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Old 01-06-2013, 05:23   #1
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SatPhone vs SSB/SW

I sail off the US coast, at points 100 miles, or island hopping through the bahamas. I am planning longer, blue water passages, and to cruise to more remote places, and have yet to install a long range voice and data communications device aboard my boat.

My needs are not uncommon and are prioritized as follows:

1) Access to off shore and ocean weather conditions and forecast services, including GRIB files.
2) Over the horizon emergency and ship to ship, to land, to aircraft voice (and possibly data) communications.
3) Affordable Email and Internet access
4) Other (Please add your recommendations)

I am on a limited budget.

The primary choice is between getting a SatPhone or SSB/SW radio or both.

My sailboat is 36', not a lot of real-estate.
It has a B&R rig, so no backstays.

In speaking with other cruisers, I am left with no clear path except to have both. Most disturbing are stories in calling a Mayday, either the SatPhone did not get a satellite signal from below deck when buttoned up in a raging storm, or, alternately it took a long time to tune in the Short Wave radio to call out for help. (Yes. I do have EPIRB and PLBs aboard.)

I am hoping for a robust debate on the pros and cons of having only a SatPhone vs only a SSB/SW radio, vs the cost and necessity to have both aboard, on a limited budget.
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Old 01-06-2013, 05:39   #2
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

You pays your money and takes your choices.

There's no one right answer to this.

SSB -- expensive installation but very low or no running costs.

Satphone -- cheap installation but high running costs.

SSB -- receive broadcasts of all kinds; talk to multiple people at once -- like a big party line.

Satphone -- point to point only.

Both: you will never have 100% availability.

Both: can do very limited internet -- satphone very expensive; ssb very cheap.

SSB: can send DSC distress message (if you have an Icom M802).

SSB: can get all kinds of weather information, for free.

Satphone: can get all kinds of weather information, for a lot of money.

I have a fixed installed satphone I inherited from the PO of my boat. I have never activated it. Instead, I spent a lot of money installing an SSB radio. For me, the ridiculous tariff plans of satphones were a big turnoff -- your expensive minutes burn up if you don't use them; meanwhile you are paying a stiff per month charge. Meh. At the same time, the idea of long-range radio is really appealing to me. I got my ham license soon after acquiring my SSB radio (which like most SSB radios can do ham radio as well). The very limited email which you can do over SSB is just the kind of communication I would like to have at sea (I also acquired a Pactor modem).

So it's really a matter of taste -- whatever appeals to you and seems right. If you like to play with radios or think you might like to, then the choice is clear. If you just want to call home once in a while, your choice may be different.


P.S. -- check out the Yellow Brick tracker. This fantastic device allows you to send and receive SMS messages by satellite for peanuts, to and from any GSM phone, plus short emails to and from any email address, and your "units" never expire. You do pay a small monthly charge, but you can turn it on and off as often as you like for no charge! I am thinking about buying one of these myself to complement my SSB -- SMS messages will cover most of your practical communications needs!
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Old 01-06-2013, 05:42   #3
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

For your sailing area I think this comes down to mostly a budget issue.
1. Low cost, get a receive only SSB unit. You will be able to pickup CG weather, wlo weather and Chris Parker while in the Bahamas, etc. Minimal install, minimal costs.
2. Satphone - medium costs, medium install. Medium to high costs per use. Install costs will go up as you start adding outside antennas, etc. The per minute costs are not cheap and have some unfortunate expiration times. No ability to communicate with other cruisers over SSB Nets. You'd still want #1. Coverage depends on Sat provider.
3. SSB unit. High cost to install. Low cost per use (Sailmail is $250 per year) Worldwide coverage, access to SSB Nets, CG, etc.

You only really need #1, so the rest comes down to budget, convenience and comfort level.
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Old 01-06-2013, 05:45   #4
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

P.P.S. -- you asked about distress signaling -- your first line of defense in this regard is going to your EPIRB, and if backed up with a PLB then you're golden.

The next most useful thing after EPIRB/PLB, in my opinion, is DSC distress signals, sent over VHF and/or SSB. DSC is much better than voice distress signal -- travels further in a wider range of conditions, and automatically gives precisely all the information you need to convey.

I don't think a sat phone is all that useful for distress calls, if you have EPIRB/PLB and even only VHF DSC. If you have SSB DSC on top of that then you should be fine.

