June 24, 2016

Friday Funny 6/24

Satellite Phone Short Cuts [Iridium 9575] and Important Phone Numbers

This post was originally to announce this new page in our sidebar category Stuff we have and use [and do...]

This post now automatically redirects to the maintained permanent page.

Please read our updated page [which was last updated July-2017] to see the most recent information, as this post is only an announcement and will become out-of-date over time... 

The out-of-date original post follows: [24-June-2016] The text is aged parchment color to remind you this is the old version...  _________________________________________________

Original post 24-June-2016:

We use an Iridium Extreme satellite phone [Model 9575] when we travel in regions where we cannot use our mobile phones and there is no WiFi available.

Following is some information about using this phone [some of which may apply to other phones...] which we share in advance with our guests [and fellow sat phone users...]

We include ways for testing some of the 9575 features, querying minutes remaining, and sources of important phone numbers we like to have on hand in case of need. 

Since our satellite phone is just one of several ways of communicating with us, we maintain a comprehensive document detailing methods and procedures for contacting us. 

We only share this document with select friends and family using Google Docs as the gatekeeper. [As outlined on our Computers, Devices, and Applications page...] 

We also share our contact document via a link we add to the comments section on the NOAA registrations for our EPIRBs and PLBs so any SAR authorities can gain immediate access. [We do this in part because, for unknown reasons, the NOAA emergency beacon registration forms do not accommodate satellite phone numbers- as of June-2016 anyway...]

Here is a sample version of our live Contacting Denali Rose document in case it is of interest.

Iridium 9575 Documentation:

The [222 page...] Iridium manual is not required reading, but perhaps worth having in your virtual library to help keep Murphy at bay...

The quick start guide may be worth a glance, however...

How to make a voice call:
First, a note for our guests about our current sat phone plan: We can call world wide. However our current [discounted] service plan only allows the phone to operate when physically located within Alaska or Canada, and when within ~20 miles offshore of those respective coastlines...
Here is my quick start guide for making voice calls using our sat phone [This is pretty much just like any cell phone...]
  • Turn on phone
  • The phone must have clear view of the sky
    • Point top of antenna to the sky [The tip of the antenna tilts so you can point it straight up...]
    • The phone may work acceptably well inside of fiberglass boat cabin if not connected to the external antenna
  • Wait for green light [indicating it is on the network]
    • A 3 bar minimum signal is preferred for a longer call duration [before dropping...]
      • All sat phone calls drop eventually due to satellite orbits
  • Enter the complete 11 digit phone number [just like dialing from a mobile or land phone]
    • Country Code [1 for US and Canada]
    • Area Code
    • Phone Number
  • Press Green key to initiate call
  • Press Red key to end call
A note about dialing our sat phone: The 9575 can be programmed to accommodate standard international dialing protocols. We choose this so that in case of an emergency, no specialized dialing knowledge is required 
Why is this important? You must dial 00 (zero zero) first when calling from a sat phone. The 9575 (and probably other sat phone models) does this internally via a setting if we so choose, eliminating the need to remember [and possibly forget under duress...] this requirement... 

More about the Iridium 9575:

GPS: If you are not familiar with this model sat phone, it also has a built-in GPS (which only works well outdoors in clear view of sky- otherwise we have witnessed it off target by as much as 5-10 miles...) 

SOS: It also has a red SOS button (using GEOS, which is the same as a DeLorme or Spot device...) 

The red panic [SOS] button will get the same response as activating a PLB for life or death only situations... [See how to test, below.]

Phone numbers we like to have on hand in printed and electronic form:

Along with our regular phone book of numbers, here are some additional phone numbers we like to keep waterproof print-outs of [as well as keeping fresh copies in our virtual library and programming into our mobile and sat phones]:
  • Alaska SAR [Search and Rescue] phone numbers [Other states are also available from this source...]
  • USCG RCCs [Rescue Coordination Centers]
    • USCG RCCs Alaska:
  • Reporting and Cancelling accidental EPIRB, PLB, ELT activations
  • 911: You can also dial a central 911 emergency service from an Iridium 9575 sat phone... [but not all sat phones...]
  • Free Phone Test Call: 1-480-752-5105 [I believe this is Iridium only...]
    • Use to confirm phone is operational and learn how to make a call
    • If phone is working, you will hear a recorded call completion confirmation message
  • Minutes remaining on sat phone account: Call or Text 2888
    • Here is an example of an automated response from texting 2888 [analogous to texting *3282# on your mobile phone for a cell data usage report]: 
      You have 134 minutes. Your account will expire on Nov 06, 2016. [Renewal date... every 6 months] This account has no minutes expiring between now and Nov 6, 2016. [Minutes roll forward upon renewal and expire after 3 years.]

