Communications at Sea
If you are sailing in one of World Cruising Club’s transocean rallies - ARC/ARC+, ARC Europe/USA, Carib1500/Bahamas, and World ARC, your boat must have long-range communication equipment: either an SSB radio with pactor modem, or a satellite communications system capable of sending and receiving email messages whilst at sea. World ARC boats also need to have SSB (HF) radio.
The range of equipment options and costs can be confusing. Our simple guide (see table below) covers the most common options. We recommend you think about your communications needs before looking at equipment or budget.
Who needs to contact you?
Most cruisers just need to send and receive emails for weather and social communication so will satisfied with a basic Iridium (Go; 9555/9522P) connection or an SSB radio + pactor modem. However, if you are trying to run a business; need to send lots of emails; or make frequent calls, then you will need one of the more expensive options for faster data and instant connection such as Iridium Pilot, Iridium Certus or Inmarsat Fleet.
Do you need instant voice calls?
Is instant voice required, or is email sufficient? If you need to make or receive calls at sea, then you will need a satphone - Iridium 9555 is the basic portable handset. The Inmarsat iSatPhone is not recommended for data, but is fine for basic voice calls. Mobile handsets (9555/iSatPhone) will only work on deck where the antenna can “see” the sky. Below deck use requires an additional fixed marine antenna. The installed phones all have fixed external antennas. We do not recommend the Iridium Go for making and receiving calls; it is possible but only for occasional use. However, it is a good choice if you only want basic email.
How often are you sailing offshore?
Once you get on shore internet cafés are everywhere and local mobile telephones can be used for voice and email, so you may only need your “at sea” capability for short periods. The basic options (Go or 9555) may suit you.
What is your budget?
Look at the total cost – initial purchase, installation and on-going airtime charges. Think about help and support as part of your purchase, since at sea email systems are much more complex to set up than the “plug & play” internet connection you have as a home user. Before buying, ask what set-up help and on-going customer support is provided.
Be realistic in your expectations
At sea email is significantly slower and more expensive that the internet you are used to when ashore. Basic usage means just a few emails (1-10 plain text, per day) and occasional calls. Budget options provide basic functionality.
Offshore Communications Choices
Basic Capability (suitable for most cruisers)
|Iridium||Go||$900||$425||$0 to $150||email via myiridium & weather via PredictWind (speed same a 9555)||poor|
|Inmarsat||IsatPhone handset||$800||$45/$100||very slow - not recommended, needs to be on-deck||OK|
|HF Radio||iCom 802 + pactor||$3970||$500||$25||email (1-10 text), GRIBS (small) 50/100kb||Limited, via land station|
|Iridium||9555 / 9575 handset||$1100||$500||$45/$80||email (1-10 text), GRIBS (small) 100/200kb||Good|
|Iridium||9522-P Installed||$2100||$350||$45/$80||Same as 9555 / 9575||Good|
|Inmarsat||Fleet One*||$4000||$260||$45/$150||As Pilot but must have offshore subscription. Do not get the coastal only subscription. ||Good|
|Inmarsat||Fleet||$8,500||$50 to $200||284kbs - bigger emails + attachments; large weather GRIBs, web browsing||Good|
Not Suitable for WCC Transocean* or Round the World Rallies
|Iridium||Garmin in-Reach||OK for basic messaging; is not a true email system|
|Iridium||YB Connect||OK for basic messaging; is not a true email system.|
|Thuraya||various||Coverage not sufficient|
Prices as at Feb 2020