It all depends.
If you have time-sensitive, direct dial needs ashore (elderly parents or other dependents with medical
needs for example) you can't beat a sat phone. There is also something to be said for being able to take a sat phone into a life raft if you have to abandon the boat. I'd rather have an EPIRB
and a handheld VHF for that however.
Absent direct dial needs a good marine/ham HF (SSB) installation
is definitely the way to go for me.
phones are not as much cheaper than SSB as commonly believed. Add in a car kit for fixed installation, external marine antenna
, and various cords, cables
, and software
and the capital cost isn't that much less while the running costs are indisputably higher.
Gribs are not the end all and be all of weather products. The computer models that directly generate gribs, including the widely used GFS model, do not show significant weather features like fronts and lows. With some additional knowledge and practice one can infer the positions of those features - after all that's what meteorologists do to develop synoptic charts
. For the time-being there is no better weather product than synoptic charts
for the DIY forecaster and router. Note that NOAA is working on new meteorologist value-added grib products that WILL show important weather features. This is a big deal BUT it isn't ready yet and it may take some time for the software
we use to view grib data to be updated and for the updates to trickle through the cruising community.
For those who avail themselves of shoreside weather support such as Chris Parker SSB provides the benefit of hearing directly what is going on around you and of good questions that others ask that you hadn't thought of.
If you have a marine or ham HF (SSB) radio you are one small cable and some free software away from receiving weather fax. If you have a Pactor modem
or use WINMOR you have everything you need for weather fax. Google
rfax.pdf for a list of all the transmissions, frequencies, and schedules worldwide.
With the minor exception of some regulatory information that is easy to learn, everything you need to know in order to pass the US General class amateur radio license
exam you should know anyway to be a self-sufficient cruiser. There are some things (TV, moon-bounce and meteor scatter, some other odd bits) that most cruisers won't care about but 1. the only value of an Extra-class license
to a cruiser is better reciprocity in Europe
2. there is a lot of good information that is relevant (APRS and AIS
work much the same, for example). In short, if you can't pass a US General class license exam you probably aren't ready to go cruising anyway (<- opinion *grin*).
I find it interesting that people will spend many hours learning
all the ins and outs of diesel maintenance
repair, the intricacies of watermakers, sail construction and repair, fiberglass
work, and much more but won't spend a couple of hours to learn the basics of HF radio
propagation. It isn't hard.
Evans (and others) make the case that sat phones are more reliable than marine HF (SSB) for business communications
. In 2006 I was the proposal manager (pre-RFP release for those aware of such things) for a large IT company bidding on a big USG contract
while I was crossing the Atlantic. Although I stepped up the pace of contact from twice to four times daily, e-mail over SSB using Sailmail (commercial communications
are not allowed on ham radio) was entirely fine. Even mid-ocean I had no trouble making contact to exchange e-mail on schedule. Not once. I did have to wedge myself in a few times to get work done, but that has nothing to do with the communication mechanism. *grin*
Since your plans include the ARC I would definitely choose SSB over sat phone to participate in the ARC nets (as opposed to simply calling in daily). There are some good marine nets in the Med (good sources of information on the latest in the areas ahead of you). As you say, mobile phones will provide good voice and Internet
and VHF is fine for local comms.