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Writer Doug Ritter evaluates SPOT II

Second Generation SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger Introduced
Initial Hands-on Report – Second Generation SPOT

SPOT, LLC has started shipping their second generation SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (which we will refer to here as SPOT 2) that we took a look at when it was introduced at Outdoor Retailer
earlier this year. I was supposedly sent one of the first production SPOT 2 devices to test. During testing, the unit failed (see below). Then SPOT told me that it really wasn’t a production SPOT, it
was a pre-production unit hand assembled by Axonn, SPOT’s device designer/manufacturer. Regardless, all I can do is report what I witnessed since I have no way to determine whether or not it
is or isn’t production at this point. They tell me that the electronics are identical to production, only the case and assembly are not. They have assured me that the real production units are actually waterproof. They promised to send me an honest-to-God real live production unit later this week or next. The first batch of production units can be found at REI and similar major retailers, but my local REI didn’t have one. I will update this once they get a replacement SPOT 2 in my hands. Click to read our Follow-up Report. As I am off on two weeks of travel and folks have been bugging me for my opinion on the new SPOT, here goes…

This is a very limited look at SPOT 2, due to time constraints and the failure. As such, I’ll stick to the primary improvements and changes and how they will affect the user, and in keeping with our
primary interests, my focus is on SPOT as a means of signaling distress, so I will not spend much time on the ancillary value-added capabilities, except as the relate to this function.

Like many first tries, the original SPOT had a number of issues that quickly manifested themselves in real world use, creating problems for both users and SAR. SPOT certainly didn’t lack for
criticism from which to garner ideas for improvements. As the second generation product evolved, I had the opportunity to provide my own candid input into the development process. To their
credit, SPOT listened for the most part.

First, as an aside, devices such as SPOT now have their own official acronym, “SEND,” standing for Satellite Emergency Notification Device. SENDs are satellite distress beacons other than
COSPAS-SARSAT 406 MHz devices (PLBs, EPIRBs and ELTs). RTCM started up a new subcommittee, SC 128, that began meeting earlier this year and which is defining a standard for SENDs, similar to those that exist for PLBs. It is anticipated that this standard will eventually become part of the FCC regulations. The goal is to ensure that the device and the distress function is designed and produced to a minimum standard of performance, so that consumers and SAR can have more confidence in these devices. I am a member of SC 128 and SPOT has been participating since the first meeting. SC 128 is not dealing with the interface between the private call centers these devices rely upon, another problem area, and the SAR services. That issue is being dealt with by a new NSARC (National Search and Rescue Committee) Working Group that will hold its first meeting next month. I am pleased to have been invited to participate in that group as well.

SPOT 2 has a large seal over the battery compartment that says “SERVICE REQUIRED” and provides the SPOT web site address. That hopefully clues in the new owner that they must pay for a
subscription before they install the batteries and can use SPOT. I still don’t think the term “service” is all that clear; I’d prefer they were a bit more forthright about it, something like,
“SUBSCRIPTION REQUIRED,” both there and on the packaging. The retail packaging does include text that “SPOT requires activation of a basic service plan prior to use,” but I’d be happier if
that was in bold on the front of the package, not on the inside of a fold-out flap on the back. SPOT still has an official policy that without a paid-up subscription, they do not respond to a distress
message. I am sure you trust computer databases as much as do I.

GPS Performance
As in the original, the GPS receiving and satellite transmitting antenna in SPOT 2 are one and the same. In the original, this antenna favored transmitting performance over the GPS reception,
compromising the device’s GPS performance. Since that is the only locating means that SPOT has, there’s no Doppler back-up and 121.5 MHz homer as in a 406 MHz beacon, that proved to be
a notable deficiency. SPOT claims the new antenna in SPOT 2 is a breakthrough design which doesn’t compromise either GPS or transmissions. The new GPS chip is also a relatively current
generation 50-channel design and inherently delivers much greater sensitivity and performance. The combination should make a big difference in the less than optimum GPS reception situations
survivors too often find themselves dealing with.