Keep in mind that if the fit really hits the shan, you will likely lose your antennas -- VHF, SSB, and possibly sat phone as well. In this case, you will really want to rely on your EPIRB and PLB and maybe flares, and I probably wouldn't worry too much about it beyond that. I can't imagine sat phone being all that useful, much less essential, in distress situations, but others may have a different opinion, of course.
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Old 01-06-2013, 05:55   #5
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

I think if you search you'll find this has been debated here previously - it does seem to end up in an "old vs new" polarized position, there are strong advocates for both SSB and Satellite for different reasons. Here is my summary (I don't have SSB, but do have both Mini VSAT and Iridium - budget was not a limiting factor for me).

SSB is not inexpensive to install, but free to operate.
SSB is not easy to use - in my experience (on other's boats) it isn't like using the VHF and the reception is pretty patchy.
SSB can provide free connectivity to download text only emails.
SSB set w/ email/whip etc brand new super-duper 5-10K
SSB setup second hand w/out email - $500-1500
SSB cannot be removed from the boat and taken on board your life raft.
SSB is weather dependent.

A satphone is not free to operate - circa 1.49 a minute. Download speed is around 20K/minute, so a 100K weather file will cost circa $7.50
A Satphone is easy to use once installed - click on the button to send the weather request.
A satphone is also weather dependent.
Satphones work globally.
I have an external antenna on the mast which seems to improve the reliability of the connection.
You can take a satphone with you onto the life raft.
A new iridium plumbed in w/ a mast antenna is 2-2.5K IIRC. I'm sure you can buy a handset only second hand for <1K.

Neither SSB or a Satphone can give you an "internet" connection.

Mini-VSAT is the most "reasonable" fixed satellite connection - covers everywhere, but not south pacific.
A mini-vsat is like having the real internet
250MB is 250$ then $2 a MB over that - about the same price as roaming on a cell. (ie expensive - but Inmarsat averages out around $10 a MB).
Systems are 20-30K installed - so hardly budget.
The really big guys buy a 60K larger VSAT antenna and a 2.5K monthly charge which gives them "always on" internet.
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:07   #6
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

When we cruised the Bahamas we had both SSB and an Iridium satphone. The SSB was mostly useful for listening to Chris Parker's weather transmission. Apart from that it was not much use and most boats did not have SSB. On the other hand the satphone enabled emergency calls home and saved our bacon a couple of times. I would get a used satphone and put "emergency" minutes on it. Forget the SSB, if you do not already have one installed. If you are in cruiser anchorages in the Bahamas there are often networks on your regular ship's radio that repeat weather info and provide local info. The other approach in the Bahamas is to buy a Bahamas cell phone, or you can always pay the rate and use your US cell phone to call, provided you are near enough to a cell tower.
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Old 01-06-2013, 07:15   #7
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

Kstepman, the responses you received have been very accurate and good.

Just one observation:
Our Iridium 9555 download speed is more like 10kb/min. It takes about 7 minutes to download a fairly detailed grib file and has worked everytime. So, about $10 per grib.

As has been pointed out, without spending over $20k, you won't be able to surf the internet.
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Old 01-06-2013, 08:33   #8
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

We have Iridium satphone mounted inside with external antenna on the stern. We have close to 100% connectivity. We primarily use it to collect grib files and emails. Acceptable "free" grib files can be downloaded for approx. 3 to 4 USD each time. The level of detail defines the amount of MB, thus cost to download. Since grib files are a mere computer model generation and not too accurate on a small area or coastal area it does NOT make sense in my experience to download GRIB files with high levels of detail, covering small areas. A low detail level (lets say 500 NM square area), thus low cost gives you the detail needed which is general wind direction and wind strength for the larger area + if you wish (we do that only when we do not "trust the weather") include rain coverage. In coastal areas we use NAVTEX + VHF for additional weather coverage.

We have met many cruisers which were very pleased with their SSB installation and capability to download GRIB files.

However if I would have to do it over, I would go with the Satphone again. I like the reliability, press of button easiness and the fact that I can simple call an Marine Rescue (programmed in phonebook) center if things do go terrible wrong. The phone is located in docking station thus always charged. (we have EBIRB) on the bulkhead)

We are getting ready now to sail Panama via Marquises to Puerto Montt in Chile. I would not be too comfortable without our Satphone.

The biggest pain is the minutes that expire if not used. That requires planning.

