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Old 24-11-2016, 19:31   #1
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Retirement cruising communications

Hard to believe - but we have arrived at the 7 month mark before departing on retirement cruising. Just glass-blasted off VC17 bottom paint and preparing for new barrier coat and salt water paint. Also a ton of upgrades under way (air conditioning, power generating sources, lighting, instruments, Safety equipment, etc). We are now looking into communication options. Our plan is to leave Cleveland (OH) in July and head down Erie Canal. After spending some time with family and friends in NYC, will then make our way to Chesapeake, and then to Myrtle Beach SC. From Myrtle Beach, we plan to make a short offshore jump to the Bahamas (probably 3 to 4 days). From there we plan to do Island hopping (Bahamas, BVI, Netherlands Antilles, etc.) for the Caribbean cruising season. Not sure what we will do or where we will go for hurricane season - considering a number of options.

We are looking into options for communicating (including email and browsing). I already have an installed VHF with AIS receiver and 2 handhelds - one with DSC. We have an ancient SSB (ICOM M600) which will likely be going into the dumpster - too old to handle Pactor modem. I am reluctant to invest the $5K+ that would be needed for new SSB, tuner, antenna, ground and complete rewiring. With only planning one (3 to 4 day) off shore jump, I hate to think about the cost of sat phone communications. One option that I recently heard about from our boatyard owner was a cell phone booster. Last year he joined some friends in south Florida and Bahamas. With a booster, he was able to get good Verizon cell phone connectivity (including email and Internet) from as far as 20 miles from nearest tower.

I'm wondering if anyone has had experience with cell phone boosters and if so are there any particular brands or models/specifications that you would recommend. I would also welcome thoughts on the whole concept. I'm also needing to look into what kind of cell phone options are available in Bahamas, BVI, etc. If I buy an "Islands phone", will the booster work? Is there still a different cell phone provider for each Island group - or are there common providers for broader areas?

All comments and thoughts will be appreciated.
Bob
Her Diamond
1991 Freedom 38
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Old 24-11-2016, 20:12   #2
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

With Verzion phone and data, I generally get 25 nm range between Oregon and Alaska if there's a tower. And no booster, yet. My boat is more stable than most so maybe I get better signal control. A Sat phone is a cheaper way for other places without a long range radio. Expensive if you're a talker. People tell me a ham radio is the way to go.
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Old 24-11-2016, 20:48   #3
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

From a safety point of view you'll want a reliable method to get weather forecasts and probably GRIBs. Since you focused on the Bahamas and Eastern Carib you will do well to listen to Chris Parkers' daily updates https://www.mwxc.com/. You could use your existing M600 to do this for free --you could also be a paying member of Parkers weather service. It is not reasonable to rely on cell service to get weather while cruising. When you start to show up to a new island you won't have a SIM card till you clear in. There are lots of anchors with no cell service. In the Bahamas in the winter you need to keep track of the fronts coming down and do the dance to get to a protected anchorage as the winds clock. You also mention hurricane season. If you need to take off to avoid an approaching storm, you will want to track it often during your escape. Hurricanes are showing up in places that they were never before -- see Otto that has affected Panama.

The lowest cost to grab weather is probably a Satphone and with buying minutes that expire every 6 months. If you need more communication than that then you might look at the Iridium Go.
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Old 25-11-2016, 15:28   #4
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

We had an old Icom 735 that would do Pactor II. The power switch failed often on it, so a bit of a nuisance, Jim finally wired an external switch to it, looked very agricultural, but worked okay.

Perhaps a used Pactor III capable ham radio would serve you well. Ham radio clubs often have swap meets, then you take it to the radio repair place to have it gone over, then others on CF will help you with the wiring and antenna concepts.

If you're only leaving the US for short trips to the Bahamas, perhaps something different would work for you without being quite so expensive as SatPhone.

Exactly what kind of communication are you wanting? Like Skype? like phone patches back to the States to talk with family? Reception of digitalized data? What are your needs, vs. wants?

Over to someone who knows more.

Ann

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Old 25-11-2016, 15:55   #5
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

May want to have a Delorme inReach Explorer aboard.

