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There was a fatal sailboat accident in a Newport Beach, CA to Ensenada Mexico race that made national news about 2 years ago. The captain's widow is a family friend and the story and details are long, but they relied on a SPOT GPS locator in the event of an emergency. Because these devices are becoming essential gear for remote MTB trips, I wanted to share their story.

The captain sent a distress call out at 1:30 AM. SPOT's call center consisted of one 19 year old kid. Yes, it's calling a call center and not help. This 19 year old called the contact number for the SPOT device (The captain's wife) and left a voicemail. Remember it's 1:30 in the morning. He called the next number on the list, again leaving a voicemail. There was 4 contact numbers and apparently calling 2 of them was sufficient. 8 hours later the wife gets the voicemail and called SPOT to get details and they were unsure of the next course of action. The wife calls the Coast Guard and they went into action. Three bodies recovered (the widow's brother was one of them) and the husband/captain was never found and presumed deceased. He's thought to have survived the accident, triggered the SPOT device and was adrift. What makes this story even more unfortunate is that around the time of the incident and the SPOT distress signal, a Coast Guard helicopter was only about 10 minutes away. Imagine how the wife felt knowing that and SPOT's lack of response.

Wife is very frustrated by SPOT's response to date and litigation is likely under way. SPOT has an agreement to mediation as part of the Terms of Service... which means user agrees to mediate prior to a law suit, which incidentally is in a small town with police chief and judges related to owner of SPOT.

I know SPOT has saved lives, but how gnarly is this?

The wife referenced this article as one of the only editorial/news piece on SPOT and this incident: SPOT Distress Alerts - Inside Practical Sailor Blog Article . Other media is just regurgitating and referencing the article. We're in a transitional period in media of content/news aggregation over news creation. MTB media won't cover something like this because they want SPOT's marketing money.

There are many more details, but for sensitivity/privacy, I only posted information that is publicly available and relevant to MTB.
 

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Instead of a Spot device, I carry a PLB (personal locator beacon). When triggered, it sends out a signal received by the U.S. Air force SarSat satellites. The signal from the cigarette pack sized device has a unique ID registered to me and GPS coordinates that will locate me within a few hundred feet. It changes an expensive extended search to an out and back pickup operation. Mine is an ACR ResQLink. The PLBs were developed based on the EPIRB system used by aircraft and boats.

Registration is free with no fees attached. The device cost about $250 at REI. Upon receipt of the signal, the Air Force notifies the proper authorities for the location (sheriff, park ranger, Forest service, etc) who can call your contacts to ensure that you're actually in the area. Rescue then is up to the local authorities who are good folks who generally will move heaven and earth to perform a rescue.

I bought first the older brick like device and then the slim new one mostly for backcountry skiing where accidents can leave me in the snow with survival chancy at best. It's also a great idea for backpacking, mountain biking, river running, and even solo desert driving.
 

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I carry a Delorme inreach. Never had to use it in an emergency, but according to the info that comes with the device, if I ever indicate an emergency, they will automatically send rescuers to my GPS location. All I have to be able to do is get the device out of my pack and push a button. From the Delorme, you can also send text messages, which is handy in non-emergency situations that arise on occasion.
 

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Forget SPOT which relies on a for-profit service plan. It is a toy. A PLB is registered with NOAA and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center is notified immediately.

I am surprised that they were not required to carry an EPIRB which has been required in every off-shore race I have competed in.

I have an EPIRB, PLB and two Safelinks which allow tracking people overboard right from the boat.

I will refrain from offering my opinion on this event and the pending litigation. As an off-shore sailor and racer I will only say that I prepare much differently. If you want more detailed info you should check out the discussions on sailnet.com or sailinganarchy.com

Here is a good comparison: PLBs and Satellite Messengers: How to Choose
 

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Forget SPOT which relies on a for-profit service plan. It is a toy. A PLB is registered with NOAA and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center is notified immediately.
Add the Delorme InReach and the Cerberus to this list, and any other device called a "satellite communicator".

