Join Date: May 2002
Location: East Coast
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Well...I've been off line for a few hours and coome back to find this very good thread! I will defer to Trayfors on matters technical as there are few better sources on line than Bill on this subject.
I would like to comment on some of the issues Daniel raises and the current choices for cruisers which to some extent are economic as well as practical issues.
My own equipment on our cruising was BOTH an SSB (Icom802) w/Pactor modem and sailmail e-mail access AND a globalstar satphone which provided access in the Caraibbean to N. America for about 25 cents a minute under the plan we subscribed to. Our SSB/Pactor system ran around $5000 to install completely and the satphone was bought for around $750. We used the SSB for the "chatty" functions Bill speaks of as well as for our subscription weather service with Chris Parker which was personalized voice communication each AM for our position AND daily e-mail through the Pactor. Our use of the SatPhone was for point to point land communication for personal and business needs AND after hurricane Ivan in Grenada...it became our lifeline to help as well as a lifeline for other cruisers. (The SSB came down with the mast and in any event would not have been much use given our need for point to point conversations).
With that background...what has changed since 2005 and what would I do if outfitting a boat today?
The things that have changed are:
1. A degradation in Globalstar service quality (which made many drop the service) but which may be improving a bit now and the pricing is MUCH better to entice customers back. Iridium continues to be quite reliable AN D expensive.
2. Much growth in Wifi accessibility along the coast with cellphone PC cards and most marinas offering service as well. this includes the populated areas of the Bahamas as well. This allows frequent access to e-mail, the web, and phone through Skype.
Conclusion: For voyaging along the US coast and the Bahamas...an VHF radio, an air card and a wifi equipped PC can handle all communication needs and a cheap shortwave radio receiver can keep you up with the Cruisheimers chat and weather broadcasts. SSB/ham is a nice to have but not needed $5k expense. Sat phones are really only necessary if you MUST have a way to call out AND be reached 24x7. Globalstar is unreliable in terms of ALWAYS making a connection but from recent reports...if you can wait 10 minutes...you can get a connection. Iridium remains the reliable and pricey companion...but G-star is so damn cheap it is hard to resist taking one along. Out side of the US/Caribe...I think the Iridium is the only safe choice.
Crossing oceans or going far afield, I think it is still an SSB world. Someone is always listening on the distress frequencies and pactor/sailmail remains an excellent way to get your weather and other needs. If possible an Iridium phone remains a great thing to have...(Beth Leonard & Evans Starzinger use one for all of their needs)...but if I had to choose i would choose the SSB.
Daniel may be right about the future of SSB and evolving technology...but I am not holding my breath. The markets are not focusing on those of us who would like cheap internet access at sea. The sat phone companies are struggling to survive and without the Pentagon...probably even Iridium would be in trouble. I think it will work a lot like satellite TV. Satellite based 2 way internet will evolve for land based opportunities...and the resulting coverage will enable cheap satellite internet for those at sea within the "shadow" of that coverage.
The technology is possible today...but there is no market that would justify the investment.
The one other thing I would add is to echo Bill's comments. When you are out cruising...the nets on the vHF and the SSB allow you to share experiences, connect with old friends, make group plans, share warnings and just plain BE a cruising community. If SSB's were cheaper...everyone would have one for this alone. Maybe that is where we'll see some progress as there is really no excuse for the prices we pay for this equipment relative to the worth of the individual components.
No longer posting. Reach me by PM!