Satellite Messengers Get HELP when out of Range

In a recent edition of All At Sea we discussed Emergency Positioning Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Location Beacons (PLBs) but there is also another option of emergency communication known as satellite messengers.

In a life-threatening situation, having a way of contacting emergency services at the touch of a button is a reassuring thought. Many of us venture out of cellular range and we should have a means of hailing help other than the smartphone in our pocket. EPIRBs and PLBs are no longer the only option as certain satellite messengers can also get help when out of cellular range. This particular breed of communication device adds capabilities that make them not only valuable in an emergency situation but also offer a non-emergency communication capability.

Two companies’ products are at the forefront of this technology, each with its own unique offerings.  Each has devices that have the capability of communicating distress signals as well as having 100% satellite messaging technology via orbiting satellite systems.

  • The Spot line of products from Globalstar and
  • DeLorme’s inReach line of products.

Globalstar’s name is synonymous with satellite communications and is recognized for its affordable, compact satellite phones and airtime packages, all running on their own network of satellites. Their new Spot Global Phone has emergency hailing capability as well as text messaging. Simply by dialing 911 from your phone you are automatically routed to a GEOS International Emergency Response Center where the appropriate respondents are contacted to initiate a rescue wherever you are in the world. The company also offers a line of inexpensive one-way satellite messengers that have the capability of sending a mayday signal via satellite and through a private network to hail search and rescue – all with the push of a button. These one-way communicators are also capable of sending tracking information as well as short text messages to pre-determined recipients.

Spot Gen3
With improved battery life running on AAA lithium batteries, or powered via USB, this small distinctive black and orange waterproof device fits in the palm of your hand.

One of their most popular units is the Spot Gen 3. With improved battery life running on AAA lithium batteries, or powered via USB, this small distinctive black and orange waterproof device fits in the palm of your hand. All its buttons are on the front panel and the emergency hailing button is tucked behind an easily opened protective flap. There are built-in loops on either end that allow for attachment and these units even come with a strap and carabineer clip. The buttons have diagrams indicating what each is for. Lifting the flap with the SOS on it exposes a red button. By pressing and holding this button a green light will appear, indicating that the signal has been sent to the EGOS International Emergency Response Center, via satellite, where they dispatch help. If you were to press the button by mistake then you can hold the button down for a few seconds until a red light appears indicating the signal has been turned off. This is all very important but the other buttons are what makes this unit particularly interesting.

There is a button with a checkmark and OK on it. Pressing this button until a green light appears above the button means you can notify a predetermined list of recipients of your location and that you are ok. They will receive a text message or email (depending on how you set it up) with a link to Google Earth with GPS coordinates indicating your location. There is also a tracking button (the one with a boot print on it). By pressing this button you can initiate automatic tracking via your own Spot share page online. Tracking rates can be as short as every 2.5 seconds to every hour and are also determined by your subscription program. The Gen 3 is a smart unit that can sense when it is not moving and will not transmit new tracking information until it senses motion again. Another button has a dialog bubble on it. Pressing this will send a custom, predetermined message along with your GPS location to select individuals. The last button (with two hands reaching for each other) is an assist button. Pressing this can send a message to predetermined recipients that you need non-emergency help.

Another of Globalstar’s offerings is their Spot Connect. This unit has the capability of the Gen 3 but kicks it up a notch. It can allow for custom one-way outgoing texting via Bluetooth through your smart phone loaded with their app. Now you can use your phone to send either predetermined or custom text messages on any of the features mentioned above. You can even activate the SOS button and send along a text message to rescuers. Should your phone battery die, the Spot Connect can function via its own AAA lithium batteries. Predetermined messages set up online can consist of up to 140 characters, and type-and-send messages can be up to 41 characters. The Connect even allows the capability of posting to Facebook and Twitter for those of you so inclined. Globalstar offers all this capability through the purchase of their Spot products along with the purchase of one of several subscriptions. Subscriptions start at just under $100 and additional options such as their Spot Assist for predetermined roadside or marine towing assistance services are available for added fees. A visit to www.FindMeSpot.com can explain their subscription offers.

DeLorme recently announced their third generation of satellite communicator. The DeLorme inReach Explorer improves on the already capable inReach SE. The Explorer fits comfortably in the hand and is smaller than most compact VHFs. As in the SE model it features a built-in LCD display and a helix style antenna. Utilizing the Iridium satellite system this feature-packed unit allows true two-way text communication and one button SOS capability anywhere in the world with no black-out areas. These units also feature automatic tracking options and, like the SE, the new Explorer also has built-in GPS capability. What is different is that it will also allow use of the GPS functions just like a stand-alone GPS unit. Other unique benefits include delivery conformation of emergency transmissions and the ability of predetermined individuals to ping your location. The brand new Explorer also offers a barometric altimeter, an accelerometer and digital compass.

inreachexplorer_m01The inReach SE and now the Explorer are unique messengers in that they allow for full two-way messaging via the Inmarsat satellite network. The messages allow for 160 characters and the number of messages permitted depends on the subscription plan you choose. If you go over your allotted number of messages you will be billed 50 cents per message. SOS messages are unlimited no matter what plan you select. Kim Stiver of DeLorme explained that there is now a new program offered by her company where you can activate and deactivate the inReach on a monthly basis rather than having to pay for the year. Those plans start at $14.95 per month.

All functions are visible through the clear display, and intuitively placed buttons make operation simple and fluid. When paired via Bluetooth to a mobile device you can have access to DeLorme’s famous mapping and utilize features such as route planning through the device. It has an internal battery with a life of up to 1000 full cycles and can be charged easily via a supplied USB cord or one of their optional powered RAM mounts. Should you need the battery to be replaced Delorme can do so for a nominal fee.

No matter which device you select it is important that you have some way of communicating while in remote areas. The number of lives saved by EPIRBs, PLBs and devices such as these proves that they work. Isn’t your life worth the minimal cost of one of these devices?

 

 

Glenn Hayes
Glenn Hayes is a writer and photographer based out of west central Florida and has marine industry background spanning almost a quarter century. He can be reached through his web site www.HayesStudios.