These small satellite communications devices can track your progress, send and receive short messages and send an SOS (published February 2016)
Pocket-sized satellite communications devices have been around for a while and have proven to be both convenient and worth their weight in gold when a user is in desperate need of assistance. SPOT recently announced that the company and its devices had played key roles in 4,000 rescues—not all at sea, though.
For cruisers who are heading offshore, the Delorme and SPOT devices are a last line of communications defense that will continue to operate even after you climb into a life raft. They do not replace your EPIRB or your personal locator beacons (PLBs); these emergency broadcasting satellite radios are hard wired into the world wide search and rescue system and should be considered your first line of defense when you are faced with an SOS emergency or a man overboard crisis.
But, the uses of the Delorme and SPOT devices are many and they are particularly useful as tracking tools for sailors in rallies or sailing in company with other boats across oceans. People at home can follow your progress and you can send them short pithy messages about what’s going on out there.
Delorme works with Iridium to handle the communications in their devices so the system they offer is truly worldwide, since Iridium has worldwide coverage based upon their vast array of satellites in low earth orbits.The basic inReach allows you to send and receive text messages up to 160 characters. This is not a full email system but it does allow you to get off short messages and receive replies. In normal use, this is a fun and inexpensive way to stay in touch while you are at sea.
But in an emergency, the inReach will send out an SOS that will be relayed to the international search and rescue network—US Coast Guard for American waters—who will coordinate your rescue. While this is happening, you can communicate with the Coast Guard with text messages from your Delorme, even if you are in a life raft.
The new inReach Explorer that was introduced recently is a huge step up from the SE since it incorporates a full chart reading system into the little device. This allows you to enter waypoints and navigate just as you would on a rudimentary chartplotter.
Ocens, which is a dealer for Delorme, offers a very useful weather forecasting tool with worldwide data called SpotCast Weather for inReach. With this added service, you will have real time weather and forecasts in your hand all the time everywhere in the world.
The Delorme website has a tracking function that you can link to while sailing. This will pinpoint your daily position and will post short messages for your family and friends to read.
The inReach SE retails for about $300 and the new Explorer retails for about $380. There is a $20 setup fee and then you pay for airtime with an annual contract that runs from $25 to $100 depending on the services you require. SpotCast weather has a variety of plans; the 72 hour forecast plan costs $8 a month or $80 annually. This is a very small price to pay for devices that are so fundamentally useful when sailing offshore.
The SPOT Gen 3 is the latest version of this device that was first to bring satellite communications to everyone. SPOT is part of the Globalstar communications company that provides satellite communications for North America, Europe and the northern Caribbean and Central America. Globalstar phones and thus SPOT do not operate worldwide and for those sailing to the Caribbean, service is spotty south of the Virgin Islands.
SPOT devices send short preprogrammed messages but do not receive replies. It’s a one-way street. With your SPOT you can send simple messages and your position to specific email addresses. In the SOS mode, the SPOT will send your emergency message, who you are and your position to the appropriate rescue services.
SPOT offers basic tracking and you can opt for more advanced tracking services that will allow those following you to see your positions and the progress you are making on passage.
With a retail price only $150 and annual service fees of $150, the SPOT is the least expensive and simplest way to maintain communications, tracking and safety while at sea.
For our money, BWS thinks that the Delorme SE offers the tools that every offshore sailor can truly use and with two way communication, easy tracking and worldwide coverage, the SE is a robust pocket size satellite communications tool that can also bring you three day weather forecasts.