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Old 29-11-2013, 19:46   #1
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Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

Hello all,

If you only had the money for one system, SSB radio or Sat phone, for long range comms what would you go for?

Sat phone seems to be cheaper, can do data still for Grib files, etc.
SSB is "free" once the system in in place, radio nets, etc.

I can only really afford one system, just wondering what others would choose?

Thanks in advance for any replies.

Simon
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Old 29-11-2013, 19:52   #2
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

For us, sat phone hands down. Much easier for family and emergencies and sending in articles.

The big benefit of SSB is chatting to other boats on the nets, which we are really not interested in.

But you will certaintly find people who will choose SSB.
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Old 29-11-2013, 19:55   #3
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

Personally, sat phone for convenience. YMMV depending on technical skills, long term budget and whether you are prepared to deal with the complexity of installation, licencing, frequency selection, propogation calcs, tuning etc.
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Old 29-11-2013, 21:01   #4
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

I have both, and I'm glad I do, But other than in special circumstances, I use the satphone much more than the SSB. Which one is cheaper and better will depend on how long you will be using it and your specific desires. In the long run SSB, especially if you're a ham, will be less expensive. Convenience, simplicity, reliability, more data capability and shorter-term use will favor the satphone.
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Old 29-11-2013, 21:08   #5
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

I guess I should detail my plans a little.
The idea is to cruise the Med next season then join the ARC rally over the pond in Nov. I need to have long range comms for that, I'm guessing in the Med mobile phone + VHF will be fine while coastal hopping.

Will pick up a sat phone before starting the ARC I think based on these replies. Thanks everyone!
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Old 29-11-2013, 21:16   #6
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

It really depends on your planned usage.
If you want to be able to talk to someon, anyone, every day for an unlimited amount of time you need a ham radio. You can use RMS Express and a cheap external modem to send/receive emails and download weather. Not as good as Pactor but workable. If you only want to talk to other boaters on marine nets then a marine HF transceiver would be the way to go (commonly called a "marine SSB" to distinguish it from VHF I guess). Note that with a sat phone you will not be able to talk to any of these people unless they give you a phone number so your communication option is quite limited. If you only wanted to make an occasional call back home and maybe download weather once a week the sat phone may be a good choice. I just bought a used Inmarsat IsaPhone Pro for $400 and you can get 500 minutes for $500. Only downside to the prepaid minutes is they expire after 6 months. This is much cheaper than a new marine HF transceivver setup and cheaper than ham unless you buy an older used ham radio.
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Old 30-11-2013, 06:54   #7
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Budget driven long term I went for ham, which I find interesting anyway.
Just the line rental alone on a satphone eats away at a small budget before even making a call of a download. Shorter term it's a tougher decision, there aren't many places without Internet and mobile phone access, apart from an occasional ocean passage it's not something which will get much use for an "average" cruiser. Though some like the SSB nets.
More details would help - what are your cruising plans?
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Old 30-11-2013, 12:44   #8
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

Having used both the Sat phone and the SSB I'd have to agree with estarzinger. I've definitely got more use out of the Sat phone and I like the idea that if I need to I can throw it in my ditch bag and go!
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Old 30-11-2013, 13:31   #9
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

We have SSB with Pactor and an iSatphone. We use the SSB primarily for e-mail and Gribs. We use Sailmail to connect and really like the shadowmail feature for selecting what e-mails we want to deal with. We very rarely use the Satphone - maybe once every 3 or 4 months. This is fulltime cruising.
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Old 01-12-2013, 04:58   #10
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

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.

Some thoughts:

Satellite 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, outboard 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.
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Old 01-12-2013, 10:07   #11
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Elliott View Post
I have both, and I'm glad I do, But other than in special circumstances, I use the satphone much more than the SSB. Which one is cheaper and better will depend on how long you will be using it and your specific desires. In the long run SSB, especially if you're a ham, will be less expensive. Convenience, simplicity, reliability, more data capability and shorter-term use will favor the satphone.

This is about right. The economics of SSB when used for cruiser nets, SailMail (we will be boat-schooling a teenager) and things like GRIB files are logical, particularly on a steel boat that should be a dependably "boomy" radio source. The other aspect is the "calling all ships" quality of a Mayday broadcast. EPIRBs are of course great, but if you are 800 miles offshore, the helicopter isn't coming and a fellow cruiser might be your best bet for aid.

I don't have family and friends ashore I'd want to call with a satphone that couldn't wait until we hit shore and landlines.

At the same time, the sat phone is probably the go-to for the liferaft, and if one DOES have an emergency situation (and knows the right number), it's clearly superior as a "point-to-point" communications device. It's also possible to bring ashore as a very pricy sort of cellphone, but one which is more or less universal.

I would have one, and the cheapest plan I could swing on that basis.

So while I've got a near-diametrically opposed viewpoint to that of Evans, it's based in a rationale of usage, not because I think one setup is superior. They are like AIS and RADAR in my mind, different but largely complementary.
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Old 01-12-2013, 10:54   #12
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

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Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
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.
This does not have to be an either/or choice.

Quote:
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.
I use my satphone to get the synoptic WFAX charts via email from from Saildocs. You aren't limited to GRIBS, Saildocs has a pretty full catalog of compressed WFAX charts. Of course you have to pay for the connect time to download these graphics files, while you could get them for free by tuning in the SSB WFAX broadcasts.

But Auspicious has presented an excellent case for SSB. As I mentioned earlier, I have both.
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Old 01-12-2013, 10:59   #13
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All three: ham radio-VHF and HF , marine radio -VHF and HF, sat phone.

For exactly the reasons Evans and Dave stated. It isn't either or. Also, I totally agree with Dave that it's reasonable to expect ocean cruisers who can fix an engine and refer to understand a bit of RF propagation on HF in either the amateur or marine service.
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Old 02-12-2013, 14:08   #14
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

I had a satphone. I got rid of it because I rarely used it. I use pactor and SSB with sailmail. Takes a bit of understanding and getting used to, but I found that I'd get comms (emails) FASTER on sailmail than on a handheld sat ph. Might be better with a base station install though, never tried that.
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Old 02-12-2013, 14:43   #15
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Re: Sat Phone or SSB, if you had to pick one?

Use the search to find a number of threads that cover this subject in fine detail.

We had both for a two year trip. Both new installations. It doesn't take long to figure out that the SSB is not worth the aggravation. We used the Iridium satphone extensively on the Atlantic crossing.

We found the one SSB net we participated in had no useful information transfer. We had little interest in chatting with folks we didn't know.

You will want a WiFi antenna/amplifier in port and a satphone on the ocean.
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