Although we revel in the splendid isolation of sailing, we also want and need to communicate with the outside world.
Whether it’s for weather updates, uploading videos and posts to the internet, or calling our mums to let them know that we’re still alive and well (this one’s important!), we need to be able to stay in close contact with our families, friends, followers and, of course, the weatherman. It’s fair to say that we have multiple methods of communication while at sea, which become more complex as we venture offshore.
Our simplest form of communication are mobile phones. We have found these to be effective up to 20 miles offshore. When in a new country, we almost always buy a local SIM card with data so we have access to the internet. This is our primary method of communication with the outside world when coastal cruising.
We decided that we wanted wifi onboard. For the first year we simply used a mifi wireless router from three mobile. Amazing bit of kit, but limited to mobile networks only.
So as an expensive upgrade we purchased a Redbox router from Mailasail, which we linked to a wifi bat, also from Mailasail.
Now I was hugely sceptical about this unit when I purchased it. It seemed like a huge amount of money for what in essence is a router and a wifi extending aerial….However, so far it has lived up to the hype.
In a nutshell, the unit functions as a wifi router. You log in and have wifi onboard. The genius comes from its functionality. You have the ability to plug things into it which help you communicate such as a sat phone. The router lets you choose the data compression rate to minimise usage and airtime.
The wifi bat plugs in to the redbox. its is wired through the boat and attached to the supporting pole of our wind generator. So far it seems to pick up wifi signals from at least a couple of miles away. Again it works, no faffing around. You select wifi from the redbox menu, chose the network, add a password and you’re away. We also plugged in a 3G dongle to the redbox. This means that for messaging, email and weather, we can use iPads, iPhones as well as laptops for offshore communications while still compressing the data.
We also have an Iridium sat phone for voice calls, emails and weather at sea, which is mounted at the chart table. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, we plug ours into the router, although it’s possible to connect it directly to a computer also. This is a reliable method of communication for us, and clearly we can use it anywhere in the world, no matter how isolated we are. However, air time is expensive and the data transmission rate is very slow. Technology is constantly changing in this area and, hopefully, becoming less expensive so we continue to reassess our sat phone communications regularly.
In addition to this we installed an SSB radio. This was a huge cost and to be honest, we’ve not seen the benefit yet. Apparently once you’re in the Pacific they’re invaluable… we hope that proves to be the case, because so far it’s not been necessary. At. All.
We bought a used unit, a used aerial tuner, all the assorted cables, and a KISS counterpoise. So far £1500! Now for the aerial, whip or insulated backstays? Insulated backstays won….£600. A pactor modem £1100! For a modem! Next the licence, £500 once you include a night in a cheap hotel. Also a subscription to sailmail which is $200 yearly and a Windows laptop £300 (as the mail programme doesn’t work with Apple products). A large sum of money, for a device that only time will tell if this reaps the benefits. I will report back.
Our secondary method of communicating- a backup to our other systems- is a Yellowbrick satellite tracker. This unit uses the Iridium satellite network and allows messaging, email, Facebook and Twitter from anywhere.
It’s main functionality however is position reporting. It sends a position update automatically at preset intervals (we set ours at 4-6 hours when underway, and much less frequently- if at all- when we’re cruising between islands or coastal cruising). Our map can then be viewed online, and embedded into our website. While there are other units that do the same, mainly the Delorme units, the Yellowbrick won because a) it’s British and aimed at the yachting market, and b) the world cruising club use them for the ARC. Check out our Tracking page here for our latest position report.
Hope that was all helpful! Let us know of any questions you have in the comments section down below!