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beau 19-03-2007 22:44

sat phones
I inquired about the purchase price of ssb radio or ham here in Australia and I was told I would be much better off buying a sat phone.

I plan to cruise from Australia north to the islands off new guinea, possibly fiji and then back west to Indonesia, langkawi malaysia etc

I have a business so I would like to stay in contact with emails etc does SKYMATE work in this area of the world.
However it would also be nice to download weather etc from the net.
I don't really need voice phone.
Any recommendations

swagman 19-03-2007 23:46

Hi Beau,

Not familiar with skymate, but the choices are really SSB / modem or satphone. Both will allow receipt of emails plus weather to a computer.

Basic difference is cost.

SSB / Modem high up front - zip ongoing - installation / antenna etc.
Satphone - lower up front - data / time costs ongoing - zip installation.

Bonus with SSB is also dialling into cruiser nets - but suspect if email is paramount - satphone may fit your needs.


Paul Elliott 20-03-2007 02:07

SSB email will have a moderate ongoing cost ($250 / year) if you use Sailmail. The ham-radio email system Winlink is free, but has some restrictions on commercial use, and requires a ham license.

Satphone has higher data rates than SSB email, and I've been able to receive fairly large WFAX images as email attachments via my Iridium satphone. These would not have been practical to receive over SSB.

I like Iridium, as the coverage is excellent, and the rates are competetive. I use "XGate" from Global Marine Networks for the satphone email service provider, and have been very happy with the performance. They have what looks like a good package for delivering weather info, but I haven't tried it yet -- instead, I get grib files sent to me from "Saildocs", and have a robot program that emails me daily WX charts from the gov't sites.

I do use SSB for marine and ham net voice work. I also use it for the occasional email, and regular weatherfax reception -- mostly to make sure there is a working backup should the satphone break.


Pura Vida 20-03-2007 04:09

Another advantage with a sat phone is you can take it with you. If you leave the boat to travel inland or if you have to abandon ship the sat phone is more practical than a SSB installation.

Sunspot Baby 20-03-2007 04:40

Skymates coverage map is at SkyMate | Wherever you go. Whatever you need.

I have been very satisfied with their products and services but have only used them on the East Coast U.S. and the Bahamas.


swagman 20-03-2007 05:36


Originally Posted by Pura Vida
Another advantage with a sat phone is you can take it with you. If you leave the boat to travel inland or if you have to abandon ship the sat phone is more practical than a SSB installation.

Er true. But if you were about to abandon ship you'd not know what other ship might be 50 miles away with the satphone - whereas the SSB could alert them to your situation.

Horses for courses etc.


hellosailor 20-03-2007 09:28

Beau, if you look at any of the sailing forums you'll find plenty of discusssions about this. Ham radio requires you to sit for license exams. SSB just requires a license fee. Either one requires a fast $1000+ for typical equipment and you may easily double that, plus the installation is always a semi-custom job not a simple plug-in.

But a satphone leaves you at the mercy of one vendor and racks up monthly bills as well. They are different tools with different abilities and if your budget allows, you might want both radio and satphone.

Pura Vida 20-03-2007 10:02

For calling out in an emergency I would call the Coast Guard or whatever equivelant resque agency for the local waters... now where did I put that number. Somebody dive down and get the number off the chart table! ;-)

The budget is a good point. When I told my cruising buddies locally that I was choosing a sat phone over SSB/HAM they were all up in arms. But for budgeting purposes the sat phone was chosen over the SSB for a cruise of no more than one year. Installation, airtime, purchase price, additional equipment, etc were about break even for that period with the phone being only slightly more expensive. Any time past that and the SSB had a price advantage. One last thing that made my decision was who I was talking to and when. SSB is great for the cruising nets, etc, but most of the people I need to keep in touch with do not have an SSB. In any case I know people who are using both.

Paul Elliott 20-03-2007 11:02

A Satphone doesn't necessarily incur monthly bills. While there are monthly service plans, I, and most people I've discussed this with, purchase pre-paid minutes. With this arrangement, there is no additional fee. The pre-paid minutes have a limited shelf-life though, with different rollover plans depending on how many you buy.

For satphone email, I do pay an annual fee for the XGate service. There are other ways to do this, but I've been happy with XGate.

Idiens 27-03-2007 04:16

Can anyone give me an idea of how much data they transmit a month when off-shore cruising? Primarily, email text and GRIB files. I can see the pro's and con's of SSB/pactor verses satcom on the surface, but want to fit SkyMate's $70/50kB/month into the picture.