1) World wide texting

2) World wide SOS

3) Compass

4) GPS

5) Routing
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Old 25-11-2016, 18:05   #6
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

My timeline is very much like yours. I am retiring and plan to spend the first year in the Bahamas. I have decided on the Iridium Go for basic communication - email and weather. The email will contain Chris Parkers email subscription and for weather I use Weather Tracker. When we can pick up wifi or 4G we will use it but with the Go we know we can always get connected.
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Old 25-11-2016, 18:27   #7
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

Just saw this in our "For Sale" category.
ICOM -IC-M710 with Tuner
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Old 26-11-2016, 00:40   #8
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

As Ann said there is probably a Ham Club close to you that may assist you in getting the right equipment and getting it working properly - those guys get a real kick out of something like that

We use sim card and wifi if we can get it. But as above sim cards only work after you check in and some places cell coverage gets a bit erratic. We have always relied on our ssb for weather from the gribs - it is must have at all times and something we can always rely on -
One issue on the weather is most of the forecasts are for 5-7 days and local - when we do a longer sail or planning a sail we look out beyond where we are and look at the weather patterns - what fronts are coming and what do the isobars look like - it has saved our bacon more than once .
OH and if you get your ham which if you can read is fairly easy you can use shiptrak to put in your locations so any family member or friend can see where you are - we use it for our emergency contracts if we ever have to set off the epirp

good luck and look forward to seeing you out here
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Old 26-11-2016, 08:44   #9
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

Any SSB radio can be made to work with a Pactor modem. It is just a matter of getting the right interface made. So, no such thing as "too old" for a Pactor modem. Just a matter of whether or not you want to put the time/effort/expense into finding or making the right interface. And, as mentioned, an old SSB will make a marvelous receiver, if you don't want to use it for transmitting.

Whatever you do, don't toss it in the dumpster. At the very least you could probably get a hundred or so for it on craigslist.
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Old 26-11-2016, 12:55   #10
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

Thanks All,
I'm new to forum, so am hopefully making a reply correctly. Guess I'll know if it doesn't show up.
Based on feedback I am leaning toward investing the $50 for an SSB whip antenna and doing a bit of re-wiring to see if it works - at least as receiver.

For email, web search, file downloading, I'm intrigued by the Iridium Go. I've been reading positive and negative reviews. If it works well, seems like a valuable and versatile tool. Refit kitty is not bottomless - so trying to make good choices. Cell phone booster definitely seems like a nice luxury - but doesn't support a sufficiently reliable resource, so going to pass.
Bob
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Old 26-11-2016, 13:21   #11
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cotemar View Post
May want to have a Delorme inReach Explorer aboard.

1) World wide texting

2) World wide SOS

3) Compass

4) GPS

5) Routing
i've used the InReach for the past few years
great bit of kit
There is also a "Weather Feature"
where you can request a forecast either for your
present position or a future set of coordinates
Extended 72 hour forecasts cost 1dollar US per
request. Was dead on crossing Biscay last
summer.
Family got a kick following along using
the map share feature
Cheers
Neil
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Old 26-11-2016, 13:23   #12
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sailmon View Post
Thanks All,
I'm new to forum, so am hopefully making a reply correctly. Guess I'll know if it doesn't show up.
Based on feedback I am leaning toward investing the $50 for an SSB whip antenna and doing a bit of re-wiring to see if it works - at least as receiver.

For email, web search, file downloading, I'm intrigued by the Iridium Go. I've been reading positive and negative reviews. If it works well, seems like a valuable and versatile tool. Refit kitty is not bottomless - so trying to make good choices. Cell phone booster definitely seems like a nice luxury - but doesn't support a sufficiently reliable resource, so going to pass.
Bob
The refit kitty is always a concern, but a bigger concern is the ongoing expenses once you leave home base and home base incomes. The monthly cost of the iridium go is something in the order of usd$75 - $125. Not inconsequential.
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Old 26-11-2016, 15:30   #13
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

Excellent point. Had not finished researching monthly Iridium cost.
How does the weather feature work on the InReach? What do you use for emails?
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Old 26-11-2016, 15:48   #14
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

My observation on phone boosters is that where there is any signal, it tends to be strong enough for a handheld. Where the signal is very bad, the booster can be of little help.

I would not use a booster on a boat given the varied and ever changing conditions, networks and signal propagation challenges. I would simply move the boat.

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Old 26-11-2016, 18:25   #15
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Re: Retirement cruising communications

An InReach device with weather forecasts and a SSB Receiver are generally the only things I am 100% planning on in retirement. We have a Sat Phone for emergencies. We also have an 802 SSB but never use it.

The InReach will get you daily weather reports and allow you to text back and forth with home and friends from anywhere in the world all day long. The SSB receiver (Sony, Grundig, etc.) can be hooked up to receive GRIBS on your laptop or iPad just fine.

SSB Receiver only – The Book of Sail

For when we are in an area with cell phone reception - buy a local sim card.

We have a Wilson booster and in places (parts of the bahamas) where we were told by others that it was impossible to get cell reception we were surfing the web. Our next boat will have a dedicated cell antenna on the mast.
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