For your particular case, as long as you stay near US coast and Bahamas and perhaps entire Caribbean, I would only go for NAVTEX and VHF. That should be enough. The rest of the Caribbean you do not need detailed weather other then for comfort or to know if there are cold fronts coming down (which still will not bring more wind typically then 30 knots) or hurricanes being developed if you decide to cruise in that period. You go beyond Caribbean, Atlantic and / or Pacific you should get SSB or Satphone in order to download free GRIB files.

You see from the above posts, not an easy choice.
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Old 01-06-2013, 08:45   #9
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Are you single handing? If so, then the ssb/ ham will give you a means to be known and get to know other. boaters. There is a community. It can be an entertainment device. You can install a ham radio for about a grand.
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Old 01-06-2013, 09:16   #10
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

we have been out about 6 years now and had an ssb installed before we left - icom 802- it has been great and we have been able to get gribs, send short emails, update our position via shiptrak and use it for entertainment and news -- we also have been able to keep up with other cruisers and ask questions on the nets as to what is going on -- and of course chris parker is the wx guy for the carib and we subscribe -- there are pros and cons
i would disagree with the person who said no one had an ssb - we found a lot of boats have them and we keep track of each other - in the carib, and we have been from mexico down to colombia then across to jamaica and down to trinidad and back to antigua - i see little use for a sat phone as we got everything we wanted from the ssb plus the ability to talk with friends and make arrangements to meet up days in advance -- also get wifi is available in most places
NOW if you are going to cross an ocean i would have both -- we just crossed the atlantic and ssb was great until propagation took a dump and our batteries got a bit low (our fault) - if we had a sat phone we may have been able to get the gribs and update shiptrak -

just our opinion
chuck patty and svsoulmates
on the reception quay horta azores
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Old 01-06-2013, 10:04   #11
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

Quote:
Originally Posted by dan360 View Post
I think if you search you'll find this has been debated here previously - it does seem to end up in an "old vs new" polarized position, there are strong advocates for both SSB and Satellite for different reasons. Here is my summary (I don't have SSB, but do have both Mini VSAT and Iridium - budget was not a limiting factor for me).

SSB is not inexpensive to install, but free to operate.
SSB is not easy to use - in my experience (on other's boats) it isn't like using the VHF and the reception is pretty patchy.
SSB can provide free connectivity to download text only emails.
SSB set w/ email/whip etc brand new super-duper 5-10K
SSB setup second hand w/out email - $500-1500
SSB cannot be removed from the boat and taken on board your life raft.
SSB is weather dependent.

A satphone is not free to operate - circa 1.49 a minute. Download speed is around 20K/minute, so a 100K weather file will cost circa $7.50
A Satphone is easy to use once installed - click on the button to send the weather request.
A satphone is also weather dependent.
Satphones work globally.
I have an external antenna on the mast which seems to improve the reliability of the connection.
You can take a satphone with you onto the life raft.
A new iridium plumbed in w/ a mast antenna is 2-2.5K IIRC. I'm sure you can buy a handset only second hand for <1K.

Neither SSB or a Satphone can give you an "internet" connection.

Mini-VSAT is the most "reasonable" fixed satellite connection - covers everywhere, but not south pacific.
A mini-vsat is like having the real internet
250MB is 250$ then $2 a MB over that - about the same price as roaming on a cell. (ie expensive - but Inmarsat averages out around $10 a MB).
Systems are 20-30K installed - so hardly budget.
The really big guys buy a 60K larger VSAT antenna and a 2.5K monthly charge which gives them "always on" internet.
This was what led me to buy a used 9505 Iridium handheld. I decided that if I were floating out in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico after my boat sank, I wanted to be able to call every single person I knew, tell them where I was, and to send help.
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Old 01-06-2013, 10:38   #12
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

The cost of installing an SSB system keeps coming up as "expensive". I'm in the process of installing a used SSB radio. Installation is detailed and involved, but not too expensive.

When I started this project, I didn't know much about installing a marine/ham radio on a boat. There's lots of information on the internet on the proper way to install. I spent time reading articles from Gordon West, Bill Trayfors (frequent CF contributor), researching antenna options, ground planes, and crawling around the boat figuring out ways to install equipment, route wires, etc. Installation can easily be done by the average coastal/offshore cruiser.

Adding to the cost of the radio are power cables, fuses, RG-213 radio cable, GTO-15 + antenna, KISS-SSB... The hardest part was figuring out how to mount the antenna tuner in the aft locker, finding a location and mounting the radio, and fishing wires.

