SPOT messengers are unreliable

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SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby CO Native » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:31 am

If you are considering purchasing a SPOT messenger please consider the following.

A little over two years ago I purchased a SPOT messenger (the new model). It worked great for the first 12 months but soon after it acted a little weird on one trip. Upon my return I found it had only transmited for half the trip, even though it appeared to be working the entire time. After that I was unable to get the device to transmit anything ever again. I called SPOT and their customer service told me that there must have been some electronics failure internally and since it was beyond the warranty period by 1 month I would have to go buy a new one. Thankfully I purchased mine from REI so I took it back and traded it in for a new one. After getting the new one I spent a lot of time working with SPOT to finally get that one linked to my account. Again this one worked well for just over a year. Now this one is doing the exact same thing. I turned it on for a trip and it transmitted my first location, then has not transmitted or been able to get a GPS fix since. Since it can't get a GPS fix it won't even try to send the SOS message. The worst part again is that for the trip the device never showed any red lights indicating an error. I wonder if I had pressed the 911 button if it would have let me believe help was on the way. SPOT once again refuses to rectify the problem. I have not abused the device in any way, I always carry it in the top pouch of my backpack on trips shielded from water (even though it claims to be waterproof). I am returning this again to REI, however SPOT refuses to refund my annual subscription that I just renewed even though I no longer have a functioning device to use it with.

These units are unreliable, which is kind of critical for such an item, and the company does not stand behind them. While I agree you should not rely on your electronics in the wilderness, if you have one you kind of expect it to function in optimal conditions. Buying one and paying for the subscription is just a waste of money.

Consider yourself warned. If you're still going to buy one make sure the place you buy it has a great return policy.
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby tmathews » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:34 am

CO Native wrote:If you are considering purchasing a SPOT messenger please consider the following.

A little over two years ago I purchased a SPOT messenger (the new model). It worked great for the first 12 months but soon after it acted a little weird on one trip. Upon my return I found it had only transmited for half the trip, even though it appeared to be working the entire time. After that I was unable to get the device to transmit anything ever again. I called SPOT and their customer service told me that there must have been some electronics failure internally and since it was beyond the warranty period by 1 month I would have to go buy a new one. Thankfully I purchased mine from REI so I took it back and traded it in for a new one. After getting the new one I spent a lot of time working with SPOT to finally get that one linked to my account. Again this one worked well for just over a year. Now this one is doing the exact same thing. I turned it on for a trip and it transmitted my first location, then has not transmitted or been able to get a GPS fix since. Since it can't get a GPS fix it won't even try to send the SOS message. The worst part again is that for the trip the device never showed any red lights indicating an error. I wonder if I had pressed the 911 button if it would have let me believe help was on the way. SPOT once again refuses to rectify the problem. I have not abused the device in any way, I always carry it in the top pouch of my backpack on trips shielded from water (even though it claims to be waterproof). I am returning this again to REI, however SPOT refuses to refund my annual subscription that I just renewed even though I no longer have a functioning device to use it with.

These units are unreliable, which is kind of critical for such an item, and the company does not stand behind them. While I agree you should not rely on your electronics in the wilderness, if you have one you kind of expect it to function in optimal conditions. Buying one and paying for the subscription is just a waste of money.

Consider yourself warned. If you're still going to buy one make sure the place you buy it has a great return policy.


Mine still transmits and I've had it going on three years now. I guess I'm lucky? :-k
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby djkest » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:35 am

This reminds me of this account on 2010 mountaineering accidents:

Travis posted a detailed account of those events on 14ers.com: "Today me and Kevin8020 were hiking the hourglass just shy of the summit of Little Bear Peak. The hourglass was completely iced over and was impassable, we decided to take a ledge on the left side of The Hourglass and decided to wait and see if the sun would help melt anything out. 30 seconds after this decision was made, Kevin's hand/foothold (I could not see all of him) broke loose and he fell several hundred yards down the mountain.[remove], both of our spot trackers malfunctioned at a terrible time. I waited 30 minutes by chance that the distress signal did go out, tried to comfort Kevin, and after no response from either Kevin or SAR, I made the hardest decision of my life and had to hike out, leaving my partner behind."


If you are spending all that money, wouldn't you want it to work when you need it? Otherwise, what's the point?
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby prestone818 » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:40 am

maybe spot is selling rei lemons, probably not though- i would guess many here bought from rei. it sucks that this happened to you but i have a feeling you are among the minority.

have you taken it on alot of winter climbs?
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby CO Native » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:45 am

With the first failure I figured I was in the minority and it was just a fluke. The second time it happened is when I started to think there is a flaw in the devices, hence my posting now not then.

I do use my beacon in the winter as I feel it's more important to have along then. However both failures occurred in the summer.
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby thebeave7 » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:11 am

Both Sugar Madison and I have the newest SPOT units and have been seeing some intermittent problems with them. It'll send probably 80% of the time, but occasionally it'll miss points. Sounds like its a generic problem with their units. I've heard nightmares about their customer service, so not even sure if its worth calling them.

Since my subscription also runs til December (bought at REI) I'm going to stick it out in hopes its just some software type issue with their system and not a hardware problem.

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby FireOnTheMountain » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:16 am

I know I've had failed messages below treeline in somewhat thick "canopy". Also on some big NE faces high up have had a message not go through. In both instances the device said the message went through.

I've heard getting a view of the southern sky is the best way way to gain satellite signal.

Looks like its not just you Native.
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby abqben56 » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:40 am

Has anyone heard any reports on the reliability of the DeLorme inReach?
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby LynnKH » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:43 am

Me too. SPOT was nice enough to replace the unit the first time, but my second SPOT didn't work consistently after a few months.

At this point, my cell phone is more reliable (just switched to Verizon a few months ago as it seems they may have the best coverage in the high country) so I've pretty much abandoned my SPOT, though I suppose it doesn't hurt to have it in my pack as a back up as long as I'm waiting for the subscription to expire.

Maybe we are just to hard-core for the poor little SPOT. Glad Verizon can keep up! \:D/
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby benners » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:53 am

It has to do with the line of site to the nearest satellite. Sometimes even when transmitting from high on a peak with a clear sky SPOT will still fail to send messages. This happens when the extreme angle between the unit and the satellite on the horizon creates too much distance for the SPOT's relatively weak signal to cover, and there's no closer satellite for the unit to transmit to. In other words it's not always the individual unit creating the problem, but rather the satellite network the SPOT utilizes. There are inherent momentary gaps in coverage, which is why I never really took the SPOT seriously because in a life threatening situation when you'd like to know your unit will transmit, it can still fail (i.e. the Little Bear incident).
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby jsdratm » Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:25 am

I got a McMurdo Fast Find (a real SAR beacon) and haven't had to use it yet, but at least I know it is dependable if I have a real emergency. The SPOT looks like a cheap solution designed to make money off of an aging satellite network and I wouldn't trust my life with it. Maybe it would be nice for updating people in non-emergency situations, but I can usually get cell reception at the tops of mountains anyway.
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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby B-Dog » Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:44 am

Thanks for the post/feedback everyone. I haven't done my research yet but buying one has been in the back of my mind for awhile.

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