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Internet Access While Sailing? 199

ryan schroeder asks: "My mother is sailing to Hawaii this summer and is wondering about solutions for checking e-mail. I know a cell phone modem won't work and a satellite phone sounds a little expensive. I bet someone out there had looked into this. If anyone has a direction to point me to that be great." It would be interested in hearing if any of you folks have gotten Internet access working while out at sea and what degrees of success you've had with it. Who needs land anyway? Give me a boat, the stars, working global wireless Internet and a wind to sail by!
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Internet Access While Sailing?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I had this same problem when I worked for the Coast Guard. For the sailboat size, your options boil down to Packet Radio on SSB HF, INMARSAT, or Orbcomm. American Mobile Satellite does not have coverage between HI and the west coast. The cheapest is probably ORBCOMM. Try cturers.htm to see what you can find.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Amateur radio is a possibility. Currently she would need to pass a 5 word per minute code test, but that shouldn't be to hard and a written exam (the license fee is $6-7). Then you need a radio, a multi mode controller (a modem for radio), and a computer. You might not need a multi mode controller, you might be able to use the sound card in the computer. This would give her email from just about anywhere, almost all of the time. She would be using a collection of pactor to email gateways located around the world. The drawbacks would be no busuiness communications (illegal), and no encryption (illegal, but shouldn't be a problem). For more information use a search engine and check out [] and []
  • by latro ( 292 )
    Heh, as if the most difficult thing to overcome is the limits of cat5 cable.

    I mean, the hardest part is going to be using the crimper with the giant claws on your deep-sea submersible suit!

  • ComputerWorld has a story [] about how some fixed wireless companies are saying that various at-sea internet connections are threats to public safety and should be outlawed. Might be On Topic for your question.

  • Huh? What are you going off on? Where are the lies fud and rumors? I was in fact perfectly serious, amature radio in the right band would be a good solution, you might have to get a license for a non-standard amature band to get the distance, but no other group tries to get low cost radio working, and that is the solution needed here.

    I knew the guy who ran (runs?) amature a large radio network. It works, but by his own words it is slow. Maybe that has changed and maybe not - I don't know. Certinaly the band he was working in doesn't have the distance abilities that sailboating needs, but he can easially set you up in a band that will deal with that distance. He would love to help too, just for the challenge of it.

  • Yes, most big liners have satellite access. The last trip I took (carribbean -- Tortola is beautiful) had net access for $.40 a minute.

  • They both have valid points. They both have posted using somewhat abrasive/inflamitory language. They have both wasted my bandwidth!!!! :-)


    P.S. About your email problem while sailing... maybe one of those "contestants" of CBS's Survivor show will figure out a way to do email. Tune in [] and find out!
  • Bit late now though ain't it.

    Why didn't you buy it years ago on the offchance that you might be off sailing in the middle of an ocean? Hmmm?

    That'll teach you.

    Basically, why would you want email in the middle of the ocean? Isn't the point of sailing in the middle of an ocean to get away from telephones/email/the modern world?

  • I've heard (second-hand) that the Dutch PTT has good Internet access and competitive rates.

    Well, being a Dutch citizen I would say that's debatable, but then again, I assume you are referring only to its satellite communications branch ;-).

    Which is called Station 12 [], incidentally. They advertise a lot on CNN International...

  • The amateur radio packet solution on HF at 300 baud is possible as others have mentioned, but does require a license. Doesn't matter that you are in international waters or not, amateur radio is an internationally regulated set of frequencies. It takes a license in all cases.

    At the same time, if this lady is sailing on a commercial liner getting permission of the captain/cruise line is also mandatory to setup an Amateur station on their vessel! Just an FYI.

  • If you're sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, there's a decent chance that your regular old digital cellphone will work. Apparently, some enterprising companies have set up a lot of cell towers near/on oil rigs for the offshore employees to call home with. I'm not sure how far out you can go and still get signals. We were about 60 miles out when I found out about this. The good thing is, line of sight on the ocean is pretty damned far!