We weren’t able to thoroughly test the GPS performance in the few days we’ve had the device, that will take some time, but we did run it through some tests similar to what we did with the
McMurdo Fast Find PLB. We were able to get an indication of a GPS location from inside my home, including the most difficult locations. In terms of GPS performance, it was far better than the
original, which was unable to get a GPS location inside unless right by a window.

The new GPS LED provides the user a very clear indication of GPS status, in contrast to the original. Blinking green is good, blinking red is bad. No questions.

It is worth noting that SPOT transmits full GPS accuracy rather than the potentially degraded accuracy the 406 MHz beacons provide of +/- 4 seconds. Of course, without a GPS location, it’s a
different story with SPOT. However, while SPOT does not inherently provide a true back-up for location like a PLB’s Doppler location and 121.5 MHz homer, SPOT does have the potential to at
least get SAR into the area if Tracking is engaged. That’s a somewhat big if, in my opinion, but better than nothing. Assuming someone intends to use SPOT as their distress alerting device, they
would do well to ensure tracking is always turned on (which must be done manually every 24 hours, something that has occasionally been forgotten by a user, with resulting issues for SAR).

With regards to Tracking, SPOT 2 incorporates some valuable improvements over the original. Beyond the improved GPS that should better ensure you get a location to be tracked, SPOT 2 now
sends both the current tracking location and the prior two locations with each transmission to the satellite. These changes are designed to accommodate the all too common situation, in our
experience, where SPOT is unable to communicate with the satellite for a period of time, which led to many gaps in tracking with the original SPOT. We didn’t see any evidence in our brief initial
testing that SPOT 2 is any better at getting the transmission to the satellite, we saw the same sorts of gaps develop in driving around with it positioned on the car’s dash as we do with the original
SPOT. The big difference was that once it did successfully get through, the trail was much more complete than it would have been previously because of the built in redundant location
transmissions. We would see the gaps develop with no location displayed for 20-30 minutes and then suddenly appear as it caught up in subsequent transmissions. The result is that it is more
likely that the tracking will be useful in an emergency when no GPS location is provided, assuming Tracking was turned on.

Without a homer, Tracking’s value to SAR in part depends on how the user is traveling. With a transmission every 10 minutes, on foot the potential area to search from a last known position is
going to be a whole lot smaller than if traveling in a car, boat or especially an aircraft. On the other hand, when on foot you’re probably more likely to find yourself in a situation without a GPS
location and more difficulty transmitting to the satellites over time. Either way, it doesn’t provide me a warm, fuzzy feeling, but it is an element to consider in deciding if SPOT is adequate for your

The PLB standard and the draft SEND standard both require that the location of the GPS antenna be identified and instructions included to not obstruct the antenna and to orient it to the sky. On
SPOT 2 there’s a small illustration of a SPOT device with an arrow pointing “up.” In my opinion, it isn’t big enough, but it’s better than what the original had, which was nothing. The logical spot
(pardon the pun) to place a larger version of that is right where the SPOT logo is, but I expect the marketing and sales types couldn’t cope with that. On the other hand, I’m more interested in
saving lives. There is also nothing to warn about blocking the GPS antenna, which I consider just as critical. The only argument is that unlike a PLB, a SPOT user may have prior experience using the device for the value-added functions and may be more familiar with how best to operate the device. That doesn’t, however, cope with a situation where a person totally unfamiliar with SPOT ends up using it for the first time in an emergency, which could occur for lots of reasons.

Human Interface
The interface with the original SPOT was hardly intuitive and created many problems for users and SAR alike. SPOT 2 has six separate buttons, one for on/off and for each mode of operation.
They are illuminated with green or red LEDs to indicate their status, plus there are two additional LED status indicators. While not yet a model of intuitive design, it is a huge improvement over the

The old “911″ button has morphed into “SOS,” a more internationally recognized symbol of distress. The SOS button is now covered to prevent inadvertent activation, which is very good and
required on PLBs and in the draft SEND standard being worked by SC 128. Not so good is that you are unlikely to be able to lift the cover up while wearing even moderately thick gloves. You’ll
either need to remove a glove or use a tool with a thin section, such as your knife or such, to lift the cover and possibly to press the small recessed button. This same applies to the HELP button,
now showing a symbol of two hands reaching for each other, which is also protected in the same manner. As before, SOS goes direct to the GEOS call center, while HELP sends a message,
which you can edit online, to your contacts. A spare set of covers is provided, in case one breaks off I suppose.

