We’ve all done it, ignore that gut feeling telling us to turn around as the way ahead is starting to look rather dodgy. Mobile phones have great coverage, but when the wheels turn onto the road less travelled, coverage is often lost. Running out of gas, mechanical failures or injuries do happen even to the best of us and having a way to call for help or letting someone know where you are could be a lifesaver.
Satellite communication equipment to the rescue!
In North America two major companies offer satellite phones and personal trackers: Iridium and Globalstar. We’ve previously written on the functions of Globalstar’s Spot device, so in this article we’ll look at Iridium’s offering, the inReach SE.
What you get
The inReach SE is a rugged unit that is waterproof, dustproof and impact resistant. It feels light in the hand and rugged enough to handle off-road motorcycle use. The unit’s screen is bright for daylight use and can be dimmed for low light situation.
It has an internal Lithium battery that is good for 100 hours at 10 min interval tracking mode or it can be charged by USB cable or by a proprietary RAM mount (sold separately).
How it works
Satellite communication devices generally use two sets of satellites, the first are Global Positioning System and the other are communication satellites (Iridium or Globalstar) that relay messages from your position to earth stations. The inReach SE uses 66 Iridium low earth orbit communication satellites — substantially more than their closest competitor — and translates to 100% terrestrial coverage (no we didn’t test the entire world but we trust that their numbers are correct).
The inReach unit has three main functions; messaging, tracking, and SOS.
Messaging – this is the main selling feature of the inReach SE. It allows you to send short 160 character texts and emails. In testing, the turnaround was very quick, with clear skies, messages were received in minutes. It also features social media integration, allowing you to post directly to your Facebook or Twitter account.
Tracking – allows friends to follow you on your adventures, the unit will send out your location at set intervals of 10 mins or up to 4 hours. These messages end up in your Mapshare page which separates the various tracks by trips, allowing quick filtering of adventures.
SOS – the unit also has a SOS function behind a protective slider to prevent false calls. When pressed it sends a distress signal to the GEOS Search and Rescue center near Houston, Texas – much the same as the SPOT device. This center offers worldwide rescue coordination (some areas are out of bounds, namely war torn areas) and maintains a list of Search & Rescue groups that will be able to get boots on the ground or helicopters in the air to come to your aid.
A very cool feature of the inReach that the SPOT does not offer is two-way communication. You are able to explain your situation to the center and they can confirm response times and ask anything pertinent that they may need to know.
Overall the unit works well on its own but pairing it with a device makes it much easier to use. Typing is much faster on a large touchscreen versus using the directional button to select letters on the inReach screen, and the app can find your contacts and allows for much faster messaging.
Similar to cellphones, the inReach operates on a monthly subscription plan. At the time of writing the starting plan was $17 per month and offers only SOS function with per use charge for messages and tracking. Their flagship plan is $70 per month and includes unlimited use of all features.
One very useful feature is that they allow suspension of service on a month to month basis. This would allow someone to only have the unit active during riding season and reduce the cost of ownership by only paying the suspension fee during the winter months.
Unfortunately there is a large disparity between US and Canadian subscription plans. The Canadian plans requires much higher fees to get unlimited tracking and it does not mention unlimited preset messages as the US plans do.
To sum up, the inReach offers one very useful feature that the Spot does not – two way communication. The downside is that it will cost you compared to the Spot. The unit retails for US$229.99 (Spot Gen3 is currently on offer for free when you activate a subscription plan) and the subscription plans for the inReach are higher too (see below), with Spot starting at $14.99 per month, including basic tracking and preprogrammed messages.
More info at www.inreachcanada.com.