with the SPOT being more expensive. At $600 for the PLB, it will take 5 years before the SPOT surpasses it. In that time-frame, the PLB and SPOT will probably be obsolete and newer better tech will be available.

I'm also not sure the 911 feature of SPOT is a cute gimmick. It relays your position to a command center (granted when it gets a clear signal). What else does SAR need? Sure a beacon would be nice, hence the PLB is a better emergency device.

The OK feature is peace of mind for those we leave behind. No news, is not necessarily good news. OK news, is always good news.

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> OK news, is always good news.

 

Maybe, if you can guarantee that it works. Read up on the Spot for a while and you will see that is is far from reliable. You don't even have to search out the hard core outdoor forums. Just look at the Amazon reviews.

 

Let's say you tell your wife you will send her an "Okay" message every night. Then, one night your Spot fails to send the message or you cannot get coverage. What does your wife do?

 

In all 3 of your posted scenarios, if you do not receive an "okay" message, what will you do?

 

Have you investigated the cost difference between a search & rescue mission when a device has a homing device versus one that does not? How much easier is it to search 10 square miles versus 100? How much time do you have?

 

Note that lower PLB costs are on the way:

 

http://www.equipped.org/blog/?p=104

http://www.equipped.org/blog/?p=105

 

PLB FAQ:

 

http://www.equipped.org/faq_plb/

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Yes, the SPOT is fire and forget. Not all messages go through due to the need to send the message to an available sat. Terrain can interfere. If you instruct your family that not all OK messages transmit, they shouldn't overreact. From what I read, SPOT sends 3 messages then stops. Except in 911 mode, it transmits for 24 hours. You surely will get at least one message through then.

 

Why would SAR be any more difficult using the SPOT 911 feature? They have your coordinates. Should be good to 100 ft just like the GPS enabled PLB. The biggest difference is the PLB uses the EPIRB system that has been in place for years by mariners. It receives the beacon and alerts SAR. The GPS enabled PLBs also send your coordinates so SAR can narrow the search, just like SPOT.

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Realistically, if I really cared about the best emergency device, I'd get a Sat phone. With that, you have two way comms and can relay coords directly for help. They are expensive though and the price doesn't seem to be coming down. I've heard some companies are doing rentals though. NTiers supplies each crew with one, but is to be used for emergencies only. I'm comfortable with that. Still might get me a SPOT. Got a few REI gift cards burning a hole in my wallet.

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Since it is possible to log in and update the info associated with a PLB (travel plans, participants, time schedule, phone numbers, whatever) you would think it would make sense for councils to buy a few PLBs to loan out to units for when they are going someplace where the extra security is warranted.

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I don't have a SPOT, but for the purposes mentioned, sending OK notes back home and whatnot, I think it's good. WHere I backpack, the 911 feature would likely work, or I could get clear enough to make it work. Hopefully before too long, that "OK" button will be on regular Garmin GPS units.

 

I don't know that I'd pay $100 a year for the service though. Maybe for troops that do a lot of backcountry camping, it'd be a worthy part of the budget.

 

While I may backpack a fair amount, it's still on regular trails that others use. If I were doing something really remote, I'd definitely want a PLB, especially if I were in a very small party.

 

 

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Our troop has and uses a SPOT Messenger. They cost $99 now and the annual subscription is $99 but you can add a 'tracking' feature for another $50/year. In a troop of 25, that cost is 50cents/month/scout. In our troop of 60, it's just $2.50/scout each year which parents seem to think is worth it.

 

The optional tracking mode sends out a lat/lon signal every 10 minutes. This information is displayed on a web page rather than in an email so it doesn't interrupt people. But, it is way cool for tracking a trek route. If you have Google Earth installed, see http://www.troop479.org/philmont.html for our 85 mile trek through Philmont last year. I tied pictures to the SPOT locations after our trek.

 

We use SPOT on nearly all our campouts. Thinking 'outside the box' can make a lot more uses possible than just emergency rescue.

- returning from camps, I have SPOT on my vehicle's dashboard, upating our location every 10 minutes. Parents can see where we are and be at the pick-up location on time. I press OK to send an email when we're 15 minutes away so they get there to get their scout.

- while hiking, SPOT is on top of my pack and updates our location every 10 minutes. Parents at home can follow our trek in real time and/or see our route at the end of the day.

- press OK to send email to parents when starting your day of hiking. Press Help to send email when you get to camp at day's end. The messages sent are customized to say what you want.

 

 

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MN_Scout,

 

Thank you for the input, it was very good. Quick question, if you are leaving the SPOT on all day, or at least while moving, do you have a feel for how long the batteries last? I was thinking if you just turned it on to send an OK then turn it off, batteries would probably last a long time. However if on all day, do the batteries last longer than the ones in a regular GPS?

 

Thanks,

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I think the SPOT doesn't use as nearly the power as your handheld GPS because it doesn't need to process all that information for display on the mapping screen. That consumes tremendous power. All the SPOT is doing is getting its GPS fix (really just a radio receiver, a computer and a clock), then sending the coords to the commerical comm sats via high freq radio. No display.

 

Where did you get your SPOT for under $100? On Amazon, the cheapest I've found was $125.

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We have a backup pair of Energizer AA lithium batteries along, just in case. But, the original batteries have been on for at least 30 days total.

 

SPOT Messenger had a promotion on during March for their sponsorship of a NASCAR driver and I believe you could get a free SPOT unit with a paid annual subscription. It looks to be gone now. They've also had $25 and $50 rebates going on - http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=1610

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