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Old 01-06-2015, 09:16   #1
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Cruising Comms Set Up!

My partner are planning our upcoming ocean cruising on our 37 foot Colvic Countess. We will be leaving from the UK to head round into the Med, prior to crossing over to the Caribbean either this year or the next. With our final preparations in motion I am struggling with one rather large element...Comms!

We have a DSC VHF radio onboard, including a handheld VHF....That is it so far. There is a Barrett 950 HF communications transceiver, but at the moment this is redundant due to lack of experience (Currently working on learning all I can, but its going way over my head) and a power issue.

I was wondering what people would recommend. Ideally we want to be able to receive/send small emails, most importantly weather updates via voice or email, GPS tracking so people back home can tract our whereabouts, just one ping a day really. This is for both safety reasons and to keep family updated.

I have looked at various sat phones? I understand how they work, but the models within price range do not have internal GPS, so tracking is not possible as far as I can see, is there a way to have a sat phone send the GPS data received from my chart plotter/gps? I was looking at the IRIDIUM 9555 but the tracking would have to be something separate?

Also wI have Apple computers, and some mail (Sailmail, AirMail) systems I have heard of are not supported on Apple software.

AIS??? Really not sure about this at all?

Thanks for taking the time to have a look, and any guidance/tips would be greatly appreciated.

Simon and Holly.
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Old 01-06-2015, 16:13   #2
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Hi Simon and Holly.
I would highly recommend this setup as a fairly foolproof and fully featured economical solution.
Prices in USD

Iridium Go
Approx $800
The go will interface with iPad and iPhones wirelessly. You can send and receive email, grib files etc, SMS, voice calls, twitter etc
Plan cost varies from $50-$125 and can be upgraded or downgraded month by month. $50 will get the basics and emergency calls and a bit of data, and $125 will get unlimited data, so you upgrade for ocean crossings, then downgrade on arrival and revert to a lower plan and use local wifi. The go uses apps free to dl from the App Store for mail, messaging, calls etc.
You will not need to subscribe to a compression service as you would with most sat phones.
If you prefer have a separate phone, you could go with the iridium 9555 (1000) and iridium axcesspoint (200), but this will be more expensive and they don't have go type plans so you would need to buy data cards, something like 500 minutes to be used in 12 months for $750. I think the go is better value in that regard

Weather4dpro
This is a great weather app that works well with the go or any iridium product. Make sure you get the pro version. It's around $60.
It has grib view, currents, satelite locations, routing and much more. It's a great app and can be used with wifi or email gribs via satelite. I'd suggest downloading it and familiarising yourself with it's features.

On top of grib forecasts we like to download synoptic charts as well as text forecasts so we use the mailasail weather file request service by sending an email request. The requested file is sent back immediately.
Basically that's all you would need in my opinion.
Cheaper options are spot tracking or delorme inreach where you can send and receive txt messages and have a track and SOS button, but they are lacking the ability to send and receive email and keep up to date with weather independently. Purchase cost is probably $600 less and ongoing costs about the same.
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Old 01-06-2015, 16:18   #3
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Btw, I would likely postpone the purchase till leaving the med. For the med generally wifi is fine or data sims for each country. There's not much point having a sat plan when it's not needed. We used phone data cards all over Europe, up to 20M offshore at around $20/gig/month. I'd still get the weather4dpro app.
For your tracking, try make an account here and update as you feel like it. It's free and if you want to track across oceans you can subscribe for $50/year.
http://skipr.net/where-is/boat-pages/?boatid=2123
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Old 01-06-2015, 17:16   #4
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

For tracking and small txt. messages try YB Tracking or Spot.
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Old 01-06-2015, 18:53   #5
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Btw, you mentioned AIS. I'd highly recommend installing an AIS transponder before departure. It's very handy around Europe as well as globally. Your family and friends will be angle to keep track of you on marinetraffic.com throughout the med. I notice marine traffic also has an email to report position option so it may be able to track you mid ocean as well. I'm not sure of cost involved for that feature yet.
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Old 01-06-2015, 19:43   #6
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Simon and Holly,
This subject comes up often, and has been discussed in some detail, even as recently as this past month....so, I won't re-write everything here, but will hit on the highlights AND supply you with links to other posts / information (that I hope you will read!)...



