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Old 01-01-2006, 05:33 PM   #1
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 97
Default e mail from well off shore

I would like to have e mail facility from my yacht when cruising well offshore and also from remote places, anywhere in the world. We already have VHF and SSB but no satellite communications system.

Can anyone recommend hardware and provider for this. We would send text and photos and receive text. Reliability and low operating cost are the main requirements.


steelfan is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-01-2006, 08:33 PM   #2
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 178

Brian (I think it is...), your Q reminds me of the sign I saw posted in the boatyard office the other day:




Pick any two...

You can have everything you want for zero operating cost if you use the amaeteur radio pactor system (www.winlink.org) and this even includes the ability to send/receive small attachments (text docs, jpegs, etc.) BUT you will need a SSB capable of supporting Pactor comms plus a TNC (radio modem), a laptop and some related small items (chokes, primarily) - and these items can be expensive. (A new Icom 706G, TNC modem and SGC Tuner will run a bit above $2K USD in the USA). You will be running (free and wonderfully simple/intuitive) client software on your laptop called Airmail (www.airmail2000.com) and will find access to real-time wx files (text and graphics) that support cruising around the world. This same onboard equipment + Airmail will also allow access to Sailmail (www.sailmail.com), a non-profit commercial system accessible on the marine bands and intended for marine radios. Sailmail is more limited in connect time, is $200USD/year last time I looked, and has no wx graphics files available, but cruisers will sometimes subscribe to it while in areas where its shore stations offer better connection than Winlink's shore stations (e.g. some parts of the Pacific). Both Winlink & Sailmail are essentially worldwide and e.g. we stay in regular contact with a friend in the Pacific (currently in the Marshalls) from our cruising venue in Europe.

SatCom systems are more reliable, can be used 24/7 (vs. working within propagation windows with SS and are easier to use...but are far more limited in what they can do for you re: email & wx f'cast products, at least for the systems typically found on normal cruising boats. Hardware costs will probably be a bit more and then there's op costs per minute or per KB. Inmarsat is just in the process of installing 3 new/huge sats in orbit to provide workable internet (56K) & phone comms capability on smaller boats but of course op costs are likely to be even higher than the simple text-based systems, so this doesn't suit your requirements.

There are many BB's with threads covering the SSB email topics - and as is typical of the internet, lots of incomplete & inaccurate info out there, as well. Your best source of more info on this topic is to discuss it with experienced cruising sailors who have been using the system 'on the go' and have a good feel for its limitations & capabilities. One such source is the SSCA Discussion Board - http://ssca.org/sscabb/index.php FWIW we've been using Winlink since 1999, almost all of that time while cruising, and find it so flexible & practical that it is our primary method of communication. We keep a free shoreside email identity (Yahoo and Gmail) to handle big pics, large attachments, etc.


Jack Tyler is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-03-2006, 08:10 AM   #3
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 58

Hi Steelfan,

See my post on this subject here:


I helped a number of Hams to set this up, and one is now cruising the Caribbean with a Pactor 1 setup only, and swears that he doesn't need the faster, but expensive Pactor 2 or 3 TNC's for both Winlink2000 and Sailmail, as he gets to Wifi links regularly enough in marinas etc. to send pictures.

You don't need to be a Ham for Sailmail. See www.sailmail.com

See www.winlink.org for the FREE Ham radio system.
Hamsailor is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-05-2006, 12:17 AM   #4
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 178

Bernard (Hamsailor):

That's a nice set of posts to recommend; you've obviously put a lot of time into this topic.

One addition I'd recommend is that you call attention to the fact some PMBO's ('Express PMBO's') no longer support Pactor 1...so one size does not fit all. E.g. when cruising in N Europe, the favored (and most times, only reachable) PMBO is PA3DUV in the Netherlands; he will only accept P2 & P3 traffic.

FYI Airmail does run on the Mac but only under emulation, meaning you must first run a PC emulation program and then Airmail on top of it. We did this with success in 1999, so I'm sure later model Macs won't have a problem with it.

There is soundcard-based P2 & P3 software now being tested by KN6KB and other key Winlink volunteers; it apparently works very well and the performance stats I've seen are impressive. However, the general conclusion they have passed along so far is that it won't 'replace' a real TNC in performance, especially offshore. As I understand it, the main incentive to develop this is to make Winlink more accessible to the many ham coastal sailors who would love to use Winlink when vacationing or weekending on their boats but, for only those purposes, can't justify the TNC expense.

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Old 01-15-2006, 02:22 AM   #5
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 27

Hi everyone, I was offered $1100 for a new icom M710 and AT-130 tuner.

They are ham capable. Do you think this is good deal, and more importandly can M-710 be integraded with pactor? Or do I absolutely need pactor if wanting to send email while offshore?

phorvati is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-15-2006, 07:02 AM   #6
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 50


Those two items are $1920 in the West Marine catalog.

Yes, the M-710 does Pactor very well ... with an easy wiring setup.

"do I absolutely need pactor if wanting to send email while offshore?"

Apart from the satellite phone systems I'd think you would want the Pactor system if you want email offshore. But having a pactor modem and the Airmail software you get other useful information ... weather.

By email you can receive daily GRIB files which show wind direction and speed plus barometric pressure for any region of the world you select with predictions out to five days. If you intend to cruise the South Pacific near the equator you can get daily emails that can be displayed by a free program to show you where the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) is located and know when you will be having rainy and stormy weather.

The Airmail/pactor system copies weather facsimile broadcasts ... surface analyses, satellite photos ... and it also copies weather FEC (similar to teletype) broadcasts.

This might not be an 'absolute' need but I think it's worth the investment.


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