Garmin InReach FAILURE - test yours

elkstabber

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Since the Garmin InReach isn't a convenience but is a life saving device this will be a long post.

Like many of us I've used the InReach for a while. Before the InReach I used the Cerberus for a year or two and then a yellow colored DeLorme InReach for two years. In 2017 I switched to the orange colored DeLorme InReach Explorer that you see in the pics below. I'm not new to these devices and I've built up a lot of confidence that they will save my life if ever needed.

LONG STORY:
Saturday August 13th I went offshore fishing and I always use the InReach because it allows communication beyond the range of cell towers. It was an especially rough day with 4' seas and I ran the boat 24 miles offshore out of Hatteras Inlet, NC. Like a lot of us backcountry hunters I frequently go fishing offshore solo. In the morning I had talked with a friend and we miscommunicated about when I was going to come back in. He is former US Coast Guard and is very safety-conscious. I stayed out fishing later than normal (because I wasn't catching much) and this caused him to contact my wife to see if she'd heard from me. She hadn't heard from me so she sent me a message to my InReach, but I didn't receive it. After a couple more messages and more worrying the USCG was dispatched. The USCG tried to message me on the InReach, but of course those messages didn't come through to me.

The worst case scenario for me was that I might fall overboard. If I fell overboard when fishing solo the boat would just troll away and I'd be left all alone in the ocean. This is why on Saturday morning I decided that I would wear a lifejacket all day and that I'd clip the InReach to lifejacket. This way if I fell overboard I would hit the SOS and get picked up after an hour or two of bobbing in the ocean.

I had no idea that the USCG was looking for me. I had been listening to the charter fishing fleet over the VHF earlier in the day but this was after they had gone in so the VHF had gone quiet. Most likely while I was running the boat in for two hours in rough seas the USCG was calling me over the VHF. Several times during my run in I looked at my InReach because I knew that if the flashing red light changed to a flashing green then I would stop the boat and check the message because if I didn't my wife might be pissed. You married guys know what I mean.

After returning safely back to the dock just before dark and learning what had happened with the USCG deploying a search boat I knew that my InReach had failed and that I needed a solution.

Last Monday morning I called Garmin at 800-800-1020 and talked to Bill L of customer service. Bill told me that my InReach hadn’t been updated in a while and that is probably what caused the message function not to work. I agreed that I hadn’t updated it in a while and figured it had been a year or two but was surprised that none of the messages got through. I very carefully asked Bill if the SOS would work and he stated that the SOS function would always work regardless of whether or not it had the latest software update. I asked how to test the SOS and he gave me the info.

Test your Garmin InReach or other satellite communication device by contacting:
IERCC (International Emergency Response Coordination Center)
1-888-460-4554
https://www.iercc.com/en-US/test-device/

I scheduled a test for Monday afternoon at 3:00 pm eastern with Noe Quintero of IERCC. I took the InReach outside with a clear view of the sky and pushed the SOS button. There was a 30 second countdown and at the end of the countdown I saw a spinning circle as my SOS went out. And the circle kept spinning… And spinning… You get the idea. The SOS function didn’t work.

The pics you see below here show that I sent the SOS at 3:01 and that it was 4:02 when I gave up trying.

I called the IERCC and confirmed that they hadn’t received the SOS. They gave me another number for Garmin. When I called 800-511-2459 I got Travis, who seemed to be much sharper. He quickly looked through my records. I had had this InReach for 5 years. Travis said that I had last updated the firmware on September 3, 2020. My InReach was using firmware version 2.16 and the latest is 2.5. He said that because the update was so long ago that the messaging would be less dependable because Iridium updates are needed once or twice a year, but that the SOS function would work. I told him that the SOS had failed as well. He said that in his year working for Garmin that he hadn’t taken a call yet where the SOS had failed. I hope he told me the truth. After speaking to a supervisor and calling me back he said that Garmin would offer me 20% off a new InReach.

Now I got to work researching the latest technology and giving serious thought to my worst case scenario. I need a satellite communicator equally for backcountry hunting and offshore fishing. Both are different needs, with more durability needed for offshore fishing. Equipment gets bounced around a lot more at sea than in my backpack in the mountains.

