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Old 05-04-2017, 00:13   #1
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High level advice on Sat vs HF

This is my first post on this board so hello to everyone. After many years racing keel boats on Sydney Harbour I'm taking up cruising around the South Pacific. As I will have long stretches away from shore I want some form of communications with family, friends and if ever required emergency services on shore. I read a lot of detail about HF and satellite on this site but its too detailed at this stage. Can anyone provide basic information on the merits of HF versus Satellite and vice versa?

My estimate of minimum requirements are:
Text communications
Access to weather reports

Optional requirements:
Voice Communications
Internet - email and on-line Forex trading (not data intensive)

If you think I need other services please advise such. I'm sure I will have more questions later on the detail.

Many thanks in anticipation of your assistance.


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Old 05-04-2017, 00:50   #2
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Take at look at the Delorme Inreach with Ocens Spotcast weather for your minimum requirements.

Your optional requirements will be an order of magnitude more expensive.

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Old 05-04-2017, 01:22   #3
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

We have both Sat and SSB.

Short answer:

Sat is point to point communications. SSB allows you to talk to several at a time or to "call into the ether - anybody listening?"

With SSB you get to use the many cruisers nets and make friends, gain knowledge etc. Sat allows to you call directly to anyone (like a phone).

SSB has a BIG RED BUTTON that screams Emergency all over the place if you have a m
Mayday situation. Some Sats have a Red Button that in essence is a speedy dial that calls a service center.

Both have their uses - both have disadvantages and advantages.

If the economics are not a major issue - get both
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Old 05-04-2017, 03:15   #4
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, Alex.
Gord May
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Old 05-04-2017, 04:14   #5
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

HF won't be any use for calling family and friends unless they have HF sets (and licenses) too.
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Old 05-04-2017, 04:24   #6
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Originally Posted by 44'cruisingcat View Post
HF won't be any use for calling family and friends unless they have HF sets (and licenses) too.
Not really. You can place a phone call anywhere in the world through a marine operator such as WLO or KLB operated by ShipCom LLC (ShipCom LLC :: Marine HF Radiotelephone and HF Single SideBand Email) or by Brunei Bay Radio (Brunei Bay Radio - HF/SSB radio email for isolated locations in SE Asia, the North West Pacific and Indian Oceans. The low-cost and reliable alternative to satellite email for isloated or remote locations, islands, communities, tourism, conservation,).

If you are a ham, you can place "phone patches" through other hams for non-business communications, provided there is no "third party" restriction in the countries involved.

However, I agree with CarstenB: both HF radio (ham and/or marine) and satellite communicators are useful and you should carry both if you can.

I do and have for many years :-)

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Old 05-04-2017, 05:03   #7
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Given a choice on only one, well, that's a tough choice, but I would have to give the nod to HF. First of all, apart from necessary communications, a decent HF rig has a lot of entertainment value. You can use it to listen to shortwave broadcasts, and depending on the radio, MW AM broadcasts, too. Some transcievers can be used on the HAM bands, as well, some more conveniently than others. Weather faxes can be demodulated with the sound card in your computer, or a HAMCOMM type serial port demodulator, and displayed or printed. The same hardware can be used to display Radioteletype, SITOR, AMTOR, Morse, and many other digital communications, and some software can be used to send as well as receive. You will incur charges for using commercial marine operator phone patches, and some commercial email gateways, but if you have a HAM license, there are free options. The actual use of your radio is of course free, apart from purchase and maybe professional installation.

On the bad side of HF, propogation can be variable. With experience you will know what bands are USUALLY most usable for what distances in what direction and what time of day, but it is not absolutely certain that you will have crystal clear comms with a given station all the time. Weather, solar activity, etc can disrupt radio communications at times. Or improve them. Gee, isn't radio fun? For international voyaging, you will need a ship station license and an operator license. For HAM communications, you will need yet another license. (You can listen in without a license.)

Satellite communications packages vary in complexity, utility, and expense. A simple SPOT transciever can tell folks where you are and tht everything is okay. An Iridium phone costs less than a good HF transciever and tuner, and airtime can be less than international cell phone roaming, if you buy a big block of minutes. If you have deep pockets, you can go with a full blown INMARSAT setup complete with broadband internet. Satellite communications are less prone to solar or weather interference, and you don't have to fiddle with bands and channels. Voice communications are very clear, though you do have to get used to about a half second delay, or you and your other party will constantly be stepping on each other. Less operator skill is required for sat comms. But it isn't so practical for talking to another vessel. There are charges for both vessels because the signal goes up to a satellite, down to an Earth station, then back up to a sattelite and back down to the other vessel. With HF you can talk directly to another vessel, if he is listening. You can participate in nets, for information and just socializing. Can't do that on satellite.

HF has a lot of tradition behind it, too. If you are a more traditional minded salty sort of person, "real" radio will give you a lot of satisfaction.

The ideal situation is to have both, of course.
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Old 05-04-2017, 06:34   #8
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

A quasi both option is SSB/HAM and a Delorme Inreach. The inreach gives you an affordable textingredients plus OCENS weather at a cheaper than sat phone price.
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Old 05-04-2017, 08:22   #9
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

I have Iridium 9555 phone with data cable USB into the laptop.

Text emails sent in a group use little time.
They can be sent when you send/receive weather Grib files.

