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Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT
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Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Sat phones on 10/29/2011 15:59:56 MDT Print View

The advantage of satellites being much lower than geostationary orbit is that you have much less lag time for the uplink and downlink, and that is pretty important for voice conversations. The disadvantage of satellites being much lower is that they are moving across the sky, and they will be overhead for only so many minutes at most. The companies that are better funded have more complete constellations, and that means few holes in coverage. The incomplete constellations can seem quite frustrating if you have to wait to make a call, or if your Spot can't send its data out right away. In contrast, geostationary satellites are pretty good if you are sending one-way data, not two-way voice.


Bruce Tolley

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Backcountry Sat Phone or SPOT on 11/03/2011 12:55:16 MDT Print View

To the original poster, what problem are your trying to solve, communicate back to worried parents or notify authorities that someone is in need of rescue and or evacuation?

If the latter, if you are not in a National Park, in most states and jurisdictions, you need to call your local County Sheriff to initiate SAR. In our local council's high adventure training we had this discussion with a NFS Wilderness Ranger and he recommended Sat phones. If you have the phone, you can stay on location and communicate with SAR team directly about your location and the status of the injured party. For example, in the unlikely event that a scout is struck by lightening or bitten by a rattle snake, which piece of electronics would you rather have?

Of course, as I am sure you know, you are better off planning safety into your trip, knowing how do to self rescue, if not having an actual self rescue plan in your back pocket. I always aim to start every trip planning meeting by having the scouts talk about how we can make the trip fun and safe.

Our troop looked at them and thought the cost and weight were prohibitive. When I did my research a few years ago, I found that you could buy SAT phones with service plans and call the service provider up to start the service and then turn it off after a trip.

Before a trip, I look on the map and figure out which county I am in and then program the sheriff's office number into my cell phone ... I usually leave in my car at the trail head.

Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Get a satellite phone on 11/09/2011 16:42:38 MST Print View

I just went through the options on this, including listing the real situations I've been in where I needed communications. For me, two-way communications is essential.

We often think of communications for rescue, but two-way can allow you to avoid rescue. Maybe you resolve the situation there, maybe you self-evac.

For example, in a medical emergency, if you can have a Q&A with a doctor, someone can pack in medication or equipment and start treatment a day earlier. That is huge, maybe life-saving.

Here is my blog post with my reasoning:

I'm an electrical engineer and an amateur radio operator, so I have a good knowledge of radio communication.

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
New option: DeLorme inReach - two way texting on Iridium Network on 11/09/2011 17:18:00 MST Print View

This month DeLorme is coming out with a SPOT competitor that allows two way texting via their PN 60w GPSr or via an Android phone.

DeLorme inReach

This might be a good option for people who still want to give their family the tracking option that the SPOT offers but feel uncomfortable about its 1-way messaging. With the inReach their family can track them as before on the SPOT, but now the user can exchange messages with others. That 2-way messaging would be very helpful in many situations (like Walter pointed out).

I didn't yet compare the difference in rate planes to a satellite phone. It will be interesting to see first test reports.


Edited by Orienteering on 11/09/2011 17:20:06 MST.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
That "In Reach" looks good on 11/10/2011 10:07:08 MST Print View

I'm impressed with the features, size and cost of the DeLorme In Reach. Thanks for posting it. I will also be very interested to read the reviews.

Abigail Williams
(abigailatsps) - F
Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 12/14/2011 20:59:30 MST Print View

I know this post is older and you may have already found a solution but thought I'd share a promotion at If your troop gets 50 people to enter the contest for a SPOT Connect they will give your troop a free SPOT Connect even if your name is not picked. Good luck in your Scouting adventures!

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Backcountry Sat. Phone or SPOT on 12/14/2011 21:40:40 MST Print View

>"Every time I read these threads, I wonder how Boy Scouts got to be 100 years old without electronics."

Jim and Joe: I'm with you. And not because I'm some Luddite who thinks synthetic bags and nylon tents were a bad idea. (Although my rule as a 17-year-old JASM and 18-year-old ASM was to remove one battery from all electronics. You brought, you carry it - it's useless now - and I'll return that one battery when we return to the school parking lot.)

But what are the over-arching goals of scouting, ideally? Independence, leadership, and new experiences.

I'm thinking a letter to all parents is in order.

- Around town, parents mostly cook the meals. On Scouting trips, boys cook their own food.

- At home if you're cold, you turn up the thermostat. On a camping trip, you put on a sweater or start a fire or get into your sleeping bag.

- Around town, in 2011, kids check in with their parents, electronically, several times day. On a Scout trip, they don't call or tweet or Facebook for a whole two days. And the parents act like any parent would have in 1997 - no news is good news.

If you want Scouting trips to look just like the rest of their life, why go on Scouting trips?!?

Absolutely no Spot "OK" messages. Even with high functioning, more sophisicated people back home, no news somehow gets morphed into bad news. I've seen it happen. With helicopter parents, it would be a nightmare. So if someone brings a SPOT (I bring mine a lot of places), no parent can know about it or at least no one should offer to send "OK" signals.

Sat Phone? Because one valley doesn't have a 5 bars of cell signal? No, use the money to bring the grubby poor kid to a week of summer camp on a scholarship. Because you're pushing their limits on a remote trip and you want to increase the safety for overweight fathers who come along? Yeah, maybe. But NO daily updates. It's for broken bones (between your shoulders and your knees), core body temps above 104F or below 93F, heart attacks, and strokes.

