Communications
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[The Problem] [The Options] [Tradeoffs] [Our Solution]

The Problem

Communications: we all need it to stay in touch with:

  • Ships on a collision course

  • Friends and family

  • Cruisers ahead of us to tell us about problems or sweet spots to visit

  • Our broker to see how much money we have made (or lost)

  • Weather services around the world

  • Mail services or West Marine

  • Search and Rescue organizations in an emergency

  • Medical advice in a medical emergency

With such a wide array of possibilities some opt for simplicity while others want to cover all bases but finances and battery power limit most of us.  Read on and see where we are in this open field of possibilities. 

Options

The options range from the venerable VHF radio found on most yachts to the most exotic in satellite communications gear.  Satellite technology has come down in price and is becoming more common on cruising yachts.  The most common systems include:

Option Range Uses Eqmt Cost Operating Cost
VHF radio 10 miles Voice, ship to ship $100-300 nil
Marine SSB 50 to 3000 miles Voice, data, and email; Ship to ship and shore $1500-2500 Voice: nil
Data and email, $200/year
HF Ham Radio 50 to 3000 miles Voice, data, and email; Ship to ship and shore $1500-2500 Nil
Inmarsat C Anywhere Weather, safety reports, data, email, distress reporting $2500 $250/year plus usage, assume $1000/year
Inmarsat Mini-M Anywhere Voice, Weather, safety reports, data, email, distress reporting $6000 $2.50/min
Satellite telephone Anywhere Voice, Data and email $1000-2000 $250/year plus usage, assume $1000/year
Argus Anywhere Position reporting na na
Mobile phone 5-20 miles to a cell Voice, Data and email $100-300 $250/year plus usage, assume $1000/year
EPIRB (406 MHz) Anywhere Distress reporting $1000-2000 Nil, but batteries last 5 years for $300-500. 
Internet cafes Landbased Data and email Nil $0.25 to $5.00/hour
Navtex
(receive only)
100 miles from coast Weather $200-300 nil
Weatherfax
(receive only)
100-3000 miles Weather $300-2000 nil
Polar satellite weatherfax 100-300 miles from satellite which covers entire Earth Weather $600-2500 nil

Trade-offs

For all major features, we identified their priority for us, and how well the various options provided these features: 

    Anywhere:  J       Under some circumstances: K   Never: L

Feature Priority VHF Ham SSB Inmarsat C Inmarsat Mini-M Satellite phone Mobile phone Wefax
Navtex
Argus
Distress reporting anywhere High K K J J J L L J
Weather High K K J J K K J  
Ship to ship for collision avoidance High J L L L L L L L
Radio contact with cruisers High J J K K K K L L
Ship to shore voice Med K K L J J K L L
Email at sea Med L J J J J L L  
Website update at sea Med L J J J J L L  
Music and news Med L J L L L L L L
Medical assistance at sea Med K K J J J L L  
Faxes at sea Lo L L J J K L L  
GPS backup Lo L L J J L L L J

Our Solution

We have gradually improved our communications capabilities over the years and our equipment complement includes:

X  Primary         X  Secondary or backup

Equipment

VHF

Ham radio

EPIRB

Mobile phone

Marine SSB

Weather fax

Iridium Sat phone

Inmarsat C

406 EPIRB

Installed

1992

1992

1992

1992

1995

1995

2001

2001

2005

Distress reporting

 X

 X

 X

 

 X

 

 X

 X

 X

Weather

 

 X

 

 

 X

 

  X

 X

 

Ship to ship

 X

 

 

 

 X

 

 

 

 

Cruiser Net

 X

 X

 

 

 X

 

 

 

 

Ship to Shore including Medical advice

 

 X

 

 

 X

 

 X

X

 

Email at sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 X

 X

 

Web update at sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 X

 

 

 

 

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