Longest part of connection is connecting and disconnecting so it's important to go in batches.

Best is that SMS Text messages can be sent FREE by anyone anytime by mobile phone or internet. This means your family and friends can text you for free and it doesn't cost you yo receive the messages. You can receive these messages and reply without connecting. It cost you about 1/4 minute in time to send a text message but I think your Replies to theirs are cheaper. It seems so.

You can also set up Facebook to accept an email from you and it posts to your Facebook page.
This is great as a 2-way thing: all the family/friends see you are ok and can freely SMS you. It gives them a non-technical way of always being in contact when you are in the middle of the ocean.

If there's an emergency at home their text gets through to you in minutes, and if necessary you can ring them direct.

There is *limited* WWW access but that would be stupidly expensive and all websites these days are too heavy to download a page.

With a satellite phone you are totally independent in emergencies. You can call AMSA or coastguards direct to ensure your Epirb signal has been detected. And you can do this in the liferaft without laptop etc. You can even order a pizza for the rescue plane to deliver.

The reason I mention AMSA is that if you hit the button on the EPIRB outside the Australia search and rescue area the signal goes to the areas Search and Rescue authority BEFORE AMSA hears about it. Consider you are in the deep Pacific... It maybe a small country with the responsibility. I would like AMSA watching what's going on!

Off Brazil a few years ago sailing yacht Concordia??? Was left for 24 hours before the signal that was picked up by Brazil was passed to the US Coastguard... who tgen denanded the brazilians to pull their finger out and get rescuing.

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Old 05-04-2017, 08:30   #10
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Here is the official report into the Concordia.
Scroll down to section After Abandonment. You will see how a quick Satellite phone call would have got their rescue underway nearly 24 hours earlier!!

Some of my facts 're this in last post were memory prejudiced... So read this report. It's fascinating.

AMSA emergency contact information

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Old 05-04-2017, 09:42   #11
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

I believe the options were nicely summarized so far. Just to highlight two of the responses, StuM is absolutely right that the I reach Explore will meet your min requirements perfectly. You can event get Forex quotes, trade orders and confirmations as texts.

If you ever want to upgrade to voice/data by getting an Iridium phone then the Inreach investment will be wasted. So you might as well get a sat phone from the start.

The best way to describe HF communications was tradition as mentioned by GrowlingMonster. Sailing has a lot of traditions and HF is especially useful in the South Pacific. However, it comes with a lot of pain including, setup, interfacing, propagation, busy servers, not allowed to do business on HF... Do it for the tradition, not for its utility.
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Old 05-04-2017, 09:55   #12
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

If you're even asking this question, then you need satellite communications, in my opinion.

Coming from a person who has and uses HF and has never even activated the built in sat phone on my boat.

HF is is powerful and fun and does a ton of things sat phones cannot. But it is a serious investment to get installed, even more serious investment to get installed well, and a serious investment of time and thought to become proficient in the main modes of usage. If all that is for you, you are probably already interested in it, or you're already a ham.

Otherwise, satellite comms of one kind or another.

In my opinion the very most useful satellite comms device is the Yellow Brick or Delorme InReach messaging devices. I think about 97% of everything that needs to be communicated far out to sea can be communicated in a short message, and these devices allow you to send and receive unlimited numbers of SMS text messages and SMS-to-email messages for modest monthly fees, on subscriptions which can be turned on and off at will. Definitely the simplest and cheapest way to have basic comms from anywhere in the world.

I don't even like to chatter on the phone on land, so actual sat PHONES hold little appeal to me. Give me a short text message any day. But for the cost of a decent SSB installation, you can buy a lot of sat phone minutes. Data is far too slow and far too expensive for anything but the most stripped-down Internet use, but you can get GRIBS and you can probably do some trading if you have a broker with some kind of low bandwidth platform.
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Old 05-04-2017, 10:48   #13
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Welcome to the forum, Alex!

For the use cases you stated, then a satellite device is all you need, and will have the lowest cost of entry and smallest learning curve.

If Wx products beyond spot forecasts [e.g., GRIBS, Weather Fax, Satellite imagery, etc.] and/or voice comms are important to you, then a sat phone or sat hot-spot device [e.g., IridiumGO!] is in order.

We have both MF/HF radio [w/ DSC] and an Iridium sat phone. We almost exclusively use the sat phone as a data device [when we have no cell signal...] with UUplus email service to optimize the process and save precious sat phone minutes...] There is never a concern whether we can conduct business, and UUplus costs about the same as an HF email service that also allows business transactions. [e.g., SailMail, etc.]

More details about the considerations that led to our decisions can be found on the page we maintain regarding this topic. [In case it is of interest.]

Best wishes deciding what best suits your needs and budget.

Cheers! Bill
SV Denali Rose

Short on opinions; focused on research, facts & experience [yours and ours...]
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Old 05-04-2017, 14:42   #14
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Check out Molly Mawks blog. They have written a very good article about the pros and cons.
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Old 05-04-2017, 15:57   #15
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Re: High level advice on Sat vs HF

Thank you one and all for your very helpful answers and advice. I am very grateful. I'm sure you have saved me countless hours and expense. I think I'll go the satellite route first up then to HF if I get the urge. Most of my sailing will be around the 87 Vanuatu islands as I'm building a house in Havannah Harbour as my base. If you are ever down here please let me know.

Best regards,


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