This month we are happy to bring you our annual guide to communications for cruisers and offshore sailors. There are so many ways to stay in touch these days that you almost have to make a philosophical decision about how you conduct your communications life from your boat.
There are plenty of old salts out there who have sailed without long range communication and rely only on VHF for local discourse. Once upon a time a friend and I left Panama on a 30 footer and did not check in with our parents until we reached Tahiti three months later, which was the first time we were near a phone. Certainly there were some parental gray hairs blamed on those three months.
Some sailors choose to go to sea for the peace and solitude; they want to leave behind the intense buzz of information and communications that fill our modern shore side lives. They will argue that setting up a communications schedule with non-sailors at home is asking for unnecessary fretting and even calls to the Coast Guard should your radio or satphone fail while you are at sea. That specific problem occurred to friends of mine last fall and the partner left on shore became frantic quite unnecessarily.
But these days, checking in with folks at home has never been easier. If you want to keep it really low key, you can use a SPOT or DeLorme and press the “I’m Okay” button, which will also transmit your position.
HF radio is a great way to stay in touch with other boats that carry radio but is not as useful for speaking with the gang left at home except by email. Check out Daniel Collins’ article “SSB Email and Weather Made Easy” (page 45) that opens the door on what an HF radio can do for you.
In the Salty Dawg Rally last fall, in which several boats got into trouble, the rally’s SSB net controllers Dick and Judy Giddings managed the emergency radio traffic from their shore station and were able to coordinate the efforts of other volunteers and the Coast Guard who sped to the rescue.
If you sail in a rally, then you will be asked or even required to check in every day with rally organizers, so equipping your boat with a SPOT and an HF radio are essential. But you may be more of a satphone user and prefer the relative convenience of being able to call the phones and send emails to the computers of your friends and family anywhere in the world. Even though satphones drop a lot of calls, carrying one to sea means you never have to cut the communications thread that ties you to your life ashore, for better or worse.
It is all about checking in and getting assistance when you need it and each of us will have our own preferences for how we accomplish this. But these days, I think it is important that we do.