How to Choose a SEND Device

By Tom Burden, Last updated 2/20/2019

What is the primary use: emergency device (GMDSS: EPIRB or PLB) or tracking/texting device (SEND)?

A Satellite Emergency Notification Device (SEND) is a portable emergency notification and locating device that uses commercial satellite systems, rather than the international government-based COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system, to transmit GPS location-based distress, check-in, free-form text and tracking messages. They add social networking and communication capabilities to emergency beacon functions.

The SPOT Gen3 Satellite Messenger and Garmin inReach SE+ (Screen Edition) 2-way Satellite Communicator are two examples of SEND units. Participants in activities such as hiking, mountain biking, climbing, boating and flying are typical users of SEND devices.

Individual features vary, and new features are added with new models being introduced, but SEND devices generally allow you to:

  • Send pre-configured messages (“I’m OK,” for example) to a selected group of your contacts.
  • Check in and let these family and friends track your location using Twitter, Facebook, Google Earth and other web tools.
  • GPS Tracking: Create an electronic "breadcrumb trail" for the folks back home, mapping your position at user-selectable intervals ranging from once every 30 seconds to every four hours. In addition to GPS coordinates, track points on some devices also broadcast speed, course, and elevation. The Garmin inReach's two-way capability also allows others to "ping" your inReach to see your location and even remotely activate tracking via the Garmin MapShare page. Currently, SPOT's social media platform, SPOT Adventures, has over 86,000 tracked trips from all over the world and users have uploaded over 11,000 pictures to the site.
  • Send and receive free-form 160 character text messages. The Garmin inReach devices allow users to send and receive free-form 160 character text messages via the built in QWERTY keyboard, or by pairing the device to a smartphone or tablet via the "Earthmate" software App.
  • Request non-emergency help from your personal contacts.
  • Request emergency help, with your information relayed to the appropriate agencies worldwide by a private organization (such as the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, which is used by  SPOT). Hikers, boaters, pilots, and remote workers are just a few examples of SPOT users who have signaled for assistance. When triggering an SOS on the two-way Garmin inReach SE+, users receive a delivery confirmation from GEOS, and can interact with the search and rescue monitoring center via two-way texting to communicate the nature of the distress and stay in touch throughout the rescue process.
  • Purchase costs are lower than for buying an EPIRB, but SEND devices generally require a subscription. Subscription plans vary in cost and features.
Garmin inReach

Garmin inReach Explorer+ has two-way messaging, a color screen, plus navigation features.

Do you want to receive as well as send messages?

SPOT allows you to send, but not receive messages. Red or green blinking lights inform you if your message was attempted. SPOT tries three times to reach the satellite network (when you’re successful, your contacts only receive the message once). Garmin inReach offers two-way messaging with delivery confirmation to ensure that the message was successfully sent.

Do you want the ability to send custom messages?

SPOT Gen3 lets you customize messages at home on your computer, and send these pre-programmed messages using the Check-in/OK function. You can create custom messages of up to 41 characters, plus pre-programmed 120-character messages using the SPOT Connect, pairing with your smartphone via Bluetooth wireless technology. The Garmin inReach products provide two types of text messaging—pre-programmed (preset) 160-character text messages to email and cellphone contacts, plus a virtual QWERTY keyboard for two-way on-the-fly 160 character text messaging to email addresses or cellphones. Both inReach models can be paired with smartphones or tablets via the "Earthmate" App to enhance text messaging capabilities.

Do you also want navigation features?

In addition to the messaging, tracking and SOS capabilities, users of the inReach Explorer+ Satellite Communicator can view, create or navigate routes and waypoints. An easy-to-follow map view displays routes, waypoints, tracks and messages geo-located onscreen for backtracking or self-rescue. The built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer sensors provide heading and bearing information, accurate elevation readings, speed and other useful trip statistics. You can plan your routes and waypoints ahead of time using the DeLorme Explore portal and share your trip details with family and friends to follow on the private Mapshare webpage. The DeLorme Earthmate app also lets you download free topographic maps and U.S NOAA charts to your smartphone or tablet, which connects wirelessly with the inReach device for real-time point-to-point navigation.

Geographic coverage: continental and coastal or worldwide?

SPOT uses the Globalstar satellite system. SPOT’s continental/coastal coverage includes virtually all of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia, portions of South America, Northern Africa, and North-Eastern Asia and hundreds or thousands of miles offshore of these areas. See their coverage map at The inReach device operates using Iridium, with global coverage and across all oceans.