Factor 27-03-2007 04:36

Beau - I think you can still get Federal Govt subsidy on sat phones.

Paul Elliott 27-03-2007 09:08

A GRIB file can be many sizes, depending on what data you ask for.

I usually get surface pressure and windspeed predictions at 24, 48, and 72 hours out, covering the area between most of the North American west coast out past Hawaii. The email with grib attachment for this is about 23 kBytes. I receive these once a day, so the grib's alone add up to 23kB * 31 (days) = 713 kBytes.

You can add wave-height predictions to the grib, and these add about 25% (as I recall), since the datapoints are plotted on a coarser grid.

You can also get predictions out to 192 hours (8 days), but most people don't believe anything past five days. If you are really into it, you can get the 500 millibar predictions via grib.

I suggest that you get some gribs from and play with them. start like this:
Subject: (anything)

send info
send index

Other email just depends on what people send to you. It's usually not very much. On VALIS, I also receive weatherfax charts via satphone email, through some software I run on my ISP's server. These charts take about 33 kBytes each. Most people get their weatherfax by receiving SSB broadcasts, but I am using satphone email for the convenience.

Your outgoing email is of course entirely up to you. We are pretty compulsive about it -- the family and friends back on land do appreciate regular communications. We send a daily blog report, occasionally with photo attachments. I can usually get the photos compressed and cropped down to under 10 kBytes each. I suppose our daily email output is about 20 kBytes, but most cruisers probably send much less than that.

Back to Idiens' question, you will have to limit yourself to minimal grib usage to stay under Skymate's 50 kB (kByte?) a month limit. This might get you five one-day forecasts in a month. It hardly seems worthwhile, and if this is indeed the limit I suggest sticking with SSB weatherfax., or switching to a different satphone plan. I use Iridium, and like it.

Idiens 27-03-2007 09:28

Thank you for that excellent reply Paul. It looks like SkyMate is simply not competitive, with SSB on one side and Iridium on the other.:)

hellosailor 27-03-2007 11:09

I would suggest that how much you, or anyone else, transmits will be a very individual thing. Most compuer users have no idea that by just "sending an email" they are using a dual format that sends HTML plus text in every message, and that HTML alone is typically 5x larger than plain text.

So, you could send one "short" message in dual format and send 3,000-5,000 characters, while a plain text version might be 500 characters or less. (With format and file overheads, yes, the difference can swell to 10x.)

I routinely see emails from AOL users that have six and eight nested levels of quoted messages hidden in them, and emails on (allegedly<G>) technical user lists that sometimes nest quotes 12-15 levels deep, making 90-95% of their message useless bulk.

The best way to check your needs, would be to prepare some traffic, send it to yourself, and count the message sizes. Then check then again to see if you can trim them. When Western Union used to charge by the "word" (and a Western Union Word was defined as five characters plus one space, six slots in total) sometimes we would always work at creative ways to say more with less.
Today's kids only think they have found something new with how they mangle IM text messages.<G>

Idiens 28-03-2007 00:35

Hellosailor - I would hope that since Skymate seems to use its own software to send and receive emails, they have already stripped the messages down to the essential text. However, they may not, then their prices are even more excessive.
I can see the need to be cautious with a Pactor modem - I suppose it transmits out of the SSB whatever the PC throws at it. However, is there not a simple way to reduce that outward traffic by using the Hyperterminal program rather than a modern HTML capable emailer (for example, or does Pactor have its own mailer)? For incoming mails, the service provider should also offer the facility to reduce the messages to the minimum text for transmission.

Paul Elliott 28-03-2007 03:09

With the pactor modem, many people use the free "Airmail" program. This is text-only, but allows attachments. The SailMail system strips out HTML from any email before it gets sent to you over the radio.

Also free, and by the same author, are the "GetFax" and "ViewFax" programs. GetFax works with the pactor modem to receive wxfax and navtex (and rtty and morse). The Viewfax program lets you view these, as well as gribfiles.

hellosailor 28-03-2007 06:50

Pactor is a communications protocol, not a software application. So no, it doesn't have it's own "mailer". It simply takes whatever you put into the Pactor modem and converts it into a set of "deedle-deedle-dee" audio tones that a matching Pactor-equipped system decodes at the other end.

Skymate is apparently a combination of software applications and a satellite radio--and a pricey plan for actual communications.