For a little over $1,200 I'll have a functioning SSB radio that I believe will fit our cruising plans for the next couple of years. For the cost, and effort involved, I'm pleased with how this is going, looking forward to fine-tuning the setup and having the SSB onboard. I'm even starting to look at HF weather fax and email apps for my iPad!

Again, in total, I don't think this was an expensive project and with a bit of reading and asking questions, can easily be accomplished by most everyone!

Don
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Old 01-06-2013, 11:51   #13
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

K,
1) You're doing a good thing asking questions, and you're getting some good answers....
But, just a reminder, what works for others might not work well for you and your application, and vice versa.....so, please remember that you need to take your personal application / desire / budget into account, and simply following the crowd when your use/desire might be different, can cost you more than just $$$....

A fair amount of mostly factual information is below in red....
And, some opinion / recommendations are in purple....(you did ask for them!)
Neutral info is in blue....


2) Next, I'd like to point you to a recent thread here, titled "Obtaining Accurate Offshore/Hi-Seas Weather data/forecasts, while at sea."
http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f13/obtaining-accurate-offshore-hi-seas-weather-data-forecasts-while-at-sea-103555.html

Actually, here is the info without opinion.....
http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f13/obtaining-accurate-offshore-hi-seas-weather-data-forecasts-while-at-sea-103555-2.html#post1235615


I think you'll find it most informative....and many of the posts are from those of us who have been doing this for quite some time, not "armchair sailors" nor "wanna-bes"....

It was primarily targeted to those who are in the same situation as you.......
"I am planning longer, blue water passages, and to cruise to more remote places, and have yet to install a long range voice and data communications device aboard my boat....."

Although we didn't touch much on "Distress" signaling, Dockhead has accurately hit on that here already, with EPIRB being primary and DSC (both VHF-DSC and MF/HF-DSC) being secondary....

Take note that "ship-to-ship" comms outside of VHF range is going to be via HF radio (aka marine SSB), and you'd need HF/DSC to hail commercial vessels when beyond VHF-DSC range....



3) Specific to your direct queries....
Quote:
Originally Posted by KStepman View Post
I am planning longer, blue water passages, and to cruise to more remote places, and have yet to install a long range voice and data communications device aboard my boat.
My assumption here is that you are not experienced with long-range radio and are not a ham radio operator, and have no real interest in ham radio???
That's perfectly fine, but just wanted to preface this upfront.....mainly to explain why I'm not mentioning buying cheap/used and struggling with the low-speeds of Winmor....


My needs are not uncommon and are prioritized as follows:

1) Access to off shore and ocean weather conditions and forecast services, including GRIB files.
Please see the thread referenced....
"Obtaining Accurate Offshore/Hi-Seas Weather data/forecasts, while at sea."

http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f13/obtaining-accurate-offshore-hi-seas-weather-data-forecasts-while-at-sea-103555.html


and the info only, sans opinion....
http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f13/obtaining-accurate-offshore-hi-seas-weather-data-forecasts-while-at-sea-103555-2.html#post1235615


For the SSB vs. SatPhone....
There you will see that it's more of "PACTOR modem vs. SatPhone"...rather than "SSB vs. SatPhone"....

And, you'll see that if you can do without the GRIB's while offshore, at sea, and/or in very remote locales (when beyond Wi-Fi and cellular coverage), you do NOT need a PACTOR modem, nor SatPhone...as the weather data / forecasts is there for you, for FREE, via HF radio......

So, if you are on a budget, please read the above referenced thread and understand that you CAN get decent weather data / forecasts, without a PACTOR modem and without a SatPhone....
And, the only thing missing would be GRIB's when you are offshore (outside of internet access, beyond Wi-Fi / 3G/4G coverage)....



2) Over the horizon emergency and ship to ship, to land, to aircraft voice (and possibly data) communications.
Here is where HF radio (MF/HF-DSC Radio) really compliments an EPIRB....
Even if you decide to add a PLB....please understand:
a) Triggering a EPIRB (and/or a PLB) in remote locales and/or in areas without First World Nations covering those sea areas for Distress and SAR, you may NOT have as much "safety" as you think in those devices....meaning response may not come....
{US, Canadian, UK, and EU sailors, sailing in the sea areas where those nations have SAR responsibilities have it pretty good....BUT....But, if you're unlucky enough to need assistance/rescue in areas with 3rd world nations cover your sea area, you're less likely to have good results from EPIRB distress signal..}

b) Also, in areas beyond 100 - 200 miles offshore the US, Canada, UK, and EU, etc......those coming to your assistance and/or your rescuers are going to most probably be commercial vessels in your immediate area...
And, it can take a few hours (3 - 6 hours, or more) from the time you deploy your EPIRB, until your position is fixed, contact is made with your emeg contact persons on-shore / confirmation is gotten that you are actually out there, and potential SAR assets are determined / contacted, potential "rescue" (commercial shipping) vessels' current positions and courses are determined from the most recently reported positions, and then those vessels (and any other SAR assets) are contracted (usually via IMARSAT-C) and directed to your position.....