Offshore fishing and backcountry hunting really aren't that different. Hardly anybody goes offshore or into the backcountry that isn't fishing or hunting. In other words, the type of people that would go for a casual day hike are the same type of people that wouldn't drive a boat out of the sight of land.

I thoroughly researched 3 products: Garmin, Zoleo, and the ACR Bivy Stick. I didn’t consider the cost. Here are the important factors:

Garmin is a leader in navigation technology but bought the satellite technology from DeLorme. Garmin InReachs are made in China. They have the most features of the 3 products; most importantly custom texts and navigation without a smartphone. Garmin is the least durable product with a light splash/weatherproof rating. The crack on my Garmin screen occurred on Saturday when I leaned over the gunnel to wash my hands. For those that are unfamiliar with offshore boats that would be like reaching for something in the back of a pickup. My chest leaning on the gunnel put enough pressure on the InReach that the screen cracked.

Both the Zoleo and the ACR Bivy Stick products are very similar. I called and talked to customer service of both companies to make sure I got the facts right, and to make sure they had good customer service. They are more durable (Zoleo is IP68 rated for waterproof and is also rated for shock). They are meant to be used while paired with a smartphone and have fewer features without the phone. But, they have basic texts that say “I’m okay” with lat-long. Zoleo’s parent company is a leader in satellite phones and they are made in Australia/Malaysia. ACR is a leader in marine satellite safety products and they are made in Florida. ACR has dominated offshore safety products with their PLB (personal locator beacon) and EPIRB (emergency position indication radio beacon). Most every yacht or offshore fishing boat has ACR safety products onboard. About 20 years my uncle was saved after a hurricane sunk his boat because he had an ACR PLB on his liferaft. ACR is just like Garmin because both companies bought the technology for satellite communicators. Zoleo developed the technology themselves and it has the highest waterproof rating and shock rating. I chose Zoleo.

SHORT STORY:
The Garmin InReach failed me and I doubt I'll ever trust it enough to ever try it again. The InReach has the most features, but feels very fragile when compared to a Zoleo or ACR Bivy Stick. The Zoleo and ACR Bivy Stick are just solid. The Zoleo feels like a hockey puck. There is no doubt that if these satellite communicators were given a realistic Rockslide Cliff Test that the InReach would not pass. The Zoleo would pass.

The InReach has more standalone features. The Zoleo and others are more durable. You can decide what's more important to you.

Update your satellite communicator to the latest software/firmware. Test your InReach, Zoleo, or whatever to verify that the SOS function is working. This is a free service. Generally the IERCC wants an appointment 3 days in advance. Do it just like you would shoot your bow, or confirm your rifle's zero. Test the SOS because it's more important than your bow or rifle.

Lastly, do your very best to stay out of dangerous situations in the backcountry and don't depend on an electronic device.
 

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GotDraw?

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Good post, and glad no tragedy for you, but it seems that the bottom line is that you failed to update your InReach for a couple years. I was also not aware of this requirement, but there were a slew of prior posts on this site that messaging functionality can be compromised if you don't update.

Here's a concept--

I dare say that GARMIN- should MESSAGE all InReach holders whenever new software is released and inform everyone to update. Perhaps that is asking too much proactive effort?

I now update mine before I head out, but I could have also had problems if I had I not read about the issue on this site.

JL
 
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elkstabber

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Thanks for the info on how to test the sos. I may try that.

Is that 2.5 just a typo for the latest firmware version? Latest version is 5.2
Here is a screenshot showing what I said. Maybe the firmware varies for different models?
 

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elkstabber

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So did your InReach SOS work when the firmware was updated?
Since it didn't work after being told that it would I have lost all confidence in this InReach. I won't update it and will probably just drop it in the trash.

It's useless since there are better options.
 
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elkstabber

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Good post, and glad no tragedy for you, but it seems that the bottom line is that you failed to update your InReach for a couple years. I was also not aware of this requirement, but there were a slew of prior posts on this site that messaging functionality can be compromised if you don't update.

Here's a concept--

I dare say that GARMIN- should MESSAGE all InReach holders whenever new software is released and inform everyone to update. Perhaps that is asking too much proactive effort?


I now update mine before I head out, but I could have also had problems if I had I not read about the issue on this site.

JL
You're right. I failed for update for almost 2 years. I'm very concerned that there are other hunters that also won't update theirs. I hope they don't get into a dangerous situation and have to use the SOS button.