My infant son died 14 miles from home while I was home with his toddler brother. If I'd known what was happening, I couldn't have effected the outcome. Everyone on the scene did everything they could.

Would the electronics change the outcome? No? Don't use them. Yes? Fine.

Are the electronics only to reassure neurotic parents? They'll just find new things to be neurotic about. Lay down the rules and let them spend their own money on a really good therapist. Have the Troop spend its money on better gear for kids/families who want that experience of being a little independent.

Acronym Esq
( - F

Locale: TX
Re: Get a satellite phone on 12/14/2011 22:21:31 MST Print View

Thanks for the continued contributions. Unfortunately, the debate in my committee rages on.

>Posted 11/03/2011 12:55:16 MDT by Bruce Tolley (btolley)
>To the original poster, what problem are your trying to solve... ?

The ability to communicate reliably in the back country in rough terrain to handle situations that need outside intervention (dangerous weather change, medical/environmental emergencies, drastic change of plans, etc.)

>Posted 11/09/2011 16:42:38 MST by Walter Underwood (wunder)
>We often think of communications for rescue, but two-way can allow you to avoid
>rescue. Maybe you resolve the situation there, maybe you self-evac.

That is exactly why I can't get my committee to agree to a SPOT. Maybe I'll start another thread to tell the story of popping the SPOT and getting black helicopters and MP5's... I think two-way communication will be required.

Ironically, we have rented Iridium 9555's 5-6 times now, and never gotten them to work properly in the field. Long satellite acquisition time, dialing long numbers, and other assorted user errors continue to defeat us.

That said, the 9555 is a sweet phone (voice, sms, email, voicemail, etc). I got them to work in my back yard. We just have a major training issue to overcome.

I spoke to BSA national about using their UHF frequencies. They were agreeable, but my committee doesn't think radios are reliable enough in rough terrain. *sigh*

Please keep the debate and comments coming.

acronym 12/14/2011 11:21 PM

David K
(aviddk) - F

Locale: SW Oregon
Globalstar improving dramatically on 12/15/2011 21:14:32 MST Print View

In regards to Globalstar coverage being spotty, those days are disappearing as they launch their new constellation. They have had two successful launches of six satellites each. They are go for another launch the last week of this month. I am starting to see almost full hours of coverage at times by using the Globalstar call times tool. Of the first 12 satellites only 8 are currently in operational position. The others are still drifing into proper orbit. Once they get the launch up on December 28 and the final one in January expect to see 100% availability again.

Today I purchased a Globalstar phone on their promotional deal of $499 for the phone and $19.99/month unlimited usage for one year. This deal is good only till December 31st. It could possibly be extended but since the availability is increasing dramatically it might not. It is going under our Christmas tree when it arrives next week. Best Wishes to everyone for Happy Holidays and a Great New Year.


Walter Underwood
(wunder) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: Get a satellite phone on 12/20/2011 09:13:13 MST Print View

Two-way is really important. We helped another Scout group put out a single-tree wildfire in the Sierras. They called it in on their sat phone, then had to keep going because they were evac'ing a sick hiker. By the time a plane flew over to check, we'd knocked down all the smoke and the fire was recorded as a false alarm. It wasn't all the way out, but we had no way to call and tell them to send in a crew with some real fire tools.

> I spoke to BSA national about using their UHF frequencies. They were agreeable, but my committee doesn't think radios are reliable enough in rough terrain. *sigh*

I'd agree with that. On our Sierra trek, I could never even hear NOAA weather radio, let alone a VHF repeater. Not even at Emigrant Pass.

That might be worst-case, because that part of the Sierras is north-south valleys, with mountains between you and the plains in each direction. But, no communication.

VHF/UHF works for communication on the trail. We have a local venture crew that only allows splitting up if they have radio communication. They check in every 15 minutes. No contact, the lead group stops and waits. That also encourages the Venturers to get a ham license, because a ham HT has much more range than an FRS radio.


David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Re: Get a satellite phone on 12/20/2011 10:07:16 MST Print View

Walter: Nice trip report / blog on the boys getting their Firefighting Merit Badge.

You're not supposed to transmit from the ground on aviation frequencies and those handsets with aviation freqs are way more expensive the exact same electronics on maritime freqs, but that would have been a sweet option in this instant - to talk directly to the helicopter and the airplane pilots that flew by. And no one is going to bust you if it is truly an emergency.

Here's one option, the size of an old-style walkie-talkie, I'm guessing 10 ounces. $425.

Ryan C
(radio_guy) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
VHF Radio options on 12/20/2011 19:53:45 MST Print View

On the topic of two-way radios for those interested:

My experience has been that VHF is more reliable than UHF in the mountains, even on the Amateur Radio bands (yes, I have a license).

My suggestion would be to try and get one of the older (discontinued) Vertex Standard/Yaesu VXA-700 (not the 710) transceivers that has both VHF Airband and the VHF 2m (144-148MHz) Amateur Band in one radio (and get an Amateur Radio license). They can be found used sometimes.

David K
(aviddk) - F

Locale: SW Oregon
Globalstar's successful third launch on 12/28/2011 12:35:08 MST Print View

It has just been announced that the Soyuz ST24 has taken six 2nd generations satellites successfully into the proper orbit. That now means that Globalstar has 18 of the planned 24 second generation satellites in orbit. There is one more launch planned for next year from Baikonur Cosmodrome. FYI