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Thread: I no longer trust my SPOT Gen 3 to track me.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    San Francisco Bay Area
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    Default I no longer trust my SPOT Gen 3 to track me.

    As many of you know, I just did a run out to the Farallone Islands from San Francisco this past weekend. I had a SPOT Gen 3 tracker on board. It's set to send position reports in, every 30 minutes. My impression from Saturdays trip was that the tracking function was not reliable, and so I turned it on in the morning on Sunday when I was going to sail back from San Francisco to my berth in San Mateo. Upshot....

    Tech support at SPOT tells me that if I power the unit up and push the "Tracking" button, but then later push the "I'm OK / check in" button, that will stop tracking mode. OK, with that in mind, I did a step-by step analysis of my points on the way out and on the way in from the Farallones, and I cannot explain how the various points lined up without imagining that I turned "tracking" on or off FIVE times during the trip, which I did not. I remember turning the unit off once, and starting up tracking once or twice but not five times. I note that every "Check-in" transmission was received, but the "Tracking" transmissions were spotty.

    Since I had a bad feeling about this, on Sunday, I turned the SPOT on when I left the CityFront at 11:33. I pressed the "Tracking" button, put it under the lightweight plexi hatch cover where it was safe, and let it run for the whole 4-plus hour run down to San Mateo. I never touched the "I'm OK / Check in" button. This is the exact same location on the boat where it sat for the whole trip out to the Farallones, the day before. Upshot...it sent in a position at 12:33 and then at 1:03, near the Bay Bridge....then nothing until Coyote Point Marina at 3:43. That's a two and a half hour gap, it missed five tracking points. SPOT tech support claims that I passed by SFO, and the airport interfered with the signal. That's bogus, as on Friday on the way up, I hit the "I'm OK/check in" button a couple of times while I wasn't that far from the airport, and it sent signals which were received, logged and showed on the findmespot.com map for my account.

    The result is, I no longer trust my SPOT Gen 3 tracker to actually track me reliably. I believe that it will work reliably if I push the "I'm OK / check in" button, but I do not trust the automatic tracking function. I remember that on last summers LongPac race, the SPOT just quit sending signals for no reason, though I didn't know that, at the time.. I powered it off, powered it back on and hit the "Tracking" function again and it still didn't work. I won't be renewing my yearly account with SPOT in two weeks.
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    395

    Default

    Spot utilizes the Global Star satellite constellation - this a continent-oriented system that intentionally does not cover open-ocean areas.

    i do not know which unit you have, the Spot X manual states, "Once your GPS position is acquired, SPOT X will send your tracks in accordance with the tracking interval you have selected until you manually stop tracking, the SPOT X detects no movement, or you power off the SPOT X device."

    This does not comport with what you stated as regards sending a message. If Spot support is telling you otherwise then I would have a conversation with them that nails down your functional requirements and get support to tell you exactly how your device is supposed to operate.

    I carry a DeLorme inReach (now Garmin) on Beetle, it uses Iridium and has worked correctly for 7 years now. That's the only 'tracker' that I have direct experience with and it has worked.

    - rob/beetle

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
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    25

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    Anyone looking for a garmin inreach? I have an explorer+ I bought new for the 2017 baja haha and haven't used since.
    In great shape and holds a charge well. You can send text messages and your friends can track your progress.
    REI sells them new for $349, maybe $175 or best offer?
    I'll post to the for sale forum tomorrow if my direct approach doesn't work.

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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    Default

    The unit didn't miss a single "I'm OK" message I sent in two days. It happily broadcast one from out at the Farallones, and 6-8 more on the way back in as well as 2-3 on the way out. It sent "I'm OK" messages in the Bay without fail, including one sent directly under the Golden Gate Bridge. If all I was going to use this unit for was to do exactly that.... tell my contacts that "I'm OK" around the Bay and in the Gulf of the Farallones, I'd keep it.

    But for what I have in mind for this unit, I want it to ping automatically, and across oceans. I knew that the Globalstar network didn't span all the way to Hawaii.

    If anybody wants it for local stuff and is happy to push that "OK" button a few times a day, just drop me a line. I nixxed my account with findmespot.com just now, the unit will be available for another account in a day or two.
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  5. #5
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    Sep 2007
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    37.205346,-121.963398
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    Spot uses geo sync sats, they are 22000 miles up with big high gain antenna. Meanwhile Iridium sats are a big array in low earth orbit(450 mi up), and there are quite a few flying. The signal strength of the spot, by the time it travels 22000 miles is extremely small. Cloud cover could be enough to reduce the signal, rain clouds would be the worst. Saturday saw a lot of moisture in the air. With Spot even the plastic of your boat hatch could add a bit of attenuation and if you are heeling maybe the signal is passing through some of the fiberglass ?

  6. #6
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    Sep 2007
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    What I don't "Get" is why 27 "I'm OK" messages were transmitted with none dropped that I can see throughout the day, but a lot more than half of the tracking messages didn't get registered.

    When I called spot tech support, I got a lovely woman who tried to help, but was clueless. When she came back with an "answer" from the actual tech people, that said that the reason was that I was near the SFO airport, I was done. That's ridiculous, I was over 20 miles away, out in the Gulf of the Farallones....I successfully sent two "tracking" messages and one "I'm OK" message from the south bay on the way up to the City on Friday. The failure has nothing to do with SFO.

