Cruising Tips – Offshore Communication

We started in Everett, Washington made our way down to Mexico then headed west with the trade winds to circumnavigate the blue earth.



The map above shows our route circumnavigating the world.  It also shows how we communicated.  Each dot gives our position and we usually have a short message with it.  You can go to, type in my ham call sign, KE7CSP to bring up the positions.

There are several methods to communicating while on long ocean passages,

  • Satellite phone – Call anyone anywhere.  Has Internet  & Email Capabilities
  • SSB Radio – Talk to other SSB Radio Users.  Has Email & Weather Report Capabilities
  • HAM Radio – Talk to SSB & HAM Radio User.  Has Email & Weather Report Capabilities

The satellite phone is an option that you may want to pair up with a long-distance radio like a SSB or HAM in order to talk with other cruisers on cruiser nets.  You can use all 3 of these systems to send emails (text only, no images).>

We used a HAM Radio and Winlink 2000 with Airmail (the client software) to send emails and access weather reports. Each system has their pros and cons.

More information is below to help you decide which is best for you.

Kelly at Nav Desk

Satellite Phones:  Make Calls  & Email


  • Able to talk anywhere you can pick up a satellite signal, which can happen anywhere in the world.
  • Email Capabilities (text only, no images)
  • Can send emails and get weather reports using another system, like Sailmail and a modem.
  • Talk time can average 2-3 hours on a battery.


  • Satellite phones need a line-of-sight to operate, so reception can be spotty on sailing yachts. (Noted on  Anything solid can block the phone to satellite signal. e.g. Trees, buildings, hills or mountains, vehicles, etc.)
  • Phone costs starting around $500 & up
  • Talk time is $1 per minute, but prices may vary, check with service provider.
  • $500 worth of minutes are purchased at one time & expires after a year (you can lose your paid minutes!)
  • Will need a long-range radio, like an SSB or HAM to communicate on cruiser radio-nets.

Many cruiser’s like this option as a backup to emergencies.

Equipment/Software Needed:
Talking only – Satellite Phone-(Iridium, Inmarsat, Globalstar, Thuraya).
Email – Phone, PC, Modem or cables to connect to a Client Service or email-service like Sailmail, XGate, etc. (there are plenty to choose from and have a cost)
(Check out this website of an expedition climber using a satellite phone and email at mentions the best phone of ocean travel and all the things he could do with his system along with practical advice.



SSB Radio/SailMail Combo:  Talk on SSB & Email


  • Able to talk thousands of miles from shore to other long distance radio users.  Can also access Cruiser Radio Nets (future link)
  • Email Capabilities (text only, no images)


  • Reception can be spotty with High Frequency (HF) Propagation.
  • There is a fee to use the Sailmail Service. Currently $250 per vessel, per year.

Other than the membership fee to join the SailMail Association and the initial hardware cost of a SSB and Pactor modem, there is no cost per message for use of the SailMail radio network.


Equipment Needed:
Talk –
SSB Radio to reach Cruiser Radio Nets. (Must have a ham license to participate in ham nets, but you can always listen)
Email –
PC, Pactor Modem & SSB radio




HAM Radio/WinkLink Combo: Talk on HAM & SSB Radio Nets & Email


  • Able to talk thousands of  miles from shore to other long distance radio users, like a Cruiser Radio Nets (future link)
  • Email Capabilities (text only, no images)

There is a neat language when talking ham.  Check out this ham slang dictionary.


  • You must have an amateur radio license, (General License designation) Visit for more information.
  • Equipment set up can be a challenge.  For help or more information, there is a how-to book called  “HF Radio E-Mail for IDI-Yachts”
  • Reception is better than Sailmail but depends on HF propagations

We chose this setup since once we had our equipment there were no more costs.  The equipment ncludes a HAM radio & Pactor Modem that connects the radio to the PC and client software (email software) that we found on  Winlink 2000–supports the emailing function.   The client software we used was Airmail.

We could communicate daily (for free) by setting up a radio net with other boats or email our friends and make our position known.  To email (text only) the radio hooked up to the Pactor modem which used the radio’s frequencies to transmit emails and allowed us to mark our latitude and longitude on our voyage.  See the world map image with Red Dots or go to and type in my HAM call sign, KE7CSP.

Equipment Needed:
Talk –
Ham Radio to reach Ham and Cruiser Radio Nets.
Email – PC, Pactor Modem, Client Software (email software)

Keep in mind, technology changes faster than a chicken on a June-Bug, so do your research to see which offshore communication system will work for you.

Fair Winds,

Kelly Girl