I got a chance to use my Spot Satellite Messenger on my trip to Mexico in May. Overall I was very pleased with the way it performed and want to discuss the details of this product and how it worked out for me. First off…
What is Spot?
Spot is a device you can use to check-in with family or friends and in the event of an emergency call for help. What makes Spot so special is that it doesn’t rely on cell phone towers in order to send these messages. When your cell phone has no bars, this where Spot shines. For me this is perfect because I find myself rarely having cell reception while riding on remote roads. Spot is also a GPS device that sends GPS coordinates to either rescue teams or family/friends so that they can easily find you.
What can it do?
There are three main functions, or messages that can be sent. Each time a message is sent your GPS coordinates are sent as well.
- Check In (OK)
- Track Progress
You can preset messages for the “Check In” and “Help” functions on Spot’s website. My Check In messages was something along the lines of “Everything is OK, just checking in” and was sent to my friends and family via email or text messages. You can setup the list of people you want to receive these messages on Spot’s website.
The “Help” message is really just another message that you can send to people on your message list, but it conveys that you need some assistance from them. This wasn’t really applicable to me since no one back home could really help me while I was in Mexico, but I think this could be useful for hikers. If they get lost and find a road they could set a message as “Pick me up” and have friends or family come get them.
The 911 button is for those times when everything that could go wrong, did. If you need medical assitance or are trapped under a log somewhere, this is the button that could save your life. Fortunately I don’t have any experience with this feature first hand. Here is what the makers of Spot have to say about the 911 feature:
Use this function In the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency to notify emergency services of your exact location and that you need assistance. The GEOS International Emergency Response Center alerts the appropriate agencies worldwide – for example contacting 9-1-1 responders in North America and 1-1-2 responders in Europe. Even if SPOT cannot acquire its location from the GPS network it will still attempt to send a distress signal – without exact location – to the Emergency Response Center, which will still notify your contacts of the signal and continue to monitor the network for further messages.
You can also have your progress tracked and updates fed through a public site that anyone can check. Otherwise you can give your user/pass to friends/family if you want to make it private. I hope they come up with a way to make multiple accounts. I don’t like giving out my user/pass to people. Spot updates your current GPS coordinates on the website every 5 minutes. This costs an extra $50 though.
Mountain roads are my favorite places to ride, however, they often contain some of the most dangerous road conditions. Fallen rock, poor road surfaces and cliffs that drop sheer into valleys. My most feared circumstance is crashing my bike off the side of the road in some vast wilderness and unable to move to save myself. That’s where the 911 feature should come in handy. When everything goes wrong one day, this device could get me out of a jam.
Giving family and friends peace of mind is my other reason for using Spot. They’ll scold me about some of the trips I take and generally think it is crazy and stupid, but at least they can rest easy when I check-in at the end of the day.
What’s in the box?
Nothing too special. Just the unit and some manuals, but that’s really all you need. Here are some close up pictures (double click the slide show to see hi-res photos).
What does it cost?
The Spot receiver costs $150, but is useless unless you activate the service. It costs $100 per year, which isn’t too bad, but it would be nice to just turn it on for a month here and there since I’m only going to be using it a half dozen times in a year. You can add the real-time tracking feature for $50 extra.
How did it work?
Here is a list of all the check-in points from my trip into Mexico. I would send off a Check-In message at the beginning and end of each day I was on the road. I did send a couple messages throughout the day I was riding through the Sierra Madres on Mex-16. The roads were particularly bad, and I was covering a lot of ground so I thought it couldn’t hurt to Check In every couple of hours in case I go flying off a cliff somewhere. No messages were registered when I was near Big Bend, but honestly I think I might have forgotten to send them that day.
So overall, I think this is a product that provides a lot of peace of mind for both yourself and friends and family at a fairly cheap price. If you find yourself riding farther and farther from civilization (like me) the Spot Satellite Messenger is a useful and reliable gadget that might get you out of a jam one day.