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Old 22-10-2011, 15:21   #1
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SSB vs Satphone

Planning to venture offshore in the future, I was pretty much set on buying an SSB set.

But talking to a guy with a fair bit of offshore sailing experience, he advised that with the new sattelite phones such as the Isatphone, and pre-paid plans getting cheaper all the time, it's cheaper and better to go that way.

Any thoughts/advice would be appreciated.
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Old 22-10-2011, 15:38   #2
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

I recently crewed on a passage from Cape Town to Turkey. We were away for roughly 10 weeks. On board we had a mobile ham SSB with modem as well as 2 sat phones. We updated our weather forecast at least twice a day and sent/received e-mail at the same time. Total cost $0.00. I phoned home a few times and just about sh*t when I got the bill.

For me, it's a no brainer.

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Old 22-10-2011, 15:59   #3
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

There are pros and cons for SSB and satphone, and there are some good discussions here on the subject you will want to read (search "ssb satphone" -- here's a good one: SSB or SatPhone ?)

I have and use both, but prefer the satphone for simplicity, speed, and the ability to receive fairly large weather datasets (I typically get 100K bytes a day). The downside is the per-minute connect costs. SSB has other advantages. This is well-covered in the linked discussion.

Feel free to continue the discussion though, the answer is hardly clear-cut.
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Old 22-10-2011, 16:02   #4
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

A couple of years ago I weighed the options pretty carefully. Getting an SSB installation up and running is no small endeavor with proper antenna and ground plane requirements. This is quite a bit simpler for a satphone. Installation cost also favored a satphone by about 2:1. Obviously operation costs favored an SSB but we got by with a 500 min prepaid SIM card that was good for a year. Daily e-mail and weather grib files when on passage usually came in under a couple of minutes, probably $2. SSB e-mail needs a SAILMAIL account @ $250 per year. Safety also favored a satphone both in the ability to call anywhere in the world at any time as well as having a portable handset to throw in the ditch bag if it came to that. Finally ease of use favored a satphone as the setup is almost turnkey where as an SSB needs a bit more technical fiddling and a good understanding of radio weather.

Those are the technical considerations. The one area where an SSB wins hands down is the social connections made with other cruisers participating in the various nets. The satphone is a connection back to family and friends but an SSB is a connection into a community of fellow adventurers albeit one that seems to be diminishing.
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Old 22-10-2011, 16:13   #5
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

Thanks for the replies. Seems there is no real cut and dried answer. SSB is more expensive up-front, satphones have ongoing costs. Satphone is possibly more dependable (if you're with the right carrier).

One consideration I do like is the portability of a satphone. I can use it on land in other countries, where IMO there's a greater possibility I'll need emergency communication than on the boat.
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Old 22-10-2011, 17:03   #6
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

I would only buy SSB if I were an active radioamateur. Otherwise, I would go for a satphone.

What I like about satphones:
- they cost less,
- they are easier to instal,
- they can be taken along ashore or into the dinghy,
- they do not require licensing,
- they require very little learning,
- they use way less energy,
- they can be used anybody anywhere at any time of the day.

What I do not like about SSB:
- it is expensive,
- it uses plenty of energy,
- it is a big installation,
- a license is required,
- making contact is not straightforward,
- only another SSB user can be contacted.

If the boat already has SSB I would definitely keep it too.

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Old 22-10-2011, 17:18   #7
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

I would not suggest that it is an "either or". They both have their places. Any neither replaces a VHF.
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Old 22-10-2011, 18:55   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikefossl
The satphone is a connection back to family and friends but an SSB is a connection into a community of fellow adventurers albeit one that seems to be diminishing.
An SSB is invaluable for local nets. You might not think much about it now, but once you are out in the world, you'll never be without one once you get one. Ever.
Never had a Sat phone, so that one I don't know.
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Old 22-10-2011, 19:04   #9
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As far as sat phone carriers, which one do the general masses prefer? I'm considering one for the boat.
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Old 22-10-2011, 19:28   #10
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

Inmarsat and Iridium seem quite popular here.

