Comparing Kirsten Neuschafer win of the 2022 Golden Globe nonstop, round-the-world race on a boat with minimal modern technology (eg what was available in 1968-69), I look at our technology and comms infrastrcture and know some people think we’re nuts.
But, there is a group of cruisers who sail with fairly complex technical architectures running on beefed up battery banks and solar power, so this blog is for you--trolls please ignore. As a result of these technologies, we are aware of at least 6 boats this season traveling to the South Pacific, whose lives and boats were saved as a result of government and private Search and Rescue (S&R) entities like international Naval and Coast Guards, Boat Watch, the ham radio community, and of course, the cruising community leveraging a mix of the communciations apps and devices noted below.
AIS data sharing
Don and I come from open data, open science professions. As a result, Don recently signed us up to be an AIS station. In doing so, we share our AIS data feed with other AISHub members, supporting their mission to be a raw NMEA AIS data sharing centre.
Indeed, some recreational sailors (and illegal fishing outfits) prefer to go untracked for a range of reasons. In that case, they either don’t have AIS, or control visibility of their AIS signal by turning their AIS transmit off at times .
Required by International Maritime Organization thus, USCG COLREGS, commercial ships which meet the size/weight requirements (300 gross tonnage and upwards engaged on international voyages ) receive and transmit their AIS signal. These signals are easily found on websites for tracking vessels such as Marine Traffic and Vesselfinder. We share our location and that of those within our range, with Marine Traffic via our AIS signal.
It took me a long time to be willing to share realtime data, but at this point, we also share our AIS data on cruiser led NoForeignLand.com.
Finally, as I posted in my last blog We Bought a Starlink, we love it. But, while it’s cool to have satellite connectivity, of course we don’t rely on it entirely.
We did confirm with over a dozen sailors doing the passage to the South Pacific this season, that Starlink has had great coverage between Panama to the Galapagos, and from the Galapagos to French Polynesia.
But you can’t make a call with Starlink when you’re on a liferaft quickly floating away from your waterfront home.
A new item we’re testing it out this run, in addition to the Man Over Board (MOB) personal AIS but non GPS-based products out there like RescueMe and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) that don’t have AIS but work with GPS (and our ACR EPIRB).
Don will have it on his life vest. We have the app installed on a phone and a tablet, and once you press the SOS button, it sends our personal profile with essential information to a distribution list as well as SAR teams using Iridium’s satellites, allowing us to send texts to them even if need be.
Equipment most cruisers have on-board
These safety devices have been on boats since the 1970s in one form or another.
For emergencies – most blue water cruisers now have an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon that will send a signal out to satellites and is monitored 24 hours a day with connections to S&R centers around the world.
Due to the availability of Starlink, this has now been moved to our ditch bag, but we have it on board for use. We have an unlimited data subscription so we can text our latitude/longitude to key folks following our float plan and send emails in case Starlink goes offline. Should we have to leave Enjoy for some dire reason, this is one of the devices in our ditch bag that we’ll take in the life raft to message from. The plan gives us 50 minutes of voice and unlimited data per month, and we can call people via the app on our Android phones (we have a solar charged usb battery to help extend its life)
Equipment old school cruisers have on-board
We still go old school with the gold standard of world cruiser communications, a SSB radio and Pactor Modem. We can talk with others on SSB and via amateur radio frequencies with Don’s call sign (KC3FRR). We can also very slowly (2722 bps plus compression) receive weather charts and send and receive small emails.