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Old 14-05-2014, 14:45   #1
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Advisability of Depending on Satellite Comms & Knowing the Transmitter Works

They are convenient, I suppose. But based on Rebel Hearts experience with a SIM card discontinued when he most needed it as well as other people reporting their phone was shutoff simply because they paid the bill with a different Credit Card, I would probably decide to not rely on such communication devices in an emergency.
The Delorme also seems problematic.
A separate issue, suppose you instead rely on your short wave. How do you really know if your signal is getting out. For instance Rebel heart was trying communicate, but it only became obvious that it wasn't working when he heard only static from the C130 trying to radio him from less than 5 miles away. I have two VHF's just so I can be sure that one or the other is working. If they both work then I can talk to my self and be sure they work at least close in
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Old 14-05-2014, 16:35   #2
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Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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Originally Posted by tbodine88 View Post
They are convenient, I suppose. But based on Rebel Hearts experience with a SIM card discontinued when he most needed it as well as other people reporting their phone was shutoff simply because they paid the bill with a different Credit Card, I would probably decide to not rely on such communication devices in an emergency.
The Delorme also seems problematic.
A separate issue, suppose you instead rely on your short wave. How do you really know if your signal is getting out. For instance Rebel heart was trying communicate, but it only became obvious that it wasn't working when he heard only static from the C130 trying to radio him from less than 5 miles away. I have two VHF's just so I can be sure that one or the other is working. If they both work then I can talk to my self and be sure they work at least close in

I think basing your logic on one incident is ridiculous. I have an iridium for nearly 8 years. I'm with a reliable service provider ( a 100 year old marine comms company ) I've never ever had a service problem in that 8 years

Perhaps the message is , don't buy your sim from cheapdiscountflybynightsatphone.com companies
Dave


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Old 14-05-2014, 19:35   #3
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

Yes I know my experience is limited. I have Rebel Hearts story. My observation when I tried a Sat phone in the Carribbean, 14 years ago, I called my Dad I could hear him, but he couldn't hear me.
I used one on a research vessel twenty years ago, but couldn't talk long since talk time was very expensive then.

I priced out a satellite system as an emergency phone system for a small island in the south pacific, and found the cost was kinda high, especially for this small community.

Its good to know it works for some people. I'd rather not depend on a communication device for which I'd need someone else's permission to communicate especially during an emergency.
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Old 14-05-2014, 21:21   #4
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

We have KVH satcom service and found it works very reliably.

We keep the USCG office nearest us on the telephone handset.

We know it is working because we use the internet function every day.

We consider our satcom to be one of our safety systems.
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Old 15-05-2014, 04:27   #5
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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Its good to know it works for some people. I'd rather not depend on a communication device for which I'd need someone else's permission to communicate especially during an emergency.
AT least in RH's case they got some use out of their sat phone, unlike the HF rig that went completely unanswered.

as for "I'd need someone else's permission to communicate especially during an emergency" well that rules out the whole 911 ( 999) systems on land lines, and cellular systems

All of these systems at sea have failure modes.

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Old 20-05-2014, 05:24   #6
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

Rebel Heart's story is equally damning to sat phones and SSB radio. Of course, it's just one incident, as Dave says, but still.

My own personal and subjective choice for emergency signalling would be SSB/ham radio, EPIRB, PLB in my life jacket pocket, and a Yellow Brick for text messaging via satellites.

I actually have a fixed install sat phone in my boat which I inherited from the previous owner, but I have never activated it. Voice comms via satellite don't seem very useful for my purposes, or for emergency situations. Text comms are much more robust and reliable, as far as I understand, and the Yellow Brick pricing plan is much better suited to most cruisers than any sat phone voice plan.

And anyway, my Plan "A" for distress signalling would be a DSC call via both SSB and VHF and EPIRB/PLB activation. I like the fact that DSC signalling is multipoint -- it broadcasts your message to all nearby ships as well as the Coast Guard, thus getting your message out a lot faster and more efficiently. Assuming your gear works properly, which apparently didn't work out for Rebel Heart, unfortunately.
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Old 20-05-2014, 07:05   #7
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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Rebel Heart's story is equally damning to sat phones and SSB radio. Of course, it's just one incident, as Dave says, but still.
I want a ham radio for this boat, and the Rebel Heart story has pushed me to try and figure out one that can live in a Pelican case, or that I can tuck away in an IP65 box in a closet, and then in normal situations control from a laptop at the nav table.

