SPOT messengers are unreliable

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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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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby TeamDino5280 » Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:53 am

I was in the market for a PLB in April and ended up going with the Delorme Inreach. I was amazed that not only did the sales person at REI talk me out of purchaing the SPOT but I had a group of other guys randomly come up and say all of the same things to me mentioned in this thread. I have not had the Delorme for that long but I have had no problems with it. I like the fact that it works off of the Iridium sat network and still utilizes GEOS.

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby ihaveagps » Wed Jun 20, 2012 10:56 am

I ended up getting one of these since I hear that the SPOT is unreliable.

The yearly fee is really what ticked me off about the SPOT and the fact that is does not even use the "Search and Rescue Satellite" system. Its just a fancy satellite phone.

McMurdo Fast Find 210 Personal Locator Beacon with GPS

is around 250$ and makes me feel much safer then having a SPOT that might or might not work. AND THE BEST THING IS NO YEARLY FEES! ... erralID=NA


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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby Boggy B » Wed Jun 20, 2012 11:34 am

benners wrote: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).

Exactly. Line-of-sight affects every device that uses GPS, which relies on LOS to at least three satellites to get an accurate fix. When you're in an inset couloir or on/near big walls, there's a good chance your unit will lose at least one satellite. When this happens to my handheld (Garmin 60csx), it will just start tracking me along the intersection calculated by the two satellites it still sees, which is not at all accurate. Other devices might react to this differently--maybe the SPOT stops updating your location when this happens, which makes more sense for its purpose, and that would be difficult to see when looking at your track.

But I think accuracy is not the real problem, but the ability to transmit (handheld GPS units do not transmit, only receive). I don't know anything about that, except that you can't transmit to a satellite you can't see. Maybe SPOT can only transmit to certain satellites?

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby creidinger » Wed Jun 20, 2012 12:01 pm

I've had a SPOT messenger (2nd. gen.) for about a year and a half. For the last 6 months mine has been notoriously unreliable, often failing to track nearly entire trips and transmitting my "OK" message only about 2/3 of the time. My annual subscription is up for renewal, so I'm switching to the Delorme Inreach along with the Earthmate 60w GPS. From the reviews I've read, the Inreach is significantly more reliable than SPOT. It'll be nice to be able to send custom text messages from the backcountry as well.
"GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." Habakkuk 3:19

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby benners » Wed Jun 20, 2012 12:26 pm

Boggy B wrote:Maybe SPOT can only transmit to certain satellites?

My understanding is there just aren't enough satellites to create a solid umbrella of coverage 100% of the time. There are sometimes holes in the network during which the nearest satellite is at an extreme angle on the horizon. The SPOT also has a weak signal compared to PLBs, which means it is sometimes unable to compensate for these holes by transmitting the signal farther, resulting in a failed transmission. I believe PLBs utilize a military satellite network (as opposed to SPOTs commercial network) that has better coverage, and in conjunction with a stronger signal, the probability of getting an emergency transmission out successfully is much higher with a PLB than with a SPOT. SPOTs are cool toys that can be used to send OK messages to loved ones etc, but they are just that, toys, and shouldn't be relied upon in emergency situations in my opinion.

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby its_not_a_tuba » Wed Jun 20, 2012 12:37 pm

Wow, mine just started acting up as well. On my last two outings it either sent no tracks or just about half of them. I haven't had time to investigate what was happening so I really appreciate you posting this. I just renewed my subscription a couple of month's ago so I guess I am going to have to live with it for a while. Total bummer because I really thought it was a great product there for a while.
"Wilderness settles peace on the soul because it needs no help. It is beyond human contrivance." -- E.O. Wilson

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby jsdratm » Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:36 pm

There was a similar discussion in Reddit's camping and hiking section and I thought I would share a nice informative post from a user named jakdak:

