Review: Spot Satellite Messenger

Monday, 10 November 2008
Spot MessengerAfter reading about the Spot Satellite Messenger for sometime, I decided that it was time to take the plunge and pick one up.

Released in September 2007, the SPOT Messenger was developed by Globstar and designed to bring search and rescue technology to the general public who were not likely to purchase $700-1000 personal locater beacons (PLB's).
What makes this little unit really unique compared to locater beacons is that it is able to send out a signal to your family (or whoever you designate) that you are OK. Think of it as a check-in. When you click the check-in button, your family gets a preprogrammed message along with a link that they can click which will bring up your location in Google Maps. Really slick.

Click the "Help" button and your family will get another message that you have a non-life threatening emergency and you need help. If you are in a real emergency, click the "911" button and your location is transmitted to the rescue coordination center where they will activate search and rescue.

For a small yearly fee, you can upgrade to a tracking feature that will ping the satellite every 10 min and keep track of your route. I love this feature because it is really easy to download that information info Google Earth when I get home and show off my trip to anybody who will listen.

For paddlers, the unit is waterproof and also floats; though I wouldn't trust the rating of 1 meter for 30 min. To be safe, get yourself a small waterproof case if you plan on taking it out on the water with you.

For me, the real selling point of this little unit was the check-in feature. It has made my family really happy when I'm out paddling our off teaching a course somewhere. At anytime, I can click the button and let them know I'm OK.

The check-in application could really be expanded for outfitters or businesses who have staff out leading a trip. For example, set up a time for your guides to check-in each day and you will know they are. If you activated the tracking, get them to turn it on throughout the trip and your clients family back at home can follow along with the trip from the comfort of their computers.

A friend of mine who runs an outfitter uses the "Help" for a different feature then what it was intended for. Just like the "Check-in" button, it only sends a signal to your family back home so rather then using it for an emergency, they use it to signal the outfitter's office that something has changed on trip and they are at a different pick-up point rather then the scheduled location. It saved a pile of time this summer trying to let the driver know that the location has changed.

Price? Well, it's affordable. The unit is around $169 US. Service for the year is $99 and if you want to upgrade to the tracking option it is another $49/year. For $7.95, they offer a rescue insurance which covers expenses up to $100,000.

I do have a couple of issues with this unit. Since it was unveiled, it has created some controversy over the past year. This is one of the first times that a company has gotten involved in the world of search and rescue. Before this, all the coordination has been handled by government or non-profit organizations and some people feel strongly that money shouldn't mingle with the business of search and rescue. Also, since there is no standards surrounding this type of product, within a few years, the market will become awash with different units and different rescue protocols with could easily show down or even hamper rescue efforts. With so many units out on the market search and rescue could get bogged down with false emergency call-outs.

My other big complaint with this unit is the poor standard of waterproofing. Being rated waterproof for 1 meter for 30 minutes underwater is fine for GPS units or VHF radios but in the world of rescue gear, it really isn't that good.  They need to strive to achieve a higher waterproof rating but that would drive the cost of manufacturing way up which goes against the overall goal of Spot.

What do I think? It's a great tool for people getting out beyond cell phone range. If you are planning on depending on this for your sailing trip around the world, get a real PLB or EPIRB but for recreational outdoor people, it's another great tool to bring along.

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David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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