This past Christmas, I received a SPOT Messenger. I didn’t activate it until just recently, when I was helping deliver a sailboat from Annapolis to Marion, Mass. The reason I decided to activate the SPOT service was so that several of the families and friends of two of my fellow delivery crew would be able to keep an eye on them, since this would be their first major passage.
The SPOT Messenger is a small GPS-based satellite transponder that uses the GlobalStar satellite network to transmit location and time data as well as one of four types of messages. The four message types are:
- I’m OK
- 911—send help
- Tracking update
The first three message types are included in the basic $99 annual service.
The “I’m OK” message is basically just that… to let people know where you are and that you’re okay.
The “Help” message can be tailored via the SPOT Messenger website to be a “call me” or “send money” or some other type of message, that requires some action on the part of the persons monitoring you.
The “911” message will result in the SPOT Message service center calling the authorities to respond… and should only be used in a true emergency.
Please note: While some people think that the “911” feature will replace an EPIRB, I disagree. First, the SPOT Messenger relies on the Globalstar satellite network, which has some serious issues. Second, an EPIRB or PLB acts as a SAR Transponder and broadcasts a 121.5 MHz signal to help SAR personnel locate you. Third, the run time on the EPIRB or PLB and durability of the units is probably much greater.
The fourth type of message is a tracking message, and it requires the real-time tracking service, which costs an additional $49 per year. To send these messages, you put the SPOT into tracking mode. These can then be seen on a SPOT tracking page.
There are a couple issues IMHO with the SPOT and its tracking mode. First, tracking mode is only active for 24 hours, and then it needs to be re-activated. Second, tracking mode sends a message out every ten minutes, which is a bit too short a time interval for most sailboat tracks.
Personally, I think that tracking mode should stay active until it is deactivated. I also think that there should be some other intervals for tracking messages, say 10 minutes, 1 hour, and 6 hours or something similar. This would make tracking boats much simpler, since the SPOT would operate for about a month if it was allowed to send messages every hour instead of every 10 minutes.
BTW, if anyone is interested, here’s a patched together image of the SPOTcasting route from the s/v Felix delivery. Not quite a complete log of the journey as I didn’t have the SPOT in tracking mode for the very first part of the trip.