The time I was a Missing Person

Discussion in 'Paddling Safety' started by designer, Feb 4, 2019.

  1. designer

    designer Paddler

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2012
    Messages:
    411
    Location:
    Bend OR USA
    Though the use of electronic trackers can give comfort to the people back home, they can also raise concern. I'm posting my experience below so that someone else might avoid the ... muck ... I stepped in.

    I don't use a cell phone because:
    1) I can't afford the monthly fee (but I carry one on trips because even without an account they still allow 911 calls).
    2) I figure if I am within Cell service I'm not out far enough.
    3) I have a ham radio device that pretty much covers the San Juan and Vancouver Island area.

    I also have a Marine VHF but in this case it was (is my face red) at home. But I don't think it would have come into play anyway.

    I had a Spot Device and before the trip I set up a "new" profile (Gary Larson is starting an new "trouble brew'n" cartoon strip).

    With the Spot device you set up four messages - Okay/Check-In, Custom, Help, and SOS. Each has its own mailing list and message. The Custom message is my "Plan B". It's something like, "Everything is fine but I'm off my float plan a bit because of weather or other change of plan." For the Help, I say, "I'm fine but I can't get out of here without help." I figure the scenario would be like I'm on shore but my boat has a hole in it. And SOS is full on Search and Rescue where I give boat descriptions, daily medications, etc.

    I'm sure many of of you have filled out an online form and at the bottom, or somewhere on the page there is a Save button. I've used many "search" pages for different forums where there are several filter fields and several "submit" buttons on the page - Any one of which will trigger the search.

    Soooooo, after filling out all the mailing lists and messages, I pushed Save. But as it turned out, that Save only applied to the Okay/Check-In section and not the others. Each section had it's own SAVE button. So when I left the page - without getting an "Are you sure" warning - all the other sections returned to Default, "Default Message" and wiped out email list.

    But wait, there's more. The Spot offers real time tracking and when you set that up, you specify what elements you want on the Map. For example, it can show not only the track, but allow the waypoints from where your messages were sent. However, even though this screen is for tracking, you still have to click a "Tracking" option check box in order for the track to appear. But wait some more ... early versions of the Spot didn't allow for adjusting the interval of when the device would make a point - I think it was every 10 minutes. The newer devices allow adjustment of that timing. I'm guessing the "Tracking" check box is for the older devices and the "unlimited tracking" (misleading label) is for the newer devices. I know that NOW. I had just checked "tracking" and thought everything was fine.

    Before the trip, I pushed the Check-In/Okay button and saw the intended recipients got that email and the "tracking" email that gave them the URL (web address) where they could see my route (tracking) on a Google Earth type map. But of course at that time there was no track to see.

    So I'm all set, systems checked, ready for the trip ... time passes ... The weather is great, the crowds are gone, we have large campsite areas all to ourselves, no appointments to keep, etc. Once I moved beyond my expected Float Plan return, I stop pushing the Okay button and start pushing the Custom Button which I expected to say, "Things are fine, slight change of plans."

    No one got that message because the Save button I pushed only saved the Okay/Check-In mailing list and that was the only one I tested (figuring the Save had saved everything). And I didn't know that no one was seeing my on the water route when I had Tracking turned on the device.

    So after my Float plan return time, no one was getting anything (almost). After 3 or 4 days, one responsible party called the local 911. That call suggested filing a local (Bend OR) missing persons report. That call was routed up to the police in Sidney (Vancouver Island). And they called the Spot people.

    The Spot people looked at my account and in "God Mode" could see my tracking route and could see where I had pushed the Custom (Plan B) button - but the message just said, "Default Message" and there was no email list. Looking at the track they could see that we had landed a few hundred yards from the ferry that goes back to Anacortes. And as we landed about an hour before departure, they reported we were on our way home - which wasn't exactly true (we took a different ferry) but close enough. Note that I had also pushed the "Okay/Check-In" when we landed at the car, but authorities had already been notified by then.

