This guest post was kindly contributed by Michnus who originally published this article here.
Do you know what’s a “yard sale”? Its when you haul ass like a Dakar god and shit goes horribly wrong. Waking up with your foot next to your helmet and all your possessions once strapped to the back of your bike now lay scattered all over the road.
Luckily there’s some technology that can help rescue you and your bike. Personal trackers have come a long way but there are some caveats.
We wrote the article with the link below for SuperBike Magazine South Africa and they were kind to put it up on their website.
It is a question & answers interview we had with GEOS, SPOT, and Garmin. Comparing the devices, the options and pitfalls, choosing one ain’t as obvious as it seems. We hope it is of value.
To start with, there are 3 parties involved with the entire operation.
The device provider, Garmin or SPOT, etc. The next is GEOS, they are the coordinators, they receive the message from the device. They then coordinate with independent rescue teams in a country. The rescue teams have no other affiliation with GEOS. The rescue teams in each country might or might not bill the user when a rescue is done.
Very important is to understand the role of GEOS and how you will be rescued.
Please make sure to read this linked article in conjunction with this article.
It is advisable to always carry and ride with the unit on your person, not attached to the bike.
Review – SPOT Gen3 vs Garmin Inreach Mini
We have been using both these devices for a few years. The SPOT was our first one and we replaced it with the Garmin a year and a bit ago. Quick overview on the two devices:
- The spot is a basic tracker and SOS unit. It tracks on intervals that the user can set SPOT Gen3 Personal tracker review on 2min, 5min, 10min or other as needed. On the basic plan, only the 10min breadcrumbs are available.
- The unit makes use of 4AAA Lithium rechargeable batteries. They do last quite a long time even when tracking on 8hour plus riding days. What we did find difficult was to find replacement batteries. Of course you can recharge them but you need to carry a charger just for that purpose. Or alternatively, if you always ride from home on small trips make sure to charge them. We wrote to SPOT to ask if they can’t just build in a small charging system to charge with a USB.
- Coverage is not as good as the Garmin system, but that said SPOT told me with the interview they are working hard to get the entire globe covered.
- The SPOT package plans and unit cost are considerably less than the Garmin Inreach.
- The tracking website to see your crumbs are not as good and user-friendly as the Garmin offers. SPOT said they are working on it.
- There is no two way messaging on this unit. You can only send pre-set SMS’s to friends or family.
- The current coverage of the Garmin unit has a bigger footprint over SPOT.
- Website and smartphone/mobile app work well with the Inreach Mini and there are useful functions to set up and use for the unit.
- SMS messaging and receiving of SMS messages is available on the Inreach Mini
- Battery power is not great and charging will have to be done on a daily basis if used 8hours + per day. Garmin does not recommend to just have it plugged in all the time. The battery has to run flat and charged through the cycles. The unit uses a built-in battery good for a few days depending on the tracking.
- The only real negatives are the once-off subscription fee that SPOT does not have. And the cost of the unit and plans are quite high. On the basic plan for a full day tracking the user are charged per breadcrumb. Those pins can run up the cost quite quick.
- In the event that we receive an SOS activation from a GEOS Supported Device, we will immediately bring up the location of the incident on our mapping software, identifying the location of the incident and the agency responsible for that particular area. (If it is a two-way device, we will send a message to the device requesting information regarding the emergency.)
- We immediately begin contacting emergency services based on the location that was provided. While one member of the IERCC is notifying emergency services another person will attempt to contact the device user at the number provided in your profile.
- We will also call the emergency contacts listed in the profile to gather any additional information.
- In the event that we receive an emergency activation internationally, we are required by international standards to notify the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) for the country the device activated in.
- If a Rescue Coordination Centre is not able to assist with a rescue, we will reach out to the embassy within the country. The embassy that we contact will be determined by the citizenship of the device user. The embassy will then reach out to local agencies to assist with the rescue.
Basically, it is important you think before you venture into a place, plan and make sure you can help yourself first and foremost. As example, if you can’t pick up your own bike because it is too heavy when you just drop it in the road is wasting resources that might have been needed elsewhere. Going off into an unknown road and you know snow or heavy rain is possible, rather don’t go, again you will waste resources.