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Old 23-10-2011, 09:15   #11
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

Honestly...there is no one I really want to talk to on land when I sail.
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Old 23-10-2011, 10:19   #12
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

I would also be interested in hearing about any cheap service-plans available for Iridium. The best we've seen lately was 500 minutes that lasts 1 year for ~$700 - EVERY year. Ouch! That's $2/day whether you use it or not!

One big radio decision is Ham or Marine SSB. If you go Ham, the email (Winlink.org) is free, & there is a large community that will patch you into the phone system (or get a doctor on the line) if you want. The maritime mobile nets run pretty much all the time. For Marine SSB you'll need SailMail, which is non-profit but still costs $250-300/year now.

But now that they've gotten rid of the Morse code requirements, getting a Ham license is pretty easy, & it's free in the US. (OK, I'm a geek & fairly radio-active, so maybe "easy" is relative)

I will grant that Sat-Phones are easier to install & use, & that it can download big datasets. If you're trying to dodge a tropical storm, it would be nice to have internet access, no matter what it costs. But we can get pretty big GRIBs with WinLink, as well as text info on a storm's location & predicted track.

But it was the running costs that got to us. We wanted a long-term solution. We started with both an Iridium satellite phone & a Ham rig (see description here, as well as radio email info). For a while we could get plans with 200 minutes that lasted a year & cost $300, but instead of getting cheaper, those costs more than doubled when Iridium dropped that service plan. Since we got the sat-phone mainly so folks could contact us (& few ever wanted to pay that much) we eventually dropped the service.

Other communications options to consider: 3G modems work within ~15nm of a cell tower, which is much of the world we cruise in. They don't work on passage (which is only 7% of the time for us) but they provide good internet while coastal hopping, even through remote areas of Indonesia. I'm writing this while 3G connected in Thailand. Friends were sailing down the coast of Africa in thick fog & wanted to make a tricky landfall, but didn't want to risk it in fog. So they powered up their 3G modem, dialed into the web-cams at TheHeads.co.za, saw no fog on the coast so turned in & made a successful landfall. More info on 3G is available on our Cruising Info pages here.

BTW, don't go with GlobalStar. Their satellites can't talk to each other, so the satellite you're talking to has to see a ground station itself. They work further offshore than 3G modems, but not enough to warrant the expense.
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Old 23-10-2011, 11:03   #13
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

I've been toying with the idea of selling our Iridium 9500 and getting a Globalstar phone. We primarily need e-mail access for GRIBs and business (and maybe a phone call now and then), and our cruising range for now is only East Coast U.S. to the Bahamas. Maybe someday down to the Carib. We didn't find enough cell coverage in the Bahamas, so the Iridium was a godsend -- but expensive.

The Globalstar coverage map is lousy for mid-ocean, as noted by Jon above, but pretty good for Bahamas/Carib.
Coverage Map - Voice

It seems with those parameters, and IF one can deal with the on-and-off calling windows (about 50% of the time is good, it seems), then the $20 a month unlimited calling plan might be a good deal. . . .

One little thing that bugs me is the Globalstar website "Call Times Tool" only gives you windows for a few days in advance. I would want to get two months at a time and print them out or save to my computer.
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Old 23-10-2011, 11:50   #14
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nobleshift View Post
An SSB is invaluable for local nets. You might not think much about it now, but once you are out in the world, you'll never be without one once you get one. Ever.
Never had a Sat phone, so that one I don't know.
We have been and still are cruising the Atlantic (out in the world) for a year and have a new SSB and never use it. We use our Sat Phone regularly when WIFI is not available.

The SSB requires way too much overhead to use it effectively. While cruising I just want to press the easy button when I can. There are too many other issues that require the mental energy.
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Old 23-10-2011, 11:54   #15
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Re: SSB vs Satphone

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Originally Posted by Jon Hacking View Post
I would also be interested in hearing about any cheap service-plans available for Iridium. The best we've seen lately was 500 minutes that lasts 1 year for ~$700 - EVERY year. Ouch! That's $2/day whether you use it or not!
Buy a SIM card. When you re-up they add on the left over minutes. It's $1.30 per minute when you buy a 1000 minutes.
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