I've also been wondering if there's a bunch of inexpensive used Inmarsat Mini-C terminals available somewhere, since the requirements changed a few years ago and made the older versions obsolete for GMDSS.
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Old 20-05-2014, 11:06   #8
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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I want a ham radio for this boat, and the Rebel Heart story has pushed me to try and figure out one that can live in a Pelican case, or that I can tuck away in an IP65 box in a closet, and then in normal situations control from a laptop at the nav table.

I've also been wondering if there's a bunch of inexpensive used Inmarsat Mini-C terminals available somewhere, since the requirements changed a few years ago and made the older versions obsolete for GMDSS.
There are several amateur radios that would fit in small cases, and allow remote operation. I used to own a Yaesu FT-857 which was a mobile, all mode HF/50/144/440 rig. It had a detachable faceplate that connected via a 6 wire "telephone" type cable to the transceiver which could be housed somewhere else. As with most modern rigs, you can also control it with most any computer. Most new radios are heavy on the menus, and light on actual knobs. The computer control allows quick and easy access to features that may otherwise be "hidden" within the menu tree. Also, most have small screens that require the vision of a teenager. I mentioned the Yaesu because I owned that one, but have used Icom Ic-706, & IC-7000, & Kenwood ts-480, all of which have detachable faceplates & computer control. I picked the 857 over the others for various reasons, but most are decent rigs that cover huge amount of spectrum. The Yaesu is still in production too. I've had the opportunity to fondle an Icom IC-7200, which is HF/50, but a nice compact rig that has a large rig feel to it. It can be controlled via computer, and claims to be "ruggedized". Icom also makes the IC-7100, which is the latest mobile rig from Icom, replacing the 706/700rigs. Looks nice, never touched one though.
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Old 20-05-2014, 17:39   #9
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

One means of maximizing the probability of HF comms working in an emergency situation is to use them routinely... ie, be an active ham and learn the ropes of HF practices. Then, when the chips are down, you will have a very good idea of which frequencies to use, and how to be sure that the rig is functioning correctly and so on.

Too much trouble...? Well, depends on how much you want to be heard when you call for help!

And while I haven't felt the need to buy an 802 to support HF DSC, it does seem that it adds a useful arrow to your SOS quiver! That arrow can be made sharper by good working knowledge of your equipment and of HF comms in general.

Cheers,

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Old 20-05-2014, 19:35   #10
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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There are several amateur radios that would fit in small cases, and allow remote operation. ...
Thanks! I've never remote controlled a radio... Does SSB feel natural -- do you just wear a headset with a microphone?

Do you have a problem with the radio freaking out the computer when it transmits? On my previous boat, my Icom 706 would cause the touch pad to randomly jump the mouse pointer around. That would make it hard to remote control the radio, if I couldn't accurately click on things. Though in this case the radio and tuner will be much further away from the laptop, tucked about 10' away in a closet.
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Old 20-05-2014, 21:29   #11
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We have KVH satcom service and found it works very reliably.

(snip)

We know it is working because we use the internet function every day.

(snil).
If you have KVH V3 service just make sure you are aware of the coverage area... For example, it does not cover the area between and including Galapagos and French Polynesia. This can trigger abstinence syndrome for those of us who got used to good internet on the way to Galapagos.

On a related angle, doesn't your KVH need AC power and take up to 30 minutes to lock to a satellite? That was my experience with the V3.. Fast internrt but not something I would count on for an emergency...

On a positive note, Sailmail and the 0330Z 14300 ham net work perfectly all the way to French Polynesia... Those ham controllers have rotating antennas and amazing transceivers that will get you communicated not matter where you are because they can get you through relays from Hawaii, thr continental US, NZ or wherever.. I thought HF was a thing of historical interest but I stand corrected...
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Old 21-05-2014, 00:11   #12
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

It would be interesting to hear a few more details of how RH's comms went south. If he had been relying on the satphone, maybe he hadn't used the SSB enough to learn what frequencies and times worked in his area (I would have tried the Mexican nets on 40 meters in the morning and the Pacific Seafarers net on 20 meters in the afternoon). The time to first check into these nets is before you leave Mexico, to make sure that your equipment is working.

