Sat Phones, Offshore Comm's and the Iridium GO!

The Iridium Go is sold as "the game changer" To that, for our situation, I would say... sort of but it doesn't tick all my boxes!

Liss recently added a photo on SailSurfROAM Instagram page of our "two Sat Phones” that we now carry on Roam.  It drew quite a few comments, questions and also info from others so I thought it's worth expanding on here. 

By the way neither of our "Sat Phones" by themselves are a “phone”.  We think both have their strengths and weaknesses and neither can "do it all".

Our take on Sat Phone over SSB/HF Radio

As a bit of background we decided early on to carry a Sat phone over an SSB/HF radio when we launched the boat.  For me, it's during the major emergencies that you really need 2 way comms to shore support and emergency response teams.  That’s where a Sat Phone is ahead of a built in Radio (SSB/HF), and an EPIRB for that matter, in my opinion.  IE it works when the rig is down, the boat is upside down, flooded, or if you have abandoned ship.  Why? It has its own power supply, it has some degree of weather proofing and its not built into the boat so it's mobile.  

In late 2015 we bought an Iridium Go.  For about 18 months we had it set up on a $50 a month pre-paid plan with Pivotel in Australia.  We primarily used it for SMS during passages with my Dad John providing the shore support and weather routing.  

However weather routing is quite onerous on him and ties him to his computer twice a day when we are on passage.  Which is fine when he is at home but when travelling or out and about its harder to put the time into it and requires decent internet.  Plus on longer passages where the end of the trip is out of forecast range when you set off, I as skipper would like to see my own weather maps as things develop. 

We eventually upgraded mid 2017 to an Iridium unlimited plan and use PredictWind Offshore which we will continue to sail with this season.  As I'm sure most know, this allows us to conduct our own weather reviews and routing on board.  Mum, Dad or Andy still provide shore support for daily position reports and are also there to help to review weather maps and plans as we go if needed. 

Behan at Sailing Totem, have written several great blogs on what its like to sail offshore with satellite weather routing and specifically the Iridium Go.  Check those out by clicking the below picture of the Totem website rather than me attempting to come close to describing it as well.

Our take on the drawbacks of the Iridium Go

What I really wanted to highlight was what the Iridium Go does not do so well.  The Iridium Go is not a stand alone device.  It does have a SOS button but you can not make calls or send and SMS directly from the unit.  There are two other buttons and a small screen to access the menus on the unit but it does not allow you to send SMS direct from the unit.  I think that is a short coming with the design that could easily make it more versatile.  

This means that if you intend to use this device as a safety device for 2 way comms you need to keep a smart phone or wifi device operational as well as the Iridium Go.  IE potentially you need to keep 2 devices charged and dry and functioning in an emergency situation….  for extended periods in a life raft or upturned multihull...  yeah right.  

The Iridium Go does have an SOS Button, but so does are an EPIRB.  For a one way transmission emergency response, EPIRBs are still the primary option, and as such mandated by minimum safety standards.  On ROAM we carry a full sized EPIRB and PLB sized EPIRB for final/last resort Mayday style emergency situations.  However there are so many other situations where 2 way comms are vital or situations/emergency response would be optimized if 2 way transfer of information is possible.  That's where the Sat Phone and EPIRB work together so well.  

So why 2 Sat Phones?

On long passages having updated weather routing is vital in my opinion.  By altering course to better suited weather, just even by deviating course by a 100Nm or so, you can turn a very average day offshore into something quite tolerable.  I have heard of quite a few people having Sat Phone issues of some shape or form, meaning loss of comms and weather forecasts during a passage.  Both sailing vlogers Delos and La Vagabonde have lost sat comms during passages and documented it in their videos conducting the remainder of their passage without comms to their shore support or weather updates.  Pretty stressful for crews on the boat and family at home.   

Offshore it’s a good rule of thumb to take two of everything you rely on, Rudders and engines included ;)  So we have elected to carry a 2nd Sat phone this season.  We chose to purchase a back up Sat Phone that also picked up the short comings of the Iridium Go unit.  

