I use a SPOT satellite messenger on motorcycle trips. It’s a handy little device about the size of a small digital camera and is equipped with a GPS receiver and a radio transmitter. By pushing just one button, it can send via satellite a message that 1) you are OK, 2) that you need help, or 3) that you have an emergency and need 9-1-1 services. It sends your location with every message. It can also, optionally, send your location every 10 minutes, plotting your location and a track on Google Maps that can be viewed on the Internet by anyone to whom you give the web site address.
The device is fairly reliable. Approximately 80-90% of the auto-tracking messages have gone through when I have used it, but it can be affected by tree canopy, much like other GPS devices. If you send an “OK” message, it sends three identical messages to the SPOT service for redundancy. The first of those three messages is delivered.
If you send a 9-1-1 message, it will keep sending it every 5 minutes until it is canceled or until the batteries run out. When sending your location every 10 minutes, the batteries, two AA Lithiums, will last about 14 days. If the auto tracking every 10 minutes is not turned on, 1,900 “OK” messages can be sent on one set of batteries.
I was looking at the web site today of the Laguna Hot Shots, one of my old crews, and saw a link for “Where are we; crew’s location” which leads to a map of their location. It turns out that the crew, or someone on the crew, is carrying one of these SPOT devices, making it possible to know where the crew is. Apparently they don’t have the every 10 minute tracking feature turned on, but they are pushing the “OK” button every now and then, one to eight times a day.
I imagine that the families of the crew members very much appreciate being able to go to a web site and follow the travels of the crew. While this is a great thing for frequent travelers to have, it probably should not be depended on by firefighters for rescue on fires in a life or death situation, but I doubt if the Hot Shots have that in mind. Having said that, this service which only began early this year, already has some examples of people that have been rescued from various types of mishaps.
The suggested retail price is $169.99, but it can be found for less at Saltys Marine and Cabela’s. You also need to subscribe to the service which is $99 per year for standard service and an extra $49 per year for the SPOTcasting tracking service (the map on the Internet).
Below is an example of a map display of where the Laguna Hot Shots have been. If you go to the site, you can zoom in and out and pan. I believe the tracking data only remains on the web site for 7 days.
HERE is another example of tracking someone who is carrying the device on a multi-day motorcycle rally, Matt Watkins, who has the 10-minute tracking feature turned on. Matt also has a BLOG about his adventures.