Satellite Phone How-to; Using, Testing, Important Phone Numbers, Short Cuts, and Troubleshooting [Updated Nov-2018]

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————— Last updated 26-Nov-2018 [by Bill] —————

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 [i.e., internet access] 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...] 

Here is a sample version of our live Contacting Denali Rose document in case it is of interest.
We also share our contact document via a link we add to the 'Additional Data' section on the NOAA [USA] registration forms 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 still do not accommodate satellite phone numbers- as of the last update to this page anyway...
Update [13-May-2018]: 
Regarding adding satellite phone numbers to NOAA [USA] beacon registration records: 
Experimenting with our online [NOAA] beacon registration form, I discovered I can in fact get it to save our satellite phone number as a phone type 'Other'. However, there are several caveats to this work-around...
First, I had to defeat the automatic phone number formatting; (XXX) XXX-XXXX for the US. [If left to its own devices, it will parse your 12 digit sat phone number to fit that 10 digit format, dropping 2 digits along the way... That's helpful...] 
You can defeat this undesired form behavior by adding a 'plus' prefix  [+011 in our case]  to your sat phone number.  [+011 is the long distance prefix for dialing international numbers from the US and Canada. Iridium (and all?) sat phone numbers are technically international...]
Adding the +011 prefix to the 12 digit sat phone number allowed the NOAA Beacon Registration Form to store the number without any formatting or punctuation. The final number saved on the form looked like this:  +011123456789012 
However, be aware that every time you edit either your beacon owner information or any beacon registration form [we have 5 active beacons and counting] the online form will dilligently mangle the sat phone number you so carefully entered the time before.  Therefore, make sure to check it when you are all finished making edits to any beacon registration information. As your last task before leaving the NOAA site, re-enter +011 and your sat phone# on your beacon owner form, hit save, and double-check. That seems to preserve it until the next time you edit a beacon record... [This behavior may change with future updates to these forms...]
It is also worth noting the form does allow for an INMARSAT phone number under the Vessel Telephone Numbers section. But our sat phone is an Iridium, not an INMARSAT. Why does it matter?  Each satellite phone provider has different protocols for dialing their sat phone numbers from land lines to avoid the hefty direct dial fees. For this reason, I believe the INMARSAT label needs to be changed to either Satellite Phone#, or perhaps better yet, a check list of Satellite Phone Providers with space for a sat phone number. 

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 ~12 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 when used below decks...) 
GPS Update July-2017: We now have a BEAM LiteDock Extreem dock for the 9575- which has a connector for an external GPS puck. We installed this external GPS receiver in the headliner under the fiberglass deck and it works well- reporting accurate positions via the phone. [Note re: GPS puck: The base is magnetic for mounting on an automobile roof; therefore it needs a small diameter (e.g., 6") rust resistant metal plate for a ground plane... Use a small non-stick baking pan or the like...]

SOS: It also has a programmable SOS button. You can program it to send your position and SOS message to any number you choose. We are using GEOS, which is free with our airtime plan. It is the same service used by SMS only Sat devices by DeLorme Garmin, Spot, etc.

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

Phone numbers we like to have on hand in [water resistant] 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]:

  • Worldwide Search & Rescue Contact Information
  • Alaska SAR [Search and Rescue] phone numbers [Other US states are also available from this same valuable resource... 
  • USCG RCCs [Rescue Coordination Centers Nationwide]
    • USCG RCCs Alaska:
  • Reporting and Cancelling accidental EPIRB, PLB, [and ELT aircraft] activations
    • If you have accidentally activated your [US Registered] beacon, but do not need assistance, please contact the appropriate RCC right now (day or night) to cancel the search efforts. 
      • For EPIRB’s, contact the U.S. Coast Guard  at 1-855-406-8724
      • For PLB’s [and aircraft ELT’s] contact the Air Force RCC at 1-800-851-3051
  • Emergency Calls [911 in US and Canada]: You can also dial a central 911 emergency service [US & Canada] from an Iridium 9575 sat phone... [but not all sat phones...]
    • 911 Abroad 
      • Handy reference list of international emergency contact numbers
  • Free 24/7 Iridium phone support: From Iridium phone call 2222 or 6868
  • Free Phone Test Call: [00] 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
    • IMPORTANT! All roll forward minutes are lost if you don't renew on time... 
    • Here is an example of an automated response from texting 2888 [analogous to texting *3282# on a US 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. 

Testing the SOS (GEOS) safety service:

It is recommended you test the SOS setting on your device routinely. [We do this semi-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 

What to do if you accidentally lock ["SIM BLOCKED"] your sat phone?

Recently, some cruising friends inadvertently entered the incorrect PIN into their sat phone more than 3 times and the phone automatically locked itself. [Technically speaking, the SIM card is 'Blocked' and that is the message the phone gives...] 

This is a security measure in case someone was trying to use the phone without permission. [Just like your cell phone. Note- having a PIN to access your sat phone is optional...]

What now? They were in the middle of nowhere and had no other form of communication available, and needed the sat phone.

Keeping these instructions on hand [at least for Iridium phones] may be worthwhile so you can resolve that issue yourself. 
Hint: You will need your "PUK code"   
[Personal Unblocking Key; like a master PIN]
If you don't know it, and it isn't on the documentation/invoice from your sat phone minutes provider, call them and get it before you need it.

Instructions for unblocking Motorola 9500, Iridium 9505 and 9505A handsets: 
  1. When the phone is powered on, the screen displays "Blocked"
    1. Enter, * * 0 5 * [star  star  zero  five  star] 
  2. Screen then displays "Enter unblock code"
  3. Enter the eight-digit PUK code
    1. Press OK 
  4. Screen displays "Enter new PIN"
    1. You may either re-enter the original PIN or a new one of 4 to 7 digits
      1. Press OK
  5. Screen displays "Re-enter new PIN" 
    1. Press OK 
  6. Phone says, "Completed", then "Searching"
    1. The phone has been successfully unblocked. 

Instructions for unblocking Iridium 9555 or Iridium 9575 handsets:
9555 – If the PIN number has been entered incorrectly three times the screen will display "Searching for network...PIN blocked."

9575 - If the PIN number has been entered incorrectly three times the screen will display "PIN Blocked." 
  1. Enter * * 0 5 * (star,star,zero,five,star) 
    1. Press the GREEN button 
  2. Screen displays "Enter PUK"
  3. Enter the eight digit PUK code 
    1. Press the down arrow 
  4. Enter the new PIN (four to seven digits)
    1. Press the down arrow. 
  5. Verify the new PIN
    1. Press OK 
  6. Screen displays "PUK OK - unblocked" 
    1. It then displays "Searching for network"
      1. The phone has been successfully unblocked

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