SPOT CONNECT

8:39 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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After much research and discussion, I have purchased the SPOT CONNECT. It will offer me the ability to text home by connecting to my iPhone via bluetooth. So even on days I cannot blog or get connected via the internet, I can report home.


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8:41 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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This should work well for your needs. :)

9:09 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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If I were to get a message/locator, this would be the one I'd get. 

9:36 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks for the confirmation, buys. I spoke a lot with BillS too. I cannot wait for it to arrive...not to mention it will add another 15 bux to the 2013 dividend!

9:39 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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OGBO knows his stuff when it comes to this kind of technology. 

10:12 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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Yup! I am giving the Original Spot I bought on here to Red Rock Search and Rescue. They will be able to use it, see what they think, upgrade later etc.

10:16 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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giftogab said:

Yup! I am giving the Original Spot I bought on here to Red Rock Search and Rescue. They will be able to use it, see what they think, upgrade later etc.

 Thats really commendable of you. 

11:58 p.m. on February 15, 2012 (EST)
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This looks like a bluetooth version of the SPOT device I have with my DeLorme PN-60w GPS receiver.  It works pretty well, most of the time.  There have been a number of times when messages didn't get through (and there's no way to know from the field whether the message got sent or not).

When I use the SPOT "tracking" feature, there are sometimes significant gaps in the series of breadcrumb messages.

Overall, though, it seems worthwhile, as long as you view it as a "nice to have", not something you "rely on".  If you're in a crisis situation, just hope it's a spot where there's a clear view of the sky without obstructions such as cliffs, or canyon walls, etc.  I doubt it would have helped the guy in "127 Hours" trapped in the slot canyon... maybe, but I wouldn't count on it in such a situation.  Some of the missing message situations have occurred even when I've been in relatively open terrain (like near North Lake outside of Bishop, CA).

Also make sure to bring plenty of extra batteries.  I still haven't gotten a handle on how long the device functions on a single set.  The thing is, it may stop functioning before you see a low-battery warning.  And, again, you don't know the message didn't get sent.  I've never actually seen the low-battery indicator, but I have definitely seen the device stop functioning due to a low battery condition (in one case it lost connection with the GPS, and in another case I found out when I got home that my messages had ceased to transmit).

If you don't use the live tracking feature then they should last a long time.  If you do, then I think (but can't yet confirm) that they last for a couple (a few?) days of hiking (remember to turn it off when you stop).  Then again, your'll want to remember to turn off the iPhone, too, to conserve the battery if you expect to be out that long, especially if you're running a GPS app...

Sorry, I don't mean to sound negative, I'm just letting you know what my experience has been with this device.  I still carry mine on my trips, with my expectations set accordingly :).  You may want to set expectations appropriately with "your people" so they don't worry if they're expecting a message but don't receive it.  You can tell them you "may" update them while you're out on the trail :).

I like the idea of the iPhone connectivity for use at times when I'm not on the trail with the DeLorme GPS (like if I'm just out on the road away from cell signals).  [It'd be awesome if they had a single device with both types of connectivity].

Anyway, I'll be interested in hearing how yours works out for you :).

12:14 a.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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bheiser. I have an 80 year old dad and he is soooo worried about my trip. I will have various methods of communication with me....laptop included....but want the best chance possible to try to get a message out so that he will know things are going fine. Not to mention, being with an American trekking company, if something were to go wrong, they would be on it. The trek is a tea house trek and there will be chances to recharge things as well.  I appreciate your honest assessment of the device and it is pretty in keeping with what I thought based on other reviews of it as well.

12:52 a.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Great, it sounds like you've got it covered, and I totally get wanting to keep your dad informed.  Again, I didn't meant to disparage your purchase, but figured my experience with it might be helpful so you know what (maybe) to expect :).

12:56 a.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Absolutely bheiser!

