The SPOT Personal Tracker on duty in the Everglades.

In the Everglades there is a waterway known as Lost Man’s River. The name could serve as a descriptive modifier for the entire 1.5 million acres of National Park. The endless and barely distinguishable mangrove channels and rivulets of the Glades proved a perfect place to test a device that helps you stay found. So recently I took a


POT Personal Tracker
into the Everglades to see how it worked.

The Personal Tracker works via GPS only it doesn’t tell you where you are or where you are going. There’s no screen to view tracks to retrace. What it does is tell others where you are. When you get your SPOT unit you register it and create an account on www.findmespot.com. Then you type in the email and cell phone numbers of the people you want tracking you.

Cell phone reception dies about halfway down the road from the Park entrance to Flamingo, where we launched our boat. I used SPOT to keep in contact with people over the next few days. The Personal Tracker has four functions: SOS/911-hit it if you need to be rescued and it notifies the closest emergency response agency; Help-hit it if you run out of gas or need a tow; I’m OK–sends your GPS coordinates to all your contacts, and a personal message. The fourth, Track Progress, allows followers to view your waypoints on a Google Map.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the Personal Tracker. You have to lay it on a flat surface to make it work. The blinking lights indicating what function is working are too similar. I was never sure if I properly activated the Track Progress function. There’s no way to tell if your contacts are receiving your emails until you get home. And, finally, it’s one way communication. If you need dialogue, bring a SAT phone.

But here’s what I loved. It worked. And it worked well. My contacts could follow me in real time and knew, even though I couldn’t talk to them, that I wasn’t hopelessly lost in the swamp. At home I could retrace my trip in my personal account,  and show off my wanderings on my SPOT Shared Page. Overall, it’s a great addition to any boater’s safety protocol.

Price: $99 for unit, $200 for unit plus one year of basic service.

Contact: www.findmespot.com

NEW FROM SPOT: Satellite GPS Messenger

The Satellite GPS Messenger looks more user-friendly.

The Satellite GPS Messenger looks more user-friendly.

Over the summer, SPOT came out with an updated unit called the Satellite GPS Messenger. I have not tested it but it is smaller and lighter, and looks to have a more user-friendly keypad design than my tester. Plus it’s got a custom message function. And the “message sending” indicator light looks like it rectifies one of my issues with the original unit.

COMING SOON: SPOT announced at the Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show two weeks ago that it’s coming out with SPOT HUG (Hybrid Universal Guardian), a service for boaters that incorporates the tracking functions of SPOT with a security feature that helps prevent boat theft. You install a “base station” on your boat and keep a key fob on your person. If your boat moves out of a designated “Home Base” range when you and your fob aren’t around, it sends an alert with GPS coordinates to you and a monitoring center. Look for HUG in the spring of 2010, and hopefully for a test here.