1) First off, for "coastal cruising" and "harbor hoping" along developed, first world nations, which make up much of the "Med cruising", you will find much of your "comms" and "weather information" to be:
a) from shoreside / land-based cellular/mobile/wireless/3G/4G and/or Wi-Fi systems....(which means you should investigate a decent external cellular antenna or even better an external cellular data router...as well as a decent ext. Wi-Fi system...)
b) VHF-DSC Radiotelephone...(which you already have)
c) AIS...(which you may not have actually considered part of your "comms" system)
Quote:
Originally Posted by jono63812 View Post
My partner are planning our upcoming ocean cruising on our 37 foot Colvic Countess. We will be leaving from the UK to head round into the Med, prior to crossing over to the Caribbean either this year or the next. With our final preparations in motion I am struggling with one rather large element...Comms!

We have a DSC VHF radio onboard, including a handheld VHF....That is it so far. There is a Barrett 950 HF communications transceiver, but at the moment this is redundant due to lack of experience (Currently working on learning all I can, but its going way over my head) and a power issue.

I was wondering what people would recommend. Ideally we want to be able to receive/send small emails, most importantly weather updates via voice or email, GPS tracking so people back home can tract our whereabouts, just one ping a day really. This is for both safety reasons and to keep family updated.

I have looked at various sat phones? I understand how they work, but the models within price range do not have internal GPS, so tracking is not possible as far as I can see, is there a way to have a sat phone send the GPS data received from my chart plotter/gps? I was looking at the IRIDIUM 9555 but the tracking would have to be something separate?

Also wI have Apple computers, and some mail (Sailmail, AirMail) systems I have heard of are not supported on Apple software.

AIS??? Really not sure about this at all?

Thanks for taking the time to have a look, and any guidance/tips would be greatly appreciated.

Simon and Holly.
2) Secondly, you will get plenty of input for using a "sat phone" or "satellite data terminal", but since you already have some decent comms gear (and since you will first be coastal cruising, mostly in UK/EU and in the Med), the "need" for any "satellite" comms at all (even when making your Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean, later this year, or next) is minimal or nonexistent....

Nothing wrong with an Iridium sat phone (or an Iridium Go, data terminal), but using what you write, there is no need for it....



3) For most "cruisers" and offshore sailors, their "comms" needs are primarily:
a) Emergency signaling and communications...
b) Weather info and forecasts...
c) Collision avoidance...
d) Contacting/communicating with other vessels (both commercial shipping and pleasure boats)
e) Contacting shoreside services...
f) Keeping in touch with friends / family on shore...as well as allowing friends/family to keep track of you along your adventures....(although I don't personally see the need for those onshore to keep track of you, it is something that many new cruisers seem to desire...)




4) Here in these threads/posts (which are all different, even if their titles here seem to show they are the same!), you will find quite a bit of detail in what priorities most have, as well as a listing of different priorities for different budgets...

Communications equipment

Communications equipment

Communications equipment




Guide to Marine Electronics



Guide to Marine Electronics

The Perfect Setup


Have to haves and wants


AIS...all in one radio or computer/opencpn


As you can see, this has been discussed in detail before!!!
Please read these threads....most of your questions are answered there....as well as lots of other info!!!!




Here is a small excerpt, from some of the above:
Quote:
If you're serious about this part (priorities based on various budgets), I have done this over the years (and you can see it some of my postings here and on the SSCA Disc Boards....for LOTS of details!!)
But, if you want a VERY brief outline, here it is...
{please note that while many do not consider a good on-board Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/Cellular data, system to be part of their "electronic safety and communications gear", it CAN be....and I'm making the assumption that this gear is already a part of their gear on-board...allowing them easy access to weather info/data when in port, at anchor, or along populated near-shore/coastal areas....but just not designated as "safety" or "comms" gear...}
Quote:
Originally Posted by msponer
I would love to have a conversation with you guys about what you feel 'the best' set of electronic safety and communication gear is for various budgets. Say for a $10k, $5k, and $1k budget, assuming only a VHF radio is already on the boat.

"Only a VHF radio" will not do anymore....
It needs to be a DSC-VHF Radio, preferably a new Class D VHF-DSC Radio...


A) You start with the $1k budget...(in order of importance)
--- 406mhz EPIRB ($400 - $450)
--- DSC-VHF radio ($200 - $500),
--- GPS ($20 - $100),
--- portable SW receiver (w/ BFO for SSB and WeFax reception) ($50 - $120),
--- handheld DSC-VHF radio ($200-$250)
The above is about $900 - $1100, depending on brand/model, and what you already have on-board...