This is not the only SPOT failure incident I am aware of. There have been a variety of failures, though not all have resulted in death at least. If you want your family to know where you are (though not necessarily for anything with serious urgency), get a satellite communicator. If you want to be rescued when you push the button, get a PLB. You are rolling the dice if you get a satellite communicator for potential rescue scenarios.
 

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I think that mountain bikers and hikers who rely on these devices for single day outings and thus don't inform others what their plans are, where they are going, and when they will be back are doing themselves a dangerous disfavor. There are many places where getting a satellite link is quite unlikely. I have used an Iridium sat phone and own an Inmarsat sat phone and both are not able to make a call or get a text message out in ravines and/or places with heavy foliage. (Love seeing Hollywood show people use sat phones from within buildings, cars or helicopters. It's BS!) If you use any of these devices you must continue to inform others of your plans and not rely on them for rescue. If you are riding/hiking in the desert then this may not apply and of course sailors can rely on EPIRBs and PLBs because of the open sky.

If you want to back up your normal routine of letting folks know what your plans are with one of these devices then I wholeheartedly agree with likeaboss that the privately networked versions like delorme and spot should be avoided. Besides questionable effectiveness these devices will also end up costing more than a PLB because of their subscription plans.
 

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Filing a plan with friends/relatives is a great practice. If you are injured and immobile then there would be a time factor to getting out. Adding a $250 PLB to possibly accelerate the time to rescue is a no-brainer.
 

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Instead of a Spot device, I carry a PLB (personal locator beacon). When triggered, it sends out a signal received by the U.S. Air force SarSat satellites. The signal from the cigarette pack sized device has a unique ID registered to me and GPS coordinates that will locate me within a few hundred feet. It changes an expensive extended search to an out and back pickup operation. Mine is an ACR ResQLink. The PLBs were developed based on the EPIRB system used by aircraft and boats.

^^^^ This! I work at NOAA right next to the SARSAT US Mission Control Center and we fly these transponders on our satellites. When a SARSAT Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or EPIRB goes off it is serious business. The full spectrum of federal, state, and local government SAR services are brought to bear immediately, and the system and technology are reliable and proven. It's one thing the Government does right.

I'm so sorry to hear this story and to hear that companies are selling services that I find hard to believe measure up to SARSAT.
 

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Where do you race? What do you race? I've got a Martin 242 in Marina Del Rey, California.

There is not much offshore racing left in Southern California. Everyone is in a hurry to get back to the bar and the clubs are good with that. The Ensanada race is essentially a "milk run." The Marina Del Rey to San Diego Race was the same. For most boats, these were the only "races" they would do. That still goes for Ensanada. Many boats would have to borrow things like a second anchor, radar reflector and raft when they did the races.

The SPOT ought to have been adequate for that race if it had been monitored properly. However because of monitoring issues, I prefer ResQLink. (I also have someone on deck while sailing at night.)
 

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Bruce, we used to race our Pearson 28 and Ericson 35-3 in Maine. Wednesday night series champion and multiple NE Harbor race winner. Raced windsurfers many years ago also. We are now living aboard our Caliber 40LRC and will head out cruising in May. We may do some off-shore rally/races with it but no solid plans for that yet.

Teecat, thanks for the work you do. The SARSAT system really is a great service. And do not find it hard to believe that a private company can live up to SARSAT standards.
 

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Likeaboss, that's sweet. I never managed to win the Wednesday night series here. I got second OA once, but never won it. We did get 2 National championships. I also won the Marina Del Rey to San Diego Race a bunch of times. If you are ever in SoCal, you'll come out with us.
 

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Likeaboss, that's sweet. I never managed to win the Wednesday night series here. I got second OA once, but never won it. We did get 2 National championships. I also won the Marina Del Rey to San Diego Race a bunch of times. If you are ever in SoCal, you'll come out with us.
Count on it and if you happen to be in Maine before we leave in mid May I will do the same. We do plan on returning here some time in the future though.

PMed you our website.
 
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