SPOT - Real Life SOS Equipment Review

SPOT Review in a recent backcountry hiking adventure.

My son begun the planing six months ago. I had hoped to go with him but couldn’t take the time from work. He Planned to drive into Stein Provincial Park or “Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park” and summit Siwhe Mountain. This climb include hiking alpine mountain ridges with no known trail and lots of scrambling to find a safe way up.

It was only a few days prior his departure that I found out that all of his other hiking buddies could not accompany him except one. At this point I researched the SPOT satellite messaging and tracking service complete with the ability to record his track for review after the trip and purchased it at London Drugs (would have gone to “True Outdoors” in Kelowna but Jesse was only a night away from departing and I needed to get the system in his hands right away so he could get familiarised with it.

My first consideration was the batteries. They are lithium batteries and online forum research showed that the one set should last their five day trip and up to two weeks. Great! Next I had to purchase a $99 (in Canada) plan that would allow a few basic pre-set messages to be sent to designated emails texting phone numbers (up to 10 I think) – that was easy. I had to contact the recipients to see who their carrier was so the message would be configured correctly. After the contacts were set up we set the three messages: 1) The Check In/OK message – I had six recipients and the message was :

Made the summit.
 
2) The second message was the default help message – it is sent to everyone on your list but not emergency services. I consulted with Jesse and created this:
“This is the default HELP message. Come get me and bring tow rope.”
 
3) The third optional Custom message was: “Running late please contact work.”
 
4) The SOS message did not have to be configured and the button when pushed would send the co-ordinates to a company that SPOT has contracted to receive the co-ordinates when the SOS button is pushed and then contact local Search and Rescue Groups and RCMP.
The final step was to test it all. BAM! We didn’t even have to leave the house unlike many handheld GPS units that don’t pick up the satellites inside and our home co-ordinates were picked up and sent to all the phone numbers so we were set! The nice thing was that all the directions of how to hold each button to send each message is on the back of the SPOT and there was a quick reference card that could be carried on the person.
 
After they finally turned on the SPOT and hit the tracking button, we could see how far they were able to drive down the forest service road and at which point they camped and began the climb. This was all nice and heart warming for a lot of reasons, 1 – this was the first major backcountry multiday hike these young men were taking and we parents were relieved to be able to see their progress via the Google Map that is used on the https://login.findmespot.com website where you could log into your account. I should mention that the tracking service actually brought the entire service fee to $149.00 The SPOT was $169 after tax so the total outlay was over $300. But the service would last a year so good value if it all works when you need it.

View SPOT Review in a larger map
 
So here is where the equipment failed. On the 14th there were two gps points sent via satellite to our phones and emails. The first point was when they turned the unit on and the second point was sent at 8:53 AM where Jesse stopped rolling at the bottom of a cliff covered in compact snow. The miraculous event was that he lived with just minor abrasions. However, due to concussion like symptoms and a very bruised and battered body in addition to lost sleeping bag and ice pick, he decided to push the SOS button on SPOT and get help and get out to safety. The two flashing green lights on the SPOT that denotes the message was sent lit up and they waited and rested where he lay at the bottom of a remote cliff. Near night fall they assumed no one was coming and Jesse felt he was rested enough and ready to get to a better camp location.
 
On the parents end my message to my wife and the other two parents was that, maybe the batteries died or they turned it off. Don’t worry about the fact that the last GPS co-orinates were sent after a short period of time (the sudden stop) because earlier the cloud cover had made a weird location marker as well and the young men were obviously on their way home so why would the last point be going in the wrong direction. So…..we eagerly awaited their return ….and I began to think about who to contact to go find them based on the last known position.
 
On the Wednesday evening that they showed up, we were happy to see them, happy to see a miraculous result to a death defying fall but … incredibly angry the fact that SPOT did not hold up to a fall in an emergency and did not send a message. The SPOT information says that it is impact resistant. This was a crazy fall but the SPOT was in the top of the backpack while a Canon L100 HS camera was on the hip pocket of the back pack and received several dents to its case but …worked perfectly fine. So the men said they turned on the tracking and had it on all the way home and it said it was working. The next morning I contacted SPOT via their form that allowed me to enter in all the details and numbers of the incident and  I reviewed the terms and conditions of the unit – they are pasted in part below along with a SPOT customer service contact info. I also followed the SPOT trouble shooting procedure….I tested it and the three red lights came on that indicated a system failure. I showed this to Jesse and I reapplyed the same test but this time it said all systems worked. So I pushed the message sending button and ….no it did not work. So I sent this note to spot via their customer service form and will follow up on the issue to see how it is dealt with as it all plays out. Here is a copy of what I sent:
 