c) MF/HF-DSC radio can be of great help in these instances....
--- Allowing you to both contact other vessels in your immediate area beyond VHF range, thereby getting thru (immediately) to someone NEAR you that can render assistance and/or call others to help....
--- And, also the DSC-Distress call acts as a "confirmation" (of the EPIRB signal) of both your distress and position....(if you send out a 6-channel DSC-Distress call, which I recommend, this will get to shore stations as well as get to vessels in your area...)
--- Further, the MF/HF-DSC-Distress call can also provide a direct-to-shore Distress signal, should your EPIRB fail, etc...

d) Please have a look at Beth Leonard's article from last year, and other postings here about real world experiences with the above....


e) Yes, hailing a MayDay on one or two of the primary "en-route" HF aircraft freqs will get you a response....Both AIRINC (New York Radio) and the other int'l stations are monitoring, and have high-power transmitters....but, understand that they are used to aircraft (w/ 250-400 watt transmitters up in the clear) calling them, and are NOT used to MayDay calls from boats at sea....
And, some aircraft may hear you...but most aircraft HF radio operation is done via "squelched" / SelCall contact....and those flight crews that might leave the HF radio unsquelched (very few) usually have the volume turned low....so, don't expect much response from aircracft directly...

And, please understand that this is NO substitute for a properly registered EPIRB and an MF/HF-DSC radio....
This "voice comm" with stations not used to talking with sailing vessels is better than nothing, but NOT a primary means of signaling distress...



3) Affordable Email and Internet access.
Affordable E-mail when offshore and/or in very remote locales (outside of Wi-Fi and cellular/3G/4G coverage) is do-able with HF radio and a PACTOR modem, using Sailmail....(cost is $250/yr)
Equipment costs are not cheap though....as in addition to the $2400 - $2500 for an Icom M-802 and AT-140, you need the $1200+ PACTOR modem....

Affordable (??) E-mail is also do-able with Iridium sat phone and external antenna and cable / data kit, and a satellite e-mail provider (UUPlus, X-Gate, Ocens, etc.) and/or using airmail, etc...
Equipment costs are similar to the M-802/AT-140, at about $2000 - $2500....plus airtime (about $1.25 to $1.50 per minute)

If you can live without e-mail while you are offshore at sea, and in far-flung remote locales, using e-mail only when you are near shore and in port (using Wi-Fi, cellular, 3G/4G), then you don't need a PACTOR modem, nor a Satphone at all....

This "e-mail when in port" / "e-mail when along the coasts" approach is not only do-able, but IS done by many budget conscience cruisers....
They'll have a decent long-distance Wi-Fi system on-board (Bullet, etc.) for ~ $100 - $200.....and many also have 3G/4G dongles / phones, etc. and use e-mail when in range of those devices, and when they are out of range (a few days / week at a time), they do without e-mail....
{This is what I do!!!}


As for "internet access"....most cruisers (>99%) do NOT have internet access while offshore at sea, or in far-flung remote locales....mainly because it costs a lot of $$$$$...
Internet access is NOT going to do-able when offshore, if you are on a budget!!!
Bottom line: In order to have "internet access" with even "dial-up-like speeds" (64k download) or "low-speed-dsl-like speeds" (128k - 250k download), the equipment costs are in the $5000 (and up) range!!!

Iridium Pilot (~ $4000 - $4500, plus install), and IMARSAT FleetBroadband (FB is ~$5000 - $15,000 depending on size and speeds needed, plus installation)...

And your airtime costs, costs per Mb of data, monthly costs will be quite high...many spend 100's of dollars per month, and some > $750 - $800/month, depending on their usage!!!