The rescue button is for serious use only.
Review & Questions to Inreach, SPOT and GEOS
In the last 6 months, just from our social media feed, there were incidences where people got lost and/or injured while travelling. One guy’ family reported him ‘lost’ in Peru and with the help of people on social media they managed to track him down. In another incident, a rider from Texas fell in Mexico and people on social media were asked for help to locate friends and family. A German rider went down in the Atacama desert and with the help of his tracking device, 16 hours later, was rescued.
Technology has evolved enough to be a very useful tool for travellers.
We bought a SPOTGen3 three years ago, we have now just started to use the InreachMini. The biggest benefits being that when we ride the backroads in places like Mexico, Colombia, Africa or Asia and we disappear, due to whatever reason, our family at least have the ability to find a spot where to start searching for us. And secondly, when one of us gets injured badly we would be able to get a rescue team to evacuate us.
Make no mistake the world might be getting smaller on social media but it is still a bloody big place out there. In places such as Peru, the roads meander up and down passes with no guard rails. Go over and you disappear never to be found again. With the current range of personal trackers, at least family and friends have the means to know where a person was and where to start searching. This applies whether you ride a motorcycle, bicycle or a car or just backpacking.
When meeting up with other travellers the topic of safety always end up as a talking point. I found though, many of the people using these devices often do not understand the packages, benefits and what are not covered.
There are always two parties involved whether purchasing the Inreach or SPOT or any other tracker.
There will be the tracker company and then GEOS
Inreach and SPOT supply the device that allows you to send a HELP message or an SMS to the family. The people that will actually coordinate a search and rescue are GEOS, and NOT Garmin Inreach or SPOT.
As important as it is to have the device, it is equally important to understand the function, cost, logistics and workings of GEOS in all this. Speaking to people most were under the impression the monthly subscription fee payable to the device company also included all cost for search and rescue.
The subscription to Garmin and SPOT is only to use and have access to the satellite network.
GEOS will as part of their agreement with Garmin and SPOT send and facilitate a search and rescue when you press the HELP button. But here is where things can potentially get costly. Where ever you are in the world GEOS will arrange with the local authorities/teams to search and rescue you. If those teams demand payment for their evacuation and other services then you are liable for the cost.
In some countries like Australia, search and rescue are free up to a point, and I was told only for residents. In the USA with their insanely costly medical bills, a quick helicopter ride could ruin your budget for life. We heard of an individual that had to settle a cool USD150’000 bill for a chopper evacuation.
GEOS offers insurance that will cover those cost. When buying the chosen device, a subscription must strongly be considered as part of the cost of owning either of the devices. Obviously, if you know you are travelling in countries where search and rescue services are for free then the insurance are not needed. Just remember the insurance from GEOS is not automatically included and is optional.
Asking Garmin, SPOT and GEOS the questions:
The best way to to make sure we understand what we are buying is by asking the brands themselves. I asked Angelique Crew from Garmin, Deborah Fourie from Globestar and Emily Thompson from GEOS to answer some questions about their products.
Garmin InReach Mini
Q: The Inreach Mini is a two-way communicator and not 100% the same as the SPOT Gen3 but people will still choose between them when wanting to buy. The one main difference is that the Inreach battery power is 50-90 hours which for hiking and such activities it means you need to carry a battery pack to recharge. Will Garmin consider packing it with a bigger battery or able to exchange batteries as with the SPOT at some stage?
A: The Inreach Mini has a 50-90 hour battery life depending on the “per-minute with logging” tracking setting, these time frames mentioned are the default setting. The battery life can be extended by increasing the per-minute tracking with logging to conserve battery life. If set to 30-minute interval power-saving mode battery life can be extended to 20 days.
Q: For motorcycle use, we can charge it off the bike. Is it advisable to leave it plugged in all the time or only when the battery runs flat?
A: As with any lithium-ion battery it is advised to charge the device to full and use until the battery is depleted down to 30% and chargeback to full.
Q: There is also an activation fee, what is that for and why is it needed for people to pay that? Is that because you use the Iridium satellite system?
