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Old 09-08-2009, 20:10   #1
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Satellite Phone

Not sure if this is the right place for this, but here goes (mods, feel free to move this thread if there's a more appropriate place for it).

Redundancy in systems is always good in cruising yachts so in that vein, is a satellite phone a good accessory to have as another means of communication?

I know they can be expensive to buy and even more expensive to use, but is it worth the expense to have telephonic communication ability from anywhere in the world in addition to SSB link to shore stations, sail mail (or similar), etc?

Is a satellite phone an asset, or another electronic complication to weigh you down?
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Old 09-08-2009, 21:05   #2
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I use my Globalstar offshore for downloading gribs for Maxsea, email, and web brousing. It has been not so good for phone conversation. They promised new sattelites this year but who knows. Right now my plan is cheaper than a cell phone. I have unlimited minutes for about $30 + tax. The phones are cheaper than Iridium and the transfer rate is faster.
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Old 10-08-2009, 06:15   #3
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i bought mine for our recent atlantic crossing. it allowed us to download weather surface charts, gribs and text forcasts and kept those at home in the loop. when we fried the alternator it allowed us to have one on the way before we got to the azores.

there were days on end when nobody between bermuda and azores could hear the forecasts from "herb" or anyone else (tho we could call each other on the ssb)


i'm not saying we couldn't have done the above with ssb but the sat phone has a much more "positive" feel to it.

i used about 200min over 30 days

i thought/think it was money well spent and i guess i could still sell the hardware on ebay if i was of a mind to do so
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Old 10-08-2009, 07:56   #4
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It is possible to rent Iridium phones for Atlantic crossings where Globalstar won't work.
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Old 10-08-2009, 08:04   #5
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I have used iridium a few times on Oz New cal, Vanuatu runs

Found they dropped calls about 50% of the time mid call.

Hideously expensive as well
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Old 10-08-2009, 09:09   #6
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Cat man?
"Found they dropped calls about 50% of the time mid call.
Hideously expensive as well "

So is that a GOOD thing, or bad?

In the US 15 or so years ago, cellular phones cost $1/minute for airtime plus long distance and roaming charges, don't even ask what international roaming cost. And if you wanted to "phone" someone on a boat, good luck at $4/minute with the High Seas RadioTelephone operator.

Performing a technological miracle half the time, at rates most folks really CAN afford if they need to....Dunno, but that sounds like a vast improvement compared to "We'll be at sea, I'll call you in three or four weeks time when we make landfall."

Or then again, not.<G>
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Old 10-08-2009, 10:47   #7
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The only global system available today is Iridium. Globalstar coverage might be passable on land (at least theoretically, I won't go into their lost satellite capabilities here, those have been covered sufficiently by congressional committees) but inadequate for offshore:


The Iridium system has good coverage and will work anywhere (albeit some countries prohibit Iridium use - but that is political and not technical)
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Old 10-08-2009, 16:23   #8
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Zanshin, if that's a map of the Iridium coverage and that's the best coverage there is, then a satellite phone isn't going to do us much good ... at least for a while anyway.

There appears to be good coverage around NZ and Australia, but the rest of the Pacific isn't covered at all. That's not much use to us, seeing as we'll be starting out from NZ and cruising to Australia and the Pacific Islands. The coverage in the Atlantic looks a bit patchy in places too so when we do a lap of the planet, that's another important area without coverage. Its surprising just how much of the world isn't covered by sat phone signal.

We're in no real hurry and I'm sure the systems are getting better all the time, but at the moment the argument for a sat phone isn't looking that convincing for us.
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Old 10-08-2009, 16:32   #9
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Zanshin, if that's a map of the Iridium coverage ....
URL for the pic. is globalstar and from memory, that is the coverage as I remember it (globalstar) almost getting me to new cal and no chance for Vanuatu, so not worth squat

http://common.globalstar.com/images/...egend_corp.jpg
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Old 10-08-2009, 16:38   #10
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Cat man?
"Found they dropped calls about 50% of the time mid call.
Hideously expensive as well "

So is that a GOOD thing, or bad?

In the US 15 or so years ago, cellular phones cost $1/minute for airtime plus long distance and roaming charges, don't even ask what international roaming cost. And if you wanted to "phone" someone on a boat, good luck at $4/minute with the High Seas RadioTelephone operator.

Performing a technological miracle half the time, at rates most folks really CAN afford if they need to....Dunno, but that sounds like a vast improvement compared to "We'll be at sea, I'll call you in three or four weeks time when we make landfall."

Or then again, not.<G>
Yep, I remember those days as well

I suppose what I am saying, is for me, spending a couple of grand on something that is unreliable is hardly worth the effort, especially as I have been around when there was nothing at all.

In reality, on passage trips will only be 7 days at most, so one should be able to pick a relatively accurate window before jumping off.

IF, needing rescue while out there, 406 epirb would be a better option than iridium imho.
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Old 10-08-2009, 17:11   #11
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I've used Iridium between San Francisco and Hawaii, among the Marquesas Islands, and between Fiji and Vanuatu.

In the South Pacific I used the little collapsable whip antenna, and found that I had reasonable connections. If I was in a bay with steep cliffs and a poor view of the horizon (Hanavave Bay, for example), the calls were more likely to be dropped than when I was at sea.

On the Hawaii runs, I had a stern-rail mounted antenna, and the connections seemed to be more reliable than I got with the whip. I also had good luck with the "hockey puck" antenna when the rail-mount antenna failed due to salt water incursion.

In all cases, the system performed well enough to do the job. The airtime isn't cheap, but for me it is worth it. I prefer Iridium to my SSB/Sailmail for getting wx reports (grib, image, etc).
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Old 10-08-2009, 18:27   #12
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I would be skeptical of the coverage maps. I bought and tried to use a Globalstar for a two year trip through Central America. The thing actually connected twice from hundreds of a attempts though the maps showed they had coverage through the area. It was a complete waste of money. Get Iridium if you are going to get a phone unless something has changed in the last year.
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Old 11-08-2009, 08:42   #13
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i don't remember a dropped call from NC to Jersey, UK, tho there were a couple of failures-to-connect so had to re-dial
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Old 11-08-2009, 09:01   #14
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I havn't seen any news on Globalstar sattelites being launched. Sitting here in Baltimore, my Globalstar with an external antenna almost always has a strong signal. On my trips back and forth to the Caribbean, connection coulkd be spotty. I only used it for data, not telephone as drop-offs were frequent. Iridium uses geostationary satellites and gets world wide coverage with relatively few sattelites; Globalstar uses low-Eart-orbiting satellites that pass the signal from one satellite to another, then to a ground station. Therefore they need more satellites and are more sensative to loss of sattelites. They dojhave a few spares but are launching a new version of satellites that hopefully won't have amplifier failures like the current generation.
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Old 11-08-2009, 10:00   #15
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If you are in Globalstar coverage, it is a good option. But for deep ocean, Iridium is the only option.
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