    When I got home I had to endure a "talking to" because it looked like I had just gone silent. I have learned that sometimes "being right" is not the best path for world peace. So I didn't push the fact that had the worried party LOOKED at the Tracking map, they would have seen my Custom waypoints - time/date/location - even though the message said, "Default Message". They would have seen that every day I was still "above ground" and where I was. Nor did I point out the Okay/Check-In email that was sent when we landed back at the car.

    Now I understand there are two "tracking" check box options and just to be sure, I check them both. Also, from now on I'll test both the Okay/Check-in message AND the Custom (Plan B) message before I leave home.

    There's a system called EchoLink (sparing the details) the may allow the ham radio to reach form Vancouver Island back to Bend OR and I'll look into that.

    And last, it looks like Garmin/DeLorme has a small device (InReach) that would let me send/receive a text message (via satellite) back home. I like it because I can subscribe for only the three or four months I'd use it (about $12/month) - unlike the Spot that cost me $250/year even though I only use it 3 or 4 times during the summer. Two years Spot subscription costs about $150 more than the one time cost for the InReach (and InReach may have promotions during the year).

    I'm glad someone was paying enough attention to be alerted when they though I might be missing and I suppose going through all the agencies was an unfortunate but valuable exercise. But I'm a little disappointed that calmer minds didn't look at the information they did have - the time/date/location of my Okay/Check-In and Custom messages (thought it just said "Default Message") and realize I was checking in daily.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  2. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

    Joined:
    May 31, 2005
    Messages:
    5,567
    Location:
    Astoria, Oregon, USA
    Quite an involved process. I enjoy tracking others when they are out, but this description of the protocols described to "get it right" makes me wonder.

    When out for an extended trip, I usually check in via cell phone once I get back ashore and am in cell range. Overnighters and day trips, someone knows where I am, and will send up the balloon to SAR resources within 24 hours of my projected return. So far, have not had issues with this.
     
  3. designer

    designer Paddler

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2012
    Messages:
    411
    Location:
    Bend OR USA
    I should have picked up on each message type having its own SAVE button. But the option list of what shows on the tracking map with both the Tracking and Unlimited Tracking check boxes - and Spot support didn't even know if one or both needed to be checked - is a bit ... clumsy.

    To be fair, once setup properly, it works great. It will pinpoint me to the dock slip. But configuration shouldn't be that awkward. Given its "emergency" purpose it should have an overall "review" page showing what is/isn't set up.

    Last but not least, the Spot's web page is not completely compatible with Safari browser; I have to hit it with Chrome or FireFox.
     
  4. Peter-CKM

    Peter-CKM Paddler

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2011
    Messages:
    505
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    Reminds me of an experience I had with these electronics. A few years back (2013), I was one of the 2 at-home safety folks for Matt Krizan, who paddled the entire California Coastline (some info at https://www.canoekayak.com/touring-kayaks/learned-paddling-california-coast/). He checked in with each of us every day with an Delorme InReach, and we would text back weather/surf reports for where he was and would be. He liked having 2 reports, as me and the other person (Anders) used different sources and Matt felt more comfortable if the reports we gave would closely match.

    On November 1, when he was down at the southern end of Big Sur a bit north of Morro Bay, we lost track of him. Here is Anders' report to the folks that were following Matt's adventure:

    Yesterday was a challenging day for Matt. The surf was sizable at Sand Dollar beach for his launch. While he was negotiating the deep surf zone his rudder cable broke, forcing him to return to the beach for repairs. This happened twice. On the third launch attempt, Matt was successful, and could start the day’s journey a couple of hours behind the intended schedule.

    Here is the sequence of messages from Matt as he launched yesterday:

    10:59am: “On the water shortly.” This is his standard message before launching.
    11:13am: "Right rudder cable popped loose and reattached. NOW on the water shortly.”
    11:50am: “Steel screw fixing right rudder able to aluminum sliding block (in cockpit) departed a 2nd time. Can not get it to thread again."
    11:54am: “Metal fatigue plus poor design to begin with… NOT A FAN. Cable now jury rigged with two zip-ties, now to get off this f****** beach.”

    Four hours later: 4:02pm: “I’m draggin’ ass. Feel ok, just out of gas. Heading inside Pt Sierra Nevada to eat lots and out early tomorrow.”

