To spot or not to spot

Crom

Expo this, expo that, exp
All things considered, I've settled on SPOT Gen3 with the basic plan, plus save our vehicle option, plus GEOS option, for a total of $200USD/year. The unit itself can be had for $130USD shipped on eBay, and there are a few cheaper ones available on the local Craigslist.

For me, the winning features came down to this:
- ability to send "all okay" messages (once or twice per day)
- 5-min interval tracking for the last ~22 hours (older data points get erased unless you subscribe to a more expensive service plan)
- SOS button
- no hidden fees (other than auto recurring subscription + needing to cancel recurring subscription before being billed for the next one - fairly reasonable); I absolutely hate hidden fees and will avoid them out of principle
- device is half the cost of InReach
- a full year of service is cheaper than any plan combination with InReach Canada/USA (after accounting for hidden fees) for the 1-month spring and 2-month autumn trips I've got planned for this year; an added bonus is that I can give this device to family members when I'm not using it, as the service is active year round
- dedicated "save our vehicle" feature; this is a big one, as car trouble can happen to anyone, anywhere, and being in a "no tow service" area would be a problem; activating SOS in that scenario doesn't seem appropriate (unless you can't walk out); SPOT promises to recover vehicle from anywhere; although the 50-mile tow limitation is a bit of a bummer

Being reachable via two-way messaging would be a plus if an emergency happened on the other end and needed my assistance, but that's a very, very low possibility. The reality is that family would abuse this messaging functionality to send me "how are things going?" messages 5x per day :). I don't expect I'll ever be out of cell service for more than 3-4 days at a time, so this won't be a real problem.

Congrats on your purchase!

I hope it works well for you.
 

robgendreau

Explorer
And don't get me wrong, two way communication is nice if that's what you want. I personally don't need that, I travel to get away and enjoy nature, the psychological effect of being intentionally disconnected is highly valued.

I think two way communication is ideal for emergency responders, I see the value there.

Cheers!
Since by definition these are used in emergencies, isn't then two way ALWAYS preferred, by that logic? (Putting aside tracking for the amusement of recipients.)

I thought about these issues long and hard before I went for what wasn't my first choice, the Inreach. I opted for something to use that is optimal for those risking their time, money and/or health helping me. I.e. two-way. I'm no professional SAR person, but I've been involved with enough to know that the more communication the better. Obviously a SPOT or PLB is better than nothing, but the bargain with those who may help me also includes those I leave at home, who figure their emergencies rate as much, if not more, than my probably self-imposed ones. YMMV if you have more sympathetic friends and relatives.... :sombrero:
 

Crom

Expo this, expo that, exp
Since by definition these are used in emergencies, isn't then two way ALWAYS preferred, by that logic? (Putting aside tracking for the amusement of recipients.)

I thought about these issues long and hard before I went for what wasn't my first choice, the Inreach. I opted for something to use that is optimal for those risking their time, money and/or health helping me. I.e. two-way. I'm no professional SAR person, but I've been involved with enough to know that the more communication the better. Obviously a SPOT or PLB is better than nothing, but the bargain with those who may help me also includes those I leave at home, who figure their emergencies rate as much, if not more, than my probably self-imposed ones. YMMV if you have more sympathetic friends and relatives.... :sombrero:


Good for you buddy.

I have two mobile phones, dual band ham radio, spot trace for tracking, PLB for SHTF emergency. I'm good!

Inreach is nice for two way, if you need that, not everyone does. I certainy don't. In 11 years backpacking and overlanding, the number of times I wish I had a two way sat communicator was zero. don't need a baby sitter texting me how to navigate, or telling me other useless information in the sticks.

I thought two way would be nice at first, but this thread, and then saw 0210's post above, my situation would be similar, and most likely abused by family.

Best of luck!

-Crom
 

bhguy

Observer
I think the other huge benefit of 2 way communication is that if you come across some else who is in need of help or wants to let family know they are ok but running late or broken down the option is there. For the most part my tools, first aid, extraction items, and comms are not used to help me but people i have stumbled across on trails, paths and even the water.

Also if there is a serious enough situation to send a sos giving first responders as much info can be life saving. I came across 2 atv riders that hit each other head on last fall. I was on foot but still had my ham radio with me and was able to get responders out with enough equipment to deal with 2 critical people. A plb likely would have brought out a few guys from sar to see what was going on not the 4 side by sides with 8 responders and 2 stretchers, having 2 ambulances waiting at the trail head.