Testing the SOS (GEOS) safety service:

It is recommended you test the SOS setting on your device routinely. [We do this annually right after renewing the sat phone plan.]

Before calling the appropriate number below, please make sure you have your sat phone's IMEI number and Iridium sat phone number ready. 
  • +1 888 460 4554 (Toll free - US Only)
  • +1 281 271 8588 (International customers)
  • Press option 6, then option 1
  • The recording will ask you to go back to the main menu and select a non-emergency number if this is not an emergency
    • Please ignore this message and allow the system to connect you with the emergency operations centre in order to conduct the test 
  • Then tell the operator that you would like to test the SOS feature on your Iridium product and they will inform you to deploy an SOS and will inform you if the SOS is working correctly 

June 18, 2016

SMS devices vs. Sat Phone for Wx data [Updated May-2017]

We occasionally participate in various boating forums. [See our Some Forums We Read sidebar for links...]

Some of those topics may be relevant here, so sometimes we repost to our blog for reference.

The following may be one of those cases. To accommodate our non-boating blog readers, add additional detail, and/or just cause more confusion, I sometimes add some additional {information and links} to the original forum post, below.

And since we are talking about electronics, in the future technology described on this page will become dated and/or obsolete. Therefore, we will attempt to keep this information current regarding what we have and use, and what we are researching/considering for the future. Consequently, this page may be updated over time...

––––––––– Updated 30-May-2017 [by Bill] –––––––––

Introduction and background:

Delorme [now owned by Garmin] makes some great two-way satellite [Iridium] text [SMS- short message service] communicators that connect wirelessly to your smart phone(s). They seem to be usurping the once ubiquitous one-way SMS devices from Spot in the marketplace.
What is SMS? [Short Message Service]
SMS is what we typically call 'texting' or 'instant messaging' on our smart phone. It is limited to text characters only. [MMS (Multimedia Message Service) is what allows us to send photos, videos, sound clips and the like...] 
SMS messages are limited to 160 text characters per message. Multiple short messages can be chained together [concatenated] to make longer messages. But unlike email where the entire message is contained in one document, SMS is limited when longer pages of information are involved... 
SMS is great for quick, abbreviated communiqués. But do you want to read a letter composed of 20 small bits of paper, or have it all together on one sheet of paper...? 
Not only can you text with anyone in the world from anywhere in the world, but you can also log your location on a map for friends and family to follow your journey, and send SOS distress signals. 

There are many usage plans. e.g, For US$60/month you can have unlimited texting, and pause your plan when you don't need it. [You cannot currently pause Iridium phone plans in the same way without loosing minutes and/or service...] 

Recently, DeLorme introduced weather subscription services. 

However, for ocean sailing, and particularly high latitude adventures, the weather products available on SMS devices are deficient in some aspects. 
For example, SMS weather products do not currently include some of the weather forecast information considered important- perhaps critical- by many sailors for forecasting marine weather. [e.g., weather fax, GRIB files*, satellite imagery, etc.]
In the following 'reprint' of a forum discussion, I propose that a satellite phone [and perhaps even a satellite IP device like the Iridium GO! (references embedded in forum discussion, below...)] is almost as cost effective as an SMS only device, and is capable of requesting and receiving the missing weather forecast products not available via SMS only [not to mention email and voice communications in addition to SMS...] 

My proposal is that a sat phone [or hot spot like the Iridium GO!] is presently a better choice for a boat at sea than a device limited to SMS only if one needs detailed marine weather products... 

Please read this post in its entitreity before assuming I am panning two-way SMS only devices... I'm not; they have their place... just not for marine weather forecasting... Not yet anyway...


