Communications

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Communications

Postby sailmon » Thu Nov 24, 2016 2:42 pm

Hard to believe - but we have arrived at the 7 month mark before departing on retirement cruising. Just glass-blasted off VC17 bottom paint and preparing for new barrier coat and salt water paint. Also a ton of upgrades under way (air conditioning, power generating sources, lighting, instruments, Safety equipment, etc). We are now looking into communication options. Our plan is to leave Cleveland (OH) in July and head down Erie Canal. After spending some time with family and friends in NYC, will then make our way to Chesapeake, and then to Myrtle Beach SC. From Myrtle Beach, we plan to make a short offshore jump to the Bahamas (probably 3 to 4 days). From there we plan to do Island hopping (Bahamas, BVI, Netherlands Antilles, etc.) for the Caribbean cruising season. Not sure what we will do or where we will go for hurricane season - considering a number of options.

We are looking into options for communicating (including email and browsing). I already have an installed VHF with AIS receiver and 2 handhelds - one with DSC. We have an ancient SSB (ICOM M600) which will likely be going into the dumpster - too old to handle Pactor modem. I am reluctant to invest the $5K+ that would be needed for new SSB, tuner, antenna, ground and complete rewiring. With only planning one (3 to 4 day) off shore jump, I hate to think about the cost of sat phone communications. One option that I recently heard about from our boatyard owner was a cell phone booster. Last year he joined some friends in south Florida and Bahamas. With a booster, he was able to get good Verizon cell phone connectivity (including email and Internet) from as far as 20 miles from nearest tower.

I'm wondering if anyone has had experience with cell phone boosters and if so are there any particular brands or models/specifications that you would recommend. I would also welcome thoughts on the whole concept. I'm also needing to look into what kind of cell phone options are available in Bahamas, BVI, etc. If I buy an "Islands phone", will the booster work? Is there still a different cell phone provider for each Island group - or are there common providers for broader areas?

All comments and thoughts will be appreciated.
Bob
Sailmon (Captain Bob Allenick)
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Cleveland, OH
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Re: Communications

Postby rvivian » Sat Nov 26, 2016 8:39 pm

Hi -

I believe most full time cruisers use SSB (or cheaper Ham) radio for communications, weather, email, etc. Geoff has posted more than once on the value of SSB radios on this site. Cell phones are not a reliable mode for boating communications.

If you really don't want to invest in a SSB radio system maybe you should look into a DeLorme IN-reach satellite communicator. They provide tracking, text messaging, weather and emergency communication via satellite for a reasonable monthly rate.
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Re: Communications

Postby Monty » Sun Nov 27, 2016 11:17 am

We didn't want to invest in a Sat phone either. So we have a WiriePro - but we having problems getting a non-LTE chip for it. It only works on non-LTE networks. Several companies say they have a compatible one, but they're not. The other thing we have is a Sat-Fi - works for phone and email, but not Internet. And it is nearly always available. Only problem is with heavy cloud cover when it has trouble finding a satellite.

Interested in the cell phone booster. Any makes/models suggested and where to purchase?

Thanks,
Sheila
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Re: Communications

Postby GeoffSchultz » Sun Nov 27, 2016 12:47 pm

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I've been in Milwaukee supporting my mom as my dad just passed away.

Anyhow, here's a write-up on my experience with an Iridium GO: http://www.geoffschultz.org/Log_Page.php?subjectid=Finally%20Departing%20Panama

Ask if you have any questions.

-- Geoff
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Re: Communications

Postby Tricia » Sun Nov 27, 2016 1:02 pm

Hi Geoff,
So sorry for your loss of your dad. Wishing you and your family comfort as you grieve.
Tricia
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Re: Communications

Postby mike cunningham » Mon Nov 28, 2016 5:42 pm

I used Iridium Go for the Transpac. I agree with all of Geoff's comments. I had a tablet and a smartphone interfaced but as Geoff suggests, give yourself plenty of lead time to sort the software, this is definitely not an "it just works" interface. External antenna is a must IMO. You want to keep the unit out of wet areas despite claims of proofness. Important: GPS reception is via antenna fixed to the device, not the external antenna. My spare chart plotter which has an integrated GPS antenna works great inside the cabin as did the Iridium Go GPS but check your install location before you commit. I have both units near the chart table on the 30. GPS downlinks seem to penetrate the deck and balsa core just fine.

Once you have everything going, it works very well for e-mail, weather, telephone and track transmission. The unlimited data is great because you can send receive e-mail, do tracking, download weather, send texts etc. to your hearts content. I was even able to send photos although you have to be mindful of size. No worries downloading weather/gribs every 12 hours. Some weather services are optimized for Iridium go and you would want to select one of those if you went this route.

Downside is you pay $125 per month and you can pretty much forget web surfing if my experience is any guide. Can be done but its really slow, even using a browser optimized for slow data rates.

The data plan can be terminated at any time, no contract. Be aware of the timing. I terminated upon the boats return to California and paid for a month while the boat was in its slip at home.

I had a delorme inreach explorer as a backup. Paid $60 per month for unlimited text and tracking. You can get location based weather form various services but I never bothered to figure out if I could get gribs.

Comms cost including my weather, was about $200 per month total for primary and BU systems. A good value of you are singlehanding across the Pacific. Probably no so much if you are out of touch for limited durations and really want/need the internet.
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Re: Communications

Postby sailmon » Wed Nov 30, 2016 9:42 am

Thanks All,
Still sorting out options - leaning toward cell booster and possibly in-reach. Will probably test out and try to keep our antique M601 going at a minimum to receive Chris' weather reports.
Geoff - sorry to hear about your dad. Hope you guys are doing OK.
Bob
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Re: Communications

Postby Kimber » Wed Nov 30, 2016 1:20 pm

I agree with Mike's and Geoff's comments, the Go works well once you figure it out. The boat I was on used one a few months ago when we crossed the Atlantic. Two of us were the primary users and we both downloaded weather gribs and played with the routing software daily, which was great for endless discussions!! During watch I would send out numerous emails on my smartphone from the cockpit and then on my next watch I could read the replies and look at the weather downloads. I highly recommend budgeting some serious time to fully understand the quirks before relying on it. Better yet, find someone familiar with the IridiumGO to come to your boat and give a tutorial. It will be well worth a few beers and much head scratching... In 2014 when I crossed much of the Pacific the boat I was on had the Delorme InReach. It worked but I much prefer the GO.
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Re: Communications

Postby mike cunningham » Wed Nov 30, 2016 8:21 pm

Responding to Kimber's post. Although I obviously did not need it, the Go does allow you to establish several on board users so different folks can use the system from their own smartphone / tablet. I believe they can even get their own Iridium mail. Its cool in this regard because crew basically has their own interface.
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Re: Communications

Postby mike cunningham » Thu Dec 01, 2016 11:58 am

Just a side note on Iridium. I realize Bob probably will not be going there but for anyone else interested, Iridium is beginning to launch their next gen satellites. Within a year or so we will start seeing increased digital bandwidth rolling out. A lot will depend on pricing but if they are reasonable about it, Iridium could be a compelling solution. I hope along with more bandwidth comes more customers and thus more money to square away the clunky software.
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