Get Currents In Your Inbox!

The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association
SharePrint   ?>

Communication on Cruising Boats: Starlink or Not?

Torsten Schulz

Fortitude X
Beneteau 423 Sloop
November 20th, 2022

For long-time cruisers, one of the most important features besides the boat, is being able to communicate: getting actual weather updates, downloading GRIB files, managing affairs and appointments back home, and staying in touch with family and friends.

Some Communication Options

IridiumGo

The IridiumGo requires a monthly subscription of at least US$ 104.95 to have sufficient data available to download GRIB files; a great by-product is the ability to make satellite phone calls. However, your satphone calls are different than your day-to-day phone conversations and need some adjustment for both parties. Internet usage is advertised as one of the features, and it works if you bookmark pages such as a news page, or one Environment Canada specific forecast area e.g., Strait of Georgia – south of Nanaimo, in advance. Other than that, IridiumGo is very slow to search and open a page. Email works great until your parents send you a message with a picture attached that plugs your entire inbox.

Pro: download GRIB files with very few dead spots on the planet
Con: even with unlimited data there’s no true internet access

InReach

We use InReach on board FortitudeX as a backup communication device, to set tracks for family and friends, and for our website. It is very limited for weather information and not able to download GRIB files. It is great for short message (160 characters) to cell phones or email addresses. We always inform our shore contacts of our departure and arrival: a great safety feature.

Pro: a great backup device
Con: not operational for comprehensive weather information

Starlink

The established system of IridiumGo got a serious competitor with Starlink. The system became available recently (May 2022) as an RV version (same as the regular one, but not restricted by an actual home address) and immediately got hijacked by the cruising community. A lot has been said and is still being discussed on several social media channels and you can pick any opinion that suits your needs.

What We Use

For our travel south, we have an IridiumGo and InReach and we bought two AT&T Phone and 15 GB data plans when we checked in to the US in Port Angels on August 03, 2022. We did not activate our IridiumGo and solely relied on cell phone hot spots to get weather information. Staying in touch with our families in Germany meant we needed to up one cell phone plan to unlimited data. The downside is that the unlimited plan does not include hot spot capability. Overall, we were very happy with our two AT&T data plans and they worked well going south along the entire coast (we always stayed no more than 20 miles offshore).

Our Experience with Starlink

We decided to give Starlink a go, having met and talked to quite a few cruisers with the system already in place. The installation is really plug and play, except that Elon Musk needed his own designed ethernet cable (of course) with a 90-degree plug, which makes fishing the cable through the boat difficult. It takes less than 10 minutes after the router and the dishy (yes, that’s what they call the satellite dish) are connected and for the dishy to align to the satellites.

Ethernet cable with 90-degree angle

I opted for an easy installation set-up with a fishing rod holder 1.5” tube (dishy slides in) and a few stainless-steel rail clamps, including a 1” tube to connect it to the Bimini frame.

Dishy in stowed position in 1.5” tube

1” pipe connected to Bimini frame

Having had the Starlink system on the boat for 3 weeks now, we truly love it and have found only a few downsides with it – see below. For the price of the unlimited IridiumGo, you can have full Internet access on board with Starlink.

Pro: able to have unlimited Internet access in remote areas at great speed.

Cons:

  • system requires 110 Volt;
  • area might be geo-fenced to 12 miles off shore (for now);
  • it does not qualify as a long range, two way communication device for cruising rallies;
  • currently, coverage stops at the 57 degrees latitude; coverage for areas beyond are forecast to be included for Q1, 2023;
  • difficult or not usable while underway;
  • depends on sea stage; and,
  • rumours have it that the system is only allowed to be active for a maximum of 2 months out of the country – time will tell.

Internet access in remote areas at great speed

System Comparison

Iridium

GO! Basic GO! Plus GO! Unlimited
$/mo US$ 59.95 US$ 104.95 US$ 139.95
Data/mo 5 mins data 150 bundled mins 150 mins Phone

Unlimited Data

InReach

Safety Recreation Expedition
$/mo US$ 14.95 US$ 34.95 US$ 64.95
Text message/mo 10 40 Unlimited
Pre-set messages Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Send/Track Points $0.10 ea Unlimited Unlimited
Basic Weather 1 text message 1 text message Unlimited
Premium Weather $1.00 ea $1.00 ea $1.00 ea
Marine Weather $1.00 ea $1.00 ea $1.00 ea

Starlink

$/mo US$ 135.00
Data/mo Unlimited

Useful Links

There are various Facebook groups where users can discuss and share information. Here are two: Starlink Hacks, and Starlink on Boats.

This is a great article on customized power supply and router configuration: https://svrenaissance.com/reliable-remote-work-with-starlink/

Here’s a discussion of Starlink pros and cons in the context of the Baja Ha-Ha: https://www.latitude38.com/lectronic/starlink-or-not-baja-ha-ha-question/

Comments


  1. Chris Stask says:

    Thanks for the article Torsten. I am looking into StarLink.
    Regards,
    Chris Stask
    SV Inceptus

  2. Werner Kurz says:

    Thanks Torsten, for this nice summary.

    The fact that the RV version of Starlink can be re-purposed for use on boats is vulnerable to future policy changes by Elon Musk.

    Information about Starlink Maritime can be found here: https://www.starlink.com/maritime which all sounds really impressive – until you find the current price: $US 5000.- per month, yes, that is five thousand US dollars per month. The maritime version is clearly intended for commercial vessels and mega yacht owners.

    Cheers, Werner

  3. SV Pelorus Jack, Brian and Kathleen says:

    We are two months into our first period with Starlink RV model. We have been cruising full-time on the north coast and central coast, now underway at 9.6 kts in Johnson Str. Star link has been a total game changer for us. From a cruising perspective, having access to Windy and others sites is far more useful and safer than environment Canada VHF. For exploring new ground, Google earth is a terrific addition. Not to mention access to social media, Internet, and entertainment. We put Iridium Go back in its box. The power draw limits continual use for us, especially when we are not getting much solar or wind generation.

  4. Bruce Warren says:

    Re iridium go: If you pair it with an email broker such as UUPLUS, this will prevent anyone sending you large attachments,etc. UUPLUS has the bonus of being set up to directly access the NOAA weather briefing packages with isobar graphics,etc.

    The NOAA data combined with a PredictWind subscription makes a good combo; also the Iridium is available as a monthly subscription as well.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *