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Old 31-07-2009, 12:43   #1
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Pactor Alternative ?

Are there any alternatives to Pactor Modems for transmitting data (email) over HF? My main objection with Pactor is that the units are EXPENSIVE.

It seems to me that there could be a software solution to this issue. Are there any alternatives? Is there a better (more affordable) means for e-mail transmission while underway (on a 37' sailboat).

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Old 31-07-2009, 13:09   #2
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The short answer is "no".

There are other data protocols for use by licensed ham operators, but they are painfully slow and their utility for the cruising sailor is limited, both because of their slow speed and the paucity of shore stations using those protocols.

There's a new "anytime now" software-based protocol called Winmor which has been "close to primetime" for a couple of years. It works by using your computer's soundcard in lieu of an expensive modem. But, it's not available yet and, again, there aren't any shore stations which can provide the stuff needed by cruising sailors (like GRIB files, weather synopses, etc.). You can read all about it here: WINMOR--A New HF Transmission Protocol for Winlink 2000 | Winlink 2000

Bottom line: for decent quality data comms over HF radio which provide access to stuff a cruising sailor needs, at the moment you really have no alternative to the (yes, very expensive) SCS Pactor modems. Sometimes you can find them on the used market and save a few hundred dollars.

Now, if SCS would get smart(er) and drop the price of their Pactor USB modem to, say, $250 or even $399, they'd sell a ga-zillion of them and folks would stop tinkering with interesting but ultimately inferior alternative systems. IMHO.


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Old 03-08-2009, 11:12   #3
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I can't help but feel there's an unethical relationship somewhere between SCS, ARRL, and the FCC. On the ham radio side of things standards are supposed to be open and accessible. Somehow SCS worked themselves in with a proprietary protocol that's protected and licensed in such a way that they are the sole vendor - and they charge extremely high prices for the hardware and pactor3 'license'.

This is just my opinion, with a complete lack of facts, and I'm probably wrong about the whole thing! I would love to have a Pactor setup though...

The alternatives, like PSK are much more of a hacker/hobbiest sort of thing, and way slower with less server stations. But there are alternatives if you are the right person for them.
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Old 03-08-2009, 11:35   #4
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sat phone alternative?

Thanks for the info!

What are the sat phone alternatives like (for sending/receiving e-mail)?

This is a sphere that I know nothing about, i have always assumed that they would be too expensive.

Any opinions as to the best choice: hf/pactor vs sat phone

Specifically for sending/receiving text only email while voyaging.
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Old 03-08-2009, 23:56   #5
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I've been considering sat phone too, but haven't made up my mind. Both require similar upfront $$, but sat phone requires additional $ beyond that as well. If I go the sat phone route, I'll use something like xgate since it saves money in the long run for data transfers, even though it has a recurring cost as well.

There's just no easy/clear/cheap choice when it comes to global datacomm!
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Old 04-08-2009, 00:05   #6
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I would hold off for now,prices will drop,technology will rapidly improve.Don't be surprised to see new, better products available soon.Suppliers don't care if you buy overpriced,outdated equipment,its just sales.
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Old 04-08-2009, 06:01   #7
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I think the PACTOR solution is more expensive upfront if you have to purchase and install the SSB. It probably gets more costly if you have to have the SSB installed professionally. The Sat phone give you a fairly viable portable option requiring almost no installation.

But, if you are looking at HF communications, you're probably a bit stuck. There are some other HAM options, but, there are such limited facilities for tying to anything else. Basically you get digital communications with the one base. Not probably what you want.
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Old 04-08-2009, 06:22   #8
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There are alternatives if you are a HAM and possibly not. Airmail, the most popular program to interface with the HF radio/modem and computer lists the use of the following units:

"Airmail is a 32-bit program which runs under Windows-95, 98, NT, 2000 or XP. Airmail supports the SCS PTC-II and PTC-IIe Pactor-2 modems as well as the original PTC Pactor modem, the Kantronics KAM+ and KAM-98, AEA/Timewave PK-232, PK-900, DSP-1232 and 2232, the MFJ 1276 and 1278B, and the HAL DXP-38 Clover/Pactor modem. (Sound cards are not supported)."
Airmail can be found at The Airmail Home Page

I am not sure if this is a help but a search will lead you to the dealers of the aforementioned equipment.

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Old 18-05-2010, 08:10   #9
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looking for a good place in Canada to purchase a pactor modem ? living in Alberta, Boat at Ladysmith ,Vancouver Island
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Old 07-11-2011, 17:20   #10
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Re: Pactor Alternative ?

What about using the less expensive Globalstar sat phone to send and receive email while at sea? I know this phone has issues with connection times but the website seems to give 4 days of connection times depending on where you are.

Anybody using this?
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Old 08-11-2011, 08:20   #11
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If you already have a radio I would stay with it sure the pactor is expensive but trust me the radio alone with
Other sailors is great and help is always around with an HF as on passage sailors going the same way meet on the radio the Caribbean has great nets and in fact the whole world. The cost on a pactor unless you are a ham operator does not stop 250$ per year to sailmail. If however you are going on short passages ugrib is great. The alternative is of course the sat phone which is great but not friendly with other cruisers or your pocket.

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