Pactor is for HF radios, not satellite. As such it is limited to a much lower speed, about 1/3 of typical satellite data speeds on the best of days. But, using HF radios with Pactor is free after the hardware purchase if you are a ham operator, and a fairly small expense if you are a marine SSB user. There's no "per character" fee, and you can use whatever software you please.

It's unclear if Skymate does any nanny duty on your email, but anyone who has managed to get a boat offshore and be responsible for it, ought to be able to deal with that very easily. Unless they're a confirmed AOL user, that crowd tends to be hopeless at anything technical. I think I'd be afraid to go to sea on a boat where the skipper or sparks was an AOL customer.<G>

Idiens 28-03-2007 12:52

Thanks all, looks like the SSB/Sailmail and Iridium combo is still the best.

KC7CC 29-03-2007 16:52

Introduce myself KC7CC..
I saw the Forum to intro , but it has no way
to post !
I then went to one of the other forums and
it said i needed to reregister !!
Bill Gates lives here ?

62 , Sailor , Ham , computer builder ...

There will be a big change soon , in H.F.
It will be unpopular ,
Satilittes will do text messaging , and
people will sub lease , and install clocks
on their Satillite phones and sell time .
You will get a short allotement each month
and it will be very low cost .
You will be able to speak ( like VOIP , on
the WWW web )
But for cost , there will be a delay of 3 seconds.
Should cost about $20/month .
It works anywhere the Sat' can see you ,
so go sailing , where its always line of sight !

The PC has been ruined by Bill Gates and
Intel , so it will not exist in the near future .

I do hardware . I'm working on a small
pocket pc , that has free, tiny, do everything
operating system .
Nintenod makes game box .
My OpSys runs on it .
It will hook to your Sat Phone.
It will hook to all hardware .

Dont confuse my work with Linux .
It will allow you to modify the OpSys , from
the 8KB loader . It is structured , so anyone
will be able to drill down into the OpSys
from the touch scream ( gamebox "DS Lites"
have 2 small LCD's , lower has a TouchScream )
You will be able to see the insides of the OpSys
with a trackball/mouse . No text , no English
nothing , only Icons and images , the only correct
way to program computers ..

Im a builder , creator , EE ...

chat , anyone ?

PLS dont put stuff that looks advert's in email
to me , i must toss all SPAM .
If your email SUBJECT looks SPAM , i may
overlook it . werty swissinfo org .
Paul Jones is not my name , its for spam ..

GordMay 30-03-2007 01:52

SkyMate extends coverage to S. Pacific:

SkyMate has announced that its messaging and data services are now available in the South Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand and other parts of Asia. Service will be provided through ORBCOMM's newest gateway Earth station in Rutherglen, eastern Australia.
The company says that it plans to extend its coverage to the South Atlantic/Indian Ocean by the end of 2007.

KC7CC 30-03-2007 19:09

Great news , satillites .

Looks like they all need to be on equator

for 24/7 ...

I see breakthrus , soon , we will all be able to

text msg , for peanuts .

But new computers will turn Text Msg'ing

back into voice ! its a trick ..

Many have held back progress , like Bill Gates .

They will soon be retired , forcefully , by new

stuff , you thought was too complicated ....

I make it easy ...

Programming is simple , clear , as long as

you stay away from the University !

In 1970 , wasted $$ at a Land-Grant college .

They told me , they'd charge , but not teach

any E.E. , to me for 2 years .....

I taught myself in a few years ..

I'll be scouting a birth on a Texas cruiser , in

a few days ... I need to sail the Gulf of MX ..

later ....

delmarrey 30-03-2007 22:45


Originally Posted by KC7CC
But new computers will turn Text Msg'ing

back into voice ! its a trick ...

Mac computers already do that.........and has for years. Our XW here in the PNW is on a text to voice transmit............................_/)

hellosailor 31-03-2007 09:09

"But new computers will turn Text Msg'ing

back into voice ! its a trick "

Forget about Mac, even WIndows NT5.0 (aka Windows2000) shipped with "talkers" built into the OS. They're part of the "handicapped accessibility features" and MS included them because third-party software for the PC was also readily available back then, they were dealing with complaints and potential suits over handicapped accessibility.

Heck, even my Palm Treo can "speak" written text to me now and do voice regonition back into it, and that's just a low-end low-power commodity CPU these days. (Recognizes things best if you speak "Palm-ish" to it.<G>)

Thomas, how come your messages look like they are coming off an old Commodore running UNIX? Most of the world uses 80 character line widths, without the extra double newlines these days.

