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Using The Spot 2022


Sep 17, 2012
Two years ago, I intended to write reports on using The Spot, Zoleo, and InReach (SE+) "Here I am" devices. I picked those and not more formal PLB's because, in my case, it's important to give comfort to those back home. Letting them know where I've camped each day, and perhaps giving them a track of my travels, satisfies that criteria - along with providing "SOS. This is where I am. Please, come get me." signaling too. Unfortunately, when COVID hit, it put a stop to most of my adventure plans.

A recent circumnavigation of Orcas, via Sunset Beach, Pelican Beach, Clark Island, Matia Island, Patos Island, Jones Island, Spencer Spit, James Island, and back to Sunset Beach allowed me to become reacquainted with The Spot. I do intend to cover those other devices - maybe a hiking loop with Zoleo around the Wallowa Lake area in Oregon. The Matterhorn is there and it would be nice to add it to my summit resume. I might forget to mention it's the Oregon version :)

And now... The rest of the story ...

Other posts have covered the features, the potential for four pre-set messages (one dedicated to SOS) and such. So I'll just cover the cost of getting started and show some examples of its features in use.

My unit was the Spot, Gen 3. Before I bought that model, I asked the Spot people if it was technically different from Gen 2 with respect to GPS location and message sending. They said it was not - mostly a different case and the addition of one more AAA battery. They said the same GPS/Message technology is in the more recent Gen 4. It is mostly just a different case.

Cost of getting started:
I quit using The Spot because it was costing me $250/year for about 2 weeks of use in the summer. After I cancel my account, I found out they had - probably because of the pressure of InReach and Zoleo month-to-month plans - a "Flex Plan" that was month-to-month. Note that if you are using the unit year-round, the Flex Plan is not the least expensive.

Numbers rounded to USD's: Getting in the door costs $80. That's $30 activation fee, plus $35 for flex plan, plus $15 for the first month (30+35+15=80). Note that your month starts when you activate the plan. You can't, for example, Pay the activation fee and flex plan fee in May and say you want to start in July. Also, their representative gave me bad information, saying the plan and activation covered one month and the (required) 15 extended my "startup" to 2 months from the get-go. I'm mentioning this just to let you know that what you are told over the phone, with not written record, might be a little off.

Once the $80 is paid, you can continue to use the Spot for a year at $15/month. But you can suspend that monthly payment for the months you won't use it. At the end of the year, you have to re-up on the $35 Flex Charge. If you let it lapse, you have to pay the activation fee again - start all over from scratch.

What you get with that Is an SOS button, Three other preset message buttons labeled, Ok-Check in, Custom, and Help - but you can put in any message you want, along with the email or text number recipients of the message. For the OK message, I say, "Here I am, things are fine.", for the Custom message, I say, "Things are fine, off my float plan because of weather or having too good a time." For Help, I say, "Ño medical problem but I can't get out by myself. Please send help." The SOS profile asks for contact numbers, and you can add boat descriptions, medical info, and anything else you want them to know. When you push the SOS button, it signals a full on Search and Rescue mission. Both the Help and SOS buttons have a cover flap so they aren't accidentally pushed. I believe there is a Cancel procedure but I'd have to review it again.

This setup is all done BEFORE you leave home - though you can probably modify some things if you have an internet connection on the water. I didn't own a cell phone until a month ago so I do all my "setup" and planning at home.

One feature the Spot has is on the water (or trail) tracking with points added every 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes. The default is 10 minutes. That was the standard years ago. More points mean less battery life. At 10 minutes per point, the four lithium batteries had no problem reporting during the water time for the one-week circumnavigation of Orcas (to be reported later).

The message looks like this (sent to me):

Check-in/OK message from SPOT Paul's Gen3 Spot
Mon, 8 Aug 2022 15:51:04 +0000 (UTC)

Device Name: Paul's Gen3 Spot
Latitude: 48.50013
Longitude: -122.69235
GPS location Date/Time: 08/08/2022 08:51:22 PDT

Message: I am fine and having a good time. This link will show you where I am.

Click the link below to see where I am located.