I still have one quibble from a distress alerting perspective. You must turn SPOT 2 on before pressing SOS, which is not how I’d do it. If you need SOS, that should be the only button you need to
press to signal distress. A placard on the back does tell the user to first turn on the unit and then to press SOS. There is also a caution to move the device to a location with a clear view of the sky
if the GPS LED is red. SPOT includes versions of this placard in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. On the downside, being on the back doesn’t exactly make it readily visible to the
unfamiliar user, even more so if in its case and not viewable at all.

The Check OK button is still there. SPOT 2 adds a Custom Message button, which is user configurable to whatever message your want, as is Check OK for that matter, and sent to separately
defined contacts. SPOT now sends each of those messages three times at 5-minute intervals, which should make it more likely the message gets through. However, in our tests, conducted under
not at all demanding circumstances, we occasionally found that the Check OK message did not go through. That’s a concern for me, as failure to receive an OK message can turn into a Search
and Rescue mission very quickly when someone close to the user is worried that something is wrong.

One minor aggravation in the online interface is you cannot copy contacts from one to another, or if it is there I missed it, each must be separately entered. Seems like they ought to be able to
make that easier. Also, if you want to enter multiple numbers for any one Emergency Contact, the only way to do that is to enter the same contact with different numbers. Given you are only
allowed two Emergency Contacts, this is a problem. They need to allow multiple contact numbers for each Emergency Contact, At a minimum this should include home, work, cell, and instant

While SPOT 2 will send the SOS or Help messages even if it cannot get a GPS location, as before and updates with GPS is it later gets a location, it won’t send a Check OK or Custom message
unless it has a GPS location, which doesn’t make much sense to me. While odds are that you more likely to get a GPS location, with the new GPS, than be unable to send out a message, stuff
happens in the real world. Given the fact that failure to receive an OK message has already resulted in panicked calls that have sent SAR forces into the field, why make it any more difficult to get
that message out? Moreover, the Custom Message may not even need a GPS to be relevant or useful. At least SPOT 2 makes it much clearer, via the LEDs, whether it has a GPS location and if
the message has been sent. That allows/encourages a knowledgeable user to relocate to a better GPS receiving position, which will also most times give you a better transmitting location as well.
So, using a somewhat perverse logic, if the user actually understands all this and what the flashing LEDs actually mean, it more likely assures the Check OK message gets through, sort of, kind
of. I’m not buying that logic, however, because I know better than to assume the user actually understands how everything works.

With the switch to three AAA-cell lithium batteries from AA-cells, as well as the additional LEDs and such, SPOT 2 has shorter operating times than the original. With fresh batteries, SPOT 2 will
transmit an SOS for 2.8 days (approximately 810 messages at one every 5 minutes) at -22 F (-30 C). At the point that the red LED starts flashing. it has 100 messages worth of battery life
remaining, or about 8.3 Hours of SOS transmissions remaining. In most situations on land, that’s more than adequate since you aren’t likely going anywhere, you should be waiting for rescue. On the water where you can drift a long ways very quickly and rescue can often take a while, that’s not so great.

We were not able to conduct battery run-down tests. Of course, using the Tracking (approximately 4.3 24-hour days worth on a set of batteries) or other messaging functions will reduce the
battery capacity available for an SOS or Help message. From my perspective, the take-way from this is to make sure you always have a spare set of batteries with you if you are going to be
depending on SPOT for rescue. Also on the topic of batteries, we have noticed that unlike AA-cell lithium batteries which seem to be readily available these days, finding AAA-cell lithium batteries
locally can be a challenge. I expect that to be an even greater challenge out of the country. A word to the wise…

On a related note, neither the User’s Guide or the “Important Changes Regarding How SPOT Functions!” addendum have accurate information on battery life, other than messages remaining in
the latter. That represents a decided deficiency, in my opinion, especially considering that the limits impact how a user might use or manage battery life for possible use in distress alerting. SPOT say they are updating the User’s Guide, but seems to me they ought to not deliver units until that critical information is provided. At the least, they should include that information in the email message they already send you upon registering your SPOT.

