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Best GPS tracker

My senior citizen father just got a kayak and my mother's terrified about him getting lost or some catastrophe. He's just going in little lakes and ponds around Cape Cod. Is there a GPS tracker (maybe the wrong term) that's not a subscription service that people use just as a backup?Basically looking for a small unit or dongle or whatever term that would let someone know where he was. Thanks.

Anthony.  Welcome to Trailspace.

I would suggest going to the reviews for locator beacons:

https://www.trailspace.com/gear/locator-beacons/ 

A Spot might be a good fit but I am not sure if they are still produced.  We use a cell phone tracker app on my aging dad-in-law. 

If you want something that lets other people know where he is I think you have to pay for a sat service like the Spot or inReach use. The other option would be a GPS app on his phone, so at least he knows where he is. Those don't require ongoing fees generally, but won't keep the folks at home from worrying.

I have been using a DeLorme inReach SE for quite a few years now and while the cost is of course annoying, it does put dots on a map my wife & daughter can see so they know I am still moving. Since I spend a lot of time in places with no cell service I get a lot of use out of the messaging capability. If your dad is staying in range he could just send mom a text with his gps coords once an hour or whatever. Definitely cheaper option.

If your Dad will always be within cellphone reception, google map, WhatsApp, Strava, RideWithGps offer tracking options. I’m not sure if you need pay subscription to the services to use this functionality. 
Big caveat is that using the gps can eat through your phone battery. To counter this, make sure to arrive at launch with a fully-charged phone (keep it plugged in the car when driving up to the lake), and keep it plugged in a battery booster while paddling (Keeping both phone and booster in a large waterproof pouch like the Sealline tablet sleeve, with transparent side so you can still use it. )

other caveat is that technology is NOT foolproof. There WILL be coverage drops, glitches in the phone, gps app, dropping the phone in the lake while taking a picture, etc. that mean that the tracking will stop at time, causing your Mom to freak out, when all’s fine in reality. Instant tracking can be a two-edged sword. 
Old-fashion tech can go a long way towards ensuring peace of mind: making, and STICKING TO a float plan (at least not without alerting the contact of any changes), regularly checking in when possible, will go a long way towards instilling trust and peace of mind. 
Also, even if your Dad is a Lone Wolf(tm), hé might be able to hook up with other paddlers in the areas and do buddy paddling. Paddling clubs, Meetup, outdoors club, outdoors stores like REI would be good places to look. 

Best of luck to your parents! Paddling is a wonderful way to stay young. (At least for the one doing the paddling, while the one staying home ages twice as fast with worry. :-) 

Great idea nuitblanches, many a time people have been lost in the woods  having the means to get out in their fingertips yet not realizing it (ie  a cell phone and a gps tracker app)

Another way to increase battery life is to go to settings on the cell phone and turn off Wi-Fi,  Bluetooth,  and then go to running apps  and choose to force stop any active apps running in background.

I have an app on my phone that connects to my laptop so that I can make phone calls and send texts using my computer, transmitting through my cell phone via a combination of Bluetooth & Wi-Fi.  Last week i forgot to turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on the phone b4 i went to bed and when I woke up the next morning it went from 100% battery life to 76% in approximately 8 hours. After turning off these settings, the next day the phone went from 100% to 99%,  what a huge difference. 

Anthony,  you are correct to worry but there are several items that can be used in conjunction with one another.  

For starters getting the safest life jacket.  Some Type I & Type V life vests are specially  designed to keep a persons head up above the water incase they are unconscious.  It will say specifically in its' description if the Type 1 or Type V has this feature.

A dry suit or a full body wetsuit will keep your fathers core temperature up if he capsizes or springs a leak.

There are VHF trackers for boats and Lojack  gps trackers  too that police could find the location of your father on the water. There are emergency beacons as well that can be activated by your father incase a dangerous situation arises . They have many different styles of emergency beacons, including watches, bracelets, necklaces, and ones that can launch into the air and float above your father in a balloon while transmitting an emergency beacon. 

I always try to have a backup for communication. I have my cell phone that is in a dry bag designed for my phone and I also carry a Marine VHF Radio. What is great about these 2 way radios is that they have a long transmission range, they are waterproof, they float, and they allow 2 way communication between 2 VHF radios. Just have your father and mother set their VHF radios to the same channel and leave the channel open for the entire trip on the water. The only real down side to these is the likelihood you mom using the VHF radio to remind your father to pick up eggs and milk onhis way back to shore :) 

The biggest battery suck for most cell phones is when it is set up to be connected to send and receive calls and texts, which is most of the time -- the phone constantly scans for the closest cellular antennas it can connect to, so that it's constantly ready. The easiest way to disconnect your phone from any attempts at external connections is simply to put it in airplane mode, this will turn off cellular, wifi and bluetooth connectivity and save your battery from the power needed to scan for any of those signal types. Airplane mode is probably the single biggest thing you can do to conserve battery life, followed by dimming your screen brightness and using it lit up for the shortest intervals possible.

Note that putting your phone in airplane mode does not turn off your phone receiving GPS coordinates that will drive a mapping/navigation program.

Jringeorgia you are correct about airplane mode saving battery life  but I did not mention that in this post as that would be counterproductive in this situation.  If you read the original post from Anthony and of that from Lonestranger  this need for Gps (tracker) via cell phone is so Anthony's mother can keep tabs on her husband  while he is out kayaking for the 1st time  (and there after) on the lake to make sure he is safe. Turning cell phone to airplane mode would prevent her from checking up on him via cell and the Gps tracker app would need cellular service to communicate with his wife's app.

On the flip side your suggestion is a great idea for those that are using their cell phone on the trail as a Gps vs a Gps tracker that would require a cellular connection to transmit information.

November 27, 2021
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