Do some research here. There is a world of difference between a SPOT device and an actual PLB from ACR/McMurdo/etc.
1) SPOT has a 400mw transmitter. ACR's have 6.4w and McMurdos have 4.3w. You have 10-15x the transmission power with an actual PLB. (i.e. enough to power through cloud cover or foliage or out of a canyon)
2) SPOT connects to Globalstars aging private satellite network. A PLB connects to the far superior government funded COSPAS-SARSAT network. (Basically Globalstar founded SPOT to find new uses for their existing sat phone satellite where the COSPAS-SARSAT network was specifically designed to handle maritime and aviation beacons- if you've ever used a Globalstar sat phone you'll know how spotty the transmissions can be (no pun intended))
3) PLBs also have the ability to emit a homing signal which can be picked up by doppler radar. So even if you can't get a GPS lock you can still be found by SAR teams. (And SAR teams can home in on your signal in to pinpoint your location even during poor visibility conditions) SPOT does not have this.
4) When you hit the panic button, your signal is going directly to a Air Force run response coordination center that is already tied into response protocols and rescue teams. With SPOT your message is going to a call center at a private company that has been teetering on the edge of bankrupcy for most of its existence (and you are counting on them to relay your message to authorities)
5) SPOT has a yearly fee. The PLBs do not. When you factor this in SPOT is actually more expensive over several years. The PLB manufacturers are competing solely on the strength of their devices and have experience in a wide range of personal, maritime, and aviation beacons. SPOT is using their device as a hook to get you to pay for their service. Globalstars main revenue stream is from phones and pagers- not from beacons.
6) SPOT has a history of product recalls and poor build quality.
So I repeat my statement that as an actual rescue beacon- SPOT comes up sorely lacking. SPOT pours an enormous amount of money into advertising- so much that most folks don't even realize that alternatives exist and are not aware of the vast technical differences between these devices.
If you are simply looking to send "I'm OK" messages- then SPOT may be a solution for you. (Though both ACR and McMurdo now have solutions that cover this- IMHO you are better off just carrying a satellite pager or phone if you really need to communicate out of the wilderness) However- If you are looking for the highest probability of a successful rescue when you activate the distress call- then I would personally much rather have a PLB than a SPOT.

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby metalmountain » Wed Jun 20, 2012 2:09 pm

Hmmm...I actually have just recently had a few issues with my SPOT as well. I use it mainly to track my routes so I can check them out when I get home and keep track of things. The live map function also keeps my gf happy when I am out in the mountains since we live a rather long distance away from each other, and even when she can't keep an eye on the map she gets the "I'm ok" messages. The last couple times I have gone out there have been a couple messages that I sent that never showed up. Now I'm curious as to whether there may be a bigger issue going on that I realized since it seems a few of us are having issues at the moment. So ACR and McMurdo both can send messages now as well?
"The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, steady dignity that simply refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going." - Graeme Fife

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby Furthermore » Wed Jun 20, 2012 5:56 pm

I have a first generation SPOT which I have owned since the product was introduced. Over the years, I think I have had only a few (2 or 3?) OK messages NOT go through. For me, my unit has been working great.

The problem seems to be with the newer beacons as it seems the second generation units have more problems??

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby bob863 » Wed Jun 20, 2012 5:58 pm

I haven't used my SPOT in the mountains this wife and I subscribe to the "tracking" feature which allows her to track my progress on a web has been reliable for the last 3 years....granted, if several signals get "dropped", then the progess on the web site looks pretty wierd.... I've used it flawlessly in my hikes/trips into remote areas of NM and AZ....

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Re: SPOT messengers are unreliable

Postby Eph 2 5 » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:15 pm

I used to have problems with my SPOT appearing to show that an OK message was sent, but later I found out many of them never went through. However, recently I have been keeping the SPOT on and sending for a full 5 minutes or longer after I first see that the message has supposedly been sent. I don't think any messages have failed when I do this. It sounds like you might have more serious problems with your locator though.


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