3:31 a.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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You might want to school dad that there is a good chance this tech stuff may go offline, giving him the impression you are in trouble (beyond contact).  This is especially likely to occur when you get up close to those tall mountains blocking signal transmissions.  Warm and fuzzy devices can cause undue worry, resulting the opposite desired effect on loved ones at home.

Ed

9:24 a.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Ed...have been doing that and my sister will continue to. He will actually not SEE the texts as they will go to the sis and she will call him in the evening. She is also the contact for any emergencies so will be sorta my home base commander. Thanks for the reminder to keep Dad educated.

::Karen

2:58 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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I've been contemplating one of those ever since they came out. But one issue I can't seem to resolve is whether you can create and send unique messages from the field, or if you have to preset them in advance from home before you go. (That's the way it sounds like on the SPOT page.) I'd be a very happy camper (pun intended) if someone might be able to clear that up for me. 

Thanky!

Never mind, I just read the whole SPOT connect info page. Turns out that you actually can type and send unique messages from the field. (Up to 41 characters.) Looks like I'll be getting a SPOT connect to use with my soon to be here Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1   (The tablet with THE best MOST sensitive GPS receiver on the market.) 

Cheers!

P.S. Yes, a tablet is a bit big to use as a GPS, but it's going to be used on a Wavewalker Pedal Powered Kayak trip circumnavigating Princess Royal Island in BC, Canada in the summer of 2013.  https://www.hydrocycles.com/  Here's a vid of it being used.    http://youtu.be/R83c_gKTGY4   It's an awesome beastie. I had a chance to use one while living in my ghost town on Princess Royal, and I just HAD to have one. 

Later! And sorry 'bout the thread hijack!

Peace!

5:49 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Ok, here is a bit of explanation about the SPOT family. I have and have used the Tracker, Messenger, and Communicator, though not the Connect (doesn't work with my Blackberry or my very basic iPad 1):

All SPOT units currently on the market and in use are one-way only. All the units have a GPS chipset in them, though the Connect and Communicator send the location of the controlling device (iPhone or Android phone for Connect, Delorme PN-60w for the Communicator). The message is relayed through the GlobalStar satellite system, using their digital service (uses less power than the GlobalStar satphone service). Coverage is basically limited to the region between 80 deg N and S latitudes, continents and near-continent ocean areas. Antarctica is not covered, nor are the southern parts of South America and Africa. SPOT recommends allowing 20 minutes of attempts to get messages through (obviously, for the 911/SOS messages, you turn on the emergency button and leave it on for the approximately 24 hours of continuous transmission battery life).

SPOT 1 (SPOT Personal Tracker) was the first version that came out. I reviewed it and PLBs here. It was fairly basic by current standards. You can send 4 types of messages with location - an "OK" message or a basic "Help" message (non-emergency) to your "team", track points that anyone having the URL for your Shared Map, or a 911/SOS message that goes to a S&R coordinating center that will notify the nearest official SAR agency to your location. The GPS chipset and antenna system are a bit weak in performance compared to the later units.

SPOT 2 (SPOT Satellite Personal Messenger) has a lot of advantages over SPOT 1, the biggest being that the performance is far better both in getting messages through and in battery life (though the battery life is plenty long in normal use). It is smaller in size than the SPOT 1. I have gotten messages through from Puerto Montt and Santiago in Chile and Easter Island. In addition to the messages that SPOT 1 allows, you can pre-program a custom "OK" message (("Ok but delayed" or "Pick me up at these coordinates", for example).  SPOT 2 is significantly better at getting messages through under canopy and in canyons than SPOT 1.

The SPOT Communicator allows a lot more messages when used with a Delorme PN-60w GPS receiver. The SOS/911 message can be sent to the S&R coordination service autonomously. For use with the PN-60w, you can set up a number of pre-programmed messages (along with the basic "OK",  "Help", "Track "(via the "Shared Map"), and SOS/911 messages), such as "OK, but delayed", "at the trailhead, pick me up here", "reached the summit" and so on. The Communicator also allows "type and send" free-form messages.The coordinates sent with the messages are the PN-60w location, except for the autonomous SOS/911 message, which uses the Communicator's GPS chipset. The Communicator allows setting up several "teams" that you can choose among for sending the messages.

