SAIL - - Front Page - If you want to stay per­ma­nently con­nected when sail­ing off­shore, satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the only way to go. The op­tions for sailors have never been bet­ter By Dun­can Kent nal­re­search.com

Mod­ern sat­com de­vices and net­work air­time costs have dropped in price re­cently as more “birds” are launched and more con­stel­la­tions are cre­ated. This has re­sulted in sev­eral low-cost voice and data, or data-only, com­mu­ni­ca­tors be­ing made avail­able to the bud­get­con­scious sailor.

Some sys­tems al­low the user to con­nect a smart­phone or tablet to the In­ter­net for both voice and data ser­vices; oth­ers sim­ply trans­mit track­ing data back to pre-de­ter­mined con­tacts back home, via SMS or email. Ei­ther way, they are be­com­ing a good deal more user-friendly, both in set­ting-up and in op­er­a­tion, although you need to study the small print of the ser­vice agree­ments care­fully as there are nu­mer­ous “ex­tras” you can be charged for. Some providers of­fer a Pay-as-you-Go ser­vice, but many monthly air­time con­tracts in­volve sign­ing up for a min­i­mum of a year to get the best rates.


The Shout Nano is a hand­held, global, two- way satel­lite mes­sag­ing and per­sonal track­ing de­vice that uti­lizes Irid­ium’s SBD ser­vice to pro­vide GPS lo­ca­tion, free text mes­sag­ing and emer­gency alert­ing. Be­ing a two-way de­vice means alerts can be con­firmed and de­tails of the emer­gency sent and up­dated in de­tail.

The Nano can be used to send a quick “check in” man­u­ally, with one but­ton press. How­ever, be­ing equipped with a high-res­o­lu­tion color LCD and an on-screen key­board, both “canned” (pre­des­ig­nated and stored) and free text mes­sages can be transmitted. It can also be set to au­to­mat­i­cally “wake up” pe­ri­od­i­cally and send a po­si­tion re­port to a des­ig­nated mon­i­tor­ing cen­ter.

Hav­ing a 1.95Ah recharge­able Li-Ion bat­tery and ul­tra-low power con­sump­tion (less than 35mA asleep) means it can send a po­si­tion re­port ev­ery 10 min­utes, over more than 10 days, on one charge.

The sys­tem also has a cov­ered emer­gency but­ton at the back that, when pressed, will send a dis­tress alert to a pre-pro­grammed con­tact.


Mazu is an iPad app that, when con­nected wire­lessly to SkyMate mSeries sat­com hard­ware, of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive choice of dataonly fea­tures, in­clud­ing e-mail, SMS, SOS, weather, nav­i­ga­tion and re­mote track­ing. It has no voice-car­ry­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, how­ever, and is cur­rently only avail­able for the iPad.

The Mazu app re­lies on other com­po­nents to make it func­tion, pri­mar­ily the SkyMate ISI-2000 sys­tem in­ter­face, which also pro­vides Wi-Fi ac­cess for the tablet. It also re­quires a com­pact, ex­ter­nal Smart An­tenna con­tain­ing an Irid­ium SBD (Short Data Burst) trans­ceiver and GPS re­ceiver. Fi­nally, the sys­tem in­cludes a four-but­ton key­pad for alerts and SOS sig­nal­ing. All these com­po­nents (ex­cept the iPad) can be bought to­gether in the mSeries pack­age, with all nec­es­sary ca­bles and in­stal­la­tion in­struc­tions.

The SkyMate mod­ule col­lects data from your ves­sel’s in­stru­ment net­work, so you can not only be tracked eas­ily, but boat data, such as po­si­tion, speed and head­ing, can be transmitted us­ing SMS or e-mail via an ex­ter­nally-mounted satel­lite trans­ceiver such as the Mazu Smart An­tenna. The beauty of the Mazu app is that

it in­te­grates SkyMate with your reg­u­lar e-mail client, so once the new ac­count has been set up you’ll re­ceive e-mail just as if you were con­nected di­rectly to the In­ter­net ashore. You can also keep a blog on SkyMate’s web­site, for all your fam­ily and friends to fol­low your progress.