    A lot of comments so far have brought up a good point, though. You're sailing! What the hell do you need e-mail for?!?! Me, I'm tied to this damned computer/laptop/cellphone for about 50 weeks a year. During the couple of weeks that I'm on vacation, I like to get as far away from this crap as I possibly can. I don't really miss it, either. Sure, it's always nice to come back home and have a mailbox full of messages from friends and family and to catch up on /. or whatever... When I'm out at sea, the only think electronics that I want to mess with is the GPS and the radar.

    There's nothing like grilling up some kingfish that you caught earlier in the day with some italian salad dressing marianade and a nice plate of rice. Sit and watch the sun set while sipping on a Myers and Coke, while listening to some Jimmy Buffett. Why would you want to screw that up by reading e-mail from work?
  • What's the possibility of someone creating underwater cellular/gsm towers? It'd take a whole lot less power than what's required to reach a satellite, and we've already got fiber optic on the sea floor, so why can't we tap into that and build towers that hang below the surface of the water (over the surface would probably be dangerous). I imagine the signal could be boosted much higher than is allowed on land, and the lack of obstructions should make reception great.. Anybody know if this is/isn't possible?
  • what would be happening that would be so urgent as to require your immediate response?

    Well, a death in the family is. For me, anyway.


  • I though this was humorous... you state "you can't play quake", yet this is one of their service providers:

    QUAKE Wireless, Inc.
    5575 Ruffin Road, Suite 100
    San Diego, CA 92123
    Phone: (858) 277-7290
    Fax: (858) 277-7293
    Web Site:

  • Sort of OT, but many academic research ships starting implementing e-mail via Inmarsat about 10 years ago. Queued msgs would be sent and received about twice a day. I know I used this back in 1990 on two separate ships. Once we had a schematic diagram of some circuit board sent to us.

    More OT. There is an old trick that is sometimes hoisted on naive newbies out at sea. Get some more experienced ppl together, and have someone announced that the ship should be reaching a mail buoy the next day. This buoy is the ocean version of a mailbox. Everybody gets excited and goes running off to write letters to their love ones. If the rookies sort of bite, then the next day bring out some type of grappling hook/pole. Fill a bag with junk. Tell the rookies to look for the buoy on one side of the ship, while you look for it on the other side.

    Attach the bag to your grappling hook and excitedly shout, I got it, I got it. Go to "distribute" the mail. Tell the rookies that another mail buoy will be by the next day.

    Oh yes, take lots of pictures.

  • Wake up and smell the coffee yourself!

    Non-geeks can use the Internet too! Perhaps this guy's mom wants to keep in touch with people. Perhaps she's using email to write letters to people, not keep up with the latest new Internet IPO. Perhaps the point of going on vacation is to spend time relaxing and catching up with friends who she hasn't had time to talk to in a while.

    Just because you think one way, don't assume everyone else in the world has to see the world through your eyes.


    -- Your Servant,

  • You should ask them how they do it.

    With a satellite dish the size of your sails, and power from a generator that weighs an order of magnitude or so more than your entire boat, lead keel and all.
  • Aircraft carriers also have aircraft and surface to air missiles. I wouldn't expect to find net access for the masses while at sea (not yet). How many cars have internet access thus far? Not many I would 'spect.
    I don't know about you, but my car has surface to air missiles. I hate it when people cut me off.
  • Get a sat-phone and modem combination that works (make the salesperson demonstrate it live, NEVER EVER believe a salesperson) This will run you about $3000.00 in hardware (Phone and modem) next you pay about $3.00 per minute online. this is the sat time and long distance charges. (They will rape you for long distance charges in every way they can... hell it's long-distance in some places to call the payphone you are physically standing next to, the definition they have stating to what is long distance is very vague and designed to steal money from the users)

