SPOT GPS Messenger

After spending a month and a half staying with friends, I decided to settle down for a bit and started renting a room in San Francisco. So far, things have been great, BUT that’s not the purpose of this post… In a strange coincidence, I found out that my roommate works for a company that produces a perfect solution to a problem I had/have when I’m up on my property alone.

The Problem
One of the things that worried me most about being alone on my property, and particularly at my camp, half a mile from the road and miles from any other human settlement, was the risk of injury. Out there, even an injury or condition that could be solved by a simple trip to the ER could’ve become a huge issue, simply because I might not have been able to get to the ER or call for help. For instance, if I were working on the roof of my hut, fell off, and broke my legs, that would’ve been mighty inconvenient. I would’ve had to drag myself over to my trailer, dig out the first aid kit and survival manual, read up on what to do, stabilize myself, then drag my broken legs down the hill to the road. There, I could wait for a car to come by and flag it down, or try to drive to the nearest house.

And that’s the best case scenario, assuming I am still mobile and mostly stable. If I suffered a bad compound fracture, I might lose blood too fast, or move too slowly. If I were immobilized, without a way to contact the outside world, it’d be days, or over a week, before my friends came to find me, and there’s a decent chance I’d have died of dehydration or hypothermia by then. Other than trying to signal air craft (who wouldn’t even be looking for me) the only way to attraction attention would’ve been with my handgun. I’d have 16 rounds of ammo; that’s five sets of three shots (a distress signal, if anyone happened to hear it and recognize it as such), with one bullet left over…

(In case you’re wondering, yes, I thought about all this when I was out there. I went anyway, because the things worth doing in life are worth doing even if it kills you. But that’s another post…)

The solution
Well, it turns out that the company my roommate works for has the perfect solution for crazy people like me!

The SPOT GPS Messenger is a simple device that has a number of basic but useful features. There’s an SOS button you can push, which sends your location to a dispatch center, which will then direct the nearest emergency unit to your location, no matter where in the world you are. There’s also a less urgent “help” button, an “I’m ok” button, as well as a tracking functionality so your friends and family can see where you are (if you’re sailing around the world or backpacking across the wilderness, instead of sitting in a hut like I was). Since both the positioning and communication is done via satellite, it works even where cell phones don’t have reception (though, it’s worth noting that GPS’s don’t work in some terrain, depending on the quality of the receiver). My roommate let me handle the demo unit he carries around, and while not tiny, it’s small enough to carry around, and seems pretty rugged. I obviously didn’t try the SOS functionality, so I can’t tell you whether it actually works, but he said several hundred people have been rescued after using it…

The only downside I can think of is cost. The actual unit costs $150, but the service costs $100+/year. Granted, for a device that can literally save your life, that’s not much. Next time I go out there, I’ll almost certainly bring one of these with me (especially since I can get a discount through my roomie 🙂 ). Even if you don’t go on crazy outdoor adventures, it might be worth having one of these next to your bed if you live in an earthquake-prone area. When your house comes crumbling down around you, one of these might be handy to let people know you’re down there… It also might be good for the elderly; I’ve heard of old people who lived alone who died after a simple fall, because they couldn’t get to a phone to call for help.

12 thoughts on “SPOT GPS Messenger

  1. Sounds like a great device, if and only if your area is actually served by emergency services. There was a case in a recreational area in my region where an old lady burned to death in her home because her area had no fire rescue services. Her neighbours pleaded with the 911 folks to no avail as they watched her cabin burn. True story.

  2. I know there are a couple of devices like this, and while the $150 seems reasonable, the monthly bill seems quite high, especially for something that you would use ideally never? It also seems to have no protection on the SOS button which might be pressed with a coin while it is in your pocket.

    For a situation like yours, I wonder if there is another product. You don’t need to the GPS, as presumably you’ll only use it near your cabin. It’s my understanding though that most of these are little more than 911 auto dialers, so while they require a phone line, they don’t require a monthly fee. It’s definately something to research.

    I always thought that if I was going to be in your situation, I would use it as a chance to learn some ham radio tech. Very simple radios, with very light power draw can interface with a laptop via the audio ports, and communicate digitally very long distances, even relaying TCP/IP (although very slowly compared to even dialup), and reach hundreds of mails, with more powerful setups reaching around the world. It would atleast give you email, and possibly IM. Using one with an automated distress call set off with a hand remote like the one in the pic would be ideal.

  3. Hi Ryo-
    Like Grant I was going to pop in and say amateur radio was the way to go for remote emergencies if the cost of the SARSAT stuff was too much, but he beat me to it. I have a couple of really simple radios that fit in an Altoids tin.

    • Hi Dean,

      I know I mentioned it, but I personally didn’t live it. I took my technician exam yesterday, and home to have a call within the week. My question for you is to do you have any info for those Altoids radios?

      • Congratulations on your license. The most common small project is the pixie2 transceiver, available at for $10 (you need to buy a crystal separately). They are not well regarded but that’s what I built. There is also NEQRP’s transmitters:

        There are slightly bigger radios at

        If you look for “QRP transmitter” and such there are a lot of different designs; some can fit, some can’t. One popular design used a tuna can.

    • Hey Sonja, thanks for the comment! I checked out your site too, and your vandwelling adventures sound pretty amazing too. If you ever need a place to park your van in Northern California, be sure to let me know 🙂

  4. Just wanted to say -if I can go a little old school- mad props on the you that you are, your choices & your land situation… I don’t know when that stopped being HUGE for the people’s desire, but if I could get a chunk with the water – or be able to up and go as far as Coyote Cottage dot com (now for sale) it would be -beyond a dream.

    If there was ever a time to be self sufficient, off grid and AWAY from this madness that surrounds me & too many I know: the time is … oh, a few years ago. Jokes, but serious.

    Also, thanks for dispelling so many ridiculous pre-conceived notions people have in one wide swath of choices shared via blogs/internet avenues …

    and when I show my big brother your blog? 1) He’s gonna flip and 2) want ME to get the GPS thing just for the Bay Area w/ 4 attempted break-ins in 2+ months (and my friend 4 blocks over got the evil burglar happen last week) + really really bad health. The health insurance attached to my job and the doctors and all that is such a needed ball & chain, but – just to say that you are seriously living the dream.

    As always, too many words, but there you go there.

  5. Pingback: It’s a bird! It’s a bed! Wait, it’s an earthquake shelter! « Laptop and a Rifle

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