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Old 12-04-2011, 14:33   #1
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SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser

So on the never ending wish list of boat items I come to long distance communications.

For me there are three areas to cover:
E-mail chat,
Daily position updates for family,
Distress calling;

The SSB and Skymate cost about the same to install and use e-mail service for a year.

SSB has the DSC distress button, which activates the GMDSS system on large ships.

Skymate has no distress options I believe. Both units give weather info.

Spot Messenger has daily position updates and can be used as an EPRIB, but you have to keep it charged.

406 EPIRB is gold for being found off shore.

The SSB distress broadcast is long range, as is the EPRIB. I think activating the EPIRB and hailing on the VHF would be the way to go mid ocean. If a ship can hear you, they are hours away. If they can hear you on a SSB, they could be days away. Thats what the EPRIB is for.

I will also have an AIS, so I can see what ship is the nearest when I hail for help on the VHF.

So which combination of toys to buy?

406 EPIRB for sure!

Now SSB or Skymate?

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowning, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing. Semper Paratus!
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Old 12-04-2011, 15:36   #2
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Re: SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser

I left SF for Hawaii with a Ham SS radio, Pactor Modem, SPOT, 1 self launching Epirb with GPS, One standard older Epirb with new battery in the ditch bag, a personal GPS Epirb that I kept on me at all times, a handheld floating VHF, a regular VHF and a Class B AIS.

If I need to make someone aware that I'm in distress, the Epirb is my go to means of getting the word out. The HF and VHF radios are to talk to people if I need to explain what the issues are and how and what kind of aid might be needed. The Ham radio transmits on all HF freqs. It lets me talk with the various ham nets and and, in an emergency, any Marine HF. A Ham HF is a very useful tool for keeping in touch with other cruisers and even an occasional phone patch to my wife. The SPOT is a backup for the Pactor Modem so my wife can see that was still alive should something happen to email, either because of an HF or Pactor issue.

I used all but the Epirbs on my recent TransPac. The ICOM 718 Ham Radio decided it didn't want to communicate with the ICOM AH-4 antenna tuner as soon as I passed under the Golden Gate. Forged on continuing to transmit position with the SPOT which eased my wife's concern at not hearing from me via Email. Had to turn back after three days because the self-steering lost a bolt and tore up the transom. Wife got extremely anxious when she saw I'd turned back and had no communication from me. The Admiral gave very clear orders not to leave SF without two way communications after that. Fixed the stern, bought an an SGC-230 tuner which doesn't need anything but an HF signal to tune, fixed the transom and the Self Steering Vane and was off again. Wife was much comforted by the daily emails and a phone call at the midpoint, the SPOT continued to do yeoman duty till the last day out of Hilo when it went out of Satellite range. Be sure you check the coverage area for SPOT before you rely on it to cover all your wanderings. SPOT has a coverage map on their website so wife wasn't concerned when she didn't get a spot position on my last day.

Hailed a number of ships on the HF when they'd come up on the AIS, some of them over the horizon. All answered my calls and gave reports of excellent ID on their radars. Surprized at the number of ships that the AIS picked up on the trip. We'd sailed many thousands of open ocean miles without an AIS and saw only the dim lights of one ship over the horizon in months at sea before.

Personally, I wouldn't get a Marine HF. The ability to make phone calls through them is extremely limited these days because the commercial stations have largely gone off the air. A Ham radio that has been 'opened up' is much more verstatile in talking with the nets and other cruisers and Email is free. A Ham radio is also way cheaper. An ICOM 718 is around $600 new and $4-500 used vice the nearly $2,000 for an ICOM 802 Marine HF. The SGC is the best tuner out there and works with any HF radio so that cost is the same, Marine or Ham. Anyone should be able to pass the General license test using the on line study guides after a solid day of study. No more code which had kept me from getting my license for decades. You cannont legally transmit, except in an emergency, on the Marine HF channels. Personally don't consider the Marine HF freq's all that useful EXCEPT in an emergency. FWIH, the newer ham radios are just as frequency stable as the Marine HF radios so no one would know the difference in any case.

If you didn't have anyone that you wanted to keep in touch with, you could get by with just an Epirb in an emergency and a SPOT to track your progress. Having sailed with the AIS, find it really comforting to have with all those big guys out there, however.

Peter O.
'Ae'a Pearson 35
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Old 12-04-2011, 15:55   #3
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Re: SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser

SPOT devices are great for letting family and friends know where you are but should not be relied for rescue.

My experience is based on many years of kayak and sailing kayak racing (300-1200 mile events). I started carrying a Mini-B and later/still an ACR PLB. Race officials now require a SPOT so they can track you.

The problem with SPOTS is that they are prone to failure. Granted, the deck of a sailing kayak is a hostile environment. But some have failed after only a day or two. Mine died after 3 weeks- SPOT customer service sent a replacement, but not exactly a solution if I was using it as a rescue notification system. Versus a PLB that floated around (unactivated) in the Gulf of Mexico for a few days and still passed a factory recertification test. There is a way long story on that just trust me it happened.

When I take the plunge on a large boat later this year, I plan on keeping my SPOT below decks and using taking it out only to broadcast an "OK" message so family/friends can track me.

Should the need ever arise that I decide to call for help, the ACR PLB is the device I will trust my life to.

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Old 12-04-2011, 17:00   #4
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Re: SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser

Originally Posted by Ocean Roads View Post
So on the never ending wish list of boat items I come to long distance communications.

For me there are three areas to cover:
E-mail chat,
Daily position updates for family,
Distress calling;
Well our choice on our first boat was SSB and Eprib and on our second Iridium and eprib - not one of your proposed options. I have no idea what we will use on our third trip
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Old 12-04-2011, 17:06   #5
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Re: SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser


1) E-mail chat, - no idea,

2) Daily position updates - IsatPhone,

3) Distress calling - EPIRB, IsatPhone as a back-up,

whatever the toys, make sure the coverage is good for your planned area

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Old 12-04-2011, 17:16   #6
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SSB is the standard by which other's are judged. Go for the standard. Ssb opens up a whole other world.
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Old 12-04-2011, 17:37   #7
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Re: SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser

Skymate is not a good system for weather - you get a little synopsis chart covering a huge area - like the northern Pacific - from which you can try to guess. SSB (the Ham variety) gets you soooo much better and diverse weather info, plus you can call ahead to someone at your next landfall to see how conditions are. And Pactor has the ability to transmit your GPS position whenever you send an email message, and/or you can send your position out to Yotreps or other web sites that track boats for free so your friends and family can keep track of you on the web.
My backup for the SSB is - another SSB - but someday I will break down and buy an Iridium satellite phone... It would help if their rates went down... a LOT...

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Old 13-04-2011, 08:06   #8
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Re: SSB, Skymate, EPIRB, Spot combination options for the world cruiser

My first priority was an EPIRB. Right behind was a DSC SSB followed by a Pactor modem. After that, as convenience, was a SPOT.

S/V Auspicious
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