Communicating with No Bars with goTenna


I have found myself on more than one occasion out in the wild, usually fishing andf needing to get in touch with a buddy who has paddled out of my line of sight. Cell signal is sketchy at best and the radios work sometimes when you are on the same channel, everyone remembered to turn it on but the bulk of it can be a bit much. I’ve often wished for more cell towers but in reality companies that put those up are not that interested. How could I use my cell phone and not have to bother with a radio?

At Outdoor Retailer in August I passed by a booth that advertised such a thing. About three steps away from it my brain registered what I saw. This could be a solution! I spent a few minutes talking to the folks at goTenna and became intrigued.
My first thought was that this gadget somehow acted as a sat phone or link that could give me service anywhere. That was wrong. The answer was actually much simpler: Bluetooth.

Utilizing a VHF VHF radio technology, you and a buddy pair up your phones with the goTennas (sold in pairs). You can then send messages back and forth to communicate location, hot fishing spots or dangerous strainers on the river. The battery is good up to 24 hours on a single charge so that works out well for a couple of days of paddling. The goTenna also boasts up to a four mile range in open spaces. That seems like a LONG way for Bluetooth but I’m not an engineer or short wave expert.

Something about being born in the 70’s makes me a bit of a skeptic and I had to see it work for myself. That’s the typical reaction I have to stuff that seems cool but too good to be true. How do you adjust your skepticism? Test it out!

To get started I had to download the goTenna app. It’s free and works for iOS and Android platforms. Then the fun began. I had to pair these devices with the phones. I attempted to do this outside by my truck for a few minutes and didn’t have much luck. After reading the instructions again for the 1,234th time I realized why the devices weren’t pairing. I have Bluetooth in my truck. Once I turned it off in the truck I was able to pair the first device with my phone. I turned on the Bluetooth on the second device and phone and they paired up quickly. I was getting pretty worried.

TIP: Make sure ALL Bluetooth devices are turned off except the one you are pairing.

Now the fun began. We decided to start close and continually get further apart until communication stopped. We were in an area with houses and trees which would impede communication per the included guide. The messaging back and forth worked pretty well up until the half mile mark. At that point they became delayed or fell off. Not too bad. I remember when Bluetooth devices only had a 30 foot range.

The app was fairly easy to use and didn’t eat a lot of resources via memory or battery. The goTenna performed as advertised in that aspect.
Next we started thinking about practical uses. The most common example I can think of is for fishing rivers. Often I’ll fish a hole while others paddle on. I’m sure many folks have done that. You lose track of time and on rivers with bends and offshoots sometimes you aren’t sure where they are. If you get in trouble, how do you communicate? Radios are one option but I’m looking for an easier option. This might be it. The app even has an emergency notification section that serves that purpose. Hiking I typically stay with the group so I can’t see as much usage there. Maybe mountain bike riding?

Additionally the map feature is really nice. You can see dropped pin locations for your buddies and locate other goTenna users that are within range. So if your buddy is ignoring you but you can see him on the map, you don’t need for him to answer. Or if something unfortunate happens and he can’t communicate, the map can help there too.

The goTenna did perform pretty well. I didn’t get four miles out of it but again, I wasn’t in a wide open area. For fishing lakes and rivers that have horrible service, and fishing with a buddy, this could be an easy accessory to add to the kayak, strap on the seat or lifevest and have a way to communicate as needed.
At $199 per pair it might be worth a look for your Christmas Wish List as well. See more at

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