We wanted a robust, standalone, weather proof two way satellite communicator.  

The inReach unit fit the bill and we have decided run it on a $19 per month safety plan from Pivotel which doesn’t come with much included on the plan but allows us to send as many SMS as we need (under normal billing rates) in the event of an emergency or if the main Sat Phone goes down from anywhere directly from the device without the worry of running out of credit or keeping a smart phone running as well. 

Since purchasing our inReach unit I see more small 2 way Satilite units coming onto the market like this Spot X unit I recently saw advertised at half what I paid for the inReach unit plus a new inReach Mini version.

But what about SSB/HF Radios?    

Would it be nice to have an SSB/HF Radio on board as well? Sure! Joining in on the nets and keeping touch with other boats on passage would be great but so far I have not been able to justify the cost or overlook their short comings in many major emergencies.  For now they seem to be just on the wish list not the need to have list for us.  

Summing Up

As we continue to gain experience sailing offshore we are learning and ever improving our boat.  I feel like we are overall 95% there with how we want to set up ROAM now.  Its a good feeling.  The ability for us to go fairly remote and stay as long as we like pretty easily really is the proof.    

I am sure its liberating to sail without comms, weather reports and shore support.  Reading the weather from the sky and only relying on yourself.  But I'd rather save my kicks for surfing semi sizable waves (on sunny days) on my surfboard.  

Communications are important and I'm putting them in the "take a spare" category. 



Instagram discussion

  • 1michael.samuelIs the inreach explorer waterproof?
  • sailsurfroam@1michael.samuel water rating - withstands water exposure, tested for submersion at 1 meter for 30 minutes.
  • 1michael.samuel@sailsurfroam thanks.
  • ryguyrglove the inreach explorer too. could use some UX help, but it works well for my needs.
  • jobbo77Who are going with for a satellite plan?
  • mitchellphillips2481Awesome information thanks for posting
  • mitchellphillips2481Awesome information thanks for posting
  • mitchellphillips2481BTW have you got the new dinghy yet?
  • sailsurfroam@mitchellphillips2481 your welcome, any helpful info we can share we are always happy to give and in turn receive. Our @octenders tender is in the making 😍
  • pixlhhawesome device, had it for solo ocean sailing, often in my pocket as a two way comm emergency beacon, and even underneath my wetsuit when kitesurfing in dodgy offshore conditions. Find it better than EPIRB, but robustness is not as great. Failed on me once up in the mountains on a ski trip, was dead for a day, then fine again.
  • sailsurfroam@ryguyrg awesome thanks for the feedback, glad to hear it's working well.
  • sailsurfroam@pixlhh That's good feedback, and I didn't think of the use for kitebkarding!! Good idea :)
  • syrockstarNice
  • slow.travellingWe are investigating similar options so will be interested to see how it works for you!
  • pipsawyerWe share the same views with you about the practicality of abandoning ship with a GO, mobile phone and charger. As we had a sat Phone and a rugged power pack already we have nit bought a GO but the Redport Optimiser wifi router instead which also partners with Predictwind. This little device uses the Satphone to connect but then decompresses/compresses information and wirelessly delivers them to our computer and or iPad using XGate technology. Worked well last season. It was a lot less costly than investing in a GO, data plans aren’t as good but still not bad, weak point is still the Satphone connection to satellites and that’s out of our control
  • dustyadventures@mikesweet321
  • sailsurfroam@jobbo77 we set up a $19 per/mth safety plan with Pivotel in Aus
  • sailsurfroam@slow.travelling Just working on a blog now to expand on the discussion here. Check the FB page for updates this week
  • jobbo77@sailsurfroam thanks 👌⛵
  • sailsurfroam@pipsawyer Yeah we had to get an external antenna to get a more reliable connection. For a budget small weather proof 2 way satilite communicator I see the new Spot X looks like it might fit the bill. We set up the inReach on a $19/mth safety plan from Pivotel