In an emer­gency, a ded­i­cated SOS but­ton pro­ce­dure al­lows the user to send a dis­tress alert di­rectly to the GEOS res­cue net­work, as well as alert­ing cer­tain pre-des­ig­nated con­tacts by SMS.

The app can also han­dle weather data, in­clud­ing GRIB files, for up to seven days ahead, plus seven-day point fore­casts, live buoy data, NEXRAD radar images, NOAA zone fore­casts, weather alerts and trop­i­cal storm in­for­ma­tion.

An ad­di­tional op­tion is the 16-chan­nel Sen­try mon­i­tor­ing kit (+$250), for those who wish to re­motely mon­i­tor their boat’s po­si­tion, and alarms such as in­truder, an­chor drag, bilge level and bat­tery volt­age. Power for the hard­ware is 12/24V and standby con­sump­tion only 4W.

Once you’ve bought the app and all the re­quired hard­ware, you’ll need to sign up to one of the many con­nec­tion plans, start­ing at $39.99 per month. The Sen­try re­mote mon­i­tor­ing pack­age is an ad­di­tional $10 per month.


Irid­ium has been pro­vid­ing a rel­a­tively low­cost sat­com ser­vice to sailors and trav­el­ers for a cou­ple of decades. Not only does it pro­vide a choice of por­ta­ble phones ca­pa­ble of voice and data trans­mis­sion, but its new Wi-Fi data/voice mod­ule, Irid­ium Go! is also prov­ing ex­tremely pop­u­lar. It works just like a Wi-Fi wire­less router in that it pro­vides a hotspot to which up to five de­vices, such as smart­phones and tablets, can con­nect wire­lessly, within a range of 100 feet. The mod­ule then en­ables ac­cess to the In­ter­net via its con­stel­la­tion of Low Earth Or­bit (LEO) satel­lites, us­ing the SBD method to trans­mit data in the most eco­nom­i­cal way. It can also pro­vide voice con­nec­tion through the same ter­mi­nal.

This rugged, pocket-sized, por­ta­ble unit is pow­ered by a 3.6Ah recharge­able bat­tery pack and comes with USB, 12Vdc and 110Vac charg­ers.

Two lev­els of ser­vice are avail­able, although the most use­ful to cruis­ing sailors is the Irid­ium Mail and Web op­tion, which pro­vides fast, queued e-mail, pop-up/ad blocker and data com­pres­sion to speed up trans­mis­sion.

Air­time is monthly with a min­i­mum of three months, and the cost de­pends on whether you want data alone, or voice and data. irid­ium.com


Orig­i­nally the Delorme in­Reach, Garmin’s in­Reach Ex­plorer+ com­bines two-way mes­sag­ing, SOS alert­ing and ves­sel track­ing abil­i­ties, us­ing the Irid­ium LEO satel­lite net­work. In ad­di­tion, it fea­tures pre-loaded charts with on­screen GPS rout­ing and a built-in dig­i­tal compass, baro­met­ric al­time­ter and ac­celerom­e­ter.

Although the unit was orig­i­nally in­tended as a ter­res­trial lo­ca­tion de­vice, Garmin has ex­panded its ca­pa­bil­i­ties to en­sure it can be­come an es­sen­tial part of a sea-go­ing ves­sel’s safety in­ven­tory. You can also now pair an iOS or An­droid de­vice with the in­Reach Ex­plorer+ and, us­ing Garmin’s EarthMate app, have ac­cess to down­load­able maps and send mes­sages us­ing the mo­bile de­vice’s own key­board.

