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Old 10 July 2002, 01:43   #1
Country: UK - England
Town: St Mawes
Boat name: Magellan Zulu
Make: Ribcraft
Length: 7m +
Engine: 2 x Suzuki DF150
MMSI: 235094135
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Posts: 483
Anyone Got Experience of Satphones?

I have decided that rather than spend money on an EPIRB or GPIRB, I might as well get a satphone to act as emergency beacon when far enough offshore to be out of VHF and GSM range.

The options seem to be Mini-M which is very expensive. Iridium which works but the phones are bulky and quite pricey at over a grand. There is also Global Star but I have heard this company is now in administration. Buying into an American comms company that has filed for Chapter 11 protection may not be dead cool - perhaps.

Then there is something completely new to me. It is a sat phone that owned by an Arab company called Thuraya. Based, I am told in the UAE.,

The phones are small, cost about 600 + VAT and run a switch system that alternates between Cellnet GSM and satellite depending on proximity. They also have a built in GPS.

All sounds almost too good to be true. I am very temted to get one as the total weak link in my solo passage making is the single engine/no sails/no comms combo when well outta sigt of land.

Anyone get any experience of satphone they would care to share. Or, indeed, anyone heard of Thuraya?

PS. I came across Thuraya on a web site belonging to

The sales rep there is dead keen to sell me one.

Mike G
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Old 10 July 2002, 04:01   #2
Country: UK - England
Town: Portishead, Bristol
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Make: Ribcraft, Cowes Mari
Length: 5m +
Engine: Mercury 90hp 4-strok
Join Date: Aug 2001
Posts: 600
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Firstly I don't think a Sat phone would give the same degree of "Safety" than a EPIRB - or simular device.

As they say a mobile phone is no substitute for a VHF radio.

A sat phone would be OK to raise the alarm, but no good for the rescue teams to home in on you - how long do the batteries last in the Sat phone.

Anyway.... Back to Sat phones....

Iridium - Truely global coverage - the reports from Spririt of Cardiff are all by Iridium so we know it works.

Andy had a "new" handset he was trying to sell - I'm not sure if he still has it
The monthly line rental is supprisingly low - $15
The new design of handets are much smaller than the original ones

Websites -

I've not heard of Thuraya before - looking at their web site tere is no coverage in America - so its not global (your bound to have a problem out of coverage!!)

Iridium handsets could originaly "roam" between GSM networks and the Iridium Satalite network - what this meant that most of the calls went over GSM, making not much money for Iridum, they then went broke, but it was such a good satalite system that it was rescued and now runs as a Satalite only network (no roaming)

If Thuraya are alowing roaming on GSM I wonder if they will have the same problems!

Just a couple of comments!


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Old 10 July 2002, 04:53   #3
John Kennett's Avatar
Country: UK - England
Town: Brighton
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Posts: 6,678

Iridium has the advantage of being truly global, and not requiring an external antenna.

Inmarsat Mini-M needs a stabilised dish antenna and is only suitable for fixed mounting. Trials aboard Spirit of Cardiff worked well, but the lack of coverage in some areas plus the ability of the antenna system to endure sever long term abuse (!) were concerns.

I haven't used Thuraya but I have heard that it is a good system, so long as its coverage pattern matches your requirements. As I understand it, the system was set up and funded privately to give coverage in the desert regions of the gulf and the fact that they can sell capacity to other users is a bonus!

I'm not sure what's happening with Globalstar.

On balance, if I had to choose between any Satphone and a decent EPIRB for emergency offshore use I would go for the EPIRB for two main reasons:

1 An EPIRB requires no user input. I don't have to know my position to get help and it will continue to guide rescuers to my precise position.

2 I suspect that in really extreme conditions an EPIRB is likely to remain operating longer than any satellite phone, as it is designed to perform one specific task, come what may.

Of course, ideally I'd have both . . .

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Old 10 July 2002, 08:03   #4
Country: USA
Town: Fairfield
Boat name: Sunrider
Make: Zodiac
Length: 7.3
Engine: MerCruiser (bio)diesel 180hp I/O
Join Date: Jun 2002
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Standard C may be an alternative

Before satphones were widely available, I had good experience on a small RIB using Comsat standard C - text-only communication via computer. I also carried a 406 EPIRB and 3 GPS's. I used or tested each system worldwide from a small RIB and they worked well. Haven't researched it recently, but may be worth evaluating as your emergency backup.
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Old 11 July 2002, 23:43   #5
Country: UK - England
Town: St Mawes
Boat name: Magellan Zulu
Make: Ribcraft
Length: 7m +
Engine: 2 x Suzuki DF150
MMSI: 235094135
Join Date: Dec 2001
Posts: 483
Thanks for your considered and helpful replies, guys. Your comments made me pause and not go rushing in as I am sometimes apt to do.

I had also, amazingly, forgotten that I do actually have a standard C. It's a Trimble Galaxy and all I have to do is get it back from the guy in the States I lent it to.

So, in the meantime, Thuraya is on hold....

Mike G
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