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Jack and Barb
Begins: Apr 17, 2011
Date: Mon, Nov 29th, 2010
Start: Encinitas, CA
End: Encinitas, CA
Daily Distance: 0
Entry Visits: 2,520
Journal Visits: 385,619
Guestbook Views: 167,217
Guestbook Entrys: 482
SPOT, Man's Best Friend
Not long ago, we heard about SPOT. Saw what it could do and immediately ordered one. The device (get the newer SPOT Gen 3) is selling for about 150 USD and you will have to pay an additional 100 USD per year for the service but it is a true bargain for what it does.
SPOT is like a personal locator beacon. With it, you can send emails by satellite from virtually anywhere in the world to as many people on your email list that you want*. SPOT will upload your GPS coordinates to the satellite and, these coordinates plus a personal message will be relayed to the email accounts that you predetermine.
Here are the features and limitations:1) You have the ability to compose three different messages but each one has a maximum limit of 110 characters. 2) You can only compose the messages using a computer via an internet connection (which means you set up your canned messages before you leave) and 3) The new SPOT device (SPOT gen 3) is very sensitive, more so than the SPOT 1 and 2, but still it may not "see" a satellite if you are in deep tree cover or a tight canyon.
So, with this capability, you can send an "I'm Ok and having a great time" message every day to your family or friends while you are out and about. Or, message #2 could read "Rats, I'm having boat problems again and will need a tow. Please come out and help" #3 "OK, we are in a dicey situation, will either pull the SOS soon or send you an OK within 24 hours." (this warns your friends or main contacts that you might be needing help soon). Finally, the SPOT has the SOS button that uploads your coordinates to a central clearing house who relays them to the nearest search and rescue people WHO WILL COME LOOKING FOR YOU. The SOS goes to no one else but the rescue center. They will not know the nature of your emergency but will send the nearest, most qualified responders. (see image #2 above for button location).
Don't worry, there are a couple of safeguards to keep the SOS from going off in your pack by mistake. The newer SPOT 2 and 3 have a flip top cover over this button and you must engage two buttons to successfully send the signal. But you should only push that SOS button if and only if you really need it. We talked to a SAR guy in Bishop, CA and he said they have gone on a few SPOT emergencies but they were all false alarms. The older SPOT 1 has fewer safeguards than the newer version and was the likely culprit.
Now, why is this such a valuable device? Well, Jack was on a solo ascent of Banner Peak two summers ago. If he had fallen and broken a leg or something, he would have been on his own. SPOT would have saved his butt as there was no one else around that day. Say you are backpacking with a friend and he/she gets appendicitis or is bitten by a rattler. Lite up the SPOT! Windsurfer with equipment failure who gets blown out to sea (it is waterproof), or heck even if you see a car wreck out in the middle of nowhere, no cell reception, call in the troops with your SPOT.
For non-emergency use, it can assure your friends and family periodically that you are fine. For your yearly subscription, there is no limit as to how many times you can push the buttons. Again, remember the SOS button is the sacred one. You better be in trouble. Yeah, there is a whole discussion regarding people even having these things in the backcountry. It gives them a false sense of security. Some have pushed the envelope further than they should have, knowing that SAR is only a push button away. Not good.
In a dicey situation, like crossing a raging river, you should have your SPOT secured on your body. If you lose your pack (with spot) in the river you are s.o.l.
Here is how we plan to use our three "OK" messages when on the PCT.
#1 : We are having a great time. Check our location on the google map link below.
#2 We are still in this thing but not real happy - rain, snow, heat, wild animals, etc are making it tough. Will update the journal soon with details.
#3 We came across someone(s) who will need help, will likely push the SOS soon.
(this third message is hidden behind a cover, like the SOS button and we will only use it to tell our close friends and family not to worry as we aren't in distress but we happened across someone who is. After hitting #3, we pop the SOS.
When you register your SPOT, you will list two main contact people. If you send out an SOS, the SAR people will first call your contact people to verify that yes, you are out there somewhere and could likely need help. If your contact people received the #3 message, they can at least tell the SAR that it is not you but someone with you. (a little peace of mind for the family members).
Scott, the mastermind behind this "postholer" website has set up a way for you to publish your SPOT "OK" gps coordinates (no message) directly to your Journal page. You do not have to upload any journal entries, simply include your SPOT registration number in your #1 or #2 (or both) messages, list that number in your journal setup page, and include firstname.lastname@example.org as an email recipient. Push your OK button on the SPOT and, as you see on the upper left box, "My last SPOT location" and a placemark on the "Pacific Crest Trail Map" will be updated. If you are worried about someone finding you on the trail, you can enter a delay time on the update and your current spot location will not post on your journal for up to 14 days later. We will be running our SPOT updates in real time so feel free to find us, bring lots of food and WARM BEER! (Jack is starting to come to the realization that warm beer is better than no beer).
Pretty cool huh! (oh, btw, we are not affiliated with SPOT or GlobalStar, blah blah blah)
If you ski the backcountry, get a spot. On a lift served area (Kirkwood) Michelle, a friend of ours was skiing the trees and dropped into a tree well. She broke her leg in four places. Fortunately another friend heard it happen behind him and climbed back up the hill to help. It was near closing time too - would have been an ideal time for SPOT!
Now, we know that a lot of you PCT'rs are on a limited budget and, maybe you can't afford one but in perspective, it is way cheaper than your monthly cell phone bill. On the flip side, we are seeing more and more people travelling with these devices so if you don't have one, likely someone will come by who does and help you out if necessary. Edited note, in 2015 we saw lots of hikers using the Delorme InReach. It is more expensive but allows two way text communications.
After the hike evaluation: SPOT was found to be unable to locate the satellite under certain conditions - read the gear review at the end of this journal. If you have family or friends at home who are tracking your progress, set up a plan with them in the event they don't see your signal for three or four days. What if you lose the device but are ok. What if the SPOT dies but you are ok. You do not want a search and rescue team out looking for you under these circumstances. Will you have a cell phone too? Check in regularly. Spot does not tell you if your signal was received by the satellite. Your will get a better chance of a signal upload if you keep it on for at least 15-20 minutes.
*The service only allows up to ten email recipients per message (X3). But,there is a way to get around this. What we do is send one email from SPOT to a gmail account and have that email filtered and forwarded to all our friends (making it limited to gmail's maximum forwarding number).
It is a good idea to add your own email address as one of the notifiers. When you are on the trail, you can easily tell if your SPOT signal went up by simply checking your email (assuming you have web access).
One set of AA Lithium batteries will last you for more than 5 months, checking in once a day. If you are set to continuous tracking, say once per hour, they will need replacement after about 2 months
Unit (Gen 2) including batteries weighs a mere 4.1 oz, case (not necessary) add 0.7 oz.
For details on setting up SPOT for your journal, see this.
We remember the days of backpacking through Europe in the '70's. You would arrange to pick up your (snail) mail at the American Express offices along the way. It was our only contact with home and a very welcome one. Who woulda thunk - If someone had told us 20 years ago that there would eventually be a device that you could hold in your hand and it would inform anyone in the whole world your exact location, almost instantly.
Beam us up Spotty!
Jack And Barb Take On The PCT
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