    Fortunately I'm not out a lot of $$ for this, and also, the unit worked absolutely great if I just pushed that "I'm OK" button. So for a backpacking unit, something like that, it's probably just fine.

    breezetrees, I'll buy that unit! See your messages!
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  7. #7
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    Sep 2007
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    San Francisco Bay Area
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    Default

    I needed to move to Iridium anyway, as the Globalstar coverage doesn't go more than a couple of hundred miles offshore.
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2016
    Location
    Bodfish, CA
    Posts
    162

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    Just curious - with the exception of the Spot fracker, was the sail enjoyable around the rocks?

    Ants

  9. #9
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    Sep 2007
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    San Francisco Bay Area
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    Quote Originally Posted by AntsUiga View Post
    Just curious - with the exception of the Spot fracker, was the sail enjoyable around the rocks?

    Ants
    Eleven people were "on the list". Eight checked in Friday night or Saturday AM. One boat showed up who wasn't at all associated with the SSS, but was owned by friends of one of the participants. One person who was on the list never responded further, so I was pretty sure we'd be below the magic "ten" number. We had some radio chitchat going on once we got outside the Gate.

    Anyway, one boat stayed in the Bay and practiced, as they didn't have a masthead VHF yet, just a handheld. Another motorsailed out into the lumpy and not very windy conditions outside the Point Bonita / Mile Rock line, turned around and came back in. Another made it out to the shipping channel, and came back in. I think I was the only one to sail all the way out without turning on the motor, which put me a good two hours behind everybody but the Farrier 31-R. I could see that boat for quite a while, way way south of me, but obviously much faster.

    One boat rounded the Lightsbucket and headed back. Six boats made it to the rockpile, with everybody but me going around. I got there so late in the day, and it was such light wind that I thought it smarter to turn around at that point and head back.

    The morning wind was from the NW, with a LOT of W in it, until I got about 2/3rds of the way up the shipping channel. Then, finally the southerly filled in and we all had about two hours of nice sailing in 12-14 knots. By the time it got to be about 2:00, it had died down again. I saw two Mola mola ocean sunfish on the way out and spotted a few spouts at the islands. Some of the people who went by earlier got quite the whale show, I understand!

    I turned around at about 3:30, and managed to sail slowly...4 knots +/- back to past the Lightbucket. I was rather north of the shipping channel at that point. When the GPS told me I was making 3.0 knots, and it was getting on to 7:30 PM, I fired up the outboard and rolled up the jib and headed in. The fog closed in for about 45 minutes before I got a look at the bridge, so that was stressful, and Open CPN on my Android Phone was not being reliable, so I had visions of spending the night out there. However, the fog finally lifted, I'd gotten close enough to see the bridge, so I aimed the pointy end of the boat at it, and told the autopilot to "go that way". Then I just motored what seemed like *Forever* to Point Bonita. The wind came up at Point Bonita and I had a nice moderately brisk sail in to the GGYC, where I tied up around 10:45 PM.

    I've had more enjoyable sails out there, but then again we didn't get hammered, either. My goal was to cover 50 miles nonstop on the boat, and I did that. I wanted to test a few bits of kit, and I did that, too. I'm glad that I confirmed that the SPOT wasn't reliable on this run, rather than waiting until the 400-miler that hopefully will happen this Fall.
    S-2 7.9: "Wildcat of Loch Awe"
    1968 Selmer Series 9 B-flat and A clarinets
    1962Buesher "Aristocrat" tenor saxophone
    Piper One Design 24, Hull #35; "Alpha"

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Santa Rosa
    Posts
    578

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    Alan, My experience with Spot involves my John Muir trail daughter & husband. They need to move to a "sky clear" area for it to work consistently. I wonder if you kept it under some cover except when you picked it up to hit the "I'm OK" button? It's a weak signal to a distant satellite & needs to "see" the sky.
    About fog and the GG. I have a decades old Garmin eTrex handheld GPS. It has lost several "lines" and the light doesn't work any longer, but the waypoints, speed, bearing, heading, etc. work just fine. I think I paid about $50 for it a Target in the late 1980s. It uses 2 AA batteries that last about 12 hours, so I always pack half a dozen extras in my sea bag. It has never failed me.
    It was the primary instrument we used to navigate to Hawaii in the 2010 PacCup. Punch in a waypoint at noon Monday and on noon Tuesday and it will tell you how far you've sailed & has a rudimentary track to show you. Listen to position report and key in those locations to put the "enemy" on the chart. Etc.
    I used it Saturday to tell me how long it thought it would take me to get to the Island from the Lightship. That's why I turned around.
    I keep keep it handy in the cockpit, loaded with a hundred+ waypoints. I've used it many times to find the GG in fog. Pt. Bonita to Port; Mile Rock to Starboard, GG Bridge middle horn straight ahead. Takes a little mental calculation, but it works. Won't tell someone where you are, but will tell you where you are. Nice to have a chart to go with it in the fog.
    Garmin no longer makes this GPS, but they have a similar one the "10" I believe for around $100. The older Garmin eTrex Venture HC (similar to mine), also no longer made, is available on eBay for under $100. -- Pat



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