Is It Worth Getting A Satellite Phone? [For Marine Use]

The utility of a satellite phone is not limited to distress calls alone; it can be a vessel of peace of mind for you and your family, ensuring that you can stay in touch no matter how distant your travels take you.

You won’t have a signal if you are more than 50 miles offshore because mobile phones only have a range of about 25 miles.

With marine communication evolving, satellite phones now provide a range of services including GPS tracking, which can be a lifeline for navigation and for others to track your journey.

Assessing whether a satellite phone is a worthy addition to your maritime toolkit involves understanding its features, costs, and the potential to maintain critical communication lines, regardless of how far you drift from land.

Cost Analysis

When considering the acquisition of a satellite phone for marine use, it’s essential to evaluate the total cost of ownership and weigh that against the benefits.

This financial glance will help you decide whether a satellite phone is a worthwhile investment for your sea ventures.

Understanding Total Costs of Ownership

The total cost of ownership for a satellite phone includes more than just the initial purchase price of the equipment. It’s crucial for you to consider all related expenses:

  • Equipment Costs: These are the upfront costs for the handset itself, which can vary depending on features and ruggedness.
  • Service Plans: Prepaid is cost-effective for sporadic use yet has expiring airtime. Monthly plans provide more airtime but may require contracts and minimum commitments.
  • Usage Costs: Beyond plan fees, costs for outgoing calls, texts, and data can accumulate, especially outside of allocated plan allowances.
  • Additional Charges: Consider potential activation fees, roaming charges, and costs for additional features like GPS or weather data services.

Cost-Benefit Assessment

To determine if a satellite phone is a prudent investment, juxtapose the costs with potential benefits such as:

  • Emergency Use: In dire situations where traditional communication is unavailable, a satellite phone (along with your EPIRB) could be pivotal in obtaining rescue services.
  • Reliability: Satellite phones offer coverage in remote marine areas where cell phones fail, providing dependable access to communication.
  • Weather Updates: Access to real-time weather data can help you make critical navigation decisions and avoid hazardous conditions.

By systematically assessing both the expenditures and advantages, you can determine the value a satellite phone will add to your marine activities.

Understanding Satellite Phones

When venturing beyond the reach of cellular networks, satellite phones become a critical tool for reliable communication, offering functionality where traditional cell phones cannot.

How Satellite Phones Work

Satellite phones connect to orbiting satellites instead of ground-based cell towers. Iridium and Inmarsat are two major providers that operate their own constellations of satellites.

These satellite networks ensure your ability to communicate from remote areas, provided there is a clear line of sight between the phone and the satellite.

Advantages over Traditional Cell Phones

One of the key advantages of a satellite phone is its coverage. This enables you to maintain communication in areas where no cellular coverage exists, such as in the vast expanses of the ocean.

A comparison between Globalstar and Iridium networks could help you understand their capabilities specifically for sailors.

Additionally, satellite phones often have rugged designs suitable for harsh environments and can be essential during emergencies, where establishing contact may be crucial.

Satellite Phone Services and Plans

Costs can vary widely depending on usage and the chosen network. While Inmarsat offers near-global coverage and is widely respected for its reliability, there are specific differences between Globalstar and Inmarsat that may inform your choice depending on your location and communication needs.

Plans often start with a basic monthly fee, with additional costs for voice calling and text messaging. Incoming texts might not incur extra charges, making budgeting for services more manageable.

Choosing the Right Satellite Phone

When selecting a satellite phone for marine use, factors like network coverage, size, battery life, and durability are essential. Ensure your choice matches your specific needs for seamless communication at sea.

Key Features to Consider

  • Network Coverage: Essential for consistent connectivity. Options like Inmarsat and Iridium offer extensive global coverage.
  • Size and Weight: Smaller phones are more portable but may have less battery life.
  • Battery Life: Critical for long voyages. Look for options with extended life to ensure ongoing communication.
  • Durability: Marine environments demand rugged devices able to withstand harsh conditions.