KC7CC 31-03-2007 10:02

Are you serious ?!

100's of millions of computer users are
on my side ! WXP , Apple , HP PDA,s
WCE , WXP , W2K ....

Don't work ..crippled , broken
promises ....

yet you advertize Mac do this or WXP do that !
Give it a rest !
You can't sell M$ nor Apple !

Why do you think im workin on ARM !!!
We have $$ , and we want better !

Stay tuned , here , i'll give s/w that will
make a tiny pocket PC , obsolete every
thing ,, you call a computer .

No mo Folders/files,, no more "excuses"
No more DeviceDrivers ,
No more "Booting"
No more English , nor Text

The worlds first G.U.I.

It will be free , tiny ......

Now on to important stuff ..

I create ...
I have spent many hours planning boats
and hulls and nav equip ...

On the water , one $$ piece of hardware
is actually not a good idea ..
You must piece together many things
to be safe , offshore ...
Im doin a low cost BW CDD Camera .
BG Micro sells for $20 , but it still needs
lots mo , low cost pieces ...

It will be digitized , so it can be automatic .
It will warn you . It can identify shapes ..

But you cant use PC , its crippled ..

Thus im working first on ARM mcu's now,

Catch 22 , i cant do Camera , without
the ARM !

ha ha ha ha ,life , aint it confusing !

It will be free , so stay tuned ...

BTW For those here who can't
work , create , get a life ,
produce nor find a job.

pls respond with ....

"Whats he smokin..."

Liberals , in search of self esteem , the "easy"
way ...

cat man do 31-03-2007 13:47

Just got back from a trip to Vanuatu after deliivering a boat from Oz.

Used Iridium Satphone for the trip and it regularly had no coverage, and dropped out mid-call, and had crossed signal's and echo's.

I had the same problem's a few year's when I sailed to New Cal with an Iridium and was less than impressed, but the boat owner on this trip was told by the phone seller that Iridium was as good as landline and better than mobile..............Liar.


KC7CC 01-04-2007 00:33

I am not Political , you are
Twice now you have glanced off of a political statement.

Just in case you didn't read the RULES carefully.

Here is a section of it that is fairly important.

Especially now in this political season very little

promotion or bashing will be tolerated.

Respectfully, delmarrey

KC7CC wrote :
Get an education , Political means to
gain power , by joining a group , whose actions
would not be tolerated , if done individually

This is the way we use "political" , today .

You are political , I am apolitical .

You are selling something , and i dont
want to buy it , nor does anyone here .
Thats the real issue ...

I was thrown off a Mexican foro , for
Gov'ts had to force Insurance on
people ...

Foro owner was an insurance salesman
and lawyer .

He paid .... lost business ...

You will pay also ....

GordMay 01-04-2007 02:30

Political means: “of, pertaining to, or concerned with politics”, whereas Apolitical means: “not involved or interested in politics”.

Accordingly, ”... I was thrown off a Mexican foro , for saying Gov'ts had to force Insurance on people ...” would be a statement of a political nature.

I’m not certain where this is coming from, nor where it’s going - nor why it’s going anywhere. I urge all parties to exercise prudent & civil self-restraint.

southernman 01-04-2007 12:52

Iridium all the way for me. Had no problems at all with it.

cat man do 01-04-2007 15:49


Originally Posted by southernman
Iridium all the way for me. Had no problems at all with it.

Iridium may be OK as backup, but the owner of the boat in Vanuatu we delivered now agree's that a HF is essentual and will only use the Iridium as backup.

I kept thinking if we needed to call in a helicopter for a rescue that we would not get through due to no service,or lose half the call due to it dropping out mid sentance.

There was another Trawler we met up at Santo that was from Oz who had all of the same problem's that we had with his Iridium, and he also was less than impressed considering the cost of the unit and the claim's made by the seller's.


Paul Elliott 01-04-2007 17:25

Due to the polar orbits of the Iridium satellites, I would expect the coverage and call "up-time" to be worse closer to the equator. I have used my Iridium satphone for voice and data calls in the San Francisco area (38 N lat), between S.F. and the Hawaiian Islands (20 N lat), and in the Marquesas Islands (10 S lat), and the service does seem to be worse in the tropics.