B) In addition to the above, for the $5000 budget, in order of importance...(you can add as much as $4000 worth of communications / electronic safety gear, to the above list)
--- MF/HF-DSC-SSB Radiotelephone, i.e. "Marine SSB" ($2500 - $3000, including antennas and ground system)
--- Class B AIS Transponder (Vesper Watchmate 850, at $800 - $900)

--- depending on WHERE you are cruising/sailing, to round out your comms gear / electronics safety gear under your budget, you have a few choices....(in order of my recommendation/preference)
Pick one, two or all three depending on price and how they fit into your budget:
- a second 406mhz EPIRB, or,
- a second DSC-VHF radio, or,
- a used Iridium handheld sat phone....(and you'll need an ext. antenna for it as well, and depending on the exact price of the sat phone, this might push you beyond your budget)



C) For those with BIG $10k budgets, in addition to all the above...there are two "paths" now....one is "safety" and one is "communications", as now their functionality diverges a bit...you pick one "path" and can spend the additional $5k...

Under the "safety" path:
--- INMARSAT C (about $3000-$3500)
--- either a second 406mhz EPIRB or a second DSC-VHF radio (if you did NOT choose them in the above "$5k budget")
--- handheld Iridium sat phone, w/ ext. antenna (if you did NOT choose them in the above "$5k budget")
--- electronic / active radar reflector (aka Radar Target Enhancer)....(about $900 - $1000)

Under the "communications" path:
--- INMARSAT FB150, or Iridium Pilot (~ $4500 - $5000)
--- a used handheld Iridium sat phone (if you didn't add it in either of the earlier "budgets")


All of the above assumes that the vessel is already equipped with all of the "required" nav lights, horn, signaling devices, flares, etc....and that the owner/sailor/crew know at least the basics of how all of the above works (which ANY layperson can learn for FREE in just a couple hours!!!)

And, to be perfectly clear, there would be variations to these recommendations, based on WHERE someone was sailing/cruising, and for HOW LONG they'd be there, and WHAT TIME OF YEAR, etc...

As, systems like NAVTEX is GREAT in the Med, and some other locales, but of little use across oceans, etc...
As well, as variations due to other "communications needs", such as whether the needed business communications, etc..


And remember, while many do not consider a good on-board Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/Cellular data, system to be part of their "electronic safety and communications gear", it CAN be....and I'm making the assumption that this gear is already a part of their gear on-board...allowing them easy access to weather info/data when in port, at anchor, or along populated near-shore/coastal areas....
Videos showing Live, real-world, demonstrations of:
-- Offshore Weather Sources
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...zdjTJjHlChruyY

-- Maritime HF Communications ("HF-SSB")
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...ZDo_Jk3NB_Bt1y

-- HF-DSC Communications
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...ga2zYuPozhUXZX


Lots of info/details...
Offshore / Hi-Seas Weather data / forecasts


Marine SSB Stuff (how-to better use / proeprly-install SSB, & troubleshoot RFI, etc.)


Marine HF-DSC-SSB, the GMDSS, "communications stool legs"


Antenna recommendation



AIS...all in one radio or computer/opencpn


Guide to Marine Electronics


Guide to Marine Electronics




Have to haves and wants


The Perfect Setup










5) You ask a lot of questions in one post....so here are some specifics in red....
Quote:
Originally Posted by jono63812 View Post
We have a DSC VHF radio onboard, including a handheld VHF....That is it so far.
This is good...


There is a Barrett 950 HF communications transceiver, but at the moment this is redundant due to lack of experience (Currently working on learning all I can, but its going way over my head) and a power issue.
Although the Barrett 950 is a bit dated and isn't an HF-DSC radio, it IS very usable and WILL allow you to receive excellent, hi-quality weather info/forecasts worldwide...

Have a look at those videos and read those threads referenced.....you will learn a LOT, and the videos won't go over your head (not much anyway!)
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...ZDo_Jk3NB_Bt1y

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...zdjTJjHlChruyY



(if you start another thread and ask for help with your "power issue", you will get plenty of help here....including from me...)



I was wondering what people would recommend.
See all of the above info, and ask more questions if that doesn't give you enough...


Ideally we want to be able to receive/send small emails,
For your "coastal cruising" and in/around the Med and Caribbean, you'll be using a good on-board Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/Cellular data, system and most will make the assumption that this gear is already a part of their gear on-board...allowing them easy e-mail connectivity as well as access to weather info/data when in port, at anchor, or along populated near-shore/coastal areas...

