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Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby kpeter » Wed Nov 14, 2012 10:47 pm

Here is my thinking, for what it is worth.

I was an early adopter of SPOT and have never regretted it or had any kind of failure with it.

It is true that if I fall and hit my head the SPOT is not going to spontaneously call for help. But it is far more likely that I might have a heart attack, or serious altitude sickness, or a bad sprain or break that required transport. So if the device can deal with 90% of my potential emergencies should I not carry it because it can't deal with 10%?

But in fact it would help with the 10%. I do send messages at each major intersection/lake/pass/campsite that I pass and this would dramatically narrow the search area for any SAR.

I take many precautions about not accidentally or carelessly activating the 911 function. I don't see how that would be possible in my case.

I am not compulsively addicted to communication devices. I am part of the .0002 % who do not even own a cell phone. I am saddened as I watch people increasingly live their lives in a technology mediated world. I like SPOT precisely because it is not two-way communication. I can only use it to reassure others or to summon help, but since I cannot receive any information on it, it does not invade my feeling of solitude.

I do understand the minimalist approach. I respect Colin Fletcher's decision not even to take a watch into the wilderness. But I cannot make my decisions in a self-centered way. I must realize that my own pleasure in the wilderness experience depends upon taking the risk that I could worry my family or expose a SAR crew to expense and danger. I feel that I have an obligation to do what I can to prevent this, or else I am placing my own pleasure above the chance that I could inflict harm on others.



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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby freestone » Thu Nov 15, 2012 6:36 am

The soloist can make decisions on a whim and a devise will not moderate a bad choice or propose an alternative. A companion would be there to say "that's not a good idea, lets try this instead". So for me, a gizmo is not in the cards.
Next year I will find a companion, or enroll with an experienced commercial group hike. Yeah, commercial, professional babysitters, the "tour bus" approach. If I do sneak out on my own, I will use the permit system much better now, including a detailed itinerary, my interests, and a topo map of the proposed route, with alternatives, for them to attach to the permit. Hikers who do not pull a permit, or just BS it, are needlessly placing themselves into obscurity if a rescue is required. The Permit system also allows rescuers to contact other hikers who pulled a permit in the same time frame and area. And don't be fooled into thinking just because you are on the JMT, they will easily find you. 25 paces off the trail to "enjoy the view" is all it takes to become hard to find.
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby fishmonger » Thu Nov 15, 2012 8:03 am

kpeter wrote:Here is my thinking, for what it is worth.

I was an early adopter of SPOT and have never regretted it or had any kind of failure with it.


I used mine for 4 years, I think. Many times, when I still had tracking service, it simply never sent a signal out all day, even though the LED was doing the double flash it has to do to be in that mode. Last time I used it was a month ago on Isle Royale, and out of 15 "OK" messages only 2 arrived. This was with wide open sky at the shore of Lake Superior, not moving for hours. I never hit 911, which based on my OK experiences I highly doubt would actually work. Even if it did, I'd not want to rely on a device with such sketchy performance over time when not in emergency mode.

Now that said, my sat phone also had a full day of outage just one week into owning it. It later turned out to be because of some Brazilian election data being routed over the Inmarsat satellite that day, which crashed the entire satellite and it took almost 18 hours to "reboot." They didn't tell me that when I subscribed :eek:, but I guess all systems have some chance of failure. Iridium was too expensive for me, but I guess their multi-satellite setup is more reliable, as long as none fail permanently like on Globalstar (i.e. Spot's network, which is "spotty" due to some holes in coverage. They've been working for years to launch new satellites, and one day they'll actually have them back up there, I suppose).

I also don't own a smartphone - all the gizmos on the market that rely on a smartphone to send texts just aren't confidence-inspiring: let's add one more point of failure, more battery charger issues, more device failure in poor weather conditions.

From a total cost of ownership point of view, my Inmarsat phone and 2 year pre-paid 100 minute plan was just over $600. Big one time expense, but for 2 year I am covered. Add on a few minutes in 2 years to extend the service plan, or just switch it to monthly pay as you go when on the trail, disable when not. The operating cost of a sat phone has dropped so much that it now is a viable alternative.

So far I barely used 2 minutes on a 2 week trip (testing it, a few texts with weather info, that's it), but I love having the ability to call rangers, talk to a doctor when things aren't quite right, get help when in a situation that doesn't warrant the 911 all or nothing button on a Spot.
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby kpeter » Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:02 am

fishmonger wrote:I used mine for 4 years, I think. Many times, when I still had tracking service, it simply never sent a signal out all day, even though the LED was doing the double flash it has to do to be in that mode. Last time I used it was a month ago on Isle Royale, and out of 15 "OK" messages only 2 arrived. This was with wide open sky at the shore of Lake Superior, not moving for hours. I never hit 911, which based on my OK experiences I highly doubt would actually work. Even if it did, I'd not want to rely on a device with such sketchy performance over time when not in emergency mode.

I can see why you would be concerned. Did you ever get an asnwer as to what happened with your Spot? (If you sent 15 OK messages you must have spend nearly 5 hours sending them--given that it takes a 20-25 minute cycle to send just one. Or were you still using tracking? Or maybe you have an earlier or later model device than I have? I think I have the original--the size of a bar of soap, not the smaller variety.) In any case, I'd really like to find out the cause of your problems because they do sound worrying.

