Budget Friendly Satellite Communication

Generally speaking, satellite communications is expensive, complicated and very slow or unreliable, which is why we were quite intrigued when Garmin bought Delorme, the company which made the original inReach products. We sold these for a few years and were quite impressed with the system and usability of the product, but now with Garmin’s vast experience and reach, the product has become extremely popular in a wide range of applications.

So what does the inReach do?

Put simply, it sends text messages to any cell phone, or any email address on the planet. This can be done from the device itself, by using the arrow keys to scroll up and down through letters, or more commonly, by pairing a cell phone to the inReach device you can text / email through bluetooth from your phone, which is of course much easier. In extension to straight text / email communications, weather forecasts can also be requested by the user for their current position, and there is an emergency SOS button on the side of the unit - but more on this later. Tracking can be set up so friends and family can see exactly where you are - great to reduce anxiety when the bar is too rough to cross back in.

Cost wise, you’re looking at $669 for the communicator only unit (SE+) or $769 for the Explorer +, which adds the ability to display maps on screen. We recommend the communicator only option, mainly because the maps are currently the old Delorme maps, which are unlikely to be supported in a couple of years (we figure Garmin will start using the Garmin mapping system on the next release) and the battery life is significantly impacted when using the device for both navigation and communication. Unlike previous Garmin handheld devices, the inReach units have an internal rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, which provides an extended battery life, however don’t have the ability to run off AA batteries, so when your battery is flat you’ve lost comms. The flipside to this is that they can be charged via USB, so a good USB powerbank can cover you for multiple charges on a trip, saving weight and money.

On top of the hardware costs, you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription from $20-$165 per month depending on use. OR if your usage doesn’t justify purchasing a device to own, you can save a bunch of hassle and hire the inreach products from us from $100 per week.

So what are some other devices which do a similar job to the inReach devices?

On the cheaper price point is the Spot communicator - this is without doubt a cheaper alternative to the Delorme product, but has one big difference - the Spot products are only one-way communication, meaning that you can send a message from the spot communicator, but can’t receive any reply. A side effect of this is that the Spot doesn’t actually know when it’s messages are sent, since the satellites it communicates with can’t send it a confirmation, so when a spot message is sent, it is actually sent three times, 5 mins apart, and the unit hopes that one is received by the recipient. This isn't normally a problem so long as you have a clear view of the sky (think properly mounted on a boat), but if you’re in the bush it can lead to problems. We’ve worked with a couple of large organisations who work in rugged terrain who have tested or implemented Spot systems but are pulling out due to lost messages. Pricing for the Spot Gen3 communicator is RRP $259 and the yearly subscription is US$229, or US$22.99 per month. So if you’re sending a number of messages or track points this can be a cheaper option.

On the more expensive side is an Iridium Satellite Telephone -

This effectively adds voice communications on top of text messaging capabilities but without the bluetooth. The Iridium phones are made by Motorola and the interface is very similar to that of an old brick telephone. Simple to make calls, no predictive text messaging, and no snake game!  Although technically possible, we don’t recommend using the Iridium phone series to browse the internet or download larger files. It’s really complicated and super slow. If you need to send and receive small files (such as grib weather forecasts, or small images) then the Iridium Go! is your best bet, this works in a reasonably similar manner to the inReach - in that the user interface is on the users cell phone but the sat comms is done by the Iridium Go!. Something to note is the Predictwind interface with the Iridium Go! - this goes a long way to simplifying downloading and display of weather anywhere in the world, but it does still use the very slow 2.4kbs connection of the iridium satellites (at least until the NEXT satellite system gets turned on).

Emergency Comms

None of the messengers mentioned above are designed as a replacement for your EPIRB or PLB for a number of reasons - one of which is battery life limitations, but all of them do feature an emergency button which connects them to the GEOS center. When you push this button a message is sent to a monitoring centre in the USA - what happens after this, and the costs involved, largely depends on where you are in the world. In New Zealand the Rescue Coordination Center NZ would be contacted, and it is likely that any further costs would be negligible. If elsewhere in the world however, it is quite likely you will be liable for the cost of your rescue and that these costs can be quite high. GEOS offer a range of subscriptions, similar to a form of insurance, but make sure you look through the fine print if you want to go down that route.