The SPOT Connect is basically like the Communicator, except that it requires an iPhone or one of a group of compatible Android phones. The iPhone or Android phone must have a GPS chipset to be compatible with the Connect (not all do).

There is an annual service fee of $100. When you activate the SPOT, there is a note that is easy to overlook that your credit card is charged automatically each anniversary date to assure continuous service. In other words, if you want to discontinue the service, you have to directly notify SPOT to shut it off. There is also a rescue insurance fee that you can sign up for.

SPOT can have fairly long outages, but usually gets the message through in the covered regions in 20 minutes. I did not get any messages through from Peru, despite being within 8 degrees of the equator, though, as mentioned above, I did get messages through in Chile and from Easter Island.

There is another device that pairs with the Delorme PN-60w, called inReach. In many ways it is similar to the SPOT Communicator, but adds 2-way texting. The inReach works through the Iridium satphone system, rather than the GlobalStar satphone system. So it covers the whole Earth. There is also a version that works with Android phones. I have found that the inReach is very fast (usually gets the outgoing message through in a minute), though the incoming response can take several minutes (and, of course, you do have to have the inReach and PN-60w turned on). Incoming messages are stored in your "Explore" folder under your inReach account online, and receipt of incoming messages is speeded up if, when you arrive at a far away destination, you send a "ping" or an "I arrived" message, just something to let the system know where you are (just like with your cell phone).

6:25 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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This is all good info....

TJ--you didn't hijack.

BillS thanks again for all the good assistance with this. I will message you re info to put yyou on my list so you can get the messages. Will increase the testing results you have accumulated so far.

6:29 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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Bill S, you da man!

7:38 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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I forgot to mention, for those of you who are up to date with all the social networking. You can send your SPOT messages to Facebook, Twitter, etc etc. Do not ask me anything about these, however, since way too much of my personal information is out there wandering around the aether already. So I never waste my time on such things.

Besides, with Trailspace, who needs any other "social media"? {8=>D

Hey, Dave and Alicia - how about making Trailspace a REAL social gathering place for us woodsy folk?

9:31 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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BillS.....I love that about SPOT and will post to that as well....it is really easy. But I get why people avoid social media as well.

11:25 p.m. on February 16, 2012 (EST)
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giftogab said:

This is all good info....

[...]

BillS thanks again for all the good assistance with this.

Yup, we can always count on The OGBO to provide very thorough and factual details on just about every topic :).  Funny, during those times when he's been away on his treks to exotic locales I have wished he was here to comment on certain threads.

5:23 p.m. on February 17, 2012 (EST)
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If I had to get one, it would be the ACR ResQLink PLB instead of the SPOT

5:44 p.m. on February 17, 2012 (EST)
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Rob: That really does look great for pure rescue alert. I needed something that was proactive in telling people I am ok. Being with a group, for the Everest trek, I have paid to have people responsible for that. Professionals. But I need my Dad to get info assuring him I have not fallen off the mountains. If I were a solo hiker I sure would look at this instead though.

2:12 p.m. on February 18, 2012 (EST)
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Bill thanks for the detailed write

2:36 p.m. on February 18, 2012 (EST)
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rob5073 said:

If I had to get one, it would be the ACR ResQLink PLB instead of the SPOT

 PLBs, like the ACRs (several models) and FastFind, are for rescue only. If you are not registered or trigger one just because you are tired, you are subject to a large fine. They have to be registered for whatever country you are in at the time (a nuisance when traveling between countries through mountainous areas). ACR and a couple other PLB companies have talked about incorporating a limited messaging system. The problem for them is that the regulations imposed by government rescue services (Coast Guard and similar organizations for other countries) require that a certain minimum transmit time be maintained. One solution that ACR has looked at is having a much bigger battery so that the required minimum transmit time at the required lowest temperature is still sufficient after using the allowed number of messages. This compromises the size of the unit, obviously.The batteries in PLBs are sealed and not rechargeable (at a specified date, marked on the unit, it must be returned to the manufacturer for battery replacement).

