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How to communicate

1984 Views 8 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  wind_magic
My partner and I have been back and forth with what type of communication we need.

Not 100% of our itinerary yet...probably New York to Bermuda or South to the Caribbean.

We are on a tight budget so what is a safe way to have offshore communication for a decent price?

SSB, Sat phone...are there any other options???

If we only have a VHF is crossing to Bermuda a bad idea??
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Blue water comm

A VHF radio only gets about 20 miles of coverage. While you may not "need" anything more it would seem to be prudent to have SSB. Especially since it can be used for more than emergency communication, like grabbing GRIB weather files and talking with your weather router if you get one...if you are looking to save money a sat phone would not be in the cards IMHO

Good luck ! Have helped deliver boats on that route several times!:cool:
For offshore sailing, I would recommend either an SSB or a Satphone. With the SSB, you can also receive weather reports and communicate with weather routers, talk with buddy boats, and (with the appropriate add-ons) send and receive e-mail and weatherfaxes. With the satellite phone (i.e. Iridium) you can communicate anytime, anywhere to anyone who has a phone. One or the other is good for emergency communications.
I'd say a SSB is more versatile, but a satellite phone is much simpler. You would not only need the SSB and related equipment, but you would need to invest a fair amount of time learning how to use it and obtaining a license. You are fairly limited with a SSB unless you get a general class amateur radio (HAM) license.
If its a one-shot trip to Bermuda and back, you might want to look into renting a satphone.
I support all the different views above because I have practised all of them :)

We have an Icom on the boat that is not a marine unit so whilst I'm not permitted to transmit on all frequencies I am allowed to listen. As far as cost goes, you can get real bargains on e-bay. I bought my set with a matched antenna tuner in virtually new condition (still in original packaging) for less than the retail cost of the tuner on its own. The setup works an absolute treat. I also bought one of those clip-on dipole backstay antennas and that also works a treat. So in short, this is a very affordable choice.

You can get freeware to download GRIB files and weather fax. For a few dollars subscription you can get Sailmail which provides basic e-mail at sea but for that you need a Pactor modem which is (IMHO) expensive and why I don't bother.

On our last voyage from the US to New Zealand, we rented an Iridium phone. It was great, we could talk to anyone we wanted any time, anywhere and it's about as expensive as you want it to be. When we returned the phone the vendor offered it to us for 1/2 the new price but we declined because we are only seriously going sailing in 5 years and thus want to wait until then for the newest technology. But I won't do a long voyage without an Iridium phone. When we go cruising full-time I'll buy my own phone.

The down side of an satphone of course is the same as a cellular phone - you cannot do an all-stations call in an emergency.
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My partner and I have been back and forth with what type of communication we need.

Not 100% of our itinerary yet...probably New York to Bermuda or South to the Caribbean.

We are on a tight budget so what is a safe way to have offshore communication for a decent price?

SSB, Sat phone...are there any other options???

If we only have a VHF is crossing to Bermuda a bad idea??
You can rent a satphone from places like Outfitter Satellite. I would definitely get an SSB receiver for weather if I didn't have a complete SSB trasnceiver. They're fairly cheap.
With only a VHF you will not reliably be able get help offshore in an emergency other than by using the EPIRB. The Sat phone is simple but there is no one monitoring for emergency calls and when I called the USCG it took 10 minutes to get through and then they put me on hold. With a SSB there is a good chance someone will be monitoring on the emergency frequencies. The Sat phone needs a good external antena to be reliable but can be used for good weather information when hooked up to a laptop.

I would not go offshore without long range communications but NY to Trinidad can be done close to help and mostly within VHF range of others. We went north to Canada via Bermuda but south down the US coast, through the Bahamas and just off the coast of DR and Puerto Rico...The latter route is more interesting from a cruising point of view but absent bad weather much harder sailing than going to Bermuda and then south.

Good Luck Phil
Some options ...

  • Whispering - works well between people sitting beside one another.
  • Talking - great for cockpit communication so long as both parties know and use the same language!
  • Yelling - limited range, sometimes effective, not very good in wind but works great across a quiet anchorage.
  • Sign language - longer distance than talking, but not that many people understand it.
  • Waving your hands like an idiot - get someone's attention.
  • Holding up two cold beverages - universal gesture of goodwill. :D
  • Hand-held flares - signal an emergency to anyone who can see.
  • Semaphore flags - good line-of-sight communication but not very many people understand them. Still used, however, with single flags meaning various things such as telling other boats that a diver is down in the water so they won't run over the diver. See here for more information.
  • Anchor light and anchor ball - communicate to someone that you are anchored.
  • Running lights - communicate your direction, etc ..
  • Flags - communicate your nationality and club affiliations ..
  • Spotlight - good for getting someone's attention, works especially well if you shine it on your sails at night because people can see that pretty far away.
  • Smoke - good for getting someone's attention.
  • Fog horn, bells, etc - read all about it here.
  • Whistle - see above
  • Bull horn - like yelling except much louder.
  • Banging metal together under water - signal someone who is under water, you can even send morse code back and forth like this!
  • Signal lamp - works great for sending morse code to another boat, still in use to this very day, but not that many people know morse code anymore. Still, a surprising number of people do know morse code. Just about anything can work as a signal lamp so long as you can send dots and dashes with it, even putting something in front of an oil lamp can work. For long distance communication you probably want some binoculars so that you can receive as well as send long distance, you have to be able to see the other person's lamp! More information here.
  • Rocket flares - signal emergency long distance to anyone who can see.
  • Signal mirror - a mirror to signal an emergency to airplanes, etc.
  • Dye - pour it into the water to signal aircraft.
  • Signal fire - get attention, useful on shore in an emergency.
  • Marine VHF - like talking or using a bull horn except even longer distance, requires the other person have a receiver tuned to the correct frequency.
  • AIS transmitter - signal other boats telling them where you are so they don't run over you.
  • Radar reflector - use other boat's radars to signal them by (in theory) giving a good return when they shine their radar on you.
  • Wifi - gives you Internet access when near access points (see Email below).
  • Cellular telephone - talk to anyone who has a telephone when you are near cellular telephone towers.
  • Cellular broadband - gives you Internet access when near cell towers (see Email below).
  • Spot - send simple signals from most of North America and surrounding waters via satellite.
  • SSB - communicate over large distances using SSB bands, requires license, person at the other end needs a receiver.
  • HF - communicate over large distances using amateur radio bands, requires license, person at the other end needs a receiver.
  • CW - often used on HF amateur radio bands, you can communicate over great distances using CW (morse code), person at the other end needs a receiver and ability to send/receive CW.
  • Email - send email messages, requires connectivity either by Internet/Wireless, etc, or by Sailmail and other HF mail systems.
  • Snail mail - slow, great for communicating to people long distance so long as they don't move around very often.
  • Satellite phone - talk to almost anyone (except long distance cruisers who tend not to have telephones), almost anywhere, at any time via satellite. expensive.
  • EPIRB - signal an emergency from just about anywhere in the world that there is satellite coverage.

There are many more options, those are some of the ones that came immediately to mind. :)
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