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ess105 06-01-2008 08:55

SPOT - safety gear
I ran across this interesting gadget today : Home - SPOT Satellite Messenger

It looks quite appealing to those who want to track their adventures as well as add an additional line of safety, on land and on water. While the coverage is not fully global, it covers many cruising areas.

Has anyone any experience with this device? Any opinions?

hellosailor 06-01-2008 13:16

You'll find very little "experience" since it just came on the market.

Apparently a private company that is contracting with Iridium or GlobalStar and using their packet data network to carry messages to their private data center--and then passing them along to government SAR systems as appropriate. If the company succeeds, great. If it closes, you've only lost $200, but you'd want to make sure it was still working every once in a while. And check about the annual fee and what that might change to.

Unlike government SAR systems and EPIRBs, where you can be sure it won't be shut down while you are at sea.

rebel heart 06-01-2008 23:14

Check out the coverage map:

Coverage - SPOT Satellite Messenger

I think this has changed. Originally, they used the orbcomm constellation, which is truly worldwide. Now they're using the more common approach of a geo constellation, which cuts down the service area quite a bit.

I had high hopes for this, but it looks like they've ditched deep ocean support. If you want to check out another option, more email oriented (that used orbcomm), check out skymate:

SkyMate | Wherever you go. Whatever you need.

ess105 07-01-2008 04:58

I think the Skymate option looks expensive if you've already got SSB & a Pactor modem aboard. As an alternative or a backup it looks attractive. Email at sea is something I consider a luxury rather than a necessity so backups are not on my list. When traveling (water and land), letting people know you're ok without having to track down internet cafes seems useful so the SPOT seems to fill a gap in the market.

rebel heart 07-01-2008 08:55

Yeah but the spot is only for coastal use; if you have an SSB you're going to be able to connect with coastal stations just fine. The spot falls apart in its deep sea coverage, which is something the skymate offers.

I wouldn't have both an ssb and a skymate; I don't want either to be honest. You can pick up an ssb receiver for $50 (and $0 installation cost), that will do weather fax just as well.

I'm still on the fence in regards to Internet access. I make my living as a software developer so obviously a solid connection is extremely important to me; I've had broadband every day of my life back to 1998, and even have had a pretty good Internet package on my smart phone for the last four years.

All that being said, I *need* those things to do my job. Everything that's offered right now on the marine market is a pretty weak excuse for broadband, not to mention very expensive. Like I said, my vote is still out, and hopefully before we leave some amazing new product comes out, or the rates drop considerably for the existing stuff.

I think at this point a sat phone is in the cards. Not insanely expensive ($500?), no installation costs, works in a life raft, works anywhere on the globe or in the sky, and you pay as you go.

hellosailor 07-01-2008 10:03

At 10x the price, Skymate is a nice full communications system that allows text messaging and requires ships' power and the antenna be intact, and your computer functioning.

Spot is inexpensive and limited to saying "OK" or "HELP" with a position report, two fast packet messages from a self-containted gizmo that fits in your pocket and runs off penlight (?) cells.

Nice that we've got so many options these days. Such a shame that it makes it so much harder to say "Look, I'll be at sea this week, if you really need me, you call this High Seas Radio Operator, and she'll reach me in a couple of hours, and oh yes, you're going to pay five dollars a minute to talk with me."

Dudeman 05-07-2008 17:54

I work as a surveyor and have used the SPOT while working on active mines. It's a no frills device, and is easy to use. You first program who you would like to receive the message and then go from there. It can be a text message or email. Once that's done there's an OK button that sends your coord to those people, a help button that tells your people you're in trouble, and a 911 button that alerts 911 which is probably useless. They're a great way to check in with people for $200 intial price and then $50 a year for service.

TimG 30-12-2008 23:08

I've been on the receiving end of a SPOT distress signal- not sure if the "911" button was used. SAR assets (HH-60 helicopter and HC-130 airplane) were sent to the Brooks Range in northern Alaska in response to a SPOT message.

The guy was "rescued" so the system certainly worked in his case. Whether the person was in genuine need of immediate SAR assistance is a whole different issue....

Islandmike 31-12-2008 05:52

We purchased a SPOT prior to leaving on our coastal/intracoastal trip South from CT. At each anchorage we send out an all OK signal to 10 people that we set up prior to leaving. It also will show your track and postion on google map. We think it is a neat gadget, it only cost $150 and our families can track our progress.

Hud3 31-12-2008 06:16

s/v HyLyte loaned me his SPOT messenger for a passage from St Thomas to Bradenton, FL, so we could test it out in the eastern Caribbean.

I set up a web page to display my tracking data, and tested it out when bringing my boat from summer storage in Antigua back home to Nevis. It's supposed to send a tracking signal every 10 minute, but the track displayed on the website probably had only 1/3 of the transmissions represented. Still, it was enough to see my track. Note: the tracking function works for 24 hours, and then must be manually restarted.