I never used tracking nor depended on it, so I cannot comment on how well that feature of Spot worked. Instead, I would stop and send an OK signal at lunch or at camp and let the gizmo cycle through its three sends over the 20 minutes it takes. When doing that, I have never had a failure. Not one time in probably a few hundred sends over the years. I'm pretty meticulous--I keep all the email messages so I can use them to track the Spot send locations on my trips, and they always came through.

I have taken the device across the Sawtooths in Idaho and through many parts of the Sierra, but don't have experience at other longitudes or latitudes.
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby frediver » Thu Nov 15, 2012 9:25 am

Well thats the thing, most work mosf of the time, will yours when you really need it???? IIRC several web sites have info. concerning the failures of the Spot device. Sometimes it is the devicd and thd signal it sends, other times if has been failure to properly report the signal recieved.. Still I bet the success rate is very-very hi. and I would bef if you bought one it would work just fine, if I boughf one it might not!
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby Scouter9 » Thu Nov 15, 2012 10:00 am

Let me just say that the discussion in this thread, particularly from those using, or with experience around the PLB's of various types, is useful to me. I deplore cell phones in the outback, yet I carry one because I am responsible for others. I appreciate the opportunity to soak in experience and perspective.

Thanks!
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby fishmonger » Thu Nov 15, 2012 2:52 pm

kpeter wrote:
fishmonger wrote:I can see why you would be concerned. Did you ever get an asnwer as to what happened with your Spot? (If you sent 15 OK messages you must have spend nearly 5 hours sending them--given that it takes a 20-25 minute cycle to send just one. Or were you still using tracking?


I didn't bother to find out. It is running on the final subscription cycle and after that it goes into electronics recycling. I was out for 8 days, did about 2 OK sessions a day. No tracking, as I don't see a reason to give them money for what a few OK pushes a day can accomplish as well... if it actually worked.

I used tracking in 2009/10 and it worked most days quite well, only two times nothing. Not sure why, maybe we didn't quite push the proper button sequence, or it failed to lock on to the satellite for the entire day.

My experience with their customer support is another reason to ditch the device. Just try to drop a feature from your plan on their web interface, such as tracking. It won't let you. You can only add, unless you call. I did that, they said all good, then they charged me anyway for tracking, even though it was actually disabled. A month and many emails later I got the money back and 3 more useless months of Spot basic service as a "sorry our bad" token.

Once they even charged my expired debit card, which I figured should not be possible. So careful - even if you think by keeping an expired credit or debit card on file with them to avoid the auto-renewal, they will charge it anyway (it was the same card #, but exp. date and security code had changed). Add to that all the stories of Spot sending incorrect location information to SAR and other glitches, I'd rather be the one talking to a ranger myself to relay my location.

When I first got the Spot, a sat phone was $1500 and you had to budget $100+ for 45 minutes and 30 days of service. Now the cost difference is much smaller and I simply don't see why I should accept the shortcomings of all these new gizmos when I can get a proven technology that adds real two way communication for not much more money. I hike with my kids, and I need to be able to get help when stuff happens.

Once my daughter fainted in the middle of nowhere and I sure would have liked to call a doctor/nurse to ask what I need to do to check her out. It wasn't a reason to hit 911 on the Spot, but not knowing what was going on, we hiked with quite a lot of apprehension for the next few days. This happened near Woods Creek, easily 2 days from any trailhead and help.

Looking back at years of hiking in the Sierra and other mountain ranges, every situation I can think of when I would have needed a way to communicate with the outside world, a 911 button would not have been appropriate, but a sat phone would have been perfect, either to call for medical advice (once we met those snakes... could have gotten ugly), or for a weather forecast in a gnarly storm, or to check in with home, even with just a few lines of text message stating what was going on, rather than having them wonder about a confusing tracking line on some google map suddenly veering off the planned route for no apparent reason.

I can imagine that a 911 button can come in handy when you're really severely injured and even calling with the phone becomes impossible (i.e. can't get in position for good signal), but that's the chance I take. If I was really paranoid, I'd get an Iridium 9575 phone that has a 911 button and GPS data options just like a Spot, but those are the most expensive sat phones right now.

If a Spot is all that's in your budget, well, get one. In most cases, it will probably work. We used ours for years, and it is the oldest model. It probably has been improved over what I have. I don't use it any longer mostly because I can afford something I consider more useful.
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby fishmonger » Fri Nov 23, 2012 11:14 am

in case you are thinking about getting the DeLorme InReach - Amazon has it coming up as a Black Friday deal today

Upcoming Deal
DeLorme inReach Two-Way Satellite ... Deal starts at
12:30 PM PST - that's about 2 hours from now - just go to the home page at amazon and click on the black Friday deals, then wait for the deal to go live. current price there is $219, but it should drop quite a bit based on the other deals going on there today.
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Re: Satellite Emergency Notification Devices: signalling gizmos

Postby RooPhillip » Mon Nov 26, 2012 9:28 am

Just an FYI: Best Buy.com has Spot 2s on sale for 75 bucks.
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