Not sure if you have other needs for "e-mail", such as running a business, etc....but if so, we can discuss further...


most importantly weather updates via voice or email,
For weather info/forecasts, whether coastally in Europe and in the Med; or Offshore and across oceans, there is NO need to have e-mail connectivity for this at all...
Actually to the contrary, the "gold standard" of offshore weather info/forecasts is HF WeFax charts and images, which require NO e-mail connectivity, nor any special modems, nor sat phone, etc. at all!!!

The details of all of this is spelled-out completely in the threads and videos referenced earlier...

But one thing that is often over-looked by many US-based sailors, is NAVTEX!!
NAVTEX is VERY useful and an easy/effective way to get good weather info in the EU and Med....
(no service and no weather info for far offshore waters, across oceans, etc., but in the Med and coastal EU, it works well...)



GPS tracking so people back home can tract our whereabouts, just one ping a day really.
There are many way you can do this....some are FREE and easy, some cost money....and some aren't too reliable in far offshore areas...

Shiptrac, Youterps, etc. are all FREE and easy...and you already have a working HF radio!!
Heck you can have any number of hams post your positions/comments thru these, as often as you desire...just a quick check-in with the MMSN and you're good-to-go!

And, should you actually have a need for e-mail when far offshore / at sea, Sailmail (whether via HF Radio or satphone) will allow the same thing....

Now, if you do desire another gadget on-board (not my recommendation), and can afford the added costs of the gadget and service fees, and want this for tracking/short messaging, I recommend Yellow Brick...



This is for both safety reasons and to keep family updated.
Although it can sometimes cause more troubles than they realize, I understand that some wish to keep their families updated along their adventures / apprised of their location / etc....BUT...
But, I do not know of any "safety" reason for this....

For "safety" comms.....think, EPIRB, HF-DSC-SSB Radiotelephone, VHF-DSC radiotelephone, INMARSAT-C...

I have looked at various sat phones? I understand how they work, but the models within price range do not have internal GPS, so tracking is not possible as far as I can see, is there a way to have a sat phone send the GPS data received from my chart plotter/gps? I was looking at the IRIDIUM 9555 but the tracking would have to be something separate?
Again, I'm not certain what your application for tracking is, so I can't make any specific recommendations....but as I wrote above, the Yellow Brick is a very good unit and service is thru Iridium so it's truly global...

Some also like the newer Iridium GO, for use with their smart phones, etc. for low-speed data and tracking...


You might have reasons that I'm not aware if, but again, using the cruising plan you wrote about, I don't see any reason for satellite tracking at all....


Also wI have Apple computers, and some mail (Sailmail, AirMail) systems I have heard of are not supported on Apple software.
You shouldn't have any problems here...
There are many Apple fans among cruisers....and many use their iPads and Macs (with appropriate software or Apps) for decoding WeFax charts and images....and some use macs with the Sailmail system as well (see sailmails pages for details here)



AIS??? Really not sure about this at all?
The discussions about AIS (Class B AIS tarnsponders) have almost been done to death....
See details in the threads referenced above...


The consensus is:
If you can afford the $500-$1000 cost, it is almost a no-brainer....go-for-it!!


Thanks for taking the time to have a look, and any guidance/tips would be greatly appreciated.
there is a LOT more....but don't want to overboard at first...

Simon and Holly.
Simon and Holly, there is a great deal more....but thought I should be brief at first...


Please read over ALL of the threads referenced above, watch at least some of the videos (preferably all of them),
and then re-read all of what I wrote here in this posting.....
And, then ask for clarifications or any more questions here, and we'll do our best to clear things up and help you out further!!


fair winds...

John
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Old 02-06-2015, 02:22   #7
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Thank you so much to everyone who posted, it is so appreciated. I will go through it all, Its a lot and come back if I'm stuck.
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Old 02-06-2015, 09:18   #8
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

I love HF. Receiving costs very little energy, sending draws the current.
But you'll actually be sending a very small part of the time.
Get the Ham Radio training. Then you'll know how to do it. It's lot more than turning on the switch and choosing a band.
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Old 02-06-2015, 09:59   #9
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Wow! John's post has a wealth of information. I'll have to bookmark it and spend the next 6 months digesting it. I've been thinking of some upgrades to my comms...especially since I need a new EPIRB. I guess I'm just a dinosaur but I find smartphones a larger pain than solution. And the costs can be outrageous in some island areas. But I love my SSB when I'm cruising about. And there are really good weather services and nets. I've become convinced that I should get AIS and perhaps upgrade my handheld VHS. I also think I should get HAM certified. Well, that's my $0.02. EPIRB, AIS, and SSB.
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Old 02-06-2015, 18:26   #10
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Surprised that I see no mention of Delorme.