“I purchased SPOT because my son was ready to go on a remote backpacking trip. I paid an additional $150 for tracking and emergency SOS services. This was his first multi-day backpacking trip and he was going with our friends’ son. My son is 20 and our friends son is 18. Myself and my friends were so relieved to have the SPOT system. We successfully tested it before they left and they turned on the tracking enroute. My friends and I had watched the tracking closely. They were in rugged territory with ridges and several gps points were a bit off. That was understandable. On their way back my son took a tumble from the top of a ridge, down old snow and across rocky terrain at the bottom before coming to a stop. Total elevation drop was about 140 meters. Where he stopped was the last gps point sent. His friend found him about an hour later. After resting in that location with many abrasions from head to toe, dizziness, a sick feeling, soreness in his left arm that left it useless at the time in addition to lost gear such as a sleeping bag to stay warm for the last night of camp, they decided to push the SOS button. They rested and waited in that rugged location for about 8 hours at which point they decided that help was not coming even though the SPOT said a SOS message was sent. At home watching the track, we thought that the atmospheric conditions screwed up the signal again and they must have just turned it off or the batteries died. We received no message after the last co-ordinate. I am completing a trip report on TracksAndTrails.ca – my site that has received 16000 visitors last month so I hope you can find some accurate answers. Before I do a full report I can wait to see what your technicians say about the unit. Please let me know if I should send it to someone specific or just use the typical system and bring it back to the store where I purchased it. PS-the canon camera that my son had in hip pocket of the backpack as opposed to securely tucked in the top of his back pack like the SPOT, is dented and took a beating but still works fine.”
 
I read that SPOT would get back to me in 72 hours ….it is now Saturday August 18 2012 – close to 72 hours …but not quite.  I should note that I did get a “Thank you” page after submitting the form and I will now call SPOT customer service tomorrow if I do not get an email. So this is not the full report…..the update will be here as the situation progresses.
 
Spot was helpful. But the best they could do for me was to provide a refund.
 
The following map shows the last two points that the SPOT sent.

SPOT

SPOT Equipment Replacement Program.  Please see the SPOT Equipment Replacement Program Extended Limited Warranty or Service Contract for the applicable terms and condition.  Pricing and terms may vary by region.
2.11            Additional Services.  Additional bundled and optional services may be added to your Basic Service or bundled service plan.  Varying services are available by region, such as SPOT Assist services and Premium SMS services.  Please check Sections 11 through 14 below to see what optional services are available in your region.

2.12            SPOT Linkage Fee.  The SPOT Linkage Fee is applied to optional services that require SPOT to transmit messages from your SPOT Product to an external service provider, such as the GEOS SAR Membership, SPOT Assist roadside and/or SPOT Assist maritime (the “SPOT Linkage Fee”).  The SPOT Linkage Fee may be charged separate from the associated service or may be bundled within the total cost of the associated service and is subject to change from time to time.  The SPOT Linkage Fee is a flat, non-refundable charge, and shall not be pro-rated should you subscribe to or terminate your service mid-term.  Additionally, the SPOT Linkage Fee will continue to be charged with each renewal unless canceled by you in accordance with section 3.4.  If you did not purchase the associated external service from SPOT, then it is your responsibility to ensure that your external service is current and active.

3.               PLAN.  Your Service Plan consists of the SPOT Basic Service and any bundles or optional services selected by you either when you activate your SPOT Product or any that you may add during your Term.

3.1              Term.  You agree to remain as a subscriber for the minimum period stated in your Service Plan’s Term, or if no Term is specifically stated in your Service Plan, for a Term of twelve (12) months starting on the date of service activation.  Available Service Plan terms may include:  a yearly term with prepayment in full, a yearly term with prepayment prior to each service month or a multi-year term with prepayment in full.

3.2              Renewal.  All Service Plans automatically renew at the end of their Term for an additional one (1) year Term unless you cancel by notifying SPOT as provided in Section 3.4.  Where required by law, SPOT will provide you with advance notice of the renewal of your Service Plan.  All Service Plans are pre paid plans.

3.3              Non-Refundable.  Pre-paid Service Plan fees are non-refundable unless SPOT cancels the service, in which event you will receive a pro rata refund for airtime for the unused portion of the Service Plan.  Pre-paid Service Plans may not be transferred to a third party account; however, upon your request, they may be transferred to another SPOT Product within your own account.

3.4              Cancellation.  To cancel your Service Plan, you must notify SPOT in writing or contact SPOT Customer Service at 866-OK1-SPOT (651-7768) within thirty (30) days prior to the end of your Service Plan’s Term, or within thirty (30) days of SPOT posting a change to this Agreement which you do not accept.  To notify SPOT in writing, you must email your notice of cancellation to customerservice@findmespot.com and provide your name, your address and the ESN from the SPOT Product for which you want to cancel Services.  The ESN for your Spot Product is located in the battery compartment, under the battery of your SPOT Product.  You may call SPOT Customer Service at 866-OK1-SPOT (651-7768) if you have questions.

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