The original SPOT was buoyant and the specifications we were provided for SPOT 2 when introduced at Outdoor Retailer indicated it would also be buoyant. Somewhere between prototype and
production things went awry and the production model does not float. Since I don’t consider buoyancy all that important for personal devices, that’s not a significant deficiency in my opinion.
Buoyancy is a nice-to-have feature, but anyone using any personal distress signaling device in situations where it might be lost in the water should have it tethered to their person at all times,
regardless. I would definitely suggest that marine users secure the SPOT 2 with some Velcro if they are just going to set it on the console, as seems to be common with the original SPOT.

When we registered our SPOT, we got a message via email that included the following information: “In its carrying case, SPOT-2 will float until the carrying case becomes saturated with water,
which will provide you with a limited time to retrieve SPOT from the water (as little a ~1 minute if using SPOT + case + armband). Whitewater conditions shorten the time until case saturation.
SPOT highly recommends that you keep SPOT in its case and either attached to you or your gear.” So, there you go. I think a closed-cell neoprene pouch might be a better choice.

SPOT 2 Failure
SPOT 2 is rated as waterproof to 5 meters (16.4 ft.) for one hour, a five-fold improvement over the original. We submerged it briefly in a shallow bowl of water (2 inches worth) while attempting to
determine how much buoyancy it lacked to be able to float and afterward it was dead. We checked to see if water leaked into the battery compartment, but it was dry. After a few hours the red
LED in the Tracking button lit up, which isn’t even in the list of possible indications. That red LED eventually grew dimmer. When we subsequently picked it up, it was very warm. Removing the
recalcitrant battery cover, the batteries were almost too hot to handle. Obviously, that failure ended our functional testing. The unit is heading back to SPOT as you read this. As noted earlier, now they tell me that the SPOT 2 we tested wasn’t a production unit as originally we were told, rather a hand-assembled pre-production unit.

Click to read our Follow-up Report.
Like the original SPOT, SPOT 2 is made in China by Axonn who provide a 1-year limited warranty. SPOT does not warrant the device they sell, the warranty is from the manufacturer. Axonn’s
warranty doesn’t cover warranty shipping costs either way and neither is the warranty extended if they replace or fix the problem. All currently available PLBs (or, at least those sold in the U.S.)
come with a minimum 4-year warranty, most are 5-years or more.

You can expect to lay out $150 for SPOT 2. A basic subscription, including SOS and the other messaging, is $99.99 per year. If you want tracking, add another $49.99. GEOS rescue cost
insurance, to the tune of $100,000, costs $7.95 per year. If you upgrade from the original SPOT to SPOT 2, you don’t need to buy a new subscription, your existing one will work with the new

With only a couple days to play with SPOT 2, and given the failure we experienced and the questions about whether or not this was a production unit, there’s a limit to how far I’m willing to go with any conclusions. Still, it was pretty obvious that SPOT has a much better human interface, which should cut down some on false alerts, and the GPS clearly performs much better.

On the other hand, the failure we experienced after a brief dunking in a shallow bowl of water does not give us a lot of confidence in the device. Was the unit they sent me really pre-production or not? I cannot tell as I sit here. Given all the emails I get about SPOT 2, I also wouldn’t feel right delaying publication of this report. So, take that for what it is worth.

We’ll take another look at SPOT 2 once they have send me a replacement and I am, hopefully, convinced that the production units are actually waterproof. In the meantime, I cannot recommend
this second generation SPOT. Even if we get past this hiccup, there are lots of other issues to consider before you decide on a SPOT.


