SPOT Tracker: Why you should have one

Everybody who is involved in a high-risk activity should have a SPOT Satellite Tracker. In this context, how do I define high-risk activity? Any or all of the following criteria:

1) You are in an environment where it’s not exactly clear where you might be if you get into trouble. (Mountain climbers, back-country hikers and snowmobilers, yes; bungee jumpers, no.)

2) You are moving at a relatively high rate of speed and might end up out of sight of passers by.  (Motorcycle rallyists, take note.)

3) Your route might vary as the day(s) goes on. (Again, this is for you, motorcycle rallyists.)

4) You have passengers on-board who didn’t necessarily sign up for the ride and might not be as well-equipped as you to fend for themselves. (This is for my dog friends.)

5) You have loved ones at home who might be interested in your progress, no matter what adventure you are on. (If you don’t fit into this category, I’m sorry for you.)

My friend, Ellen Clary recently posted a blog entry regarding what role electronic devices might or might not have played in the current Mt. Hood rescue effort involving experienced climbers who have gone missing.

As I read this blog entry, I found myself surprisingly passionate in my response. Here is a transcript of the subsequent Facebook ‘conversation’:

“Ellen – I agree with you about the limited efficacy of MLUs. However, there is a much more effective solution that is designed for exactly this scenario – SPOT ( As you may have seen on previous posts of mine, we bought one for Rich’s motorcycle rallies and other adventures. It isn’t cheap ($150 + $200/yr for full service, including tracking and search-and-rescue coverage), but for this type of activity I not only think it’s essential, it should be mandated. If nothing else, it gives the concerned loved ones back home some well-deserved peace of mind.”

Ellen’s response:

“I’ve seen you mention it but hadn’t really understood it very well. That is intriguing as I often will go off by myself and the locators are silly. But I only go to places with lots of people around (having people around is not really a bad thing at all in my book.) I’ll check out the Spot locator but it’s not really affordable yet. You must have the tracker service as the basic lists as 99/year which is vaguely tempting. Though what I do is go with a guide service to place I don’t know. This brings up the also huge debate about those who press the rescue me button for the silliest of reasons.”


“Yep. The basic service would have sufficed if either (a) they were able to press the 911 button when things went bad, or (b) they had bothered to press the OK button at regular intervals during their trek. But IMHO, the Tracker service is essential if you are involved in a high risk activity during which you are too busy to press the OK button at regular intervals. If these three climbers had had that service, the searchers would have known exactly where they were when they stopped making progress. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that wouldn’t have been worth $200/year to their loved ones right about now.”

“I’m passionate about this issue because several years ago, Rich and I were intimately involved with a search-and-rescue effort for a motorcyclist who went missing during a rally – a road rally, not a desert rally. Rich was one of many searchers and I was the computer ‘base camp’. It took us 10 days and roughly $10,000 of donated money to find his body (he died instantly), which was about 30 feet over an embankment on a state highway. If he had had a SPOT, we would have found him in hours, not days. Many rallymasters are now requiring that participants use the SPOT. ”

“And yes, there are two ongoing debates: (1) the goobers who use it because they ran out of Power Bars, and (2) the paranoids who think that the government will use the data to prove they were speeding/exhausted/liable/etc. ”

“Rich and I weighed the pros/cons and almost instantly chose the obvious. Interestingly, it has reduced his stress as much as mine, because he no longer feels the pressure to check in during rallies or rides because he knows that I can monitor his progress.”

I stand by my original statement: if you meet any of the above criteria, you owe it to yourself and/or your loved ones and/or the taxpayers who support the search-and-rescue organizations to buy a SPOT and sign up for at least the basic service, and preferably the tracking service.

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