SPOT 2G, and 1G test unit report

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Aug 26, 2009

SPOT unveiled its second generation hardware a few weeks ago, and it looks good. It's smaller and lighter, GPS acquisition is purportedly much improved, and the user interface will be a whole lot easier to understand and remember.  You'll find more information and analysis at Doug Ritter's blog and at Hardcore Outdoor.

Meanwhile both original SPOT messengers that I tried and then lent to voyagers for further testing are back in the lab.  The one Russ Irwin took to the Caribbean (hey, New Morning is Cruising World's September cover boat) is a dite sticky with the duct tape he used to secure it in his cockpit, but it's still working fine.  However, the one Tom Amory took to Europe didn't track him back across the pond.  When turned on, the OK button starts flashing red, which generally indicates low batteries, except this one does it regardless of battery state.  SPOT says it may have suffered water intrusion, perhaps because the battery cover wasn't screwed down tight.  I dare say it did get wet crossing oceans on a J35, as did Tom and crew.
   Overall, I'd say the original SPOT did well, given that it's an inexpensive gadget/service meant mainly for letting friends and family know where you are.  SPOT 2G may not have the features some boaters wished for -- an external antenna and a fixed mount -- but the new neoprene case and arm band (seen at, like the size comparison photo below) may work better than duct tape.  I look forward to testing the new SPOT, which should happen in a month or two. 



Ben, any word if the new device can be used with an existing service subscription, or if we'll have to play the iPhone game and start over. Also, will be interested to see if Spot 2's GPS will do a better job of penetrating fiberglass bulkheads or even glass windows...the original Spot seems to need to be fixed outside the boat which is rather inconvenient for safe operation in weather conditions.

Posted by: Drew Clark at August 27, 2009 11:20 AM | Reply

Ben - sorry about the duct tape residue but that was the only way I could figure out to keep it in place. I had to wrap it all the way around to keep the metal bits on the back of unit from scratching the paint.

The purpose for the duct tape was to cover up the flashing green light which was very distracting at night.

Does the new unit allow the user to set the update frequency for tracking, or allow tracking to continue past 24 hrs?

Did they do anything to address either of these issues?

Posted by: Russ at August 27, 2009 2:05 PM | Reply

ActiveCaptain on aCappella is rolling with SPOT and 10 minute position updates:

I've been quite impressed with the capabilities. Now imagine if the shared data could also be used by other web sites and servers...

Posted by: Jeffrey Siegel at August 27, 2009 6:47 PM | Reply

Greetings from SPOT!

We are very excited about the general availability of the new SPOT Satellite Messenger scheduled for this October. The enhancements and new features come as a direct result of listening to our customers over the past two years.

Fiberglass and windshields haven't been a real issue with the current SPOT. In fact, many pilots use SPOT Tracking for recording and sharing their flight paths and SPOT is used commonly in automobiles. However, the new SPOT will offer an enhanced GPS chipset and antenna which will provide advanced performance overall. Automated Tracking performance will improve but intervals are still every 10 minutes.

SPOT is developing a customer loyalty program so current SPOT customers can keep their existing service but trade-up to the new unit at a discounted rate. More details will be announced soon.

The new SPOT offers recessed fasteners on the back plus the neoprene case will prevent any scratching or sliding on hard surfaces.

Thanks for your interest. We feel that you'll be impressed!

Posted by: Derek at August 27, 2009 6:56 PM | Reply

I was rescued by a greek tanker 1108 miles into a transatlantic crossing after a dismasting because of the 911 feature of my original Spot. It worked flawlessly so I look forward to the new version to replace mine.

Posted by: David Groose at August 28, 2009 8:07 AM | Reply

I still think I'd rather have my cat I epirb with GPS capability. Heard a lot of stories about spot sporadically not working (in fairness, the original version).


Posted by: Michael Porter at August 29, 2009 8:41 PM | Reply

David, I'm happy to hear you are safe and I'm glad you had SPOT. The new model will offer enhanced features and performance but the original SPOT works great and will continue to do so. Like any electronics device make sure you read the manual and understand its different functions. Because SPOT has four message functions unlike an EPIRB (OK, Help, Track and 911/SOS) its necessary to understand how each operates. Visit the FAQ section on for quick in-depth answers to any questions you may have.

Posted by: Derek at September 4, 2009 10:58 AM | Reply

FWIW it looks like the SPOT2 is finally shipping! Happened to notice defender has changed the status from "preorder" to "in stock".

Posted by: Scott E at November 21, 2009 9:39 PM | Reply

Oops. Spot has begun a �Voluntary Return Program� for some of the 2nd generation SPOT messengers already shipped. It does not involve all SPOT 2 units and the replacement doesn't fix a truly critical problem, just less battery life than promised. Per usual, Doug Ritter has the details:

Posted by: Ben at December 15, 2009 8:18 AM | Reply

A gentleman who rents SPOT trackers in NZ is looking for a way to power them off 12v. Can anyone help?

"We hire out Spot GPS trackers to Boaties to track trips. They take a PLB for their storm jacket pocket for when on watch also, in addition to the boat's EPIRB. The Spots use the expensive Lithium batteries 3 X AAA size which are around NZ $ 20 per set, and last about 7 days in clear views of the sky.