It would be a terrible feeling to need help and see the spinning circle when the SOS isn't going out.

I hope Garmin gets the message out to InReach users. Personally, I think it is their duty.

I told a lawyer friend of mine about my experience with the InReach and he had a phrase for it:
"breach of implied warranty of fitness and purpose"

In other words, we're depending on this device to work as expected. There is an implied service that the InReach is providing. In my case Garmin didn't fulfill their duty.
 

z987k

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AK
You're right. I failed for update for almost 2 years. I'm very concerned that there are other hunters that also won't update theirs. I hope they don't get into a dangerous situation and have to use the SOS button.

It would be a terrible feeling to need help and see the spinning circle when the SOS isn't going out.

I hope Garmin gets the message out to InReach users. Personally, I think it is their duty.

I told a lawyer friend of mine about my experience with the InReach and he had a phrase for it:
"breach of implied warranty of fitness and purpose"

In other words, we're depending on this device to work as expected. There is an implied service that the InReach is providing. In my case Garmin didn't fulfill their duty.
I'm sure there's a clause in the TOS that you agreed to that relieves them of that duty.
 

Jethro

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Mar 2, 2014
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Pennsylvania
Here is a screenshot showing what I said. Maybe the firmware varies for different models?
I believe you're correct on the different models. I have Explorer+.

They do notify when an update is needed. Thats what the red exclamation point at bottom right of your screenshot indicates. At least it does for mine.

I'll be reactivating and testing mine next week
 

Marbles

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A PLB is the answer for low maintenance SOS, but even that must be registered every 2 years and battery serviced every 5. It also uses a more robust satellite network and a 5W (vs 2.5W) signal.

Maintain your emergency equipment is what it really comes down to. People have died from treating locator beacons as instal and forget items.

The inReach device clearly instructs one to test it before every use every time it is powered on. Garmin cannot prevent people from ignoring instructions.
 

SoloWilderness

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Pine, CO
I have had another communication failure issue with mine that people should be aware of. Mine mostly fell into the pissed off the wife category, but it did result in the Sheriff leaving a note on my truck that they had been called out for failure to report in. I had been texting back and forth with her over the course of a week, and it had been working. Went into a canyon and was seeing that messages had been sent on my end, but she wasn't receiving them on her end. Assumed everything was working, as I had been talking back and forth with a hunting partner I was meeting up with. Inreach to Inreach communication was working just fine, but texting was not working reliably. She ended up calling my hunting partners wife, who relayed the message via his Inreach and we got the word out that everything was OK. These units are definitely not infallible. Probably going to treat mine as a 5 year consumable, at least for solo back country use when I don't have a backup. I'll probably replace mine this year, just in case. At the very least, test it multiple times for function.
 
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elkstabber

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I'm sure there's a clause in the TOS that you agreed to that relieves them of that duty.
Haha! You’re probably right. I have no interest in pursuing it.

My goal is to notify Roksliders to get updates and test the SOS, regardless of which satellite communicator they’re using. My fear is that people won’t update and they’ll rely on this to save their life. They will have a false sense of security if they don’t test it.
 

Turkeygetpwnd38

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I've had mine fail twice, once resulting in an early pack out of somewhere that was extremely difficult to get into, but didn't want the wife calling SAR. The first was the unit itself just stopped working, no impact, no water, within a year, I would turn on and it would light up but screen was blank. They sent me a refurb. The second, Garmin just cancelled my subscription with zero notice or reason. That was the one I had to pack out. Credit card was good, had been billing monthly for 6+ months, they claimed I put in a request to cancel, absolutely did not, they could not produce any record of this. The kicker is they then charged me the $35 to reactivate.
Always update and check messages the day before heading out and know while technology is nice, at some point it can and will fail no matter what precautions are taken.
 

eddielasvegas

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Since this is a Garmin PSA of sorts, here's an email I received overnight disclosing coverage that is no longer available.


Eddie
 

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cnelk

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After Curt (Elkstabber) had his issues with the InReach last week, I went to sync mine on Sunday and found out I had old firmware. Had to uninstall and reinstall stuff on my laptop but I got it all working.

This was helpful too


 

Whisky

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Tag - will need to look into this soon for my device.
 
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