SPOT Unveils Next Generation Satellite GPS Messenger at Outdoor Retailer

SPOT Unveils Next Generation Satellite GPS Messenger at Outdoor Retailer
SPOT Expands Product Line with the New SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger - 30% Smaller and Lighter Offering Advanced Capabilities and Feature-Rich Enhancements
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - (July 21, 2009) —SPOT LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Globalstar, Inc. (NASDAQ: GSAT) and a leader in personal satellite messaging and emergency communications today introduced its new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger™.

The new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger™ is 30% smaller and lighter than the original SPOT Satellite personal tracker, offers additional custom messaging modes, and uses a state-of-the-art GPS chipset and satellite communications to provide enhanced reliability and performance. SPOT LLC is showcasing its line of products and services this week at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Conference in booth number 36191 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Since market introduction, the award-winning original SPOT has initiated more than 250 rescues and sent millions of peace-of-mind and track-me messages around the world. We have listened to our customers’ suggestions and are proud to introduce today the second-generation SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger with its increased features and utility,” said Darren Bassel, director of global marketing, SPOT LLC. “Today’s announcement further demonstrates our continued commitment to expand our product line and develop integrated services like SPOT Assist roadside assistance providing advanced personal satellite communications to increase safety for our customers on a daily basis.” The new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger™ will include the following new features designed to enhance customer usability:

•30% smaller and lighter than the original model at 5.2 ounces
•New enhanced satellite antenna for improved performance in foliage or canopied environments
•Advanced GPS performance chipset
•GPS Acquisition light
• “Message Sending” indicator light
•Dedicated GPS Tracking button
•New, dedicated pre-programmable Custom Message button
•Protective covers over SOS and Help button to prevent inadvertent message transmission
•Illuminated buttons
•Choice of orange or silver
•Included case and neoprene fastening band
The new model includes globally recognized symbols for its message buttons to accommodate use in international markets and stimulate distribution to a growing customer base in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

“The active outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, boaters, pilots, riders, remote workers and travelers will continue to enjoy the new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger ™ for its ruggedness while its smaller compact size and weight is ideal for portable use,” continues Bassel. “The smaller size and ease-of-use will appeal to our broader consumer markets including the family on-the-go or anyone who spends time in the areas with unreliable cellular service. ”Equipped with two, notification LED’s and six function buttons the new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger™ transmits activated messages based on varying levels of need:

•OK/Check in lets contacts know where you are and that you’re okay
•Track Progress sends and saves your location and allows contacts to track your progress in real-time using Google Maps™
•Help notifies your contacts or SPOT Assist professional services of your GPS location and need for assistance
•SOS/9-1-1 Alert notifies an emergency rescue coordination center of your GPS location
•Custom Message button sends a pre-programmed message to your personal contacts
Since market introduction, the award-winning SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger™ has initiated more than 250 rescues and sent
over 10 million peace-of-mind and track-me messages around the world. As of March 31, 2009 the Company had received orders
to ship more than 120,000 units and it currently has a growing global network of more than 8,000 points of distribution.


The new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (TM) is now available at select retailers. To find a SPOT retailer in the United States please visit the SPOT website
Note: The suggested price of the new model is unchanged. The price at retail is generally $149.00. Owners of the original SPOT may migrate their satellite and other service subscriptions to the new model. The original model and subscriptions will remain fully operational according to the SPOT marketing folks we talked with. --Webmeister Speik s-messenger-at-outdoor-retailer&catid=23:press-room&Itemid=45



The basic design improvement of SPOT over PLBs

Again, an improvement of SPOT over (optional GPS enabled) PLBs is the ability to "real-life test" the communication system where the user actually hikes, hunts, sleds, climbs and wanders. If the user programmed message "Hello, I am exactly here and I am having fun" gets through on previous trips, so will the message "911 Rescue Services are on the way, but don't worry Honey, they know where to find me".

