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The pocket satellite communicator

Nov 16, 2010

Modern cruise ships carry Electronic/Communications Officers and racks of communications equipment in order to keep the ship’s crew and its passengers in touch with the folks back home. Most of this traffic is passed through the use of the C-band satellite system. All of the passengers’ two-way telephone calls with family and friends ashore go through the C-band system as well as the computer Internet traffic. So when you call your kids from sea or when you’re surfing the World Wide Web or exchanging e-mails with friends, it is via the ship’s satellite dishes. Such equipment as a spectrum analyzer, a radio IDU, a satellite modem, an antenna control unit, and a T1 channel bank is just a partial list of the required equipment necessary to allow passengers to pick up a phone in their cabin and to talk with the world. But what about you as a private recreational boat owner/sailor? How do you communicate while at sea?

Good news for you, your satellite communications system has arrived. I'm talking about Inmarsat’s IsatPhone Pro. This new and welcome addition to available portable hand-held satellite telephones is very compact, capable and affordable. Just what the recreational sailor needs for staying in touch ashore for general communications and also as an emergency link. Inmarsat’s new satellite phone is only 6.7” inches long, 2.1 inches wide, and 1.5 inches deep, and weighs a mere 9.8 ounces. With its lithium-ion battery it can reportedly provide as much as 100 hours of standby time and eight hours of talk time. The best part is its price is as low as $588.00 and it has a per minute cost as low as 60 cents. The IsatPhone Pro is also very robust and is dust, splash, and shock resistant and designed to operate in temperature extremes from -4° to +131° F. This means it will work in rain storms, dust storms, searing heat, sub-zero cold, tropical humidity or even freezing fog.

The IsatPhone Pro uses the three Inmarsat-4 satellites which should give it worldwide coverage up to 70 degrees north and south latitudes. Two other very nice features about this satellite phone is it includes Bluetooth for hands-free use and also provides GPS position data.

Satellite phones are very handy devices to carry on board your vessel and can save your life in many different types of emergencies. I recently attended an Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles function where Zac Sunderland was one of the special speakers. Sunderland related how that during his attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone he used his satellite phone to summon help to thwart a potential pirate attack in the Indian Ocean. He has said that without that call for help, things might have gone severely wrong and his very life could have hung in the balance! His younger sister Abby was unable to use her two satellite phones during her dismasting in the Indian Ocean due to the fact that they both got wet and shorted out after a rogue wave rolled her sailboat Wild Eyes. This brings up an important point: When not actually using your satellite phone, put it in a waterproof bag and keep it in the microwave where you can find it in a hurry and where they will be protected from lightning and electrostatic discharge.

Solo sailor Ken Barnes used his satellite phone after getting dismasted 500 miles off the coast of Cape Horn to call his girlfriend and to check on the status of his rescue. He had already activated his EPIRB, but wanted to know when his rescue was to take place. This information would tend to give one piece of mind and help them coordinate with rescue forces. Another very important use for a satellite phone is for medical consultation during an emergency. Two commercial organizations to check with are “Radiomedical & MEDICO, but don’t wait until the last minute, contact them before your cruise and set things up. Write down the following protocol and use it just in case you need to contact them or the Coast Guard for medical advice.

·       Name of vessel
·       Vessel radio call sign
·       Vessels position (lat & long)
·       General description of medical resources
·       List of ports visited where exotic or infectious diseases could be contracted
·       Patient’s gender
·       Patient’s age
·       Patient’s history
·       Patient’s vital signs
·       Patient’s symptoms
·       Presumed cause of illness or accident
·       Observations
·       Any other relevant information

Now that you see how important a satellite phone can be and how inexpensive they have become, make sure you get one and don’t leave shore without it!

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