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Old 23-02-2014, 14:45   #1
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Inmarsat isatphone

Is anyone using one of these sat phones ? We are looking for a phone and this looks like it would work for us. US coastal cruising, Bahamas, for 4 to 6 months each winter. Would really be used for emergencies, quick check in with family when out of touch for a period, maybe some text messages.

Thanks, Bob
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Old 24-02-2014, 09:58   #2
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Re: Inmarsat isatphone

Bob,
First the short answer...
Yes, the INMARSAT isatphone does work...and would fulfill at least some of your requirements...(although understand that it is NOT designed nor intended to be used for emergencies!!! actually none of the handheld sat phones are designed for emergency comms, but the isatphone even less so...see below)
But...
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
We are looking for a phone and this [INMARSAT isatphone] looks like it would work for us. US coastal cruising, Bahamas, for 4 to 6 months each winter. Would really be used for emergencies, quick check in with family when out of touch for a period, maybe some text messages.
But, the long answer is....
Understand that it is NOT like a cell phone, in that it will NOT work below decks (and usually not acquire/log-into the satellite if under a wet dodger/bimini top)....
It requires that you extend the antenna fully and "point it" directly at the satellite in order to acquire / long-into the satellite (although after acquiring the satellite, you can move the phone/antenna around a bit).....
And, it must first get a GPS fox as well...
(If in the Bahamas, you'd point the antenna SSE to SE at about 45* - 50* degrees above the horizon....and along the US East Coast, still pointing SSE to SE, about 35* - 45* degrees above the horizon...)

Although some get decent results, many find log-in / satellite access times to be quite lengthy (some report 3 - 5 minutes waiting...)


Some isatphone acquiring satellite / how-to-make-a-call FAQ's:
Quote:
-Check your antenna. It needs to be properly deployed, and you need to have a valid GPS fix before you can establish a network connection.
- Check your antenna. It needs to be fully extended and pointed towards the sky.
- Make sure that there are no obstructions to the antenna, such as trees or buildings
-Check the signal strength meter. If the signal is weak, move to an open space with a clear line of sight to the sky or adjust the angle of the antenna so it points toward the satellite located in the sky along the Equator.


Here are just a few sites that might be of use to you....
https://www.satphonestore.com/
IsatPhone Pro FAQs & Troubleshooting
Review of IsatPhone Pro compared with Iridium 9555 - Mobal




Now, knowing all of the above, you may be asking what I'd recommend...
And, in all honestly using what you wrote..
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
Would really be used for emergencies, quick check in with family when out of touch for a period, maybe some text messages.
For emergencies along the US coast and Bahamas:
a GPS-enabled EPIRB, VHF-DSC marine radio, and HF-DSC marine radio ("marine SSB")...

For checking in with family, etc.: HF Radio ("marine SSB" or ham)...and/or a unlocked cell phone that you can put Batelco SIM cards in, when in the Bahamas...

For "some text messages": an unlocked cell phone that you can put Batelco SIM cards in, when in the Bahamas...




I hope this helps....and my long answer didn't scare you away...

Fair winds...


John
s/v Annie Laurie
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Old 24-02-2014, 12:13   #3
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Re: Inmarsat isatphone

John, thanks so much for your very complete answer. I really appreciate it. I'll move on to consider your other suggestions. Yes a cell booster or repeater may be the best money spent on this project.
We have an unlocked cell phone already. I don't think an SSB in the cards this season, we do have a good receiver. Also have a DSC radio with an MMSI number in it. It has some trouble with our puck GPS, so working the kinks out of that.
We intend to buddy boat as well so that lowers some risks I think.
I may go back and look at an EPIRB, but seems like over kill for the Bahamas.
We are in Port Salerno FL now just finishing off the to-do list and hope to be heading out first part of March.
Regards, Bob
S/V Windsong II
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Old 24-02-2014, 14:47   #4
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Re: Inmarsat isatphone

Bob,
You're very welcome..

I understand how the $2600 Icom M-802/AT-140 combo is daunting, and with this additional info I have some further recommendations...
(oh, and BTW, it isn't like you need an HF-DSC radio for cruising the Bahamas!!)

1 - Spend some time/effort (and maybe $100 or so) to verify and/or improve your VHF radio system...
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
Also have a DSC radio with an MMSI number in it. It has some trouble with our puck GPS, so working the kinks out of that.
Get those "kinks" worked out now!!
The VHF radio is your primary communications device on-board....and the DSC functions along the US Coast, are a VERY important safety / emergency feature to have....Heck, with all the cruisers' radios listening in the Bahamas, even in the Bahamas it's a very important feature to have!!!
But without a working, reliable GPS input, it's not going to be of as much help!!

Also, reducing loss in your VHF coax (by either replacing the cable with lower loss cable, or simply checking/redoing the connectors on the cable), and making sure that your radio is working perfectly (including making sure you have a reliable GPS input to the radio)...are both part of making sure your safety/emergency (and routine) communications gear is up-to-snuff!!
Don't forget to try SeaTow's automated radio check system (Ch, 27 here in Stuart area)...


(BTW, I recommend a separate/dedicated GPS unit for the DSC radios....such as the very inexpensive but VERY reliable Garmin GPS 76 series....see my Nav Station pictures, for an example...)











2- Good on the unlocked cell phone...
But be aware that wireless "cell phone boosters" (that do not connect directly to your phone) do NOT work well unless the antennas have sufficient separation/isolation from each other...
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
Yes a cell booster or repeater may be the best money spent on this project.
This can get to be a VERY involved technical discussion....but, in a nutshell...

