If your trip is to head offshore or out into some big water, you may want to consider taking along a GPS tracking device like a Spot or Cerberus. Another good option is a having a personal locator beacon (or PLB) on your PFD. ACR has a full line of PLBs.
These GPS tracking devices use commercial GPS satellite networks to track your position and make it available on a website. These websites can be open to anyone to view, or protected so only those with the password can view your whereabouts.
"Why would I use one these when I have my cell phone?" Simple - depending on where you go, cell service may not work. Or, heaven forbid your cell phone goes overboard or battery dies. Anyone that has spent enough time on the water can tell you conditions can change in moment. Even if conditions don’t really get bad, you change your plans last minute - we’ve all done it. We get to the spot, conditions aren’t great or too busy, so we head somewhere else nearby instead. Something goes a little wrong, and suddenly no one knows where you are.
Fishing on a pond or smaller lake is a little simpler. Something goes wrong, and you get to shore and walk to help or your vehicle. If you decide to head out into the Gulfstream off the South Florida coast and you’re two or three miles out when something happens, you’re heading north - maybe to the Carolinas!
The Spot and Cerberus devices work the same way, but use different satellite networks. Spot uses the GlobalStar network, which is more terrestrial-focused but covers much of the coastal areas up to 100 miles out. The Spot uses GPS to determine your position, then relays those coordinates to its servers for tracking. The site tracks the history and updates the location, and the track is overlaid on a Google Maps image to show your location. By default, Spot updates every ten minutes. The image below shows a trip taken on a sailboat last year passing Nassau in the Bahamas, ultimately heading to Panama. I have personally used the Spot around the US, offshore along Florida’s coast, and through the Caribbean, and never lost coverage.
Cerberus works the same in that it uses GPS to determine location, and then relays the info to its site. However, Cerberus uses the Iridium network - arguably the most complete GPS network around the planet. The Cerberus system is more geared toward professional mariners and global adventures. If you are traveling the world fishing and kayaking, then the Cerberus maybe a better fit. Cerberus by default is set to update position every six hours. For kayaking, that should be set to a much shorter interval. Much like the Spot, Cerberus allows tracking via the web. This image shows the second half of the trip mentioned above, but this was the section from the Bahamas to Panama.
Both systems have SOS features that are simple to activate. Once activated, the position is sent to the emergency response centers for notification of rescue personal like the U.S. Coast Guard, etc. The tracking acts like a emergency response beacon that rescue will use to find you.
While Spot has many different models, the Cerberus and Spot Connect both feature Bluetooth functionality and apps that can be used on Apple or Android devices. This allows the user to send short SMS-type text messages. The Spot Connect can even update your position and text messages to social media sites like Facebook.
"OK, that’s all nice and everything, but I am really not comfortable with having my every position tracked. What else can I do to be safe?" The answer here is a PLB. A PLB is small GPS-enabled device that is effectively off until it’s needed. Once activated, the PLB determines your position and transmits to rescue personal. How it works is fairly simple (and very reliable). The user activates the PLB distress beacon. The beacon transmits a 406Mhz emergency message with your beacon's unique ID number to both polar and geostationary satellites. The satellites determine and transmit your position to the Mission Control Center (MCC). MCC works with rescue personnel to verify the emergency and persons listed in the database associated with the PLB. The satellites can determine your location within two nautical miles (nm). After verifying the person involved, MCC will dispatch search and rescue (SAR) to your location. SAR then uses the beacon's information and frequency to track your position within 100 meters. Sound pretty complicated? For GPS enabled PLBs, it can take less than three minutes for rescue to know your exact position.
Seem like a lot of overkill for a day of fishing? With devices costing $200-400 and yearly service of about $100, it seems like pretty cheap insurance to me. While anyone of these devices will cover you and give you a solid emergency response device, combining a PLB with tracking can help provide even better coverage.
Inshore here in Florida or other protected area, I grab my PFD and head out to chase some fish. If I’m heading offshore, no matter how far, my PLB is attached to PFD and my Spot Connect is clipped to my kayak.