Older PLBs depend on triangulation by the satellites (InMarSat is one of the participating satellite constellations) to get a rough area, plus SAR aircraft to get a more pinpoint location. The units sold in the past 3 or 4 years have GPS chipsets to get better locations for SAR.

SPOT and inReach have replaceable batteries, which can be rechargeables. Since they are used for messaging in addition to the emergency function, you do need to keep track of usage. inReach does have a "low battery" alarm that still allows 24 hours of SOS/911 transmit time.

1:36 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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I think the ResQlinks have similar messaging through this website:  http://www.406link.com/406Plus.html

I have also heard from other users about the poor, sometimes non-existent signal with the SPOT.  Is this true?  If it is, I would not want to be in an area and need it, only to find out there is no signal.  I would not be hitting the button merely because of fatigue either.  Better bivy for the night or at least a few hours to get some rest.  I guess there are pros and cons to both products.   

10:17 a.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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Remember, my purpose for having this has nothing to do with rescue. I want to have the best potential to communicate with my family as directly as I can. My father is 80 years old and not in good health and worried about me. I want to alleviate his worry to the greatest degree possible. I will have my computer as well so between the two, I should be able to get news out to him most days. Nothing is 100% and if anyone relies on any technology completely, they may well be disappointed. I ahve let him and my other family know that even this has limitations. I am going with a trekking group of good reputation...if something happened, they would inform my family. I have insurance as well with my sister as a contact. All this in place will help but there is still a chance that something could happen and they could not be informed or get misinformation. Life does not do what we always want it to do.

2:52 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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rob5073 said:

I think the ResQlinks have similar messaging through this website:  http://www.406link.com/406Plus.html

I have also heard from other users about the poor, sometimes non-existent signal with the SPOT.  Is this true?

 The ACR units do NOT have "similar messaging". What you are seeing is actually a self-test of the beacon, no message per se. In response to a number of us asking about messages to other than the SAR authorities, particularly self-testing, ACR (largest selling US maker of PLBs) added a self-test function, then a year or so later added a relay of the self-test to a pre-programmed "team" of up to 5. Note in the page linked (and related pages on the site) that the message says clearly "self test" along with the coordinates. It does indicate to your "team" that you tested the beacon at a particular location, and the self-test receives a reply from the sats that confirms the test.

However, also note that during the lifetime of the PLB, there is a strict limit on the number of self-tests, due to the requirement of retaining the required transmit time of a real emergency signal.

The SAR satellites that PLBs use are geosynchronous. This means that they are always at approximately the same position in the sky as seen from a given point on Earth. This does limit their visibility at extreme latitudes, though they are visible fairly close to the poles. SPOT uses low orbit Globalstar satellites, with the result that you need a 20 minute transmit time to have a high assurance of the message getting through (during a 24-hour SOS/911 transmit time, the probability is close to 100% in the coverage areas). In certain types of terrain (deep canyons, under certain types of foliage/canopy), you can have blind areas. Once you understand the basics, though, you can get a very high probability of getting the message through. Most of the problems I have run into for other users have been due to a lack of understanding of the basic principles and making adjustments in their usage to accomodate the limitations. The only situation I ran into that I was unsuccessful for an extended time was in Peru. SPOT is looking into the problem, but suspects that it has to do with lack of ground stations (SPOT uses a "bent-pipe" architecture).

Another source of reports of problems with SPOT is that the original first generation SPOT (SPOT 1, Tracker) had an older GPS chipset and antenna design. The later versions are much better performing, though again, if you do not understand the basics, you will have problems.