A: Yes, it is part of the package to use the Iridium system as it is an external satellite system.
Q: Is there a new activation fee payable every time you subscribe again after stopping the service?
A: Should you suspend your service there is no re-activation fee. However, should you cancel your contract completely there will be a reactivation fee.
Q: On the Safety plan for example, if the unit is ON and the person is in an accident and not able to press the SOS button, and unable to communicate, will Garmin be able to detect the last location of the unit if family ask for example 2 weeks or a few months later?
A: Unless the user has used a location ping or activated tracking points during the “adventure”, no tracking can be done by emergency services.
Q: Your subscription pricing is very competitive compared to Inreach. What would you say in a nutshell is the reason for that?
A: We make use of our own Globalstar constellation of satellites and Gateways. And thus does not have the cost of contracting an external system.
Q: About two years ago when we started using the SPOTA GEN3 the coverage was not that great what has happened since then to increase the coverage to nearly the entire globe?
A: The number of Gateways has increased as well as the efficiency thereof. We work on increasing coverage on a continued basis.
Q: Will Globalstar increase coverage in the future?
A: We are planning on additional Earth Stations in Africa to increase coverage and overlapping coverage to increase the reliability of messages getting through.
Q: Can you explain what Gateways are?
A: Gateway is essentially our Ground Earth Station where all the intelligence sits. The difference between Iridium and us is that Iridium’s technology is in the satellite, so upgrading is going to be expensive and required development and launching new satellites, with us we can make the necessary upgrades to the earth stations which is more effective and cost-effective and quicker to meet changes in technology and demands.
Q: Our unit sometimes failed to track on the 10min intervals. To this day we could not figure out if it was the unit or the system failure. We saw points were 30-50km apart at some stages. What happens when we press the SOS button and the unit send the wrong location to GEOS? As it surely will set them on a wrong location? Is the system tracking more accurately now?
A: It would be better to set the device on 5min intervals each time the device pings it will lock onto a satellite. If a lock is missed due to obstruction it will only a loose a 5 min radius. When you press the SOS button the location will continuously ping every 2.5min so a lock will be made in a shorter time.
Q: As for power, the unit uses 4 AAA lithium rechargeable batteries. Although they last quite long, we struggled throughout Central and South America to buy new rechargeable Lithium batteries. The issue is that the unit does not recharge the batteries. Will SPOT consider adding such a feature?
A: There are no plans at the moment to have a charging circuit build in for but maybe in the future.
Q: When possible will SPOT offer a website where tracking point and routes are kept the same as Garmin have with the Inreach? It is quite a mission to set up and use Spotwalla which is a 3rd party site to store routes and points.
A: A share-page can be set up on your account to view tracking points and routes. SPOT Adventures allow storage of your routes as well as the integration of photos and text.
Q: Do you automatically contact the person’ listed contact when the SOS button is pressed? Or alternatively, what is the procedure and guidelines when do you contact the emergency contact?
A: In the event that we receive an SOS activation from a GEOS Supported Device, we will immediately bring up the location of the incident on our mapping software, identifying the location of the incident and the agency responsible for that particular area. (If it is a two-way device, we will send a message to the device requesting information regarding the emergency.) We immediately begin contacting emergency services based on the location that was provided. While one member of the IERCC is notifying emergency services, another person will attempt to contact the device user at the number provided in your profile. We will also call the emergency contacts listed in the profile to gather any additional information.
Q: For people without the GEOS cover on SPOT or Garmin will you still liaise and work with the local authorities to arrange for rescue or search?
A: Correct. Just because someone is using a GEOS Supported Device (such as SPOT or inReach) does not mean they are required to purchase GEOS SAR benefits. The IERCC will coordinate the rescue for any emergency alert that we receive. If the responding agency is going to charge for the rescue, they will typically reach out to the individual after the rescue is complete to request the payment. If the individual has GEOS SAR benefits, that would be when they could utilise them.
Q: What is your experience in countries where such rescue and emergency are limited?
A: In the event that we receive an emergency activation internationally, we are required by International Standards to notify the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) for the country the device activated in.
