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Communications Equipment

Communications at Sea

If you are sailing in one of World Cruising Club’s transocean rallies - ARC/ARC+, ARC Europe/USA, 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 must also have either an SSB (HF) radio or a satcoms terminal with an 'always on' data connection, with Certus 100 or Fleet One as a minimum for this standard. 

Choosing Equipment
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 Certus or Inmarsat Fleet. Starlink is a new system also offering fast connection, but currently has wide coverage gaps and is restricted in area and non-mobile use.

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)

NetworkEquipmentPrice $Extras$ Budget/MonthDataVoice
IridiumGo$900$425$0 to $150email via myiridium & weather via PredictWind (speed same a 9555)poor
InmarsatIsatPhone handset$800$45/$100very slow - not recommended, needs to be on-deckOK
HF RadioiCom 802 + pactor$3970$500$25email (1-10 text), GRIBS (small) 50kbLimited, via land station
Iridium9555 / 9575 handset$1100$500$45/$80email (1-10 text), GRIBS (small) 100/200kbGood
Iridium9522-P Installed$2100$350$45/$80Same as 9555 / 9575Good
 LT-3100$3495  $45/$80Fixed terminal with easy installation, VoUP, and options for GMDSS Good


Middle Capability

NetworkEquipmentPrice $Extras$ Budget/MonthDataVoice
InmarsatFleet One$4000$260$25/$150Speed 150kb; Over 100x faster than basic Iridium, and data 10/th cost. Must have offshore subscription. Good
IridiumCertus 100 (includes Skylink 6100, LT4100 & Go Exec)$3375-$0- $150Speed 88kb. Portable, lightweight with integral 4G cellular router.Good
 IridiumCertus 200 (includes Thales Vesselink 200)$5400  $0-$150Speed 176kb, lightweight and compact antenna. Good

Top Capability

NetworkEquipmentPrice $Extras$ Budget/MonthDataVoice
$50 to $200284kbs - bigger emails + attachments; large weather GRIBs, web browsingGood
IridiumCertus 700 (includes Thales Vesselink 700 and Sailor 700)$8,000/$9500$0 - $200Speed 750kb; fast and relliable data, suitable for business use/remote working.Good
 Starlink MaritmeStarlink Maritime/ Mobility Global Mobile From $3,000 TBC $250220MPS. Some geographical restrictions apply. Some coverage gaps. Good

Not Suitable for WCC Transocean* or Round the World Rallies

IridiumGarmin InReachOK for basic messaging; is not a true email system
IridiumYB ConnectOK for basic messaging; is not a true email system.
ThurayavariousCoverage not sufficient
GlobalStarvariousCoverage not sufficient 
 Starlink Standard Starlink StandardTerminals restricted to specific areas and not allowed for mobile use. Land terminals only.

Prices as at Oct 2022

Useful Contacts

SSB (HF) Radio Email
Chieftain Training - LRC training centre
Winlink (HAM only)
SSB Equipment
SailCom Marine (UK)
Sea Tech (USA)
SVB (worldwide)
SSB Weatherfax Programs
Mscan Meteo Pro
Satellite Equipment & Airtime
Sea Tech (USA)
YB Tracking