4) Other (Please add your recommendations)
My opinions / recommendatios (in purple):
a) Buy and install an Icom M-802 and AT-140.....cost you about $2400 - $2500....
b) Read the above referenced thread....and ask more questions for clarifications, etc...
c) LEARN how to use your new radio BEFORE you head offshore....just like you spent time learning navigation, seamanship, anchoring, etc. etc....SPEND the time (a few afternoons) to LEARN about radio comms and your radio!!!



I am on a limited budget.
See above....
But, not knowing what your budget actually is, makes specific recommendations difficult....
If the $2500 is a budget buster, there ARE alternatives....but you need to let us know...



The primary choice is between getting a SatPhone or SSB/SW radio or both.
I doubt that a SatPhone is going to be a good choice for you (budget conscience)....
But, in actuality it's really a choice between a SatPhone and a PACTOR modem....as at the VERY least you'll have a cheap (~ $100) portable SW receiver, and most probably will equip with an HF / SSB transceiver (for your "distress", "ship-to'ship", "weather", etc. desires...)




My sailboat is 36', not a lot of real-estate.
It has a B&R rig, so no backstays.
36' boat...no problem....(there's always room...

Building and rigging an "altenative backstay antenna" is not only inexpensive, but also very effective!!!
Bill (btrayfors here on-line) has given great info on this many times....




In speaking with other cruisers, I am left with no clear path except to have both.
Without insulting these "other cruisers" I think "having both" isn't a clear path for someone on a budget....and I'm finding myself wondering if any of these "other cruisers" actually understand, either or both, the technologies and services involved / available, and/or the concept of a "budget".....

Read all of the above, and specifically the above referenced thread for the details....




Most disturbing are stories in calling a Mayday, either the SatPhone did not get a satellite signal from below deck when buttoned up in a raging storm, or, alternately it took a long time to tune in the Short Wave radio to call out for help. (Yes. I do have EPIRB and PLBs aboard.)
a) Handheld SatPhones do NOT work below decks!!!
And, especially in distress conditions and/or in heavy seas, blowing spray, etc....even a satphone in the cockpit isn't going to work very well....
(note that voice comms and/or non-robust data comms via satellite require significant signal margins.....FEC and very robust sat comms, such as INMARSAT-C require very low signal margins...BIG differences here that most do not have understanding of...
Even those with external fixed antennas for Iridium have found poor connections in heavy weather)

It is a shame and an embarrassment that so-called "professionals" sell sat comm equipment to layperson sailors, giving them the impressions that these are "Distress" / "Emergency" devices....they are NOT....
A handheld satphone is NOT an EPIRB....nor is it even close to as robust as an INMARSAT-C terminal.....
Anyone selling handheld satphones to sailors should ALWAYS make sure that they customers are aware of these facts!!!


There is NO reason that anyone should have to "take too long to tune their shortwave radio"!!!
This in nonsense!!!
Even, untrained laypersons can turn one dial until the display shows "USCG" or "Distress", or "MAYDAY", etc. (whatever your specific radio is programmed to display), and then press the microphone button and yell "Mayday"!!!!
With today's radios and remote automatic antenna tuners, the days of 'yore are long gone!!!
PLEASE do not believe such hogwash applies to today's radios, properly installed and programmed, of course...

AND, FURTHER...
This is exactly what the GMDSS system was designed to prevent!!!
406 EPIRB's, VHF-DSC and MF/HF-DSC (and INMARSAT-C) are the distress signaling parts of the GMDSS system, and they require NO trained operator to "tune" anything!!!
Install an M-802/AT-140 and there is NO "too much time tuning the shortwave" to worry about!!!!



I am hoping for a robust debate on the pros and cons of having only a SatPhone vs only a SSB/SW radio, vs the cost and necessity to have both aboard, on a limited budget.
K, the "robust debate" has been done here many times before....and at the risk of offending some (NOT my intention!), you should really weigh:
a) the debaters' experience (variety of systems AND # of years with those systems)
b) the debaters' expertise...
c) the debaters' application vs. your application....and their understanding of your application / desires...
d) the debaters' familiarity with your budget and budget consciousness....

If you desire debate, you'll have fun debating....
But, if you wish the actual information to make your decisions with (and maybe SOME experienced recommendations), then you should read what is written here and in this above referenced thread....
http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f13/obtaining-accurate-offshore-hi-seas-weather-data-forecasts-while-at-sea-103555-2.html


I do hope this helps...

Fair winds..

John
s/v Annie Laurie
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Old 01-06-2013, 12:10   #14
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My 2c.

