OK - we are talking off shore so that rules out WiFi, cell phones, and he usual suspects. Off shore (unless you have lots of $ and lots of patience) You are not going to be watching YouTube videos
, or browsing around "for the fun of it".
There are only 2 real choices and NEITHER are anything like what you are used to getting at the dock
setup with modem - I don't know enough about this to even start - but it is an option to send/receive email.
2) Sat phone with data cable hookup.
I'll leave you the expertise of the others when looking at the SSB
We use an Iridium Sat phone. We can receive (but not send) text messages, and make/receive phone calls in an emergency. To receive a text message is free (if the sender does it from their online pages) - to receive phone calls is expensive either for the caller or for us, depending on how they connect). We've only used the sat phone as a traditional phone rarely (would use it in the event of a medical emergency, etc). When offshore we connect daily to the computer/internet to send position reports, progress updates and to receive GRIB files and any urgent emails from family.
EXPENSIVE and SLOW - We "budget" for 10 minutes a day for all this data movement and this allows for the occasional failure and retry. We pre-pay for our minutes, but the less you purchase, the quicker they expire (so if you don't use them you lose them). We have a watertight case and 2 batteries for the phone and charge via a 12V cigarette socket when offshore as necessary. We purchased our phone/data cable/minutes through RoadPost
* 75 minutes last for 1 month and is $175
* 1000 minutes lasts for 1 year and is $1245
(YOu can purchse a range of options in between and beyond. You can also purchase an extension so you don't lose your minutes... but the point is you need to PLAN your purchases.)
Rental may be a good option if you don't have too many off shore passages in mind, but we purchased our phone and setup.
I also spent quite some time getting everything working and understood (on and off for a week before the first major passage, and even now I test everything a week before we head off shore so I can fix any issues in time).
Many off shore critical web sites allow you to retrieve web pages by email - you send an email with your request, they return an email with the web page data - this is obviously NOTHING like browsing, but you are off shore - if you just need port information or weather information this can work.
Here is what we use (and we deliberately avoided any fee paying services, we needed to purchase a GRIB file viewer, but this is completely independant of the files received).
GRIB File downloads - we use Saildocs.com - you send an email in a predescribed format, and you can subscribe to a daily return email with an attached grib file. You need to spend some time to understand the format but once you get the hang of it - it works great. We generally get a 3 hourly forecast for the next 5-7 days so we can get an idea of what the weather you do - the less detail/data you want, the smaller the returned email
POSITION REPORTING - I would probably consider the SPOT beacon as a WAY cheaper option (it certainly covers Atlantic, not sure about full Pacific coverage as yet), but when we were looking this was not quite on the market. We use YOTREPS (http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/)
. We send an email in a predetermined format, and this allows family and friends at home to see our position and progress. This also allows "postcards" - a free text format that you can also send by email that shows on your position report web page. 3rd party web sites and software can also take that data ans show it in a more pretty format. e.g. To see our view YOTREPS Offshore Reports
the latest postcard text shows at the top, and the current (and past if you zoom out) position reports are shown on the google map. The same data is used by SHIPTRACK for a different view of progress - ShipTrak v3.0
I do NONE of this from my "normal" email address, but I setup a separate GMAIL account that I only give to a couple of people. I don't want to be downloading the latest Jokes my friends think I need to see on my sat phone in the middle of the ocean. The thought of the cost of that (time spent on line
) makes me ill. I also set my email software to NOT connect automatically when I launch, NOT send automatically once i've finished writing an email, and to AUTOMATICALLY disconnect as soon as I have sent/received all pending data. This helps keep time on line
to a minimum. I've setup various signatures on my email software that are the right formats to present data to the various services, I've also got a spreadsheet where I can put in my current position report data and it converts it into text of the right format to submit to Yotreps (any mistake will mean a missed post and a lot of worried family). I did have my brother once send photos of his new baby to my "special" account - boy that took time and was painful, I had to setup my email system to NOT download messages larger than x-kb (I can't remember the number) but I wasted a LOT of minutes trying to work out why my email was taking so long to download. Once you know the size of your expected grib files for the trip/area/detail for any given passage you might want to consider doing the same thing.
BLOG updates from offshore. We use BLOGSPOT as our blog host, and they (and I assume others) don't need you to be online to write and post your blog entries and photos - they allow a blog entry (with attached photo if you want) to be emailed to the blog - in this way we can (if we want) have our blog updated while we are off shore too, with the minimum time spent on line
(just enough to send an email).
I try and stress to my family that ANYTHING can happen to prevent regular updates from off shore - so they should not panic if they haven't heard from us UNLESS we have passed our due-by date at our destination. They worry anyway, but we try.
PORT information - Noonsite.com have really good port information and we do a lot of research here (and in various guide books etc) before we head out - but I notice that if we suddenly change plan - you can email (in a prescribed format) Noonsite and get back all that same information in an email returned - pretty cool. This will tell you about customs/immigration and navigation issues in any port/country of concern.
So before we head off shore we send an email to Saildocs to set up a subscription to receive an email each day for the area/detail we want. (I also post our cruise plan on a private web site for our family and the authorities "just in case"). Each day off shore, I prepare emails for our position reports, postcards and family emails - Once all is prepared I press the SEND/RECEIVE button on my email software, this goes "online" just for the duration of the SEND/RECEIVE. Once complete I'm off line
and then I check out any returned emails and the grib file while off line at leisure.
Of course once I'm close to shore I go back to using my alternative options (Cell phone, WiFi, etc). ONce I've safely arrived at my destination I update my FLOAT plan to indicate that.