    This is your ONLY option for deep sea comms. ham radio is not an option unless you can get your mom to agree that everyone can read her email (and post it on the internet publically if desired by the recieving party) and she can get her advanced Ham radio ticket by then, permission from every country to transmit that she will be near or in their waters, etc.... ham radio will get you email only at 300bpsSIMPLEX! with HUGE latency and large periods of no-connectivity. if you recieve more than 300 characters in an email, and then have 10 of these emails it will take about 30 minutes to retrieve them, and only if you are a seasoned Ham radio operator.. Ham equipment to do this? I suspect that you want to have automated stuff, Probably $12-14K new, or on the cheap end $600-900 for really old used stuff.

    BTW, if you never worked HF you'll have hell finding stations to recieve, then try and get your modem setup, recieve the data, retune as you didnt recieve it correctly, fight propagation problems.. etc....

    no, unless you have been a HAM for 12 years, you are NOT going to get your email via HF in the pacific.
  • Inmarsat announced a GAN solution on their website:

    It supposedly offers 64kbps ISDN speed from a device which weighs 4kg and is about the size of a notebook.
    This is from their website:

    The mobile satellite communications units needed to access the Inmarsat Global Area Network
    are small, completely portable and simple to operate. To link into the network, no matter where
    you are, all you need to do is switch on the unit, orientate the antenna in the general direction of
    an Inmarsat satellite, plug in your pc, and go.
  • A clarification is in order.

    ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) communication is in military use now. I don't know how far beyond research it has gone, but it's been discussed in the likes of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics years ago.

    ELF waves are acoustic, but inaudible to humans. They've been compared to geological events like magma flows and earthquakes or distant thunder. Very low signal carrying capacity, but good distance - trans-oceanic. From what I've read, they're (or at least have the potential to be) used to get the attention of, or send pre-expected messages to, remote sites and submarines on long-range, silent patrol. In effect, a set of messages is already held on a sub, and only the ID of the message is transmitted.

    There's some question about the effect of ELF waves on biologicals...

    Whale/dolphin modes of communication are much higher frequency, and should support signal carrying. I agree that this might be a very promising method of communication. Hopefully those with some know-how will spot this thread and illucidate the matter. :)
  • It's proven technology.

    Write your email on a piece of paper, slip it into the bottle, and heave it in the direction you want it to go. Remember, nothing beats a station wagon of DAT tapes for bandwidth.

    Carrier Seagulls? Now that the Carrier Pigeon is extinct, and considering the resources you'll have at hand, you must make due with what's available. Just don't bother the albatross, it's bad luck.

    Have you considered ELF? Whales use them to communicate over thousands of miles. It should be no problem. Just stick your head under water and move some mucous(um, SNOT) around in your sinuses. The only risk is getting water up your nose, or getting blasted out of the water by a North Korean sub... But hey, that's a small price to pay for low-cost global connectivity.
  • That last one, ELF, sounds like a area that needs some research. I imagine it would be possible to use the ocean itself as a medium for digital
    transmission. The frequencies and digital encoding you'd have to use would probably limit the bandwidth to something pretty low and there would have to be receivers near shore with, umm, "land"-based connectivity, but it sounds cheap enough.
  • ELF/VLF communication is not restricted to EM technology. Think about it...

    ELF: Extremely Low Frequency
    VLF: Very Low Frequency

    They refer to wave carriers, not electromagnetic carriers specificly. Audio is a wave carrier, too.
  • Yup. Mr. Clancy REALLY likes his realism... Unfortunately, to be very real, he would have had to stretch out the underwater fight scenes to about half an hour to an hour each... (Like in his books. Try Red Storm Rising or SSN for some ultra-realistic portrayals of submarine operations... My submariner friend actually recommended SSN because it was co-written by a former submariner.)

  • Just like in 'The Hunt for Red October'!!

