Panbo

Fast Find PLB breakthrough, and SPOT/BoatUS team-up

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Feb 18, 2009
McMurdo_FastFind_210_cPanbo.jpg

Smaller, better, cheaper! McMurdo's new Fast Find 210 PLB is just a bit over four inches long (my model has small hands), but features not only a 50 channel GPS but also an SOS flashing LED. And it will probably retail for under $300. I say probably because it is not yet FCC approved, therefore not yet for sale, and McMurdo's US distributor Revere Supply is hence reluctant to quote prices. But I've heard the breakthrough $299 price from several sources, including PLB maven Doug Ritter, who's put up some good comparative dope. Remember that ACR also has new PLBs in the works and both companies are now also clearly competing with SPOT. I think we've got us a good-for-consumers product battle going on!

SPOT, in fact, is starting to put more emphasis on its non-emergency features--because that's what consumers are responding to--but it's not for nothing that one of Fast Find's marketing claims is "subscription FREE and does not rely on any commercial call centers." Meanwhile SPOT just announced a relationship with the BoatU.S.Towing Service that sounds good. For very little premium, a SPOT subscriber can add a BoatUS Towing subscription and use the SPOT Help button to summon such aid. In many cases that could be easier and more reliable than calling by cell or VHF and trying to describe your exact location when things are amiss. A current BoatUS member will be able to add the SPOT notification service for $10 a year.
   SPOT had already announced a similar partnership with Roadside Assist in January, and apparently it will be possible for a SPOT owner to go to his/her Web account and switch the Help button from one service to another. I think, though, that using either service means that a SPOT subscriber loses the ability to customize his/her Help message and send it to a custom list of email and text message addresses, as you can see below on the SPOT that Panbot Russ Irwin is currently testing in the Caribbean. You can also see that Russ hasn't changed either the Help or OK default messages and hasn't added any new message recipients beyond the ones I set up for him. I do know via a few OK messages sent yesterday that he just sailed from the BVI to St. Martin, but I'm beginning to think he's having too much fun to geek around with this stuff.  

Spot_message_setup_cPanbo.jpg

Comments

OK, I updated the emergency contact information. However, I expect to rely on my EPIRB not Spot for a real emergency.

It's great using Spot to let people know where we are, in fact I've gotten complaints from friends when we don't update it at least once a week, thus disappearing from the Spot map (they only show messages within the last 7 days)!

Spot would be much better for boat owners if they designed a model for usage on a boat. I currently have the unit duct taped to the deck under a dodger window, not very elegant! Fortunately it has very low power draw so I think keeping the "all in one" form factor that is battery powered is just fine.

My top three suggestions are 1) fully water proofed and in a package with suitable mounting hardware for a boat exterior (pushpit?) that includes an easy way to remove it when not on the boat (i.e., two piece mounting), 2) larger buttons suitable for operation with wet salty fingers, 3) no blinking lights - these are extremely distracting at night.

Posted by: Russ at February 19, 2009 12:57 PM | Reply

Thanks, Russ, but how about trying the tracking option on those overnight passages? Also, if you want, you can add more contacts to the OK button list, and they'll get an email whenever you check in, like I do. It's kind of fun to see just where you are every once in while, in near real time. Even if I do get jealous, and feel compelled to give you a hard time here ;-)

I'm afraid SPOT is not working on a boat model with external antenna and power. We're just too small a market, I guess, and the antenna part is apparently not trivial. However, I just realized that good old RAM has come up with a nice mounting solution:

http://tinyurl.com/cg6euu

Note, though, that $10 just gets you the cradle. You also have to buy the back plate and then whatever system of arm(s) and base plates you want. I've used RAM gear around saltwater and bouncy boats, and it's stood up fine.

Posted by: Ben at February 19, 2009 1:19 PM | Reply

I have used SPOT for a full year on the water now and I have been VERY impressed. I realized I needed a different solution when I was fishing the Coral Sea two years ago. We were over due for 8 hours and although we contacted the Australian Coast Guard, the msg was never delivered to her at the marina. When we pulled into the dock, she was a mess. SPOT has been peace of mind ever since. I'll be back on the Coral sea in a few months and this time we'll have SPOT aboard and even though the spouse will be back in Maryland, she'll be able to see us go out and return from each fishing trip. I look forward to future enhancements. My #1 wish: The ability to send a short text msg right from SPOT.
Ken

Posted by: Ken Lahr at February 19, 2009 6:00 PM | Reply

Gosh, for $2xx, maybe this is perfect for people TOO LAZY to connect their GPS and chartplotter together over NMEA-0183, program their VHF with and MMSI number, post instructions, and train their family.

Rescue 21 has been available on Long Island Sound for just over 15 months ... and I have not met one single person who has enabled their VHF distress button to take advantage of this.

This includes 85 members of my cruising yacht club, to which I have made 3 postings on the web-site offering reminders and information just short of offering to stop by and wire it myself.

Sorry for the rant. Good wine this 2004 California Wild Horse Melot.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at February 19, 2009 8:43 PM | Reply

Ben - I'll try to remember to give the tracking a try.

I know I can add people to the OK list, but an email with lat/lon and a link to Google is actually more steps for friends/family than just going to the book marked web page. And if we turn on tracking, they'll find their inbox stuffed with messages. Our immediate family seems happy to check the page when they are curious, and they know they can always text us on the sat phone and ask for us to call them if they're concerned.

You'll note that I didn't ask for external power or antenna. The power demands are low and mounting solves the antenna issue. But the buttons and flashing lights need to be addressed. This isn't a major engineering project, it's a different case and slight modification to the firmware.

Posted by: Russ at February 20, 2009 8:01 AM | Reply

Thanks, Russ. Note that tracking doesn't generate any emails at all. It would just keep your share page right up to date, and you only have to activate once every 24 hours.

Ken, I think SPOT is looking at the possibility of a model with short outgoing messages.

Posted by: Ben at February 20, 2009 9:22 AM | Reply

Dear all. There is a RAM-mount available from SPOT. You can use it on your boat, in your chopper, on your bike, etc. They also have a special arm belt. I think that a special feature on the share page will not be used on the water, but when you right click on the messages you can select the height profile of the SPOT messages.

Posted by: Reinier Zwolsman at February 20, 2009 10:13 AM | Reply

I don't see the advantage to the device mentioned above. It still relies on cell service to send the signal, so why not just use your cell phone and enter the coordinates from your GPS?

Posted by: Sam at February 24, 2009 11:55 PM | Reply

Dear all. Keep in mind that the battery time on the Fast Find Plus is 24 hours! The SPOT can work on 2 lithium AA batteries for 2 weeks continiously!!! The Fast Find Plus can not be used for Track&Trace, the SPOT does. With the SPOT you can let people know that you are OK.

Posted by: Reinier Zwolsman at March 5, 2009 10:14 AM | Reply

"Big Rick Stuart" --- a DJ at KFOG FM in San Francisco and a Panbo reader --- wrote to note that SPOT is running a promotion whereby you get a 'free' unit if you sign up for a year's service w/ the tracking option ($150 total):

https://www.findmespot.com/robby/

Thanks Rick!

Posted by: Ben at March 22, 2009 3:22 PM | Reply

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