Comparing Brands and Models

  • Iridium GO: Pairs with your smartphone for anywhere connectivity, offering both voice and data services.
  • Inmarsat IsatPhone 2: Known for reliability, it boasts a robust network and is designed for extreme environments.
Brand/ModelSizeWeightBattery LifeDurability
Iridium GOCompactLightUp to 16 hrsHigh
Inmarsat IsatPhone 2LargerHeavierUp to 8 hrsVery High

Coverage at Sea

Not all networks are created equal; hence you can’t use all satellite phones at sea. If you need a satellite phone capable of connectivity in the Polar Regions, then Iridium is your only option.

Connectivity Features and Extras

When looking to purchase a satellite phone for marine use, consider devices that offer not just basic communication but also advanced connectivity features and built-in extras designed to enhance your safety and experience at sea.

GPS and Tracking Capabilities

The Iridium 9555 satellite phone, with built-in GPS, is vital for emergencies, allowing location sharing for rescue and safe navigation at sea.

🏆 Editors Choice
Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone (Unlocked)
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Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Connectivity

Some satellite phones double as a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing you to connect other devices to the internet.

This feature is invaluable for accessing weather updates or sending emails. Moreover, Bluetooth connectivity enables wireless pairing with compatible devices, making data transfer and communication more convenient, even in remote oceanic regions.

Weatherproofing and Rugged Design

Look for phones with a high IP rating (preferably IP65 or higher), signifying strong waterproof capabilities. Many marine satellite phones are designed to be shock-resistant as well.

A waterproof and shock-resistant device can withstand being dropped on a rocky boat deck or doused in salty sea spray.

Practical Considerations for Marine Use

When selecting a satellite phone for marine use, you must consider how the device will fit into the challenging marine environment. The right choice will provide reliability, ease of use, and durability, vital for safety and communication.

Portability and Size

Look for compact models that are easy to store and handle. A satellite phone like the Iridium 9575 is designed to be both lightweight and tough, ensuring that it won’t be a burden on your expeditions.

BlueCosmo Iridium Extreme 9575 Satellite Phone
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Power and Charging Options

Battery life is non-negotiable; you need a device that lasts long periods on a single charge, especially in emergencies.

Devices might come with different battery capacities, providing anywhere from a few hours to several days of standby time.

Phone ModelTalk Time (hours)Standby Time (hours)Intermittent Use
Inmarsat Satphone 28160Up to a week
Iridium 9575430Up to a week

Regulations and Legal Aspects

Your satellite phone is a crucial lifeline to the outside world and the Coast Guard in emergencies, but it’s imperative to use it within the parameters of both international and local maritime laws.

  • Stay informed on Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) requirements for vessels.
  • Be mindful of local laws affecting satellite communication, such as jurisdiction restrictions on satellite service providers.
  • Regularly check for updates to laws and regulations to ensure ongoing compliance.
  • Check with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or your local regulatory authority regarding licensing.
  • Understand and adhere to SOS protocols for emergency situations.
  • Ensure your use of satellite communications equipment is in compliance with the regulations set forth by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Frequently Asked

Are Calls And Data Free On A Satellite Phone?

No. Service providers charge for airtime and data, just like cellular phones. Satellite airtime is expensive, and you would also be charged for incoming calls.

Are Satellite Phones Bigger And Heavier Than Mobile Phones?

Phone ModelDimensions (inches)Weight (oz)Comparison Notes
iPhone 145.87 x 2.82 x 0.316Much thinner
Inmarsat SatPhone 26.65 x 2.95 x 1.419Heavier but similar size
Iridium Extreme5.5 x 2.36 x 1.419Smaller and heavier

Could I Turn My Cellphone Into A Satellite Phone?

With Iridium Go, you can turn your mobile phone into a satellite phone! This portable, lightweight satellite communicator works with Android and iOS. 

To use Iridium GO, you download the app and use WIFI to connect to the unit. It has a small antenna that links to the satellite network.

📶 Best Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot

Iridium Go! Satellite Wi-Fi Hotspot

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I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.