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For the past couple of years our Spot tracker has been a constant companion of ours on board ZTC. It has lived outside, simply attached to a stern rail by a couple of black* tie wraps. Except for those few times that the batteries have failed us, we have used the Spot unit to report our GPS position, the data being posted to our website and also onto the ZTC Facebook Page. Also, during the times that we have remembered to turn it on, it has dutifully reported our position every 10 minutes during passages.

Just recently I had one or two loyal readers inquire as to why our Spot unit was not turned on for our last passage(s). The primary answer is that the batteries had died and I did not have any AAA Lithium batteries on board to replace them with. There is also the matter of the subscription fee which I have been debating not renewing.

Not everyone is likely aware of this but for the Spot unit to work, even in its most basic form, a $99.00 annual subscription fee must be paid. In addition to this, in order for Spot to record the passages as we have had it doing, an extra $50.00 per year must be paid on top of that basic fee. These sums may not seem like a huge amount but for someone trying to live relatively frugally, any amount of money wasted is too much. So, my question today is, “Is the money being wasted?” In other words, do you, our family and friends, consider this position reporting of value? If not, I’d just as soon let the subscription lapse. If, however, staying abreast of our exact position, beyond that which is included in our near-daily posts, is something that you feel adds considerable value to this website, then I guess we’ll just have to bite the bullet and keep the fees in the budget. What say you?

Our spot unit has lived in the elements without complaint for over two years.
You can see how the case has weathered in the sun and rain though.

You can also see how that portion of the Spot device which has not been protected
from the sun has faded over time.

*Note: Black is reportedly the most UV resistant. Don’t use white tie wraps (zip ties) in outdoor applications.

37 Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s necessary unless it makes you feel safer that someone knows where you are at all times.

  2. I love following y’all on SPOT, but at $150.00 per year, I vote you spend it on beer.

  3. For the money, it’s probably not worth it…unless. I happen to be a real “what-if-er” like a lot of shore bound people. That’s probably why we’re still on shore and you are out there. But for example…what if you run into real trouble of whatever variety, and the people back home don’t hear from you. At least they can find out what your last known position was or where the boat is now. Suppose you get hi-jacked by pirates and they take over, tying you up or…whatever and the folks and friends dont hear from you for a while. They could track your location by spot. Unless the bad guys clip those zip ties and drop spot over the side. But what if…what if…what if.
    Me, I’d cancel the subscription and just let us all know where you are when you remember to do that.

  4. I say Nay unless you are making a passage of over 7-10 days.

  5. Maybe the question is does the Spot add $150 value over the free methods (SSB position reporting which would be less frequent)???

    Like ours:

    http://www.winlink.org/dotnet/maps/PositionreportsDetail.aspx?callsign=VA7LIV

    http://shiptrak.org/?callsign=VA7LIV

  6. You do a fine job of letting us know where you guys are. Reading about your location in the blog is fine.

    The big question: would you feel less safe without it?

    It’s interesting to see that you’ve gotten a couple of years out of yours without any problems. I’ve heard conflicting stories about how well they perform.

    They are required for the Everglades Challenge but there seemed to be a lot of failures -devices not working properly or giving false alerts.

  7. I think there will be others who would agree that the ability to ‘zero’ in on your exact location and switch to satellite view is to me (not my kitty), an awesome addition to your site.

  8. Just keep the basic coverage. A hundred bux a year is peanuts really… That is what I plan to do when I renew (basic coverage mine) and just hit the check in button at the end of each watch while in transit.
    For me I think the money is worth it even just for the extra means of getting help if things go bad (God forbid).

  9. The Spot,

    Obviously it’s your call you two but if you can save a few bucks then why not?

    You keep us pretty up to date with the blog, you know?

    Jim

  10. Unless you want to ability to use SPOT to make a call for help, I say let it go. I have only look at your position a few times and if you keep us posted of where your at that is enough for me. Maybe you can do a google maps position link for us slower followers . Cheers. TL

  11. when you are on the move I turn on SPOT to keep track of you since I like to know where you are. But I guess I can “catch up” the next time you reach a wi-fi signal.

  12. Mike,

    I think the spot tracker is great for us who are following you. I know that it can be a stress reliever for your family in a sense, however, it is not an absolute need.
    That being said, if the consensus is for you to keep it, than I feel we should all chip in a dollar to keep the service for you. You have given us WAY MORE than a dollars worth of information, inspiration, education and entertainment. I know that there are more than 145 followers on this blog, and we each waste at least a DOLLAR A DAY on something not even close to the value you have added to our lives. This is our chance to participate in the “Hash Runs and Potluck Get Togethers”.

    We are blessed to be a blessing to others; We are gifted to give to back, not begrudgingly, but with a glad heart. For if we can’t do, then we help those who can and are willing to share. No man is an island, all men are our neighbors.

    I apologize for sounding “Preachy”, but I come from the school of “Don’t just TALK about it, BE about it”.

    Here’s my “BE”!!!

    “D”

  13. Hey Ken,

    You “BE” about it Brother!
    Mine and Yours gets the party started!