One of the only ways to really get them to work well (or in some cases work at all) on fiberglass boats is to have the "indoor" antenna inside you cabin, usually in a locker or on a shelf directly under one of your spreaders (or very near the mast base), fed with a short run of double-shielded cable (such as LMR-240, or LMR-195).....and the "outside" antenna mounted 30' (or more) DIRECTLY above it, feed with as low-loss cable as you can manage (typically LMR-400 or better)...
Keeping the spreader-mounted antenna a foot or two (2' is better) away from the mast, reduces the shadowing effect / nulls from the mast....yes, there will still be some, but this is usually going to be better than the extra loss you'd encounter if trying a masthead cellular antenna, and cheaper/easier to install and rig as well...
(some will tell 'ya that you can mount the "outside" antenna on a pole on the stern rail, etc. and the "inside" antenna in the cabin / nav station, etc....and while sometimes this works, it never really works very well...it's all about antenna isolation and vertical antennas typically require about 5-10 times the distance in horizontal separation than they do in vertical separation in order to provide the same isolation....and even accounting for the "vertical separation" with the "outside" antenna mounted on a pole on the stern rail, this is usually NOT enough to make it work very well..)

I'm sorry to give you the bad news....but hopefully this will save you from spending too much money on a "cellular booster", only to find that it doesn't do what you wanted it to do....
Oh, and BTW the higher the "gain" quoted in the specs/ads for these things, the MORE antenna isolation you need....so the more $$$ you spend on one, the more frustrating it can be to get to work properly...

Now, the guys with big steel boats, etc. they have no worries about this...one antenna inside, and one outside on a pole, and they're good-to-go!!
But, those of us with mid-sized fiberglass boats....we've got to design/install the system properly, or no-go...




3 - I'm not a fan of buddy boating, but each their own..
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
We intend to buddy boat as well so that lowers some risks I think.
Even if you're sailing along side another boat, less than 1/2 mile away....how much could YOU do to help/assist in an emergency???
I won't drag this into a "buddy boating" discussion....I'm just saying, even with a buddy boat, you actually are on-your-own....




4 - As for EPIRB's....oh, boy this is a whole discussion in itself....and something I have a great deal of knowledge/experience with...
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
I may go back and look at an EPIRB, but seems like over kill for the Bahamas.
In my opinion (and that of just about every sailor/cruiser I know, read of, etc.) the modern GPS-enabled EPIRB is one of the best safety/emergency signaling tools available!!!

While NOTHING is "required" for you to safely sail/cruise....I cannot imagine
anyone these days sailing offshore (even island hopping in the Bahamas) without one!!
The approx. $450 cost is less than some pay for a smart phone....and many cruising couples have two or three smart phones!!

Like buddy boating, I won't ramble on about EPIRB's, as you didn't ask about 'em...But..
But, I will point you to a thread with many good links on it, that will give you a GREAT deal of REAL HONEST information (most of it from COSPAS-SARSAT themselves!)....
SSCA Forum • View topic - EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Read that thread, and follow the links (especially the COSPAS-SARSAT and CruisingWorld links), and you'll learn more than you could ever imagine about EPIRB's and how they work, etc...






5 - I'm just a couple miles north of you, in Sewell's Point....
Quote:
Originally Posted by BobH260 View Post
We are in Port Salerno FL now just finishing off the to-do list and hope to be heading out first part of March.
But, I'm leaving next week, for a couple weeks....



I hope you find at least some of what I wrote, helpful..


Fair winds...

John
s/v Annie Laurie
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Old 24-02-2014, 15:42   #5
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Re: Inmarsat isatphone

John, you are a wealth of information on this. I feel like I hit a gold mine ! My brother lives on Simara in Sewells Point, small world. He has a long dock but we can't get to it ! We are in Mariner Cay Marina.

Our mast was damaged in storage. We just had a new Selden mast installed, it came with all new wires, antenna etc. Our radar is not working now and waiting for Hinckley's to fix that.

I will research the EPIRB info and reconsider one of those.

Thanks for all the tips on the cell boosters, I would never have assumed they worked that way. I'll be careful what we buy.

We do have a Garmin Map76 with charts as a backup, we keep it in our dinghy bag. We have the Garmin App on our ipad. Our plotter is a Raymaine C120W with sat weather. We have the Discovery chart books, one of the authors is slipped beside us, he introduced us to Monty a couple of weeks ago. They have been providing us with some good Bahamas information.

Thanks so much, Bob s/v Windsong II
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Old 25-02-2014, 03:39   #6
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Re: Inmarsat isatphone

In my experience having used both iridium is a better system then isatphone. Easier to lock ( even below decks) low latency. All the advantages of a LEO system.

Dave
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Old 25-02-2014, 04:24   #7
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Re: Inmarsat isatphone

I used the isasatphone pro and it worked fine. Getting a signal was not always that easy but I was able to download gribs with it. When I made calls it was far clearer than a usual cell phone on land. A company was looking into making a cheap antenna for it which would solve all these probs. The cost is FAR cheaper than iridium to purchase and use. The pre paid minutes last a very long time before they expire and the rate per minute is low enough you can call your family just because you are bored.
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Old 03-03-2014, 11:44   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dennisail View Post
I used the isasatphone pro and it worked fine. Getting a signal was not always that easy but I was able to download gribs with it. When I made calls it was far clearer than a usual cell phone on land. A company was looking into making a cheap antenna for it which would solve all these probs. The cost is FAR cheaper than iridium to purchase and use. The pre paid minutes last a very long time before they expire and the rate per minute is low enough you can call your family just because you are bored.

Beam already makes antennas for the isatphone.

If you are seriously interested in purchasing but dont like the build quality, the isat2 will be out in the next couple months (currently in beta) and resembles iridium from a durability stand point.
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