This is the best way to communicate in remote cottage country

Published: December 25, 2020

older man holding up a cell phone and a laptop trying to communicate Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

No cell coverage no longer means being out of touch. A new crop of satellite messengers now pair with your smartphone to send and receive texts, emails, and calls for help. These devices might be the easiest and most affordable way of communicating in remote cottage country.

The simplest versions provide one-way messaging, from the device to a satellite, back down to earth to a receiver station, and then on to the recipient. They can only send pre-written messages, such as “I’ve arrived at the cottage,” or call for help with a dedicated emergency button. 

The newest devices, like Spot X, Garmin inReach Mini, and Somewear, pair with a smartphone via Bluetooth, enabling two-way communication. In a dedicated app you can type out a text, an email, or a social update and send it to any smartphone or computer or even to emergency services. The recipient can reply on their own device, and their message follows the same path in reverse. 

“You don’t have to get far off a major route to lose cell coverage in Canada,” says Jim Mandala, the vice-president and general manager for Globalstar Canada, which makes Spot devices. “Two-way messaging creates comfort, both for people at home and yourself, knowing you can communicate with others and get help if you need it.”

The back and forth communication happens just like on a cell network, but slower, taking minutes for messages to arrive instead of seconds. (Other caveats: running Bluetooth on a phone gobbles up battery power, and some devices do have their own keyboard, but they feel archaic.)

Once you buy a device, subscription plans start at about $100 a year, but you pay extra for messaging. And the devices can’t surf the internet or work as a hotspot to connect a smartphone. Yup, no TikTok.

Despite their limitations (some have character limits for messages), the devices eliminate one of the biggest worries in cottage country—not knowing. “Nothing is scarier than being in trouble and wondering if anyone knows,” says Randy Brown, a search duty manager with Penticton Search and Rescue in B.C. “There’s no better peace of mind than being able to communicate back and forth.”

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