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Going out at sea doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't stay
connected with your family, workplace or friends. Today's satellite
technology offers a wide range of maritime communication systems
for satellite phones, fax and even Internet. These full stabilized
marine satellite communication solutions keep you in touch no matter
what type of vessel you have, what type of service you need, or
where you cruise. Today you can communicate in the roughest seas,
with worldwide coverage.
The communication satellites typically used by mariners can be found
in orbits ranging from only a few hundred miles up to more than
22,000 miles overhead. From these heights, satellites can broadcast
a tremendous amount of data to a wide geographic area. This data
can be received by a mobile antenna that requires no connection to
dry land, such as cables, towers, or phone lines. Satellites offer an
ideal way to get information - whether it is an email from the office,
a phone call from home, or a Hollywood blockbuster - to your boat.
Many of the services you use at home support boaters as well,
including DIRECTV, DISH Network, and Bell Express Vu (Canada)
Direct-to-Home (DTH) satellite TV services. Satellite voice and data
services also offer a wide array of services, capabilities and coverage.
Is the maritime satellite service reliable? The answer is definitely yes.
From the user’s perspective, marine satellite phones are no harder to
use than a regular satellite phone, a cell phone or VCR. The fully
stabilized satellite antenna is completely automatic. Simply turn it on
and the antenna will seek out, identify, and track the correct satellite.
After you register your phone with your chosen service provider, a
telephone number is assigned to your satellite phone. You don’t have to
get licensed, no training is required, and making a call is as easy as
turning on the antenna, picking up the handset, and dialing a number.
The ability of in-motion antennas to respond instantly to vessel motion,
makes them reliable in virtually any sea state. It is highly unlikely that
you would exceed the operational limits for a fully stabilized antenna.
If you did, the boat would probably be in such severe weather that it is
unlikely anyone on board would be having a phone conversation or
watching TV. Reliable antennas like Inmarsat communications
antennas, these fully stabilized system are designed to ensure that you
can call for help if necessary, regardless of the sea conditions.
Not all antennas have been created equal and not all of them have the
same size. Boat owners often ask why they can’t get a smaller antenna.
Quite simply, it’s a matter of physics, not an arbitrary design choice.
For satellite TV, the antenna has to be large enough to collect a
sufficient signal to create a television image. A good rule of thumb: a
marine satellite TV antenna can be no smaller than the smallest home
satellite TV antenna in the vicinity. For satellite communications
antennas, size usually relates to power and maximum data rates. Low
data rate voice services, such as Globalstar and Iridium, use lower
frequency signals broadcast from lower altitudes and can get by using
an omnidirectional antenna, which does not need to point directly at
the satellite. High-powered antennas supporting Inmarsat’s new Fleet
F77 service are huge by comparison but support data rates 7-20 times
Antennas can't be installed below decks or under the bimini top.
Satellites and antennas broadcast signals over a set of frequencies
in the “microwave” range. Microwaves, like light, are line-of-sight
energy, meaning that they can’t travel around curves (e.g., the earth’s
horizon), or penetrate solid objects, (e.g., decks, equipment, wet sails,
etc.). As a result, a satellite antenna must be able to “see” the satellite
in order to receive or send signals. This includes handheld satellite
phones as well as all fixed antennas.
Satellite TV antennas on houses are much cheaper than marine
satellite antennas. That's because stationary antennas like the one
used at home were designed to be used on a stationary platform.
They are inexpensive compared to a fully stabilized system, but unless
you are planning to bolt the antenna to a piling, they are completely
useless aboard a boat. Since a satellite
antenna must point to within 1-2 degrees of its target satellite,
anything outside this will produce freeze-frames or no picture at all.
Now remember, even the largest vessel is constantly in motion,
including when tied to a dock. The rise and fall of the tide is sufficient
to move the antenna off target, and a wake will almost always cause
enough motion to disrupt the signal reception.
At-anchor antennas are a good solution for marine satellite phones.
These systems are a relatively inexpensive and they were designed
to compensate for a vessel swinging at anchor by keeping the antenna
pointed along a particular compass heading. However, you should
consider the limitations, like the maximum wind speed that the antenna
can withstand, the maximum wave height that the vessel can
experience before the antenna dips below or tilts above the satellite
signal, how accurate is the compass that maintains the antenna’s
position and how often does it need to be recalibrated.
There are two main choices when it comes to satellite telephone
hardware - handheld or fixed. Handheld units offer the convenience
of being able to walk around with the phone and take it with you when
you go ashore. However, if you have a handheld satellite phone, you
have to be on deck with a clear view of the sky to use it. A fixed
satellite telephone antenna, on the other hand, can serve as the hub
for your boat’s communications system, supporting multiple handsets
or connecting to a PABX system. As a result, you can call home
without leaving the comfort of your cabin. Likewise, some fixed
satellite telephone antennas can connect to fax machines and
computers for added versatility.
You also need to choose the satellite service that is appropriate to your
needs and budget. Be aware of any added costs that might apply. For
example, Globalstar charges both the per-minute rate as well as a
per-minute roaming/long-distance fee if you make a call from outside
your home region. Conversely, an Inmarsat mini-M subscriber
receives near-global coverage for a single rate and only pays for
Marine satellite phones cannot replace radio. Satellite telephones offer
the convenience and safety of calling anyone at any time from virtually
anywhere without requiring a license, special training, or tuning in the
signal. However, marine radio remains a valuable and necessary
means of communication for mariners, especially if you need to call for
help or respond to such calls from vessels in your area.
The wide variety of satellites, antennas, and services can present a
daunting picture to a boat owner. Working with your marine electronics
dealer can help make it a manageable and enjoyable task. Recognizing
not only what will work but also what won’t work is critical to making an
informed decision that will equip any vessel with the capabilities to send
and receive the critical and entertaining data that can make a difference
in a life at sea.