The Delorne PN-60w plus inReach uses Iridium satellites, which do have better coverage than SPOT, but also have limitations. Satphones (Iridium, GlobalStar, and the recently introduced small Inmarsat satphone) are useful, too, but have limitations.

As Karen and others have noted in this and other threads:

Nothing is 100% and if anyone relies on any technology completely, they may well be disappointed.

This applies especially to electronic devices (including PLBs), boots, packs, stoves, basic handheld compasses, gtx jackets, ..... Batteries die, packs/stoves/handheld compasses/etc break, boots come apart, jackets rip, ..... That's where training and experience come into play, along with backups and "Plan B". Everyone I know who has spent extensive time in the woods and hills has experienced gear failures and limitations. And everyone I know well enough to go on extended challenging treks into the woods and hills has spent time thinking about Plans B, C, D, and more.

GPSRs, PLBs, SPOT, inReach, handheld radios, cell phones, and other widgets are very useful. But they are NOT Magic.

2:56 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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Bill S said:

GPSRs, PLBs, SPOT, inReach, handheld radios, cell phones, and other widgets are very useful. But they are NOT Magic.

Very well said OGBO.

My worry with any type of gear are those that say "this is the best pack ever, it can handle antything, then it fails in some substantial way, and the user doesn't have plan B, C, or D...

Good food for thought. 

3:51 p.m. on February 20, 2012 (EST)
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SPOT set up and here is where the reports will go, if anyone cared to follow. Some people are on my list to get emails when I check in. I can have up to 50 people on the list.

http://www.spotadventures.com/trip/view?trip_id=294623

BLOG entries will be made any time I can get internet at night at a price I am willing to pay at www.whelantrek.com

I gotta get off here and start getting my gear lined out and get some tests done on my SPOT.

10:10 a.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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Thanks for all the info Bill.  I don't think I would ever really need a SPOT or PLB so I guess I'll be sticking with the ol' signal mirror and whistle.  

8:11 p.m. on February 21, 2012 (EST)
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rob5073 said:

 I don't think I would ever really need a SPOT or PLB ...

 You won't know you need a SPOT, PLB, or other emergency supplies until you need them. I have only rarely needed anything in my first aid kits during the many decades I have carried them, and have to do the annual check to replace things like the pills, antibiotics, tape, etc. If you added up all the tape I have actually used for real emergencies, omitting the gear repair usages, I don't think I have used more than 10 or 20 feet in my whole life, and virtually all of that on other people, mostly in other parties. (ok, yeah, there was the kid on the scout outing who was sawing a stick for the fire and continued sawing into his leg - that took several feet of tape to place a pressure dressing so we could get him to the hospital). The one and only time I have needed to use CPR for real was in the days before we knew about CPR (CPR as we know it today did not appear in first aid training until the 1970s, though it was first known to the medical community in the mid 1950s - my one incident where I could have used it was about a year before Dr. Peter Safar's book was published, though rescue breathing was known for 150 years before CPR in the medical community).

My cars have spare tires, but the last time I put one on was several hundred thousand miles ago, and that was a 5 inch screw that went through the tire in a Home Depot parking lot. Neither of my current cars has had a puncture (200,000 miles between the two). Would I go without a spare? No way. Would I go with a group into the back country or extended climbing expedition without a first aid kit (including appropriate 'scrips)? No way.

You have to weigh the odds. I sometimes carry a SPOT and/or inReach and/or cell phone when hiking the local hills. But that's to send the track home and let folks know when I will be back for supper. OTOH, I am thinking about what I can carry that would emit an emergency SOS/911 call when I go on my frequent bike rides around the area (we seem to get 2 or 3 cyclists run down in the area a week, and up in The City - SF, it seems to be at least one a day plus the Muni drivers running down pedestrians - ok, I know, that's odds of 1 per million or so per day, but still...).

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