Piece of Mind
I carry a Spot II Satellite GPS Messenger these days to give my wife peace of mind when I’m solo backpacking or winter hiking and mountaineering. It’s not a perfect solution, but it works well enough for me to still use it. Read on.
While the Satellite Messenger can be used in an emergency to summon emergency responders, it can serve a number of other functions, including:
- Check-in/Out: Let contacts know where you are and that you’re ok with a pre-programmed message.
- Custom Message: Let contacts know where you are and send a pre-programmed message (or a different message than in number 1).
- Track Progress: Send and save your location(s) and allow contacts to track your progress using Google Maps.
I mainly use the Check-In function of the SPOT to send my wife an all’s well email message, every morning and night.
Technically speaking, I’m not sending her an email each time I hit the OK button. Instead, I set up a standard message on the SPOT web portal and specify a set of email addresses that it gets sent to when the SPOT satellite receives an OK message from me. The message includes a hyperlink to my lat/lon on a google map, along with my canned message.
You Don’t Have Mail
There’s just one catch. Sometimes the email message is not sent – maybe 10% of the time. I’ve had this happen despite being in locations where I can get a clear GPS signal (not in a canyon or in a forest), and despite the feedback provided by the device that a message has been successfully sent.
Apparently, this is a known defect with the SPOT, and the main reason I’m writing this post is to let you know about it. Others, including the US Forest Service have also experienced the same issue during more systematic testing of the previous SPOT Personal Tracker which ran over the same network.
Where’s the Bug?
It’s not entirely clear where the bug in the SPOT system is, since messages sent from it hop across several networks to get to their final destination. The process looks like this.
- GPS Satellites provide the SPOT with location signals.
- The SPOT GPS chip determines your location and sends it to communication satellites.
- Communication satellites relay your message to specific satellite antennas around the world.
- Satellite antennas and a global network route your location and your pre-programmed message to the appropriate email, sms, or emergency network.
- Your location and messages are delivered via email, text message, or emergency notification to the GEOS Rescue Coordination Center.
Knowing networks and messaging systems like I do, the delivery breakdown could happen at multiple locations in the delivery process (email is not really as reliable as you think), and may even manifest itself differently by message type or priority. (SOS vs Check-in).
Despite The Delivery Failures
Despite the periodic delivery failures, now that my wife and I know that SPOT check-ins are not always reliably sent, she gets less freaked out when I drop off the air for a day or two. Like I said, this device isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that we keep using it instead of a more traditional Personal Locator Beacon which only sends distress messages and doesn’t also provide check-in capabilities. This capability is unique to the SPOT because it runs on a private satellite network.
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
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