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Communication Onboard

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Although we revel in the splendid isolation of sailing, we also want and need to communicate with the outside world. I think that 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 upto 20 miles offshore. The pros and cons are these are well documented, so no more needs to be said.

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.

Redbox router attached to wifi bat

Redbox router attached to wifi bat

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. The clever bit comes from the fact that it all just works. So we plugged in our sat phone. It works. 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. Again, this works.
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 like things that work without me screaming at them. So full marks so far to mailasail.Yes it’s a lot of money, but it works without any palava . In addition to this, when we have had any problems in setting up the unit, Ed the owner of Mailasail has been at the end of a phone line to talk through the fix. It is this level of support that means that we continue to be pleased with the unit.

We also have a sat phone for voice calls,which is mounted at the chart table.

How to send mail overseas

How to send mail overseas

In addition to this we installed an SSB radio. Now his was a difficult choice, the costs, the installation, the licence. It all added up. Did I mention the costs? We went back onto ybw and trawled the forums. Again people in the know seemed to think that once you leave Europe these things come into their own.
So we bought a used unit, a used aerial tuner and all the assorted cables. We purchased a KISS counterpoise. So far £1500! Now for the aerial, whip or insulated backstays? Insulated backstays won….£600 . A pactor modem £1100! For a frickin’ modem !!! Next the licence, £500 once you include a night in a cheap hotel. Also a subscription to sailmail $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 latest addition is a yellowbrick satellite tracker. This unit uses the iridium satellite network and allows messaging, email, Facebook and Twitter from anywhere.

Yellowbrick tracker

Yellowbrick tracker

It’s main functionality however is position reporting. It sends a position update automatically at preset intervals (we set ours at 4-6 hours). Our map can then be viewed online, and embedded in any website.

Yellowbrick tracking

Where we are now

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. So far it has been a gimmick , but we have high hopes for the future of this waterproof unit.

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