Link to Original forum post [7-Jun-2016]

Re: Complete Com and Weather with inReach

Originally Posted by artisthos View Post
I think I have solved our weather and communications system. Use an inReach. DeLorme inReach - Two-way satellite text messaging, tracking and SOS anywhere in the world now they have weather.
The expedition plan is $65 a month which you can purchased by the month. Each weather download is a dollar. I have not confirmed that this is the Premium Marine Plan which we would have.
The inReach Explorer device is $380. Plugging it into a pad or laptop would give you the weather with wind and waves.
You can communicate with unlimited 114 character messages.
Combine this with a AIS VHF receiver to see ships broadcasting.
A chart plotter like GPS Navigator may complete the system.
Plus it would be easy on the batteries.

Maybe we could avoid getting radar which is hell on the battery.

Thanks for a great group, I'd buy you all a beer if I could find the link.
Hi Tom,

What a fun adventure you have planned.

As a fellow high latitude sailor [but on the other coast...] I would encourage you to gain a deeper understanding of the marine weather [and Wx forecasting] in the areas you plan to travel before concluding that the automated products currently available via SMS only [Delorme, etc.] are adequate for your needs.

My statement has nothing to do with whether the DeLorme, Yellowbrick, and similar two way SMS devices are useful. They are, but within limits with regards to weather products.

Expanding on what I mean about Marine Wx, I believe there is a difference between understanding the Wx, and understanding the Wx products available for diagnosing/predicting/confirming the Wx where you are. [For more details, here is a related blog post which links back to another somewhat related discussion on this forum, and contains links to some of the excellent marine Wx resources we rely upon...]

What are some of the Wx products I cannot do without when traversing higher latitudes that are not all available via SMS? 

  • Weather Fax [surface forecasts and 500mb charts]
  • Satellite Images
  • Forecaster's Discussion [What were 'they' thinking?...]
  • Detailed Marine Forecasts
  • GRIB files of my choosing [variable data as needed; one download feeds several applications onboard]
  • Etc.

Very recently I assisted some fellow sailors on a crossing they made by aggregating [and sometimes interpreting...] and sending Wx info they could not find/receive through other resources on their DeLorme InReach, so I have some recent experience with this.

It looks like the recently released DeLorme Wx offering is a nice interface rendering GRIB data. But I constantly remind myself GRIB data is computer generated and not interpreted by a human- except you and I... WeFax charts contain those interpretations, as well as illustrate fronts, have ship reports from the area, etc...

Another point I would like to make is, after a quick cost analysis I would argue that doing all this via sat phone costs about the same, and yields far more usable results and capabilities.

e.g., A used Iridium Sat phone costs the same [for older phones- scroll down to the 9505] as a new InReach. [For the sake of discussion, newer used sat phones cost twice as much. Scroll to 9555 on above link...]

Your annual unlimited SMS service with DeLorme is US$65/mo for a monthly contract, or $600/yr for an annual contract; 500 Int'l sat phone minutes are US$730/yr. We use about 400 minutes/year downloading Wx data twice daily [as needed], and send/receive text only email and SMS messages as well. And we can make voice calls in an emergency.

DeLorme forecasts are US$1/each, so that would be US$2/day for us. For US$1/day we subscribe to UUplus service so we can download any Wx products we need [all free via SailDocs] and send/receive email with anyone. Of course it uses sat phone minutes, but that is already accounted for above.

We can also do all of the above on our Marine SSB/MF/HF radio, but we choose to use the sat phone for reliability and expediency.

[Here is my detailed write-up about our Sat phone and costs, which includes more specifics (and hopefully clarity) with links to much of what I mentioned above.]

In closing, please don't take my comments as discouragement regarding your adventure. Please accept them as encouragement to further your depth of understanding of marine weather- especially for the complicated weather areas you plan to explore.

There are many Wx prediction products, and several somewhat cost effective methods for receiving them while on the water. I hope this provides more food for thought as you work through what might be best for you.

Best wishes with your impending adventure!



PS: As a side note, I would also strongly advise RADAR capability for your trip [Dense Fog...] The newer digital units (3G, 4G, etc.) are very easy on the batteries... [We have a 4G and speak from experience...]

Additional Resources:

June 10, 2016

A Friday Funny

Life Vests [PFDs]

This post has now been added to our Stuff We Have and Use [and Do...] sidebar...

Please read that version of this post as it will be updated over time...