Still, I prefer Iridium to HF for email. If I monitor the signal-strength, I can usually tell if a connection will be a good one, and even during a short connection I can transfer much more data than I could in a much longer Pactor-3 HF session. I also found that using Iridium for voice calls was reasonably satisfactory in the tropics. In the Marquesas, we spent much of the time anchored in small bays surrounded by steep hills, which limited the satphone's view of the sky. Being out in the open worked much better. Depending on the particular location, a satphone system using geosynchronous equatorial-orbit satellites may be more reliable near the equator, but for all-area communications I'm glad to have the Iridium unit.

On the other hand, I also have, and use, marine HF radio. I like having both.

Agility 02-04-2007 07:33

I had a Globalstar setup in 2001 for 18 months and had good luck with it. I got data all the way across the North Atlantic, the Med and the Caribbean. I couldn't get service in Turkey and had problems occasionally in harbors with high mountains. My biggest issue was my USB hub which lost packets occasionally but I fixed that about a year into it.... My biggest problem was that the old Marine antenna was not really a marine antenna . It was a car antenna and rusted out in a little over a year. They stopped selling that unit in 2002.

I'm really interested in the data aspect of the conversation. It seems like:

1. Globalstar is cheapest. $.29 per minute for big plans. Also has the highest bandwidth in the low cost category. Doesn't cove the world but does the Med and Caribbean.
2. Irridium - More expensive, but not sure when you add roaming charges? World coverage but lower bandwidth.
3. Inmarsat - MiniM and other setups that get faster bandwidth and more robust world coverage. It's hard to compare because they have data plans that aren't time based but per megabyte based.

I completely depended on Nobeltech weather and therefore my Sat phone and PC to download it. I plan to do something similar next time. Does anyone have experiences with Inmarsat? Does it really cost a lot more for the service?

The fixed cost is more expensive, but my experience was that the $1 per minute could really add up quick. On Sept 11, we had a $5K bill for the month but when you really need to make a phone call, it's nice to know that you can. Figuring out the total cost of ownership requires an MBA in Finance.

Has anyone done any sophisticated spreadsheet models on prices for different Sat phone carriers Voice/Data plans.


hellosailor 02-04-2007 08:05

AFAIK there's a major concern with GlobalStar right now because of published reports that they are losing transponders on the satellites at an unexpected high rate--which means, they're going deaf and mute. I wouldn't want to foster panic but would suggest anyone looking at their service look at their reports and consider the time and expense necessary to loft replacements to ensure service coverage.

Iridium hasn't had similar problems, but than again, Iridium orginally went bankrupt and all their birds were supposed to be brought down and burned up--literally--until a bankruptcy re-organization which worked because of only two factors: Government/military contracts to supply substantial funding, and a buy-out based on something like 1/100th of a cent on the dollar of the existing system. In other words, Iridium is only in business now because the original investors took a real bath. I have no idea how sound their current financial model is.

All good points in favor of "HF, too" which may be primitive, but is a heck of a lot more robust in the larger picture.<G>

Idiens 02-04-2007 13:27

Last I heard, Iridium is run by Boeing under contract from the military, should be a safe bet.

Agility 02-04-2007 15:58

"With strong liquidity and cash position, Globalstar investment of $110 million will launch satellites to augment customer two-way satellite voice and data service through launch of second-generation constellation"

See press release.

Looks like they will solve the satellitte problem.


KC7CC 03-04-2007 10:31

Bad Statement , Site Admin .
I will have nothing to do with your poltical agenda
( Politically slanted "rules" ) .
I am one of the top Americans , highly ethical
and zero political .
You need an education , Political means to harm
your nieghbor , by pooling power .
Our Govt is clearly a "political" leader .

Pooling , to gain advantage over others , unethically
, for harm , for depriving others of their free will and
labor ( like labor unions ) . At the ballot box , selling
your vote for a govt job . This last one digs DEEP !


Most all forums are political , they are selling something
they DON'T want you to know about .
Thus when someone posts something that may impact
their "PayCheck" , they use political power to censor .

Need More ?

AARP is the insurance lobby ! AARP directly profits
by increasing old ppl's insurance premiums !
They claim they lower rates ! Lawyers !

United Way is political , it is 100% lawyers , and
has stolen over 4 billion dollars from your contributions
Twice convicted in federal courts of stealing ...
Over 30 years ago !!!

Attn Admin :

You are political , selling out my country .
This is my last post ,

We could all go to one of the other 433 forums ..

beau 03-04-2007 14:38


I agree with admin.
I also think you tone is not suited to this forum.
Fall in line or go somewhere else.

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