Having any divice is better then nothing i just think why not go for tge most features when the cost is comparable
 

DaveInDenver

Luddite
I think two-way communication would be nice although I'd rather it be two-way phone (I rely on at the moment a mobile radio and cell phone). I imagine trying to coordinate a happy hour with a couple of people via texting and what a charlie foxtrot that usually ends up, so I question the real emergency efficiency of communicating via what amounts to a twitter account.

You'll at first be going through your contact list or GEOS, who'll then have to hand it off to someone on scene, probably a county sheriff or something. Honestly, I'd take my chances with a reasonably well informed AFRCC controller to make happen what needs to. I'll monitor the simplex frequency (146.520) I put in my GEOS information and, yeah, I assume most SAR will know what that means.

Sure, for non-critical messages sending out a satellite tweet would be handy. You could play the what-if game ad nauseam, but people have been going in the backcountry since Moses learned to drive and being able to think on your feet and deal with problems is part of the allure for me.
 
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teotwaki

Excelsior!
AndrewH: Did you make a purchase yet?

________________________

What is most important is that we consider any satellite beacon to be a last resort for an emergency. Leave a travel plan with a trusted friend, take first aid training and bring the right tools or gear to effect a self-rescue. As always, carry at least the 10 essentials before relying on a satellite rescue beacon.

I have used SPOT's service since November of 2008 and have not experienced any reliability issues. As long as I ensure the device's antenna has a decent view of the sky there are no issues with the SPOT service determining my location within 10 meters. I am currently using a Gen2 device. What I like most about SPOT is that either the tracking option or frequent use of the "OK" message will result in a pointer of your direction of travel. PLBs cannot accomplish that. PLBs can only deliver 100M accuracy when activated for an emergency. That is why they must have the 121.5 transmit beacon to get SAR teams homed in on your actual location.

I had considered the ACR PLB-375/ResQlink with no yearly service fees but the total cost of operation is a little more complex. Those PLB's can be tested only 12 times before the battery is considered too low to be reliable. If the beacon is activated because of a need for rescue then after that the batteries will have to be replaced. You can pay to replace the battery at a cost of more than $100 or maybe violate the warranty and attempt to replace the battery yourself. It seems to be the equivalent of two CR123 batteries in series. SPOT beacons can be tested as much as you need using "OK" messages and batteries are easily replaced by the owner, even when out backpacking.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
Sure, for non-critical messages sending out a satellite tweet would be handy.
Because the bulk of my trips are solo, you hit on an important tidbit. Some guys in this discussion are focussing things through a lot of bravado. I don't carry a two-way device because I'm some nervous Nelly. I carry it out of consideration for my lovely wife. When I'm on another continent by myself, and miles from a road, she might send me a quick message to make sure I'm okay. It's not "baby sitting," as Crom asserts. I'm totally fine when left to my own devices. It's just a means of reassuring my wife (and family) that all is well so she does't worry. If it relieves her of a minute's concern, it's worth it to me.

The reality is now, for all she knows, I may have busted my insulin pen, had a bad reaction to something, and my tracking dot has stopped because I'm in a hypoglycemic coma. The actual chances of that happening are super slim, but putting myself in her shoes, sending her an "okay...going to sleep now" is worth a million bucks.

On another note, there have been plenty of times when my trips have run long by choice or circumstance. Instead of just hitting an "okay" button which is a vague reassurance, I can shoot her a message saying, "Decided to stay out another day..." Sometimes it's just a quick message, one in a matter of days, that resets all the wonder and questioning.

But again, that's just an easy solution for my needs. The one who needs to be navigationally baby sat. :)
 

teotwaki

Excelsior!
Personal interviews notwithstanding, the number of succesful rescues from PLB's stand on their own merits. Anyone who takes the time to research it can clearly see that for themselves. .........snip..............

Because I looked closely at purchasing a PLB I found that SPOT and PLBs are not evenly matched for total rescue rates. Total COSPAS/SARSAT to date is 3977 and total SPOT to date is 4918. COSPAS/SARSAT has been operating since 2001 and SPOT since 2007. For instance in 2014 the COSPAS/SARSAT folks claim 250 rescues in the United States and SPOT says 500 in "North America" (but not a U.S./Canadian breakout). I am still looking for a yearly breakdown of all of the the claimed SPOT rescues. COSPAS/SARSAT is nice enough to put theirs on the front page. SPOT's details are buried in news releases.

http://www.sarsat.noaa.gov/ and http://www.findmespot.com/en/pressroom/index.php?article_id=926