The Ex­plorer+ not only al­lows the user to au­to­mat­i­cally send track­ing in­for­ma­tion to third par­ties via a web-based map­ping fa­cil­ity, but it also en­ables data such as e-mail and SMS to be transmitted and re­ceived at any time, mak­ing it easy for those on ocean cross­ings to keep in touch with fam­ily, friends or work.

In an emer­gency the user can send a dis­tress call to the GEOS global res­cue re­sponse cen­ter by sim­ply press­ing an SOS but­ton, in a sim­i­lar fash­ion to an EPIRB or PLB. Once the cov­ered SOS but­ton is pushed and held down for five sec­onds your GPS co-or­di­nates will be au­to­mat­i­cally transmitted ev­ery two min­utes until you can­cel the alert. The Ex­plorer will also let you down­load weather fore­casts for your cur­rent lo­ca­tion and for your in­tended des­ti­na­tion.

As with all sat­com sys­tems, an ac­tive air­time subscription is re­quired. De­pend­ing on your us­age level, you can opt for an an­nual con­tract pack­age or flex­i­ble monthly air­time plan.

In­cluded in the in­Reach subscription is ac­cess to an on­line ac­count from where you can man­age de­vice set­tings and con­tacts, pre-set mes­sages, MapShare set­tings and billing. You can also link to so­cial me­dia ac­counts, setup way­points and routes and up­grade firmware. garmin.com


SPOT de­vices use the Glob­al­star satel­lite net­work, which is more lim­ited in its cov­er­age, hav­ing fewer satel­lites over the oceans than the Irid­ium net­work. How­ever, as a ba­sic, low­cost, data-only sig­nal­ing and track­ing de­vice it ap­pears to be grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity among the cruis­ing fra­ter­nity.

As with the other units, the SPOT Gen3 has an SOS but­ton to alert the GEOS res­cue au­thor­i­ties in an emer­gency. Fam­ily and friends can also fol­low your progress on­line us­ing a SPOT Share Page, which you can pre-set to au­to­mat­i­cally up­date your track ev­ery 5, 10, 30 or 60 min­utes. There is also a “Check In” fa­cil­ity, whereby you can send up to 10 regis­tered con­tacts a pre­pro­grammed text mes­sage or e-mail with your GPS co­or­di­nates, along with a link to your GPS po­si­tion, which will be re­tained for later ref­er­ence and/or in­te­grated into a SPOT Shared Page or so­cial net­work such as Face­book, Twit­ter or a SPOT Adventure ac­count. find­mespot.com


An­other method of keep­ing in con­tact while at sea is by us­ing a GSM to Irid­ium cell-to-satel­lite con­verter, in the form of a sim­ple case for your iPhone (6+) or An­droid smart­phone.

The SAT­case is sim­i­lar to any ruggedi­zed smart­phone case with a hard­ened, clear panel on the front, through which you ac­cess the touch­screen. The big difference is this case has sat­com tech­nol­ogy built in, so not only does it pro­tect your de­vice from phys­i­cal dam­age and flu­ids, it also con­verts a stan­dard cell­phone into a sat­phone us­ing a Blue­tooth con­nec­tion, rather than plugs and/or ca­bles.

The SAT­case comes with its own Irid­ium SIM card, so all you have to do is sign up to your cho­sen Irid­ium air­time plan. Then you sim­ply down­load the SAT­case app and pair your phone with the case, af­ter which you can op­er­ate the phone as nor­mal with all your phone’s con­tact de­tails re­main­ing the same.

Like all these de­vices, the SAT­case has a guarded SOS but­ton that when pressed, ac­ti­vates a dis­tress call, send­ing a dis­tress mes­sage and your GPS po­si­tion to res­cue ser­vices.

The SAT­case has its own bat­tery, and plug­ging a charger into it charges both the phone and case bat­tery to­gether. sat­case.com s

MAZU/SkyMate mSeries



With to­day’s tech­nol­ogy it’s cheap and easy to stay in touch from any­where



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