Q: Is it a mission to get hold of such teams and to get them to assist when the button is pressed?
A: Since we have specific agencies that we reach out to, it typically isn’t difficult for us to find someone to assist with rescues anywhere in the world.
Q: What do you do in cases they are not motivated to help?
A: If a Rescue Coordination Centre is not able to assist with a rescue, we will reach out to the Embassy within the country. The Embassy that we contact will be determined by the citizenship of the device user. The Embassy will then reach out to local agencies to assist with the rescue.
Q: What is the case, for example, someone not having GEOS cover and the local authorities demand cash upfront before assisting?
A: If the responding agency is requesting payment upfront, we will reach out to the emergency contacts to see if they are able to cover it. If they are not able to cover the payment the agency is requesting, we will then reach out to a different agency for assistance. This situation is very rare, though.
Q: For people with the cover that need air support in remote places who decides to use air transport? For example, we heard of an incidence where the Medivac cover company did not want to use a helicopter to transport a person and said the person must be transported by road. The local doctor on the scene made it clear the person might pass-away with road transport. After an 8-hour standoff, she was airlifted. Who makes decisions like that for people with the cover?
A: The responding agency will determine the resources that will be used for the rescue. If the group is expressing that the individual must be airlifted, we will explain this to the responding agency, but the resources they use will still be up to them. The resources used are based on a number of things, such as the resources available, current weather conditions, location, terrain, etc.
Q: For people without the GEOS cover does GEOS charge them for services when a person presses the SOS button?
A: No, we do not charge anything when an SOS is activated. We will coordinate the rescue for any and all emergency alerts that we receive and will not charge the individual.
Q: With the SPOT Gen3 there is NO two-way communication when someone presses the SOS button what is the procedure to try and first establish what is wrong, what teams or rescue is needed?
A: If we receive an SOS from a SPOT, we will immediately begin coordinating the rescue with the appropriate agency. While one person is notifying the agency, another member of the IERCC will call the numbers in the profile in an attempt to gather more information regarding the device user and their whereabouts. We do not wait to establish the nature of the emergency because that just delays the rescue.
Q: From talking to quite a few people, it became clear not many people knew and understood the benefit to purchase the additional cover to use GEOS. What would you say is the benefit of having GEOS cover versus not having GEOS cover? What practically would happen if a person decides not to take the GEOS cover and needed search and rescue?
A: A device user is not required to have GEOS SAR coverage, it is only recommended. In the event we are coordinating rescue and the agency requests payment, we can explain that the device user has our SAR coverage and that the payment would be covered. If the device user did not have our coverage in this situation and an emergency contact could not cover the payment either, we would have to reach out to a different agency, causing even longer response time.
Q: Your coverage is charged per year, many people use their device only for a few months at a time. Do they still benefit from coverage when on a trip without the personal tracker and in need of your assistance? If so how do they get in contact for assistance?
A: In order to utilise the GEOS SAR benefits, a GEOS Supported Device must be activated during the incident. If someone is wanting to utilise their GEOS MEDEVAC, they could just call into the IERCC Operations Centre to begin the process. A device does not need to be activated in order to use MEDEVAC.
As for the devices:
In conclusion, and an example, the Inreach Mini is a two-way communicator and the SPOTGen3 not, but the Inreach unit cost considerably more than the SPOT. The subscription plans for both differ quite a lot and needs understanding when choosing either of the devices.
As an example on the SPOT basic plan tracking is included as standard, on the Inreach it is the cost per ping which if you track 8 hours a day will run up a hefty bill. SPOT does not have an activation fee and Inreach does have a once-off fee. Inreach offers monthly subscription plans and SPOT will in the near future offer monthly plans, currently, their plans are payable per month for a year.
The device you choose will come down to how often you use it, do you need tracking only or sending SMS’s to the family is more important and such criteria.
Inreach Iridium system currently tracks anywhere in the world, Globestar covers most of the world but you need to make sure it will cover where you are going. The coverage area is shown on their respective websites.
The most important part of buying one of these units or other models are the subscription plans. You need to make sure you read and understand the benefits and drawbacks for each and how it fits in with your travel style.