Sooooo much cheaper and does a LOT.

Sold my sat phone. Much happier just to have the Delorme Explore. Huge $avings on operating cost.
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Old 03-06-2015, 02:17   #11
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Simon and Holly,
Another rather inexpensive option for tracking and messages (text or email) is a Delorme InReach Satellite Communicator. It costs about US $300, and there are various monthly plans or a yearly plan that vary with the number of 2-way messages you desire. It also will send a plot of your position on a map every 2 minutes up to 8 hours or more showing your position.
Best of luck with your voyage.
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Old 04-06-2015, 15:17   #12
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Lots of good info int the prior posts. Only thing I can add is that someone mentioned the SPOT tracker. . This SPOT is fine near the coasts, but it does not have mid-ocean coverage due to the technology it uses. The Delorme InReach is a similiar system but does offer worldwide coverage (except the poles). Newer models can send and receive text messages too, as mentioned in an earlier post.
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Old 04-06-2015, 16:12   #13
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

I'm interested to learn from existing users where they have used the DeLorne successfully.

Thinking this could be a convenient and low-cost backup to DSC capable HF/SSB, and good to take ashore on trips, or into the liferaft.
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Old 05-06-2015, 13:35   #14
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanR View Post
I'm interested to learn from existing users where they have used the DeLorne successfully.

Thinking this could be a convenient and low-cost backup to DSC capable HF/SSB, and good to take ashore on trips, or into the liferaft.
Successfully? Well, I haven't died yet. does that count?

As I mentioned earlier, sold my sat phone. Got cash in my pocket and a much more reliable communication device. And I will go further and say that it is more user friendly device. Hard to imagine something being more user friendly than a phone. But just sending a text message with that "pre-smartphone" type interface was a royal pain. So moving right along, the hoops to jump through to send emails was so much worse. The Delorme can send emails or text messages (sms) with equal ease. In fact, you just use your smartphone or tablet to do it.

As far as backup to anything goes, I have HF/SSB and EPIRB aboard. I consider those backup to my Delorme Explorer.

BTW, I recently participated in a survey from Delorme. It mentioned addition features they are working. If I remember correctly, the survey ask if I would like to see voice communication as one of the features. uhhh....yes.
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Old 05-06-2015, 16:24   #15
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Re: Cruising Comms Set Up!

Minggat,
Thank you for giving us all some real-world user experience!

I hope you don't mind if I help clarify a few things??


As for "more reliable", please understand that the DeLorne InReach uses the Iridium network, and as such the space segment and ground segments are as reliable as Iridium...
And, while the "device" itself might seem more reliable, when compared to a current production Iridium phone, they should have the same reliability, as well...
(I'm assuming you were comparing it to an Iridium phone, or even an older model Iridium phone....but, if compared to "GlobalStar", "INMARSAT iSat Phone", or "Thurya", then I completely agree with you that any Iridium-based system is going to be much more reliable than those!)

Also, understand what makes the InReach seem more reliable is what makes all satellite data burst devices seem more reliable than live 2-way telephony....and that is, the fact that it sends/receives bursts of data, and will do so in succession until they're received intact, rather than you trying to connect with a voice call and/or getting cut-off in mid-conversation, etc...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Minggat View Post
As I mentioned earlier, sold my sat phone. Got cash in my pocket and a much more reliable communication device. And I will go further and say that it is more user friendly device. Hard to imagine something being more user friendly than a phone. But just sending a text message with that "pre-smartphone" type interface was a royal pain. So moving right along, the hoops to jump through to send emails was so much worse. The Delorme can send emails or text messages (sms) with equal ease. In fact, you just use your smartphone or tablet to do it.

As far as backup to anything goes, I have HF/SSB and EPIRB aboard. I consider those backup to my Delorme Explorer.

BTW, I recently participated in a survey from Delorme. It mentioned addition features they are working. If I remember correctly, the survey ask if I would like to see voice communication as one of the features. uhhh....yes.
As for DeLorne voice service, it will be (if they finalize the contracts) a re-branded/private-labeled Iridium voice service, and its reliability would be identical to Iridium....



I hope this helps clarify a few things....

Fair winds...

John
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