    Then we could follow him head towards the Pt where he intended to land. However, unlike other days when his satellite breadcrumbs have ended on the beach after landing, this time, the regular position indications ended a quarter of a mile off the beach.” What had happened? Why no contact?

    Matt often spends a couple of hours after landing, changing clothes and preparing camp before he starts communicating again. Peter and I called each other to talk it over. Had he been taken by a shark? Was he swimming in the surf? Had the communicator stopped working? Had the last message simply not got sent properly? We really didn’t know what was going on, but since he was very close to his intended destination, and since the conditions were relatively benign for a landing, both Peter and I felt that he more than likely was ok. Matt and I had agreed early on during his journey that should his satellite equipment stop functioning, he would radio the coast guard to report that he was ok, and I, once I felt he might be at risk for having had an accident, would call the coast guard and either hear from them that he had reported in, or launch a rescue operation. This was exactly that kind of situation. What to do, given that both Peter and I thought if was very likely he was ok, but we couldn’t know for sure…? It felt that calling the coastguard at this time was premature. Matt had not used his emergency button on his satellite communicator, He was wearing a VHF, and he was well within VHF coverage by the coastguard.

    As a middle ground, I sent Tiffany A., who will be hosting Matt in Morro Bay tonight, a message informing her about the situation. I also asked her if she could be ready to drive up to Pt Sierra Nevada to check in case we didn’t hear from Matt. Tiffany had emailed me a couple of days earlier offering to help in case there were any problems before Matt got to Morro Bay.

    Tiffany, eager to help, wasn’t satisfied just sitting around. She and her husband got in their car immediately to drive up the coast in the dark. Luckily, only 10 minutes or so later, we got the first message from Matt, indicating he was fine on the beach, unaware that the landing confirmation message had not gotten through. I managed to reach Tiffany and her husband on their cell phone to call off their expedition just after it had started. A HUGE thanks to both of them for being so vigilant and eager to offer assistance!

    I’m glad we held back a little to see what happened. It would not have been good to pull the trigger too early with a official coastguard rescue. Obviously it also wouldn’t have been good to hold off too long, had a rescue really been needed, so proper judgement was key. I’m glad our state of uncertainty didn’t last very long. After this, Matt said he will from now on send an extra text message from the beach after landing and not just rely on the breadcrumbs being sent. Hopefully this will avoid similar issues in the future. It turns out that his communicator said that a breadcrumb had been sent from the beach, but that message never reached the website...

    The messages Matt sent from the beach were interesting: 7:22pm: “So before the right rudder cable issue came up, I had a lot of nervous energy going on regarding the surf launch. There were big sets, about 7 feet and plunging, coming through. Surf zone over 100 yards in depth with 3 or 4 more inside breaks. The cable departed 1st time while negotiating the middle 2-3 breaks, waiting for the right time to gain the outside break. 2nd time (thankfully) the cable departed while scooting into the water for my 2nd launch attempt. After jury-rigging the cable, I was good and pissed-off. Had exercised the nervousness and the third launch was smooth. But I think I spent a lot of energy! Getting off the water earlier was a good call. Could feel myself getting fuzzy-headed and didn’t feel smooth paddling.”
     
  5. designer

    designer Paddler

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2012
    Messages:
    411
    Location:
    Bend OR USA
    That "off shore" mark used to happen to me a lot, but my "people" thought nothing of it. I'd turn the unit off when I landed and often it never had a chance to drop that last "bread crumb" on shore. If I remembered, I'd send them an "Okay" message after camp was set up. But often I'd get home, review my track, and see my last "on the water" point some distance (but closer than ¼ mile) off shore. I'd ask if anyone was concerned about that and they said they didn't notice (great team :)). I think they were more focused on the Okay emails than the on-water route.

    Though I'd usually wait for camp to be set up to send an Okay message, I think its time to change my routine and send it as soon as I land. That would complete the route with an email and I'd be less likely to forget the nightly Okay after the wonderful instant mashed potatoes, foil bag topping, and celebratory glass of wine.
     

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