Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Satellite Communications Controversy

Many friends and acquaintances have been a bit horrified that we've made a decision that is apparently controversial. And we are going to stick with it, probably. No SSB (shortwave radio transmitter), no satellite phones (and therefore no internet) and no GPS tracking device - that's our decision. In an age when everyone including us is on Facebook every day so we know where you ate last night and what colour today's socks are, has mobile phones (that connect to FB) to invite us to join you, and laptops with Skype plus webcams to call family and friends whenever we want, we are going to be - shock horror - out of touch for days, weeks even possibly months at a time.

Why controversial? Well the first reason people seem horrified is one of safety. What happens if we lose a rudder in the middle of an ocean (hopefully not our nice new one) or the mast breaks or.... (fill in your own catastrophe) they ask. Our boat is well found, we take good and continual care of her as well if not better than we do of ourselves but we recognise the unforeseen may occur. However many hundreds of boats have undertaken lengthy passages without major issues and reached other continents since Christopher Columbus first sailed west. The difference between today and say ten or twenty years ago is that technology makes it possible to communicate from almost anywhere at a price. And that is where our decision was made, the cost. Already working to a tight budget, we have  several higher priority items to purchase that will enable us to be more self sufficient whilst cruising - our number ones are a water maker to give us a reliable supply of potable water and a portable sailmakers sewing machine to enable repairs to sails and to maintain our canvas work without additional expense (and possibly the means to generate some funds for the cruising pot by assisting others).

From a safety communication perspective there is on board an EPIRB registered with Falmouth MRCC which once activated will contact via satellite, the relevant authorities to instigate a search and rescue. As rescue could take many days,  we also have a liferaft, in case we have to leave Temptress. It was recently serviced at great expense, plus there are grab bags full of additional survival gear like fishing lines, a GPS and a handheld VHF to communicate with anyone nearby, if there is anyone. For day to day safety Temptress has life jackets, harness lines and MOB devices a plenty as the person off watch sleeps better if they know the one on deck is securely attached to the boat with an alarm to sound if they do go over the side.

A barometer and observations of the sky always give the observant a good indication of forthcoming weather, sailors have used these for centuries. If we want to communicate with passing ships, a VHF with a 20 odd nautical mile range enables us to ask for a weather forecast or even medical advice. Then there is the radar for fog and low visibility such as in rainstorms.

We are though considering AIS - this is a system that broadcasts the position, speed and course of a vessel plus some info that satisfies the yachty's insatiable and idle curiosity on topics like "where did that tanker come from?" or "I wonder what is that liners next port of call is?". Mandatory for almost all commercial shipping it is a useful tool to help the yachtsman "see" over the horizon to that VLBC (very large bulk carrier) steaming at 20-odd knots on a collision course with your tiny boat. Funds permitting we intend to install what's known as AIS-B which is a transponder. Therefore those of you who really want to know where we are via the internet may be able to hunt us down when we are in range of a coastline where such signals are recorded on the web (geeky sites like this one can amuse away several hours if you let them, try zooming in on the Solent on the South coast of the UK at a weekend or look at the ferries moving back and forth across the Dover Straits)!  

So we will be as safe and snug as we can be in our white plastic cockle shell. If we don't post a photo of our catch of the day on FB or blog on what we had for breakfast for a few weeks please don't worry. Like a proverbial penny we'll turn up somewhere. But of course we reserve the right to spend some funds and acquire a second hand Iridium phone and SIM at some point in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I have just been re-reading this and two things stand out:

    " And we are going to stick with it, probably. No SSB (shortwave radio transmitter), no satellite phones (and therefore no internet) and no GPS tracking device - that's our decision"

    and

    "What happens if we lose a rudder in the middle of an ocean (hopefully not our nice new one) or the mast breaks or.... (fill in your own catastrophe) they ask."

    well we DID lose our rudder in the Atlantic (see other entries) but we had a Sat phone with us. Now that the trauma is a few years in the past I can reflect that while we made it to port the sat phone was very worth while.

    So our revised position is Sat phone yes but SSB no and you never know what may happen....

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