COSPAS/SARSAT shows more at-sea rescues than land-based rescues in 2016 stats which is likely due to the boating adoption rate of EPIRBs/PLBs. The smaller PLBs may shift that ratio as folks going into the backcountry purchase them. I think that despite the different technology approaches in directing a SAR team to you that both device types have a fairly equal chance of getting you found except for polar regions where SPOT will not work. The PLB is highly dependent on the SAR team having the expertise to track a very low power 121.5 MHz beacon if they cannot find you based on the low resolution GPS data sent by a PLB.
SPOT map: http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=108


spot_coverage_2016Aug5.jpg
 

Crom

Expo this, expo that, exp
Because I looked closely at purchasing a PLB I found that SPOT and PLBs are not evenly matched for total rescue rates. Total COSPAS/SARSAT to date is 3977 and total SPOT to date is 4918. COSPAS/SARSAT has been operating since 2001 and SPOT since 2007. For instance in 2014 the COSPAS/SARSAT folks claim 250 rescues in the United States and SPOT says 500 in "North America" (but not a U.S./Canadian breakout). I am still looking for a yearly breakdown of all of the the claimed SPOT rescues. COSPAS/SARSAT is nice enough to put theirs on the front page. SPOT's details are buried in news releases.

http://www.sarsat.noaa.gov/ and http://www.findmespot.com/en/pressroom/index.php?article_id=926

COSPAS/SARSAT shows more at-sea rescues than land-based rescues in 2016 stats which is likely due to the boating adoption rate of EPIRBs/PLBs. The smaller PLBs may shift that ratio as folks going into the backcountry purchase them. I think that despite the different technology approaches in directing a SAR team to you that both device types have a fairly equal chance of getting you found except for polar regions where SPOT will not work. The PLB is highly dependent on the SAR team having the expertise to track a very low power 121.5 MHz beacon if they cannot find you based on the low resolution GPS data sent by a PLB.
SPOT map: http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=108


spot_coverage_2016Aug5.jpg

Thanks for your post.

Interesting on stats.

I too question the ability of SAR staff to use MDF (mobile directional finding) radio equipment to "home" in on 121.5 MHz. For what it's worth the unit also as an LED Strobe built in.

Ultimately I'm not at all worried about it.

My PLB is about to get a battery refresh due to age, will be seven (7) years old this year. I went and looked up specs for it due to your comment about low resolution GPS.

It's an ACR-350B SAR LINK unit. GPS receiver is 66-channel, 12 GPS acquisition tests. That's pretty darn good IMO. I have not compared GPS receivers in current market offerings, would be interesting to see if there are any changes.

The attraction for PLB is that anybody can operate it. Does not require technical knowledge, flip open and push the emergency RED button. My four or six year old kids could do it if told to do so.

Thanks
 
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teotwaki

Excelsior!
Thanks for your post.

Interesting on stats.

I too question the ability of SAR staff to use MDF (mobile directional finding) radio equipment to "home" in on 121.5 MHz. For what it's worth the unit also as an LED Strobe built in.

Ultimately I'm not at all worried about it.

My PLB is about to get a battery refresh due to age, will be seven (7) years old this year. I went and looked up specs for it due to your comment about low resolution GPS.

It's an ACR-350B SAR LINK unit. GPS receiver is 66-channel, 12 GPS acquisition tests. That's pretty darn good IMO. I have not compared GPS receivers in current market offerings, would be interesting to see if there are any changes.

The attraction for PLB is that anybody can operate it. Does not require technical knowledge, flip open and push the emergency RED button. My four or six year old kids could do it if told to do so.

Thanks

You are welcome!

Being a tech type it is likely you'd be interested in a little more detail about what goes on inside the PLB after it gets the GPS fix.

Although the PLB has a high end GPS chip set that aids in fast position acquisition the satellite transponder bandwidth limits have forced the PLBs to truncate the last few digits of the position fix before it is transmitted on the 406 MHz uplink. The best possible position resolution will be within 4 seconds (see below) which is roughly 400 feet depending on where you are on the planet. You'll see a number of references in literature to 100 meter accuracy and this spec quoted below is why a PLB accuracy is worse than the 10 meter accuracy of a SPOT position fix.