The traditional PLB can be tested for sending out a signal (an indicator light flashes). It cannot be tested for whether a message requesting Rescue has actually been sent and received. The location accuracy of the PLB using the venerable COSPAS-SARSAT system of seven satellites (without optional extra GPS support), can be up to two miles.
--Webmeister Speik


Technical questions answered by SPOT

The Communications Satellite Network Used by SPOT. What is it?
Tuesday, 16 December 2008

SPOT Transmits your GPS location through a network of LEO Satellites (Low Earth Orbit). These satellites are in constant motion and are in 8 planes with 6 satellites in each plane providing overlapping coverage. They fly at an altitude of 1,414 kilometers or 884 miles above the earth, moving at 17,000 miles per hour overhead. The satellites move horizon to horizon in approximately 20 minutes, so no matter where you are (such as in a canyon or on a mountain), as long as you can see the sky, your SPOT message gets through.

SPOT and the Commercial Data Network
Tuesday, 28 July 2009 16:00

Many of our customers from time-to-time have questions about the commercial data network that SPOT messages are sent through.

SPOT uses the Globalstar simplex data network to transmit messages. This is a proven data network that is also supporting tens of thousands of commercial and industrial data modems sending millions of messages each month for asset tracking and remote management applications. The simplex data network signal path works differently than the Globalstar satellite phone signal path, providing significantly better reliability and message completion rates. Extensive testing shows 99.6% reliability. Like mentioned, the commercial data network not only supports message transmissions from the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger. In fact it originated to support a variety of personal messaging and tracking, aviation flight-following, and emergency asset and fleet tracking customer applications from some of the most demanding business customers all around the world. Simplex data solutions are also used for a number of remote monitoring and alarm applications, both within and beyond the reach of traditional wireless and terrestrial infrastructure. Information such as GPS co-ordinates, remote status and other sensor information can be reliably sent to customers using the Simplex network.

What does this mean to you? You can pack peace-of-mind and everyday remote communication capabilities and know that your network is the same commercial data network that some of the world’s most demanding businesses choose to track their assets and transfer data.




SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
Voluntary return program

Spot LLC is dedicated to providing the highest quality and best performance products to our customers, therefore, Spot LLC will be conducting a voluntary return on any new model SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger™ (SPOT 2) purchased since October 1, 2009. During recent testing, we discovered that some of the new SPOT 2 devices might not meet battery and messaging operating specifications.

Affected Units
To see if your SPOT-2 unit is affected by this issue, please do the following:

If you have activated your SPOT-2 unit, login to your account at, click on the My GPS Locations tab and a message will display indicating if you have an affected SPOT-2 unit. If you have not activated your SPOT-2 unit, do not activate. We highly recommend you return your product for replacement at your earliest convenience.

The Exchange Process
Replacement units are anticipated to be available in early 2010. More details to follow.

If you exchange your eligible unit, you will also receive 1 additional month of your current SPOT service plan and associated services.
Once exchanged, you will receive your replacement SPOT-2 unit.

Please follow this process to receive your return shipping materials (when using supplied materials, postage will be paid by SPOT LLC). These will be sent you upon completion of the form.
Ship only your SPOT-2 unit and take out batteries prior to shipping.

Important Notes
This does not affect SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker (SPOT-1) nor is it an upgrade program to transition from SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker (SPOT-1) to the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (SPOT-2).




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  About Alpine Mountaineering:
  The Sport of Alpine Mountaineering
  Climbing Together
  Following the Leader
  The Mountaineers' Rope
  Basic Responsibilities       Cuatro Responsabiliades Basicas de Quienes Salen al Campo
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  Our Leader's Guidelines:
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  Sign-in Agreements, Waivers and Prospectus     This pdf form will need to be signed by you at the trail head
  Sample Prospectus    Make sure every leader tells you what the group is going to do; print a copy for your "responsible person"
  Participant Information Form    This pdf form can be printed and mailed or handed to the Leader if requested or required
  Emergency and Incident Report Form    Copy and print this form. Carry two copies with your Essentials 
  Participant and Group First Aid Kit   
Print this form. Make up your own first aid essentials (kits) 

  About our World Wide Website:

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