Personal GPS Beacons (Not to sound crass but I never trusted any Airline with my life)

My current SPOT personal GPS beacon.

My current SPOT personal GPS beacon.

Hey welcome everybody to todays post. In light of the Malaysian Air tragedy I bring up the topic about adventure traveling and GPS tracking. I think at this point in time just about everybody has used some sort of device that has GPS capabilities. Most mobile phones use GPS and we use GPS for navigation in our automobiles. Quite simply put, all you need is a device that can see the sky and handshake with 3 satellites or more to triangulate your position and your device knows where you are within a few feet. But GPS can be used for rescue in many situations where the downed person/s does not have mobile phone service or no other way to communicate to the outside world. You do not have to be out in a remote area trekking the world like Bear Gylls to warrant carrying a personal GPS beacon.

Look close at my left arm to see the SPOT unit. I had just returned from a nice trek up a small mountain.

Look close at my left arm to see the SPOT unit. I had just returned from a nice trek up a small mountain.

Several years back I had read about personal GPS beacons, I took the time to read up and learn about them knowing someday I would maybe need one. Some people when out trekking about will log their GPS track for reference purposes and others just carry the beacons for safety. I purchased my first personal GPS beacon in 2009 before I went to Thailand. I had never been to Thailand or anywhere in Southeast Asia for that matter and I wanted a way that I could communicate with my sister back in California. She would be my emergency contact if anything went wrong. For the most part I just wanted a way that I could say “hey I’m ok, I’m safe and here is where I am.” And if something went awry I would be able to say “I’m in distress but not a dire death situation, here is my location help me” or if needed I wanted a way to reach the proper rescue authorities, fast. After careful consideration I purchased a SPOT unit and learned how to use it. It was not hard at all. For rescue purposes I equate it to a fire extinguisher, it’s there when you need it. You may never need it and that is a good thing, but it is always there.

My SPOT unit has a tracking mode that lets me send my location every few minutes to my SPOT account where all the info is saved. If I want I can create a page to let other see in real time my location and I can also download and save this info in my computer. This has nothing to do with rescue but rather a novelty and a fun one if you are a photographer traveling.

The SPOT unit has a “check in” mode that allows me to send my location and a short pre-written message to mobile phones or email addresses or both. It will also let me send that message and a map to social media, all with the push of a button from anywhere in the world 24 hours a day. That is a very nice feature.

It also gives me a second pre-written message option so I can have a “check in” message and a second message that I use for saying “hey there is something really cool about this spot.”

The unit has a “Help” message mode, again using a pre-written message that I set up via my account page. This is my “I need help” but it is not life threatening message.

Last but not least is the SOS mode and this I would only activate in a life or death situation. Upon activating the SOS mode the unit sends my location along with all my personal info including medication allergies and current medication (if any) to a GEOS response center. Once GEOS receives your info they alert the proper authorities and help is on the way. No matter where you are they are going to find you. The unit will resend my location every 5 minutes for several days or until I cancel it. So if you are on a mountain side, off shore or just out in the forest behind your house the proper authority will be looking for you and they will be lead right to you location within a few feet of your last transmission.

My flight track in 2012. China Eastern flies very close to the North Pole

My flight track in 2012. China Eastern flies very close to the North Pole

Since I have had my SPOT I have never had to use the HELP or SOS modes and that is a good thing for sure. I have used the tracking mode extensively and I love it. Even for day trips in my car I will turn on the tracking and send the data up to my account. It stays there for 30 days in which time I can download and save for viewing in Google Earth at a later time. I can go back and find specific locations and points of interest at any time.

So for me it was a “no brainer” at the time. In 2009 I was traveling to a country where I knew very few people and I spoke maybe 4 words of Thai and most of all I knew for sure I would be out in the countryside and far from tourist areas. What if something went wrong and I just needed to contact my family quickly. I had no working cell phone, so the SPOT gave me a peace of mind, but in a real way. Then there is also the unspeakable and unthinkable that is in the back of my mind, “air travel.” When I travel either here in the USA or abroad I have my SPOT on my person usually strapped to my arm under my shirt (it’s small) and it is in tracking mode at all times. It will not track in the plane unless I’m at a window seat. So guess who always request a window seat? Really I do this for fun because I think it is so cool to have geo tracks that… let’s say show that I’m within a few hundred miles of the North Pole flying over the Arctic Ocean or Mongolia. Most people don’t even realize the flight path of their plane. I know I didn’t until I arrived in Thailand opened my laptop, logged into SPOT and checked my tracking data and seen I was over the Arctic Ocean. I remember looking out the window of the plane and seeing total nothingness of rolling hills for about 4 hours. That was the nothingness of Mongolia. So what if the plane went down in such a remote location? Well if I was able to I could activate my SOS. Not to sound crass but I never trusted any Airline with my life long before the Malaysian incident. I want to be in control of me as much as I can. Selfish I know but that is just my craziness. Or if the plane had a catastrophic midair failure, sure there is nothing anyone can do, but you know what? Whoever looked at my tracking data would know my last location and know where to begin a search. So simple and all from a little gadget that cost me less than a $100 and a yearly subscription of $150. I justify the price by looking at it this way; I could waste $150 in a weekend on food and drinks with friends or waste it on a shopping binge. So why not put a little logical thought and just be safe.

Since having the SPOT I have many times read in the news about boaters that were lost or found too late and then I think about the SPOT. You mean to tell me you have a boat that costs thousands of dollars, your several miles out in the gulf of Jabip you have an electrical fire, your radio is useless, and no cell phone service. So yeah go ahead and fire the flare gun in hopes someone will see it or just push the SOS button on your personal GPS beacon.

Here are some close up photos of my current unit. I sold my first generation unit on Ebay to a guy in Ireland and got 75% of what I paid for it. I then used that money and some additional and purchased a second generation unit. As you can see it has safety covers on the SOS & Help mode buttons to keep from accidental pushing. Kind of like a pin on a fire extinguisher that keeps it from accidental discharge.

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