4.5.5 Encoded Position Data*
4.5.5.1 General


Beacon position data, obtained from a navigation device internal or external to the beacon, may be encoded in the beacon message. Position data can be encoded in either the PDF-2 part of the message, or in both PDF-1 and PDF-2 parts of the message.
Three levels of position resolution can be encoded in the beacon message:
 position data with resolution of 4 seconds in PDF-2, given as an offset of the position data provided in PDF-1 with a resolution of either 15 minutes or 2 minutes;
 position data with resolution of 4 minutes in PDF-2, together with any of the user protocol identification methods used in PDF-1; and
 position data in the short message with a resolution of either 15 minutes or 2 minutes, together with a subset of the beacon identification methods (i.e., with shortened identification data).


see this doc:

SPECIFICATION FOR COSPAS-SARSAT 406 MHz DISTRESS BEACONS C/S T.001
Issue 4 December 2016


http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/images/stories/SystemDocs/Current/CS-T001-DEC-2016.pdf

The other interesting thing that I found was the misgivings the Civil Air Patrol has about the PLB's 121.5 MHz transmitter.

The biggest official group with the expertise to deal with the 121.5 MHz beacon is the CAP and they are justifiably concerned about the low power of the PLB's signal at 121.5 MHz. Below is an excerpt from their document about their 2013 RDF modernization efforts and they state that the 121.5 signal is basically too weak to pick up more than a few hundred yards away.

That distance is barely over the radius of error for the PLB's GPS coordinates message to the satellite and will not be received at an FAA facility or by one of the CAP search airplanes. They feel it would have to be someone on foot using radio direction finding equipment.

Section 5 page 3: 121.5 MHz Homing Signal’s Reduced Effective Radiated Power for 406 MHz Distress Beacons:

a. 406 MHz Distress Beacons authorized for use within the United States include a 121.5 MHz Homing Signal. This Homing Signal is designed to narrow down the location of the beacon once SAR assets arrive into the local search area.
b. Since GPS-equipped 406 Distress Beacons have an accuracy of better than 100 yards (1-3 NM when GPS data is not available), the signal strength of the 121.5 MHz Homing Signal is significantly reduced from the dedicated 121.5 MHz-only beacons. The 121.5 MHz component’s transmitter is reduced from 0.100 Watts to 0.025 Watts to minimize the impact on the aviation use of this frequency for emergency communications.
c. A greater impact to the detectability of the signal is that the newer beacon’s shorter 7 inch antenna is optimized for its 406 MHz component’s 5 Watt transmitter.
d. The combined result is that the Homing Signal’s effective radiated signal strength may be less than 1/10th of the older dedicated 121.5 MHz Beacons with antennas that are over 24 inches long.
e. The lower radiated power results in situations where air, ground and maritime SAR assets may not detect the 121.5 Homing Signal until within a few hundred yards or less of the beacon.


Source: https://www.capmembers.com/emergency_services/operations_support/prosecuting/
 

bigskypylot

Explorer
I'm going to correct your post a little bit. It's 406 MHz beacon. Most modern units transmit GPS coordinates, and have a local 121.5 MHz homing signal, locally generated for SAR staff on the ground.

It is flat out wrong as you suggested that "they don't know crap about emergency other than a squawking signal"

A PLB properly registered, is one of the safest easiest emergency tools you can own. Numerous stories of people being rescued within hours by helicopter.

And it's a simple affair to update the registration form with current travel plans or additional helpful information for SAR. For example, I include, my vehilce description, plate number, SPOT Trace hyperlink, travel plan, etc.

Also GEOS is a monitoring service. It is still SAR (government and government organized volunteers ) that comes to the aid of those in need.

Very well-said!
 

Kevin108

Explorer
I don't carry a two-way device because I'm some nervous Nelly. I carry it out of consideration for my lovely wife... The reality is now, for all she knows, I may have busted my insulin pen, had a bad reaction to something, and my tracking dot has stopped because I'm in a hypoglycemic coma.

I had two stents put in last year, just a couple months before my 36th birthday. That plus a lifetime of other health issues suggests my time is likely to be shorter than average. I want to make the time I do have as interesting as I can. Between my own self-destructing body and the severe risk of mechanical injury when meandering around alone in the mountains, I am shopping these devices. Though no difficult to get to, there is no cell coverage for quite a drive in any direction. I'm able to take a lot more time off from work than my wife is, and we have a great spot a few hours from home I want to spend as much time exploring as I can. Getting out solo while being able to assure her everything's fine would make a world of difference. It beats staying at home, nice and safe and waiting around to die early anyway.

Comparing the Spot and InReach, I prefer the latter because of the text/e-mail capability. I have no need for navigational features. I've already configured that in redundancy. I also prefer the InReach service plans, as it appears you can subscribe to the service when you're going out, rather than being obligated to an annual plan.
 

Kevin108

Explorer
While we're all taking... If I bought one of these devices, what would be the best way to rent it out?

Sent from my SM-G900V using Tapatalk
 

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