  14. I think there are several free or low cost applications for a variety of devices (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android) that will periodically plot positions that can later be downloaded and integrated with maps. So if the goal is just to provide maps of your travels, I would think this would be sufficient.

    If there is an additional safety aspect to having the Spot service that can’t be had at a much lesser price, you’re going to have to make that call.

    Personally, while I sometimes like to see where you are or have recently been, it doesn’t need to be “in real time”. I just like to hear about your experiences.

  15. Why bother paying $150 a year when you already update us of your status in your blog and FB page?

    I say let it lapse and spend money on something more important.

  16. My vote? Nay. Save the bucks for now. When you make the PPJ then subscribe.

  17. Maybe you can ask if Spot will sponsor you? Then you can keep it, but won’t have to pay the fee!

  18. Guys unless it provides you with some form of security, ie the help/panic function, then let it go. You can always just take the lat/lon off your GPSr and post that, with each blog entry, to give everyone your exact location. That seems to be a free option that would cover everyones needs.

  19. Hi again Mike and Rebecca:

    If you do carry an EPIRB on board and the only reason you would hang on to SPOT is for sending an emergency signal then I say ditch the SPOT and add the savings to your annual operating budget. If you have no EPIRB then the SPOT device may be your last resort to send out an emergency message or signal as it has this safety feature built in. Under significant passage with no EPIRB you cannot always guarantee that others are listening out there on VHF or if your SSB fails for that matter how would you get that much needed emergency / distress message out then?

    We love the blog but never follow your SPOT locator track – we simply allow you to get from point A to B and then catch up on your posts. We have always made the assumption that as prepared sailors you have the means to raise an appropriate distress signal should you need to. With that said, I love redundancy, and at the annual fee, that one valued $100 distress message via SPOT when needed could be a life and yacht saver. Be prepared, be prepared, …

    Cheers,

    Alan
    SV Mango Groove

  20. Save the money. Let the subscription lapse. If you ever decide to do a long voyage, such as crossing the south pacific, where you will be out of touch for weeks at a time, you can activate it then.

  21. Well, I think you got enough responses to that question ;-))

    So here’s an idea for a future post:
    To what extent are you seeing more people adopt the Delorme Inreach system? Seems like it has some more features for sending a brief text while at sea. Could be a useful backup in an emergency or to reassure folks ashore.
    Jonathan

  22. Would it be cheaper, and better for safety, to get an AIS transmitter/transponder. Everyone can follow that. Ships in your vicinity can ‘see’ you too.

    Mike

  23. I`m not sure if facebook have a “let us know where you are, bit”? I seem to be getting asked for my location fairly regularily and I guess thats a free service (if anything is really free). I suppose you could mark a chart up and post it as a precurser / heading to any blog you are writing and note where you are and where you hope to go, and post it as often as you like? By doing that you would be indicating where you might be located on a journey ie “tomorrow we are leaving for “wherever” around 09.00 and we anticipate that it will take us five hours”, so family and (heaven forbid) search and rescue could estimate where you might be etc in the case of an emergency? also how accurate is the spot system ie how quickly is your position plotted is it instantaneous or each day or each week I guess a lot depends on its validity to you and us and quite frankly I would rather see an updated position on a chart that you have posted, than a Spot that may be a day old. The money can be better spent as far as I`m concerned.
    Merry Christmas to you both, and a Happy,Healthy and (Cruising) wealthy new year!

  24. Hi all

    Thanks very much for the feedback. I’d say that the overall consensus was to let is slide. As you will see on the following link though, it is still active.

    http://www.zerotocruising.com/where/

    It appears to me, after checking the account, that the service was paid by a pre-authorized debit ONE WEEK AGO!

    So, I guess we’ve got another 12 months of service whether we want it or not. 🙂

  25. Not sure if this was covered above:

    You could easily down load a chart and do your own trace with on screen marker. Just draw a dotted line and dates….love your pictures…thx for posting

  26. Is it “safety gear” or just a convenience? If it’s even a 3rd tier “safety” item, keep it. If it’s just an unused toy, sure drop it. As you well know, you can’t put a price on safety. As soon as you relax on it, Mr. Murphy will come a callin’. And considering what you’re paying for bar beers, $150 is just a few nights on the boat.

  27. Spend the $ on beer… I have been reading the blog since the start, normally use google earth to track where you are… better perspective.

  28. Hi Mike, I’ve been lurking here for a couple of years and just catching up on your posts – love the blog. This post caught my eye and I had to respond. After 20+ years in the Canadian Airforce piloting SAR aircraft or coordinating SAR from a Rescue Coordination Centre I strongly feel that the device to have is an 406mHz EPIRB and if you want to spent $150 – buy a 406 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) for your bailout bag or strap it to your PFD.

    406mHz beacons are a truly international device with a very robust satellite sensing system and an internationally coordinated search and rescue system. If you were to activate your distress beacon (EPIRB or PLB) anywhere in the world the search and rescue resources nearest your position would be alerted as well as your country of registration (in your case Canada).

    A great example of the effectiveness of PLBs is an incident in 2010 off Costa Rica.