The cost of hire is NZ 35 per week one, $ 25 per Wekk 2 and $ 1 per day after that. So to keep the cost of battery supply low, we use a set of three rechargable NiMH batteries at 1. 2 volts each which last for about 2 day continueos use with a clear view of the sky.

To be be safe, we give out a lot of spare charged NiMH batteries with the hire, allowing for one set of 3 batteries per day, plus a few spare, and some boaties use a onboard quick charger for the batteries so they only need to carry a few sets spare and the ones in the Spot Tracker and rotate them each day..

This daily changing can be difficult for some hirers to remember and on occasion we have had scares when they have forgotten to change the batteries over and the positions were no longer updated.

A quick free text to them on the iridium website to their Iridium phone and all was reset, but we think having a bigger battery pack might be a good idea, so I am looking for a circuit diagram for the battery circuit if you have come across one in your testing.

I have asked Spot for a copy but they simply say no, and say we need to only use the normal batteries.

I have also asked if a simplt timer chip would be a good idea for the next model as many hirers also forget to reset the Spot each 24 hours, again leading to no tracks which can be a worry. They said no as they don't want Spot being left on all the time which could happen if not manually reset each 24 hours..Spot automatically stops transmitting after 24 hours on track mode, but leaves a light flashing on the on button which hirers mistake to think it is still working and transmitting.

I think Spot is great, and hirers like it, it does however need minding each 24 hours and a way to have say a month long battery life, while still being small.

If you could help me out with an idea of are the batteries in paraell, series or a combination of both, that would be great and we can make up a simple external connector to power it from a 4.5 to 6 volt battery or regulated solar panel of about 100 milliwatts output that over a 5 hour good sunlight day would recharge the 3 AAA batteries the approx 500 milliwatt hours that are used in a 24 hour period by the Spot, based on the 1000 milliwatt hour AAA batteries we use, lasting approx 30 hours.

Kind Regards, Michael

Posted by: Ben at September 27, 2012 7:49 AM | Reply

Idea now: Put induction charging AA batteries in SPOT. Build a custom box that holds the induction charger plus circuitry to convert 12v to what is needed by induction charger. Build a clasp onto box to hold SPOT in place so it dosn't bounce off the charger. Overall bad idea. Maybe someone can improve on this. For example stuff everything in a waterproof pouch with see thru window?

Idea for future enhancement for SPOT. Seems like SPOT is concerned about device transmitting for no purpose. Here is something that addresses that also:
- Boat/Car/Home mounted holster that will securely hold SPOT in holster. With a 12v cigarette style plug, accepts 10-29 vdc (e.g. support 24v systems), and is optionally hardwired into a boats electrical system (cut off plug).
- SPOT in holster vs out of holster has different functionality.
- SPOT in holster, battery power transitions on to off, SPOT shuts down; battery power transitions off to on, SPOT begins transmissions; If SPOT removed from holster will start transmitting if it wasn't and will stop transmitting after 24 hrs as normal behavior.
- SPOT out of holster. When spot returns to holster functions as follow. If holster has no power when returned to holster, SPOT will shut down immediatly when placed in holster.
- If rechargable batteries in SPOT, than batteries recharge from holster power thru contacts in SPOT case.
- Open issue: If power to holster is left on all the time with SPOT inside, should there be a limit, or should SPOT contact owner and state that isn't the offering and they need to pay more for continuous use or arrange that the holster isn't powered when SPOT is not in use.

Posted by: Dan Corcoran (b393capt) at September 27, 2012 3:50 PM | Reply

Details about the Spot Gen3 are starting to show up, though I don't think it's been formally announced nor is it shipping yet:

Posted by: Ben at May 10, 2013 11:37 AM | Reply

Thanks Ben for the great link. That is great, I spoke to one of the people who helps develop the Spot, I think, last year and he mentioned a new one was coming out. This is so cool.

This will solve a few problems for us, and will help lots of other people too.

I have sent a link to my boss, and hopefully he will approve me buying ten of the new ones.

We currently have two boats using the Spot trackers we hire out, one on a trip that is being written about in and one that should appear on later next month or so.

We have also just brought our first Satellite Phone, and I will update Ben on how it goes, it is the IsatphonePro and will be hired out with the Spot, so that if someone hires the Sat phone they get to take a Spot along for free as a back up.

We don't have enough Sat phones yet, but the plan is to hire out the Spots, and include a Sat phone in the hire for at a price that encourages people to take both.

At the moment we hire out the Satellite phone for $ 35 per week, each week, plus airtime at $ 2.50 NZ per minute, which is more expensive per week hire than the Spot which gets cheaper for longer hires. But hopefully we will get the Sat phone pricing to the point where it is as cheap as the Spot.

Thanks been again for the link , The new Spot, it is what we have been waiting for .

Kind Regards,

Posted by: Michael at May 11, 2013 7:30 PM | Reply

Hi Ben,
I went onto the spot page to see about the new airtime plans if any, and got distracted by this,

which is wow, really inexpensive airtime, all you can use I think, for $ 150 US, no way....

Am looking for the terms and conditions but nothing seen yet, and my boss asked about it being waterproof, but nothing on the Spot page about the waterproof part, so did a google search and found this report.

Yep, waterproof to IP7 , so cool.


Posted by: Michael at May 11, 2013 8:08 PM | Reply

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