  • Cheers! this is really excellent

    where's the f£$#@= score?
  • by MoxCamel ( 20484 )
    I'm not a HAM enthusiest, but I know that there is a message relay service offered by amateur volunteers all over the world. She may not be able to read email, but any important messages she needed to send/receive would be relayed.


  • Hehehehhe =:-) Kick ass. I think you'd need to make your hostname FUCKUP at that point...
  • In the past week I've had to get a producer setup to send back images, video and text via Satellite from the upcoming op boat challenge in Indonesia. This is my very recent first-hand account of getting a usable connection up and running.

    The setup we're working with is an Thrane and Thrane Comsat Messenger (3680A?) M4 ($3000 laptop sized bag phone) attched to a Macintosh G3 via a standard Diva TA PCMIA ISDN card ($250.). It took me about three days to get it working, and then another half-day of TCP/IP stack tuning to get it going at a usable speed. (When you dial #92 you get the most laid-back technical support in the world -- from an aussie 30 miles north of Perth sitting next to giant array of sats that make up a LES/Land Earth Station..)

    If you're going to be on a boat, you have to use a tracking attena that can deal with the movement. The default with the M4 is this folded flat cardboard looking thing that needs to be stationary. There are warnings throughout the manual and attached to the front of the attena that say to stand at lest 1.8meters back when in operation.

    The ISDN connection is just one B channel (64Kbits/second) and raw speed, even with tweaked TCP/IP settings to deal with the latency, is only about 2KB/sec. Round trip ping times from Inet hosts in the US back to the ISDN Sat connections are about 1200ms.

    I wouldn't suggest trying this to anyone who doesn't have a lot of experience with dialup ISDN connections and a solid working knowledge of TCP/IP. Oh, the kicker - the ISDN connection is something like $8/minute, so make sure someone else is paying for it too. (Voice/regular 9600Bps connections are /only/ $2.90 or so per minute.)

  • Try SailMail [].
  • Especially if you already have satellite equipment, it looks like this service would be really good, and not too expensive. []

    400Kbps to a moving target? Sounds good to me!

  • Check out the: []

    I'm not so familar with that, I guess you are supposed to be an regular sailor to use it.

    Go and find out yourself.

    Jii [mailto]

  • Aircraft carriers also have aircraft and surface to air missiles. I wouldn't expect to find net access for the masses while at sea (not yet). How many cars have internet access thus far? Not many I would 'spect.

    I don't know about you, but my car has surface to air missiles. I hate it when people cut me off.

    s/air/surface is what you mean, unless you are constantly getting cut off by Mollier skycars.

  • what about VSAT. I know Digicom has satellite internet access at a "affordable" price. []
  • Am I the only one sitting here going "They're talking about the length of the cable and how that wouldn't work and not even noticing the fact that he also said to tap into a undersea cable?" I love this place for that very reason. We see the forest for the trees alright. So much that we miss the forest.

  • Sounds like someone needs to lighten up. Give the guy a break, he was giving what info he could. All you could give was flames. Try saying what's incorrect about something before just flaming for no real reason.

    Honestly, I don't know why the rest of us bother. With people like you, that is.

  • There is no mystery here, and no great difficulty. All you have to do is drop by the nearest marina or yacht club and look at the magazines that are lying around. There are lots of ads for commercial email services for people on the high seas.

    Some work by means of HF SSB marine radio telephone, (you can get a license by paying a fee)with a smart computer box doing audio modulation. It is a very specialized modem. The data rate is very slow, just a few bits per second. But it works world wide, and is very robust in the presence of interference. When you are spending months sailing across the ocean, it doesn't matter if your computer controlled radio has to grind all day to download a small email.

