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How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 12:28 am
I take a SPOT 3 whenever I am off-trail, alone or with others, and increasingly even on remoter trails. I use 5-minute tracking so my wife may follow my progress and so that I increase my chances of being found should I be injured and unable to activate the SOS. My various message settings are to assist others to clearly assess my situation. Of course, I also leave a trip plan and discuss scenarios where authorities should be contacted. I use the Check In function twice when I arrive safely at a destination each night, but it is not reliable and my wife has learned to not totally freak out if no Check In is registered. No system is perfect, and the SPOT or its batteries could fail, and that may lead to a false alarm, but I don't know any way around that. I change out the batteries before a trip if I have used the device more than two days or if the batteries have been otherwise sitting around in the device.

My settings:
SPOT Basic Service, Unlimited Tracking
Active Message Profile: Default
Tracking: 5 minutes
Movement Alerts: Disabled
Check In: I am OK and am enjoying my hike!
Custom: I have changed my plans and may be delayed exiting. NON-URGENT, no need to contact anyone.
Help/SPOT S.O.V.: I have NON-URGENT NON-LIFE THREATENING difficulties, but may need food or physical assistance to exit.
S.O.S.: Gender, age, weight, fitness, blood type, list of medical concerns, CA driver’s license, Dr. contact info, medical center ID#, experience and first aid training, mobile phone#, contact name and number.

The Help/SPOT S.O.V. is the one setting I am unsure of. I am using it to say that I have a problem like a foot injury, but I am not going to die and think I can make it out. All scenarios short of a helicopter, which is a wide category.

Any comments or other ways to use the various programmable buttons?

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 6:58 am
by freestone
I have mine set up pretty much the same way you do and send the ok message every evening where I make camp. I always track the green lights when I send the ok and let it sit there and do its thing. My only advise is to never put it in your pocket when tracking. I noticed every time I did, the light turned red indicating it lost the satellite signal. You are probably going to get a lot of messages on why the SPOT is inferior to other devises but actually I have been very happy with mine because I really do not want to be texting and getting weather reports, I just want to let my family know that I'm ok and when the trek is over, I can go back an analyze my path on Cal Topo.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:16 am
by AlmostThere
I wouldn't say inferior, it's just no replacement for leaving an itinerary. Electronics fail, sometimes when you need them most. Anything with a battery is simply not a good last resort. As several people on my last trip discovered, when the temps dropped and left them shivering in their bags in all their layers, forgetting to put their devices in the bag with them... I had my stuff sack with tomorrow's clothes and my batteried devices in between my feet. Two phones died an untimely death last weekend. iPhones are particularly wonky when it's cold, one of them didn't rebound completely until in the car - from 4% to 94%.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 10:57 am
by longri
I had my SPOT set up pretty much like that. But the percentage of failed transmissions was very off-putting. The lights can appear to indicate success but it's far from a guarantee that it really worked. I was going to buy one after renting but was convinced by my experience that the SPOT is an expensive toy. I bought a PLB instead.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Fri Feb 23, 2018 2:09 pm
by bobby49
You may find that an inReach device gives you better flexibility. Since it does two-way texting, you can have more complete discussions with rescuers.
For example:
(S O S sent from inReach)
"This is the sheriff's dispatcher. Do you have an emergency?"
"I think that I broke my leg, and I can't walk."
"I can probably get the sheriff's helicopter in there tomorrow morning. Can you make it through the night OK?"
--- then it goes on and on ---

I was doing one section of the JMT, and I did not know exactly when I was going to exit at Bishop Pass. I desired to hitch a ride from South Lake out to Bishop, but if that failed, I wanted to get a shuttle ride ordered up. So, I arranged this with one trusted family member. I would send out a message when I was within 12 hours or so of South Lake. Then I would send another message if I really needed the shuttle. I supplied the necessary data to the family member so that they could remotely do the shuttle transaction, should that be needed.

I arrived in Dusy Basin near Bishop Pass and sent the first message on the evening before my exit. The family member acknowledged that. Then I hitched a ride so that we did not need the shuttle.

There can be a more constructive dialog with two-way texts.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:31 am
I am aware of the limitations of a SPOT and hope to learn of any techniques that might increase its effectiveness.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 12:22 pm
by longri
I met a guy who used the different buttons (OK, Custom, Help) as a code. He essentially had three bits to play with so he could send more than three messages. Very clever.

But what if one of the messages fails? That would garble the "code" and possibly result in the wrong message being sent.

He claimed it never happened, that all of his messages always made it. I don't know how he managed that. About one third of the messages I sent failed to generate an email, despite happy blinking lights on the SPOT.

I don't think there's anything I could have done to make my SPOT more effective. It simply didn't work a lot of the time, dropping many messages and failing to track for long periods. I don't know if it was due to inadequate satellite coverage or what. It would have been more acceptable to me if the unit actually gave correct feedback about success/failure. But it didn't.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 2:52 pm
Yes I can see how different combinations could allow for more complex messages, but as you say, the code is worthless if one message does not get through. I have not tested the device to see if the "green" light indicator is an accurate indication. Clearly the satellites for the private SPOT network are inferior to the Iridium network. It would be interesting to learn if a SPOT failure in a particular location may have a better chance over time as the sky moves overhead, or if some locations are just bad all of the time, period. I would be more confident if I thought that repeated efforts might eventually yield success. If the answer is a resounding no, I might be more inclined to get a Delorme.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 2:59 pm
by rlown
I got the delorme through Maverick's offer. Also because I can suspend the contract when not in use. It was flawless last September on Rafferty creek. Texted 3 people to let them know what was going on. Got the weather once when 5 days in. I think I convinced a fellow hiker to get one when we got separated; we could have told each other what was going on.

Re: How to use a SPOT device

Posted: Sat Feb 24, 2018 6:03 pm
I've been using a SPOT 2 since it came out. I never saw any need for get the 3 so the following may apply only to the 2.

I push the On button. Once it starts blinking, I push the OK button. I then leave both buttons blinking, and go off and do something else (putting up the tent, make dinner, take photos--whatever) for 15-20 minutes. When the OK button stops blinking, then I turn off the SPOT.

My experience has been as long as I leave it on until the OK button stops blinking, the message gets through. If I turn if off sooner, the message does not always get through.

I use the Custom Message to let my wife know I'm changing my intinerary, but am otherwise fine.

By the way, my first SPOT 2 died while on a trip. I hiked out early so I could get to a phone before the one+ day window without communication occurred. When I got back and told SPOT it had failed to turn on even with new batteries,etc., they sent me a new one.