Original post:

In late 2013 we evaluated inflatable PFD/harness combinations and decided the Spinlock Deckvest Pro 5D PFDs met our needs best [and are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time...] 

You have a choice of two different auto-inflation mechanisms; Pro and Hammer:

  • Hammer is a hydrostatic release for extreme conditions. [Like on a life raft or auto deploying EPIRB.] The vest is inflated when submerged in 10cm of water for a few seconds. 
  • Pro is the type of activation most of us are familiar with: a pellet quickly dissolves and caused the vest to inflate soon after hitting the water.
    • Can be converted to manual only by installing a reasonably priced kit.
  • Both have manual rip cord inflation, and oral inflation.

We chose the Pro sensor type for convenience [quick change outs] and because re-arm kits are half the price of the Hammer kits.

But what about the vest accidentally inflating in the rain or if struck by green water on deck?

The following video helped convinced us we would be fine with the Pro sensors, and we have been:

We also have well fitting non-inflatable PFDs and separate harnesses, so we have flexibility for different situations. 

However, our Spinlock 5D inflatables still get the most wear because: [from the Spinlock website...]
  • Very light, comfortable design for use over long periods
  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Pylon Light™ – high intensity, water activated flashing LED Light. 23cm flexible antenna wand gives improved visibility above head & water
  • Lume-On™ - Lifejacket bladder illumination lights included
  • Deck safety harness with soft loop safety line attachment point
  • Double crotch straps
  • Sprayhood - to reduce the risk of secondary drowning
  • Quick access emergency safety line cutter
  • Toggle attachment point for Chest Pack - DW-PCC (170N only)
  • Now available in 3 colours: Black, Pacific Blue, Tropic White
  • Unique ‘Shoulder Fit System’ flexes and locates ensuring correct fit on shoulders every time
  • New back adjustment – hidden and non snag for easy, simple adjustment
  • Easily converts to ‘manual only’ firing head with a Manual Conversion Kit
  • Through Life Support (TLS) Registration extends product warranty to 5 years

Testing the PFD fit and our installation of the first generation of the Smartfind AIS POB beacon. [Yellow device with short, grey antenna. Note the built-in Pylon light above my right shoulder. Today we would buy the Oceansignal MOB1 with AIS and VHF DSC capability.]

These POB beacons auto-activate when the vest inflates. [In this case using a tire pump, not orally. We don't want to introduce moisture inside the bladder each time we test the PDFs...]

Oh, and since you are wondering; we gave ourselves these PFDs and AIS beacons for Christmas while at home that year, so these photos were shot on our 'other' deck...

Sea hood up [some would argue this is the better picture...] Yes, the hood has quarter-sized holes along the bottom and a couple up top to let air in and water out. The idea is to avoid being waterboarded if floating in inclement conditions... [Note: the AIS beacon antenna is still correctly deployed with the hood up, albeit closer to the wearer's face...]

We also recommend the Spinlock Belt Packs for securely carrying additional gear. [e.g., VHF, flairs, flashlight, etc.]

We installed the first generation AIS transmitters when we received our vests. Today I wouldn't hesitate to order one with a factory installed MOB1 which is AIS and VHF DSC [DSC auto to own ship, manual to ALL ships...]

What about flying with our PFDs and/or rearming kits?

Spinlock has a section on their site regarding Int'l flight considerations. 

We have only flown in the US with ours [so far...] and had no issues. 
For US domestic flights, we always check the MyTSA site (or app on our smartphones...) before flying... 
The "Can I bring...?" section is pretty handy for a quick sanity check. 
e.g., A quick check in June-2016 revealed we can fly with a life vest with up to 2 CO2 cartridges built-in, and 2 spare cartridges/rearming kits.
How do we like them after 2 years?

Very much. These are still our first choice, and have held up well passing all tests each year. 

These are still the most comfortable PFDs we own. [And we have some nice ones...] We wouldn't hesitate to replace them with the same thing when the time comes. [But of course we will objectively research the options first...] 

We have a follow-up post in the making describing what we carry on our person. [And how it is organized and tethered...]   
e.g., DSC VHF radio, flairs, laser signal, storm whistle, variable brightness 900 lumen flashlight that also strobes and flashes SOS, plus a few more important items...