    But if you want web browsing then you have to go with a much more expensive solution, like INMARSAT.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    B, M and mini-M are all digital services offered by Inmarsat through their "signatories". In the US you'd probably go through Comsat, although you can connect to most any supplier (BT and Telstra are the biggest). B offers toll-quality voice plus 9600 bps fax and data, and also a high-speed data service (64 kbps). M and mini-M use high-compression codecs so the voice quality is not as good - recognizable but clearly codec-y, and highly specialized for voice (music sounds like crap over the M and mini-M codecs but fine over B). Inmarsat-B is a really expensive solution, both the phone and the air time are costly. B is mostly for commercial shipping or for rich guys. If you go Inmarsat for personal marine use you'll want M, which offers 2.4 kbps data. mini-M has cheaper and lighter terminals than M and about the same quality of service (including 2.4 kbps data), but they don't offer a marine version. I believe the marine version of mini-M is in the pipe, not sure when the service will be available. You could probably make a mini-M phone work on a boat but it would have to be a calm day as they don't have the marine antennas with the radome. I think a mini-M phone is on the order of $US 2-3K, plus you can expect a couple bucks per minute air charges. M phones are more, don't have current pricing. Personally I'd want the satphone not so much for connectivity as safety issues. The maritime models of B and M support distress signalling (push a button and you're connected to the maritime distress centre, which can save your ass). I know all this stuff because our company builds a lot of stuff for Inmarsat services, including the gateways used by Telcos and the overall control systems used by Inmarsat. Neil Gendzwill SED Systems
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Connection reset by pier"

  • by Anonymous Coward
    my mom uses a laptop/gsm cell phone combination on her boat. i tried to find something else, but relized its either - too complicated (using the radio is possible, but *very* complicated) - too expensive (satelite phone) - too big (pc with wintv dbs for satelite access is a workable solution) since she is only sailing the mediterrean sea, cell phones work sort of, as long as you can see the coast :)
  • I dont know where you'd get a liscense for this, but surface waves (across the sea) can carry huge distances.
  • Now that the clueless have chimed in, here's how my sailing partner keeps in touch while off-shore:

    NOTICE: Mail to the sender of this message is via a
    (slow) radio link. PLEASE be brief and send only PLAIN TEXT.
    Consult the help file for your EMail program for information
    on how to send Plain Text messages.
    Also DO NOT copy the sender's messsage text back to them.

    Processed by Amateur Radio Station W4NPX,
    using NetLink (c) 1996-99, W5EUT, KN6KB
    For Help -

    Check it out.


    David A. Bandel
  • I think you could do what the navy does, IE use satalites, but its going to be very expensive. I think commercial ships use it to, as do aircraft, but it is not cheap. I would imagine that the hardware is going to be the pricey bit.

    The Cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • The cheapest alternative is two tin cans and a LOT of string. The baud rate'll be horrible, but you can't beat it on price.

    Next up, you can build a system that conforms to the TCP/IP over Homing Pidgeon protocol, which has been defined by the IETF and is available as an RFC.

    Third up, you -could- use amateur radio. It's pricey and interference is likely to be high right now (high sunspot count), but the speed's not really going to be -that- much faster than the other two options.

    Lastly, for a REALLY good connection, load up the vessel with a tightly-wound reel of optic fibre. Plug the other end into a DSL or cable connection, and lay cable as you sail. You should get the full speed of the ISP's connection, that way.

  • That isn't me. Note the "." on the end of his name.


  • Unfortunately, high frequencies don't travel well underwater, so you would indeed need a LOT of juice. This is why whales talk to each other (over thousands of miles!) using very low frequency audio. Similarly, the Navy uses very low frequency RF to talk to subs, etc.

    Besides, if they couldn't make iridium pay, how could a company EVER make a go of this, technical reasons notwithstanding?
  • Note that, although this seems like a fantastic idea, airtime is bone-crunchingly expensive - I think it's something like $ 0.10 a character (!). Even Inmarsat is cheaper than that.