If the above link does not work, try this link:
You have received this message because "Paul's Gen3 Spot" has added you to its SPOT contact list and attempted to contact you.

With tracking on, you get "dots" along your route - connected by lines. However, occasionally The Spot creates a phantom point - for example, From Sunset Beach the map showed a point in the middle of Washington. You can click on the point to edit, and select "Hide my Location". That disappears the point and also all the lines connecting the other points.

When you setup the map parameters at home, you can select a date duration for the points to remain. Also when setting up the tracking, you indicate who you want to see it (public or password required) and they will get an email giving a link to visit.

Spot Tracking Map
7 Aug 2022 01:18:44 -0400

You've been granted special access to the Circumnavigation route tracking. Starts Monday later morning.
This invite was sent on behalf of Paul Chance (designer@quickdata.com) using SPOT Tracking.

The tracking page has a ruler you can use to measure the point-to-point-to-point distance (only in miles, not nautical miles), and clicking on each point gives Lat/Long and time of day. In the upper right corner there's a box where you designate the time frame you are looking at; Live, 1hr, 24hr, 7d, 1m. I think it defaults to Live - in which case you wouldn't see any tracks unless tracking was activated at that time. 7d displays all points generated within the last 7 days. If you follow the link above to the map, you'll want to select 1m as tracking took place the second week in August.


To recap, if you wanted coverage for four months, the first year would cost $125. Because you wouldn't need to pay the activation fee for the second year, those same four months would cost $95. That's a much better deal than the $250/year I used to pay.

For that, you get to let the folks back home know how you're doing, you get three message buttons, an SOS button, and a tracking map to follow your route with location and time.
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How to Suspend your FindMeSpot account:
The whole point of the FlexPlan is to be flexible - to start/use it during the months you want and suspend it for the months you don't. However, in the "Let's make it as confusing as possible." world we live in, things are not so direct.

First, I got an email saying an invoice had been generated. As we were near the end of my first month of use, I figured the invoice would be $15 for the second month. That's too easy. The invoice was for $79.95 - the amount I paid on Sept 3rd. And nowhere on the billing screen did I see a way to suspend the account. There was a Cancel button - but that appeared for the whole account and "Cancel" is a strong word. So ... a Call to Spot support.

To give their Support credit, they do have a Call-Back option so you don't have to wait on hold.

The explanation was Spot invoices at the end of the month, after the usage, not before. As I started on 4-Aug, I have until Sept 4th to suspend the monthly charge. But there is nothing on the Review Billing and History screen that lets you know the wheels are still turning.

Suspending the account is NOT done from the Billing screen. It is done from the Devices screen.

I only have one device, the Spot 3, and under STATUS, you can see it's Active with a link to Suspend. The "Next Billing Date" is the next "Renewal" date starting 4-Sept. I suppose the Devices screen makes a little sense if a person had more than one Spot Device - you'd come to the Devices screen. But still, I'd expect account suspensions/renewals to be in the Billing section.

The Spot representative was helpful and understandable. And patient as I explained back to him what I understood.

Now that I know where to Activate and Suspend the device (and have taken a screenshot of it and posted it here), my research on The Spot is done.

The Spot is the simplest of the three "communication" devices I'm reviewing. I like the fact that I did not need a secondary device to interface with it (yes, they have a text-sending model too). Sure - the InReach device gives you an up/down-left/right alphanumeric pad to push in a message - but much easier is to interface with a phone or tablet. And Zoleo's whole deal is providing text messaging.

Cancelling SOS: The edit window on my earlier post is closed so to finish this out, it seems these devices have somewhat the same method for canceling the SOS message. You just push the SOS button again and hold it down for 3 - 5 seconds. On the Spot, the LED will change to blinking red. Keep holding the button down until it stops. In other words, the same way you turn off Tracking.
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Thanks for the breakdown. SPOT on, so to speak. I don't use either SPOT or InReach at the moment, but when I'm teaching VHF courses for people getting their ROC (M)s, the question of PLBs vs SPOT vs InReach often comes up. Since it's not "examinable", I don't go into too much detail during the class, but often spend 10-15 minutes after class breaking it down for those who are interested.
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