Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Feedback on SPOT – the rescue device

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

In his last RV Electricity – No~Shock~Zone Newsletter, our resident electrical and techno-genius, Mike Sokol, wrote about SPOT for those lost in the wilderness. No, this SPOT isn’t a St. Bernard with a keg of brandy on its neck, but rather, a dog of a different color, and one far more practical than one with a glug of hootch.

Instead, “SPOT-X [is] a compact text-only satellite ‘messenger’ that will not only allow you to send text messages to your family on their own cell phones, it can also send GPS coordinates at any desired intervals, or after you stop a hike. So you can send a text to your significant other every hour or after every hiking break you take, and everyone will know you’re all right. But if you do run into trouble, such as tumbling down a hill or getting trapped in a flooded river, SPOT will let you send a text to them or 911 with your own information on what you need, along with GPS coordinates of where you need it.” To read more of Mike’s commentary on this techno-rescue device, click here. 

One of Mike’s readers, Jim Larsen, wrote of his own experiences with an earlier version of SPOT, and with his gracious permission, we’re sharing it with our readers.

“I was pleased to see you are going to review the SPOT Locator. I have had an older version for over six years and am very pleased with it although it does have limitations. The reviews on the SPOT Gen X were not very positive and I doubt I would upgrade to it.

“I am an avid geocacher who lives in St. George, Utah. I go out weekly in my Jeep bringing along a couple of geocaching buddies. We have gone over 250 miles in a day on dirt roads and not seen another vehicle. Sometimes we are 70 miles from any road that would have any daily travel. Thus, if we have a breakdown, it would be a several day walk back to civilization. There is no cell phone coverage in these areas, thus the need for a SPOT.

“My SPOT is the old version without the keyboard and six years ago cost $100 with $100 per year for service. I can send up to three preprogrammed messages to my wife and other designated geocachers. The first message is ‘I am OK but will be delayed.’ The number of times I send that message is the number of hours I will be delayed. The second message is ‘I am OK but stranded. Send help.’ My wife or others can look up my SPOT URL and see exactly where my location is. The URL also makes a map showing where I have been with the breadcrumbs it drops every 10 minutes. The third message is the SOS sent to search and rescue in an life-threatening emergency. It sends my location directly to Search and Rescue. I have never had to use this feature.

“Now to the SPOT limitations. It is not easy to program and the instructions are very poor. They have improved over the years but are not great. It does not provide direct communications with the outside world. The reviews of the new SPOT say that the messaging does not work very well, or at all, and you have no way of knowing if the message was sent. The old SPOT does indicate that your message was sent, although the message is limited to what you preprogrammed. My SPOT uses three AAA lithium batteries which last about four days of continuous use. Such batteries are not rechargeable so I must carry spares.

“I personally know of two incidents where a SPOT was needed but not available. Three of my geocaching buddies went for a weekend outing to Moab, Utah. They hiked into a canyon to find a geocache and found they could not get back out of the canyon. They had some rope, water, and limited food (planning for a day hike only). It was Saturday when they became stranded, and when they did not return Sunday night, one wife called Search and Rescue on Monday morning. It so happened that there had been a shooting in the area on Sunday and Search and Rescue was involved with that search all day Monday. It wasn’t until Tuesday that they went looking for the geocachers and found them Tuesday night, out of food and water, but still alive. With a SPOT they would have been rescued on Saturday.

The other incident was tragic. A man and wife (inexperienced) were trying to hike the Subway in Zion National Park. There is a shoot of water about 30 feet high just before you reach the real Subway section. The wife made it down this section with ropes and the help of her husband. The man became entangled in the ropes halfway down (upside down) and his wife couldn’t get him out. She hiked out for help (three hours) and by the time rescuers reached the man (five hours) he was dead. I hiked the Subway with the park backcountry ranger a week after this incident. He said he couldn’t reveal all of the details of the incident but that if they would have had a SPOT the man likely would still be alive.

“I don’t think I will often be out of cell phone range in my RV, but out in the West it is easy to get to off-road locations where there is no cell phone service at all and no daily travel by others. In these areas a SPOT gives me and my wife (at home) peace of mind.”

Thanks to Jim for his candid, and useful comments!

Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña De Maris
Russ and Tiña went from childhood tent camping to RVing in the 1980s when the ground got too hard. They've been tutored in the ways of RVing (and RV repair) by a series of rigs, from truck campers, to a fifth-wheel, and several travel trailers. In addition to writing scores of articles on RVing topics, they've also taught college classes for folks new to RVing. They authored the book, RV Boondocking Basics.



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Stanley Sokolow (@guest_38014)
4 years ago

Like George Newsome (below), I also have the Garmin inReach, which unlike the Spot described in this article, does have a rechargeable battery. When Off, it maintains charge for a very long time, and it can be recharged by a USB port or AC adapter. I wish that Good Sam Roadside Assistance were able to take text messages from these devices rather than just phone calls. When I was stranded on a mountain road, I barely had enough cell phone signal to reach them, so I was able to get help and towing, but if I had been a little farther away, I would have used my Garmin to contact my daughters so they could call the roadside assistance dispatcher for me. I subscribe to the minimum service, which only costs me about $16 per month plus a small annual fee. I strongly recommend getting a satellite communicator with 2-way texting capability, like the inReach. You never know when you may be in trouble and out of cell phone range or in a dead zone.

George Newsome (@guest_37985)
4 years ago

I use a DeLorme (now Garmin) inReach for my wilderness hiking. Supports two way messaging which has proven helpful in synchronizing car pick ups from remote trail heads. I’ve not needed to use emergency calling (and hope I won’t).

Sherry Dawson (@guest_37923)
4 years ago

I had read Jim’s review before, but read this today hoping the SPOT-X had improved. It amazes (and horrifies) me that a device meant for contact, rescue, and calling in life-saving help doesn’t seem to do any of those well!!!!!! I will eventually need something like this as I love to camp and drive in lonely places for the beauty and peacefulness. So I’ll keep searching for something that could save my life if ever needed.

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