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My Life Outdoors

SPOT Messenger Owners Responsibility – Part 1

I recently took my 10 year old daughter with me to purchase a SPOT gps messagner. As we were walking out of the store my daughter asked her usual curious questions. “What’s that for…What does it do?” I explained to her that if we ever got lost or in trouble while we were hiking, we could use it to call 911 or something similar. My daughter already believes I get lost more than actually do.

SPOT GPS Messenger

She asked “So when (not if) we get lost we can push that button and someone will come find us?” I said ”well yes…but we can’t push it right away!” of course her next question was “why not…When can we push it?” Now that is a good question.

My daughter wanted an exact time or instance when pushing the SPOT’s S.O.S button would be appropriate. She wanted me to say we could push it after two hours of being lost…or after 2 days of being lost. She wanted detailed instructions. But the reality is SPOT, and similar locater beacons, don’t come with clear cut instructions.

Locator and Messanger Beacons are becoming more and more affordable. As they do, abuse is becoming more and more rampant. Some time ago a fathers-and-sons team ran out of water in the backcountry of Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch loop. Concerned about their situation the team activated their beacon. Rescuers, who did not know the nature of the call, could not launch the helicopter until morning. When the rescuers arrived, the group had found a stream and declined help. That night, they activated the emergency beacon again. This time the Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter, which has night vision capabilities, launched into emergency mode. When rescuers found them, the hikers were worried they might become dehydrated because the water they found tasted salty. They declined an evacuation, and the crew left water. The following morning the group called for help again. This time, according to a park service report, rescuers took them out and cited the leader for “creating a hazardous condition” for the rescue teams.

If you search the internet you can find countless similar stories of unprepared people taking risks they can’t handle all because they have the security blanket of a Locator Beacon. It has come to the point that some Search and Rescue teams may begin to question Beacon calls. It is a legitimate question…is the owner of this device really in trouble? It is a modern day Boy who cried wolf. My fear is that one day a beacon’s S.O.S button will be pushed, its owner will be in serious trouble, and no one will respond.

What this has all boiled down to for me is responsibility. As the new owner of a SPOT gps messenger, I must answer the question my daughter has asked. When can I push the S.O.S. button? As I see it…there are three factors that must come into account. First, I must be properly prepared and conditioned for the activities I engage in. Two, I must calm down and assess any emergency situation before reaching for my SPOT Messenger. Three, I can’t substitute my SPOT for the development of good self rescue skills.

Continue Reading: SPOT Messenger Owners Responsibility – Part 2

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  • Trout Magee

    May 19, 2011

    Sounds like a classic case of "Never Cry Wolf" to me. Such a great idea, unfortunately being abused by some clueless people. Pretty sure flying around in a helicopter in search of dingleberries that don't really need help can be quite expensive. Great Post.

  • ZSandmann

    May 19, 2011

    Ouch I think if I was in the chopper I would have dropped the water on that guys head and flown off. These are the same people that drive off piers following their in-car GPS blindly. How about some situational awareness people?

  • Family Wilds

    May 20, 2011

    Wow, great post…I've heard a few stories like this before too. People definitely need to know the ramifications of an early call.

  • Chris

    July 9, 2011

    They should have been sited on the FIRST mis-use. This is worse than the people who called 911 because McD's ran out of fries!

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