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Getting the message

Oct 25, 2013

Texting devices help voyagers communicate offshore

The wide use of texting ashore has made a text-based communications approach more attractive to today’s voyagers.

The wide use of texting ashore has made a text-based communications approach more attractive to today’s voyagers.

Courtesy DeLorme

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Voyagers venturing beyond the reach of cellular transmissions used to have only two communications tools at their disposal: HF SSB radio and satellite phones. Technology has now advanced, however, to the point where text messaging is a more affordable and sometimes preferred alternative, providing long-range capability and flexibility.

Many of the benefits of satellite-based texting were on display during the Bermuda Challenge in August. The team of Chris Fertig and Tyson Garvin made the 780-mile run from New York Harbor to Bermuda in 15 hours and 48 minutes, setting a new powerboat record despite having to stop twice to repair broken propellers. Along for the ride was the handheld DeLorme inReach SE, which allowed Fertig and Garvin to communicate with land-based support personnel and receive weather updates.

While inReach cannot receive automated forecast information, the two racers were able to stay abreast of the conditions via two-way texting once they were outside of cell range. “This information was critical as it allowed us to know the conditions that lay ahead and helped us determine the best speed to travel,” Fertig said.

Courtesy Iridium

The Iridium satellite constellation of low earth orbit satellites can relay signals if no earth station is in view.

Garvin said the duo had a satphone with them, but texting proved to be easier and more effective from the cockpit of their 39-foot Skater 399. The boat has twin 480-hp Cummins diesels and a top speed of 84 mph.

“In an open-canopy speedboat, it gets pretty noisy,” Garvin said. “With a satphone you would have to stop to make a call, and obviously we didn’t want to have to stop. We could text as we were going.”

Touch-screen version
The inReach SE, introduced in 2011, is a touch-screen version of the company’s original inReach model. Both devices utilize the Iridium global satellite network and pair wirelessly with iOS and Android products through DeLorme’s Earthmate app. When voyaging in areas beyond cell coverage, boaters can use their smartphone or tablet to access topographic maps and NOAA charts downloaded before their departure. Real-time GPS location and tracking information can be overlaid on the digital maps to assist in navigation.

Courtesy DeLorme

The DeLorme inReach SE makes use of Iridium satellites.

During the Bermuda Challenge, Fertig and Garvin used inReach SE’s tracking feature to transmit their boat’s coordinates at programmed intervals for family members and other interested parties on shore. In the event of an emergency, the device’s interactive SOS automatically triggers remote tracking and allows boaters to update their situation with a monitoring center so the appropriate resources can be deployed.

InReach SE provides free-form texting of up to 160 characters to any cellphone number, e-mail address or social media page, with low-latency data links — “less than 60-second delivery of messages end-to-end,” according to DeLorme. That proved useful as Fertig and Garvin were speeding toward Bermuda.

“I was running it through my iPhone, which already had my contact list entered into it, and you could text with it pretty quickly right from the list,” Garvin said. “It helped us a lot. If you didn’t have any problems you wouldn’t need it as much, but of course we had problems.”

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