My experience is that the SSB tuners are pretty weatherproof, but the transceivers are not--I've seen boats where there is a plastic drape over the (replacement) transceiver to keep it dry. If your SSB is hooked through your 12v panel with an analog meter, its pretty easy to tell if its putting out a good signal by watching the amps when you transmit a long hellooooooo.

My best guess is that RH heard the plane calling him on the VHF, not the SSB, as the SSB is usually not on 24/7.
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Old 21-05-2014, 10:32   #13
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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It would be interesting to hear a few more details of how RH's comms went south. If he had been relying on the satphone, maybe he hadn't used the SSB enough to learn what frequencies and times worked in his area (I would have tried the Mexican nets on 40 meters in the morning and the Pacific Seafarers net on 20 meters in the afternoon). The time to first check into these nets is before you leave Mexico, to make sure that your equipment is working.

My experience is that the SSB tuners are pretty weatherproof, but the transceivers are not--I've seen boats where there is a plastic drape over the (replacement) transceiver to keep it dry. If your SSB is hooked through your 12v panel with an analog meter, its pretty easy to tell if its putting out a good signal by watching the amps when you transmit a long hellooooooo.

My best guess is that RH heard the plane calling him on the VHF, not the SSB, as the SSB is usually not on 24/7.
FWIW, I also used satphonestore.com based in Miami -- the same outfit that RH apparently used -- when I first purchased my Iridium satphone a number of years back. Like many I'm sure, I was lured by a quick Google search, glossy website, and cheaper pricing. As I quickly found out, however, their service was terrible, including missing hardware at the outset and problems starting the subscription. After several phone calls -- including a few with someone who represented himself as the company owner -- I cancelled and reactivated with Ocens who has been excellent. This was a number of years ago so I have no idea if this is the same outfit or has the same ownership/mgmt., but when I read that they are disputing RH's version of events over the SIM card, I couldn't help but give RH the benefit of the doubt.

As for RH's SSB, it's not clear how proficient he may have been when attempting to communicate a distress call, but I have to admit it's probably the least understood system on my own boat. In light of recent events and some helpful postings & youtube videos from CF members, I've recently redoubled my efforts to learn its functions & capabilities. I didn't know, for example, that a separate antenna was required to be able to automatically scan the 5-6 int'l distress channels after activating DSC (I have a M-802), or that utilizing an indpt. GPS receiver is recommended. I have found the lengthy instruction manuals difficult to decipher, and am even rather embarrassed to admit that the various "Idiot's" guides leave me struggling with their frequent acronyms & vocabulary that are completely new to me. Maybe there's a "Moron's" guide I could try? Anyway, I only mention because I would be surprised if I was alone in this regard, and I suspect this is one reason why many newer cruisers are resorting to satphones instead.

When I read about the C-130 first appearing over RH's boat, I had also assumed the radio contact was over his VHF, presumably Ch. 16. FWIW . . . .
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Old 21-05-2014, 10:41   #14
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Re: Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

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Originally Posted by tbodine88 View Post
They are convenient, I suppose. But based on Rebel Hearts experience with a SIM card discontinued when he most needed it as well as other people reporting their phone was shutoff simply because they paid the bill with a different Credit Card, I would probably decide to not rely on such communication devices in an emergency.
The Delorme also seems problematic.
A separate issue, suppose you instead rely on your short wave. How do you really know if your signal is getting out. For instance Rebel heart was trying communicate, but it only became obvious that it wasn't working when he heard only static from the C130 trying to radio him from less than 5 miles away. I have two VHF's just so I can be sure that one or the other is working. If they both work then I can talk to my self and be sure they work at least close in
I'm with you. It seemed like a good idea until RH and others have commented that they change things without warning while you may be at sea.
BTW, has anyone heard of the new Iridium GO? Apparently you can use wifi, phone or tablet anywhere in the world with it. $875
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Old 21-05-2014, 10:59   #15
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Advisability of depending on Satellite Comms & knowing the transmitter works

Iridium go looks like costing about , 40- 130 dollars a month, with quite severe restrictions on data

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