On the trip from St Thomas to Bradenton, it did much better, according to my wife, who appreciated the ability to see where we were at any given moment. It lost it's signal east of Eleuthera, Bahamas for 8 or 10 hours, but performed well otherwise. From my experience it may get "spotty" around the edges of the coverage area that they claim on the company's website.

Skip Gundlach on Flying Pig has his SPOT active right now if you want to see what a SPOT shared webpage looks like.

Besides the regular tracking signal, you can press a button to send a pre-programmed "OK" message to email addresses that you've entered in advance, a "Send Help" message to those same addresses, or a "911" emergency message to a 911 center that you've selected beforehand. It uses two AA Lithium batteries.

They were on sale for $115 last time I looked.

svHyLyte 31-12-2008 06:50

Old News---
This issue was previously discussed at some length. See

s/v HyLyte

hellosailor 31-12-2008 07:16

Tim, that brings up the interesting sidebar onwhether there should be charges for rescues. I was just reading that the New Hampshire state authorities now have a rescue plan that does often bill the folks who call them.

Their plan is so logical that it may well spread. First, the rescue happens without concern for billing. Then the rescuers evaluate the situation (i.e. to hikers go into the White Mountains with no preparation amd use a cell phone to call "rescue" that same day because they simply got lost, versus a prepared group caught in a record-settting unpredicted blizzard) then they turn their evaluation over to the state attorney general's office for review and possible action. If they agree "these folks only needed rescue because they were unprepared" then the bills go out. Anywhere from $75 to $16,000 so far, the latter for a helicopter SAR.

They go one step further, posting rules & terms & wannings at trail heads, so it is hard to say "I wasn't expecting a bill" snd "I didn't know".

Might be harder to draw the lines at sea--but it sure sounds like they've found a good compromise up there. Its been critical to funding their SAR programs.

noreault 31-12-2008 07:46

Costs of Rescue
The dilemma of charging for rescue is wanting people to use it at an appropriate time. Many rescue groups resist charging since it inhibits the use of the rescue services.

People may elect to delay calls, not knowing how the State will rule on a particular case.

Delaying the call for rescue creates two problem:

1. It increases the risk for the requesting party, and
2. Since the condition of the requester is more dire it may increase the risk for the rescuer.

While I am sympathetic to requiring fools to pay for their foolishness, there is a downside.

TimG 31-12-2008 08:17

I fully agree that charging for being rescued is a slippery slope.

I fly for the AK Air National Guard and we have no means or legal authority to bill anyone so determining liability/negligence is not an issue for us. Our missions are done at the expense of US tax payers under the National SAR Plan. However, the Coast Guard does have the authority to determine negligence and assess for the cost of the rescue.

In the lower 48 most rescues are done by local law enforcement- country sheriff, etc, so I would imagine that policies vary widely. In Colorado if you have a current hunting or fishing license you're covered since part of the cost of the license goes into a SAR fund. That seems like an excellent way to deal with the situation.

Anyhow, back to the thread.... The SPOT looks like a very economical means to keep people informed when you're in an area with limited communications. We're contemplating one for our boat this summer since we will be cruising about Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords in AK for a couple of months.

svHyLyte 31-12-2008 08:32

It Costs How Much?
HelloSailor points out an issue that, IMHO, warrents more consideration and not the least, how to ensure that users are made aware that they may have to bear the costs of their own foiblies.

While EPIRB's, GPS/Chart Plotters and other "modern conveniences" have their merits, they also have had the side effect of permitting ever more inexperienced, unskilled, people to head into the deep with no real appreciation for the pitfalls of their endeavor. A proclivity that seems to be exacerbated by the evolution in yacht design whereby boats may be "seaworthy", but not "seakindly", so much so that although a yacht may not be physically endangered by a given set of conditions, the crew finds itself unable to endure the discomfort and pulls-the-plug--calling for, and expecting, "rescue" when they are not truely endangered, as in the recent case of the crew "rescued" in the northeast when they encountered 40 knot winds and 12' seas discussed elsewhere in this forum. These "rescues" endanger the lifes of their saviors; and, commonly result in the loss of expensive yachts for no good reason. Knowing that one might have to bear the costs of one's own salvation, might have deterrent effect.

In the case of the SPOT, one can purchase an emergency evacuation/rescue insurance policy for a nominal amount. It would seem that a similar coverage could be added to yacht insurance policies for a nominal premium and that yacht registrations--whether State of Federal--could include a "Dumb A_s Clause" in large bold type face that would have to be signed with each renewal of registration, that acknowledges that if one requires rescue as a consequence of one's own negligence, actual or constructive as determined by a court of inquiry, one shall be obligated to bear the full costs of such rescue.


s/v HyLyte

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