• Published:July 20, 2018
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Staying connected offshore has never been easier.

Communicating with someone on dry land can be done effectively and economically from far offshore, thanks to the latest in satellite connectivity.
My 13 year-old daughter was leaning against the coaming bolster, straining against the tug of a 50-pound yellowfin, when something popped out of her pocket, bounced of the gunwale, and fell into the ocean. I leaned forward just in time to ID it as her cell phone, drifting downward in a long, long fall to the bottom 150 fathoms below.




As anyone who has raised a teen girl in the past decade can tell you, this event was a radical tragedy on par with the complete destruction of planet Earth. She wailed with grief, handed the rod off, and curled into a moaning ball of wretchedness. Little did she know, Super Dad was on the case. After gaffing and icing the tuna, I whipped out my own phone and began texting Mom, even though we were 65 miles from the inlet. And by the time we returned to the dock, there was a brand-new cell phone waiting for us. Tragedy averted.

DATA STREAMING

Not long ago, offshore communications beyond VHF range was limited to expensive sat-phones and SSB radios. Those days are over. Now, there are several cost-effective units you can use to send a text to someone on dry land when you need to communicate from the canyons. The one I was using on that eventful afternoon was a DeLorme InReach, which paired with my phone via Bluetooth. Essentially, my phone sent the text to the InReach, which then bumped my message to the Iridium satellite network, then back on down to my wife’s phone.

Garmin acquired DeLorme and significantly expanded both its product line and ease of use. They produce the inReach SE+ which has a touchscreen with keypad for direct texting, the inReach Mini which isn’t large enough for a touchpad keyboard but pairs with your cell phone and the inReach Explorer+ which is geared toward hiking and land-based activities. Like satellite messengers of the past, these units also feature the ability to send an SOS at the press of a single button.

inReach units are relatively inexpensive, at $400 for the SE+ and $350 for the Mini. However, you need a monthly subscription for the satellite service (which you can de-activated during the off-season). The lowest-cost Safety plan starts $12/month with an annual contract and gives you 10 text messages and unlimited SOS messages per month. The top-flight Extreme plan starts at $80/month with unlimited texting.

HIT THE SPOT

SPOT similarly offers SOS-capable units both with and without keypads. There are, however, major differences between these messengers and Garmin’s. SPOT’s basic unit, the SPOT Gen3, doesn’t pair with your phone but instead allows you to pre-prep text messages, like “I’ll be late,” or “everything is going well.” While this is obviously a much more limited functionality, the SPOT Gen3 also costs less, at $170. The basic subscription plan costs $19.99/month.

The more advanced SPOT X provides two-way texting via an integrated hard-key keypad below the LCD screen, similar to those found on old Blackberries. And there’s not much of a cost-jump for the hardware, which goes for $249.99. The subscription for the SPOT X also seems quite reasonable, with $19.99/month for 25 messages and $29.99/month for unlimited messaging.

TEXTING ALL STATIONS

A unit with WiFi-to-cell tethering is the TextAnywhere, a simple little cube (just 4 inches tall and wide, and an inch and a half thick) that also uses the Iridium Constellation to bounce your messages or emails back to shore. At $399 it’s not the least expensive option in the bunch, but the subscription service is middle-of-the-road at $29.99, while offering a surprisingly extensive volume of up to 100 messages per month. It can also link up with iPads, tablets, and other devices.

CELL TO SATELLITE

The Iridium GO! takes things one step farther. It uses WiFi to connect with your cell phone and up to four others along with it. GO! allows you to use your cell phone for voice communications as well as texting. It essentially turns your cell phone into a sat phone.

As one might expect, the down-side to this expanded capability is cost. The GO! Retails for around $800. Subscription plans are also more expensive and choosing one can be a bit more confusing since they’re available from a number of different companies, but you can plan on spending at least $50/month for a basic plan and as much as $200 a month for unlimited plans.

While we’re pretty sure that texting offshore is both a curse and a blessing, the safety margin these devices provide is undeniably huge. Besides, when the ability to shoot a text form anywhere makes you Super Dad in they eyes of a 13-year-old girl, the expense seems downright paltry.

MANUFACTURERS

Garmin 

SPOT 

Text Anywhere

Iridium

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