As others, I dont think there is a wrong answer here (except "none of the above").

Ive done both and each has their applications. Thus the ideal solution is both.

Re SSB expense. Brand new rigs aint cheap, but lots of perfectly good used HAM/SSB rigs available at much lower costs.

I would not rely on either as my sole emergency device. Get an EPIRB. With an EPIRB and satt phone you are well covered and minimize install complexities...dead easy.

Re satt phones. Dont waste your money on GlobalStar...it is not truly a satt phone and has big gaps in covetage...get a real satt phone...Iridium.
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Old 01-06-2013, 15:59   #15
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Re: SatPhone vs SSB/SW

ka4wja gives some detailed and excellent advice above.

However, as he notes, each user has specific application cases, and different solutions will suit different people. His leaning is certainly pro-HF, mine is pro-Satphone, so I'll give you the pro-Satphone point of view to contrast.

1) Access to off shore and ocean weather conditions and forecast services, including GRIB files
I agree with ka4wja that you don't NEED a Pactor modem/SatPhone to get weather forecasts: a fairly simple SSB receiver (or Navtex) will get you free voice and wfax forecasts (fixed receiver is best, with a good antenna, but you can also try handheld though my personal experience and that of a lot of people here is that getting clean reception can be very tricky and unreliable).

However, GRIBs are incredibly useful weather tools, particularly as they provide more detailed and longer-range forecasts than just about anything available via voice/Navtex. If you plan to be offshore more than 3 days, then you will appreciate the ability to refresh GRIBs underway, and the Pactor/Satphone option will give you greatly increased peace of mind and ease of route planning.

2) Over the horizon emergency/comms to land
(note: not to ship or aircraft)
While a SSB is more versatile overall, I think posters underestimate how useful ship to land communication can be with a Satphone vs. SSB (unless you are a HAM/radio specialist).

First, a lot of lower-grade emergencies or urgent matters do not need an EPIRB alert, e.g. medical questions, boat repair advice, calls to family or marinas underway. Satphones are very practical for this.

Second, the Satphone is the most robust emergency voice communications solution (note I said "voice" -- EPIRB/PLBs/DSC all have immense advantages at non-voice emergency notification). In a worse case scenario (dismasted, no electrical power, flooding), your Satphone will still work - the same cannot be said for SSB. The ability to take the satphone into the liferaft is a huge plus as well.

I disagree with ka4wja on the specific point that SatPhones are not reliable in heavy conditions. Having a small external antenna is essential as it helps address the below-decks comms issue (in good weather and bad). My heavy weather experience is admitedly limited (I use GRIBs to stay out of the worst weather), but so far I have seen no indication that Iridium would have issues with heavy weather connections, given it uses multiple low-orbit satellites to establish the communication (like GPS). I can imagine this connection problem with Inmarsat (geostationary satellite towards which the antenna must point - not easy in heavy seas), but much less with Iridium.

3) Budget & satphone installation costs
My opinion is that for <2-3 years bluewater cruising, satphone is cheaper than SSB/pactor (even secondhand). Here's the rationale:
- Iridium satphone + antenna costs ~$1500 NEW (not $2000-2500 as quoted). This is at least $1000 less than a second hand SSB+pactor install (as far as I can tell).

- This $1000 can fund Iridium minutes for ~2 years if used reasonably (out of 3G/wifi range).

Note that a low-def GRIB is often ~20-30KB in size so Mundinho above is right to say it costs ~$3-4/GRIB. A higher def GRIB of ~100KB that takes 7-10 minutes is significantly above typical needs, unless you are racing or in very unstable conditions (and therefore need 3HR / 0.5deg resolution).

- Don't ignore the TIME it takes to get an SSB install right. See all the threads here about people complaining about SSB reception, interference, grounding, etc. At equivalent purchase costs, your time might be better spent on an easy satphone install leaving more time for the other parts of your sailing program/preparation.

- (my opinion) At equivalent costs, the satphone provides distinctly more everyday convenience for weather downloads, plus robustness and flexibility for emergency voice communications. The #1 tradeoff you are making is the ablility to talk on SSB cruiser nets, which some cruisers certainly highly value.


4) Obviously if you can get both SSB and Satphone, then you get the best of all worlds.

However, various bluewater users on this forum have commented how their SSB gathers dust because they found Satphone so much more convenient. My opinion is that a lot of shorter-duration cruisers would fall in this category (especially the non-HAM enthusiasts).
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