    Two Canadians purchased a boat that was formerly US owned and registered. While sailing from Mexico to Panama their trimaran broke up off just a few nautical miles off the pacific coast of Costa Rica and they were forced to abandon ship into their dingy. The distress signal from their EPIRB (which was still tangled in the wreckage of their vessel) and their PLB which they had carried into the dingy was picked up by the Search and Rescue Satellite System (SARSAT) and the encoded GPS position was then passed to the nearest rescue centres – in this case Costa Rica as well as Nicaragua.

    Since the EPIRB and PLB were US registered (the new owners had not updated the registration) the US Coast Guard was also alerted (the nation of registration is always notified as a fail safe). The US Coast guard followed up with SAR resources in Costa Rica and Nicaragua and confirmed that they were actively searching as well as providing details on the registered vessel type/description etc. The US Coast Guard attempted to contact the registered owner and emergency contacts and quickly determined that that person had sold the vessel to a Canadian citizen.

    The US Coast Guard then contact the the Joint Air-Sea Rescue Coordination Centre in Canada and Canadian Coast Guard and Air Force personnel then began the process of making contact with the family members of the distressed vessel. Meanwhile the US Coast Guard dispatched search aircraft (several of them in fact, as well as diverting a US Navy helicopter carrier towards the scene). Deep sea vessels in the area were also alerted and requested to respond (SURPIC). Back in Canada the family was advised with the assistance of the RCMP and further details about the subjects were determined (age, medical status, floatplan etc). The Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica was alerted to the situation and they in turn contacted local authorities to make preparations for USN helicopters to refuel in Costa Rica and return any survivors for hospitalization if required.

    Two days into the Search the EPIRB signal ceased (it had been drifting away from the faster moving PLB signal and it’s likely the batteries failed or it sank with the wreckage). However, the PLB signal continued to function and the survivors were spotted by a USCG Hercules 75 NM offshore on the third day. A deep sea vessel was then directed in to complete the rescue and all ended well with the exception of some sunburn and dehydration. But make no mistake – these men owe their lives to a $150 PLB and were well on their way to an unplanned Pacific crossing.

    I mention all this to highlight the capabilities of modern 406mHz rescue beacons – 406 EPIRBS, 406 PLB and 406 ELTs (for airplanes). Also the cooperative efforts of many nations not to mention the doggedness of the searchers is truly impressive and it is ALL at your disposal when you trigger your distress beacon.

    In contrast – when you trigger your Spot beacon… IF the signal is picked up it will be relayed to a civilian office in Texas. IF the operator there responds in a timely fashion they will likely call your contact numbers to see if they know what you are doing. They may or may not call the country you are nearest to – in some cases I have had them call local police or RCMP (clearly not very useful to a mariner in distress in Costa Rica). I have had the Spot centre “sit” on a case for 60min or more while they wait to see if the emergency contacts will call back.

    I have seen ground survivors walk two days to a shoreline to get an unobstructed sky view for their spot device to work. This is due to the fact that in order for a Spot signal to be received the Spot beacon signal must be “bounced” off a satellite. The satellite must be in simultaneous view of both the Spot beacon and a ground receiving station in order to reflect the signal to be acquired. This makes areas of the north and south portion of the globe as well as deep oceanic areas impossible for Spot to pass an alert. And BTW if you find yourself in a location where your tracking a bit “spotty” (pun intended) you can safely assume your emergency signal will also be spotty (not ideal!).

    In contrast 406mHz EPIRB/PLB/ELT signal data is “captured” and stored by Low Earth Orbiting satellites and then down linked to the next available ground receiver making the entire planet visible including the poles and deep sea areas. Geostationary satellites also pass data and since their footprint is huge, they provide an almost instantaneous alert should a beacon be triggered within their view.

    Please don’t be misled by Spot marketing. I and my fellow rescuers have trialed and tested both devices. We find the Spot beacon is a suitable device for someone to track your progress – – and this alone can cause a host of problems including false SAR alerts from concerned “progress monitors” and confusion (not the least of which was caused by the poor labelling of the early Spot beacons – Help vs 911 buttons).

    However, if you truly want to be rescued, the only device I would trust that very important job to is a modern 406mHz EPIRB on my boat, backed up with a PLB in my bail out bag or attached to my PFD. For $300 you could equip the two of you with PLBs… and there are no annual fees.

    See… Two Canadians Rescued off Costa Rica (scroll down just a bit)
    https://www.latitude38.com/lectronic/lectronicday.lasso?date=2010-12-17#.U-M8oGK9KSM

    And…
    http://bc.ctvnews.ca/lost-at-sea-for-3-days-rescued-sailor-returns-home-1.587272

    Happy to discuss this subject further.

    • Hi Aaron. Absolutely, the SPOT tracker is not a safety device IMO. Even SPOT says that. We have a 460 GPS Epirb on One Love and on ZTC. I agree that they are important. We do not have PLBs though.

  29. Sorry, if I had only read on a couple more pages (as I now have) I would have read your post saying exactly that SPOT is not a safety device. Awesome!

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