First Glance, SPOT Generation 3 “Personal Locator Beacon”

spot_gen3 If you travel to fish, hire guides in remote locales, hike deep into the wilderness, use a boat, or do simple solo fishing adventures, you ought to be aware of an inexpensive “personal locator beacon” called a SPOT . It is a simple, waterproof, rugged, and small device that can literally save your life if you get hurt or get lost in the wilderness by utilizing satellite-based tracking. It can alert family members of your whereabouts, or in the the worst situation actually send rescue personal to come retrieve you.

While it’s not as powerful or reliable as an actual Personal Locator Beacon, which utilizes a constellation of satellites instead of just one at a time, it’s darn close.  And for the price, size, and ancillary features should be on your radar.

I’ve been using the first generation for a number of years and recently upgraded to the newly released Spot Gen3.  So far I am loving the new release for a number of reasons, but mainly how much smaller it is.  It’s only 3.4 inches high, 2.56 inches wide, and 1 inch thick, so it easily fits in my pocket and lets me take it on even mundane trips to my local creek on solo missions.  The buttons are far more intuitive and you actually get confirmation via a number of LEDs that the action you requested just really happened. The battery life is also much better, with Spot claiming the charge lasts twice as long as the original. The tracking feature is very nice too, with the option of laying a “breadcrumb trail” via Google Maps for later reference or to update your family and friends of your whereabouts every two-and-a-half minutes, if you desire.

Some of the other features include Check IN, which lets family and friends know that you’ve arrived okay; SPOT assist (alerts pre-set emails or phones that you’re in a non-life-threatening situation but might be delayed or need help); and a short custom message relayed via SMS text or email to a pre-determined group.

If the $150 for the actual unit and an additional $17.95 for GEOS Search and Rescue “insurance” sounds like a cheap-enough safety net, do yourself a favor and head over to the SPOT website to see the complete list of features.

This entry was posted in Accessories, Gear with sub-topics . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Melinda

    SPOT actually uses a satellite network rather than just one bird – they’re owned by Globalstar. There were some serious reliability problems with the second-generation SPOT device that were partly related to a smaller satellite footprint than the competition (InReach uses Iridium) but as nearly as we can tell mostly related to antenna problems on the device, both in manufacturing and in placement. Both SPOT and InReach use GEOS for their emergency communications, and frankly there have been some issues with GEOS failing to notify local emergency responders in as timely a manner as they should, and this is where it becomes clear that if you really, really, really need a PLB, get a real one and not one of these inexpensive satellite messengers. On the other hand, these are fine for most uses.

    Also worth mentioning is that SPOT retains your track for only about a week, but you can use other websites or tools, such as SPOTWalla, to keep a copy for as long as you want. I also pull down the data for my own tracks and store it locally. They have a very simple and easy-to-use API.

    One thing I played with was programming a “caught a fish” message so that I could get a reasonably accurate map of where and when I was doing well (and not so well), but ultimately it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Still, a fun experiment (and no, I’m not sharing *that* map). We also use them quite heavily for live-tracking long-distance dogsled races here in Alaska.

    • http://www.midcurrent.com Marshall Cutchin

      Very interesting and informative, Melinda.

  • kyle

    These Spot devices also require a yearly subscription that cost as much as the device itself. I do a bit of backpacking and have researched Spot’s devices. The have fairly poor reviews, and are routinely returned to the local hiking store I frequent. If you need a reliable device to send for help in while in the wilderness I would look else where. If you only want a device to track your movements and create maps, then the $300 (this would only include one year of use, each additional year would be another $150) Spot is one of many options to consider.