Gear Review: SPOT Gen3

SPOT says this little beacon is ready for anything. So we took it for a ride on a 310-horsepower racing Jet Ski.

So far as lifelines go, it’s little. An orange box, about the size of a pack of cigarettes, that bundles everything you need in a panic. Your “Hail Mary” and your “I’m fine, ma.” Loafing around with a full-on emergency kit isn’t always practical, but this thing a fine solution. It’s a good, good tool.

The SPOT Gen3 came a week before I set out on the Pacific, alone, racing a Jet Ski with more power than I have sense. A storm was punishing the Mexican coast; weather was stacking up to be a nightmare. And because my general inclination is to ignore something rather than confront it, I took the SPOT out of the box, made sure it was waterproof, then pondered my mortality and decided I’d figure out how to work it later. Later turned out to be in the car on the way to the starting line.

But a good tool will make its operator look clever. With a couple little tweaks to the SPOT’s preferences online, I was equipped to transmit my location, every 150 seconds, to anyone that had access to a unique URL. I made sure everyone that cared about my continued existence had that link. Then applied custom messages to the SPOT’s four configurable buttons:

The “Check In/OK” button would send the message “I'm good!” to the mobile phones of all my loved ones. So no worried aunts or grandparents if I paused along the way to, say, have a snack. Or reconsider my life choices.

The “Custom” button I rigged to fire off the message “Made Catalina. Heading home.”

If things took an ugly turn, a push of the Help/SPOT Assist button would send an alert to Kawasaki’s support crew: “I'm in a pickle, please send someone to fish me out of the ocean.” That was in case of fuel starvation, or a mechanical failure, or me wimping out. For a little extra dough on top of SPOT’s monthly subscription, the company offers to send non-emergency help. Handy, but I figured (hoped) there were enough interested parties on the beach looking out for me.

Were I in actual, mortal danger, then I’d hold down the SOS button. That would call in the cavalry—Coast Guard, their helicopters and, even more formidable, my girlfriend. The SOS key would also deliver an ominous message to all of them with details about the Jet Ski, my route and what safety equipment. And my blood type. Just in case.

I didn’t have to use any of it. Strapped to my shoulder with a clear sightline to any curious satellite, the SPOT dutifully reported my location, updating my position on the map a steady stream of GPS footprints. The thing was so handy that my booster club on the beach left for breakfast as soon as I was out of sight, knowing they’d be able to chart my progress over pancakes and return to the harbor to welcome me home. They’re clever like that. The SPOT ain’t too shabby, either.

It’s $150. This piece of mind. Plus a subscription fee that seems pretty reasonable. The super detailed 150-second tracking is extra. Pack it. Leave it packed. And it’ll be there, doing it’s job when you need it.