Friday, January 10, 2014

Communications on a Cruising Sailboat

One of the biggest changes since many how-to cruising books were written is the communications revolution brought about by wireless networks, satellite phones, and the Internet. Single side band radio, long distance telephone calls, and post restante mail pick-up used to be the only options for long range communications. Now we have satellite phones that provide voice calls and internet access anywhere on the globe (at a price). SSB radio can be used with a special modem or most recently with modem emulation in software to send and receive emails. This works within a few thousand miles of a base station, so while coverage is not worldwide it is pretty good. Access is free for HAM operators and nominal (via Sailmail) for non-HAMs and we use this method of email access, to post blog entries, and stay in touch in case of urgent messages from our families.

Until last year, we had always used wifi access (802.11) for all our internet and email access when coastal cruising or in harbours . This changed in Fiji where we found wifi coverage to be poor and discovered that access via cellphone networks was actually quite reasonable and fast. In Fiji, a Vodaphone dongle and 1 GB of access cost us only about $20 Canadian. In New Zealand the same thing came to twice that with data top-ups costing at least twice as much as in Fiji, too. Despite the higher prices, 3G cellular access for web browsing and email makes sense for a cruiser. Here in New Zealand, the cost per month amounts to about $15-20 Canadian for 1.5 GBs - enough to provide daily email access, some light web surfing, and a couple of skype calls a week. I am currently sailing along 8 miles offshore and can still access a signal while underway to post this blog entry. Magic! 

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