  • I knew someone who had satellite access via Inmarsat B. He had a 120' motor yacht he was running on an open-ended round the world cruise. Since he and his wife are gregarious people, they financed the whole thing by chartering out the parts of the boat (little ship, really) they didn't use. You could go with them for some $45,000 a week all-inclusive. Amazingly enough, that is actually a bargain rate for the services they offer - check out for some of the ghastly rates charged by other charter firms (normally not all-inclusive).

    I think it's a reasonable statement to make that money is not a significant problem for those folks. They quite happily paid $9 a minute for their 56k Inmarsat B connection, which gave them trouble-free live Internet access. They told me the equipment cost is about $50,000, at least when they had it installed.

    Of course they absolutely hated spam. Can you imagine downloading a 50k Make Money Fast message at $ 9 / minute? They wound up doing it all the time.

    A very nice couple, very friendly. I think they were run off USENET by some of its less friendly denizens, which is why I haven't heard from them in an age :-(.

    Unless things have changed significantly in the year or so ago since I've heard from them, Inmarsat B equipment is extremely bulky and heavy and can't be carried on vessels under 100'. This is a huge and expensive boat, making it cost-prohibitive for most sailors even if the cost of the equipment itself wasn't already.

    If my memory serves, the suitcase-sized stuff is either C or Mini-M with maximum data rates in the slug-like 2400-9600bps range.

    Telephone services via SSB were all but shut down a few months ago, which was probably no big loss since the satellite-based systems are both cheaper to use (SSB phone service was billed out at $5/minute!) and more reliable. I don't think SSB is a good long-term bet.


  • Sadly, I don't remember the name of the company, but they were working out of South Florida if my memory serves. It looked like a really cool concept.


  • There are HAM band packet radio systems in excess of 56k last I checked.

    The bigger problem, I'd think, is obtaining the appropriate license to operate said device.

  • Not a problem with a good servo system and the appropriate hydraulic and/or electrical equipment. My office mate used to run an Intelsat data/voice link based on the USNS Vanguard []. There are Inmarsat systems today that are much smaller and cheaper.
  • Actually it's a question of national security. They don't want spies communicating over amateur radio. It sounds a bit silly today but there are still many countries that keep a close watch on amateur radio activity. Some limit it to officially authorized club stations where it can be supervised. Amateur radio in the USA was shut down during World War II.
  • ELF/VLF communication is electromagnetic, not acoustic. The data rates are very slow, think characters per minute, and the transmitters and antennae are huge.
  • but this was sposed to be one of Irridium's neato factors. You could access data from anywhere on the planet including the ocean. Now Irridium is just crashing into the ocean. The only solution I can think of is get your mom a Tech or General license so she can bouce RTTY signals off AMSATs. Doing RTTY whilst on the road is a great thing if you can manage it. It might be a little slow but if mom is just getting text she might do ok. Has she though of just taking a train though?
  • Hmmm...
    This is an oddly appropriate question, given that Hawaii was the birthplace of the first wireless data network, ALOHA Net, which was developed at the university of hawaii.
  • I think he was actually bitching about my comment. Not yours. I've been looking at using packet radio equipment in my car for simple messaging and email and the last I checked, everything I said in my comment was true.

    Who cares anyway? It's not the real Bruce Perens, just some loser troll. Plus, he's moderated to -1 anyway.
  • Keep in mind that it is illegal to use encryption over Ham radio airwaves, you cannot use it for work either. Anyone can legally sniff and listen to any data that goes over the Ham radio frequencies.
  • Check out this link on how to do it WIRELESS INTERNET ACCESS []. I'm not sure of the legality in the US, not to mention they claim a range of only 45 clicks.
  • Ok, I'll OpenSource my great business idea, since I know I'll never follow up on it. I know *lots* of sailors. I've been to lots of Marinas here in the northeast. And I know that many if not most of the folks, at least in the moderately sized boats (over say, 25 feet) demographically are computer users.

    In fact, as you move up in the boating hierarchy the owners are more likely to have laptops and desire remote access, and as already pointed out, cell phones suck and satellite is too expensive.

    Idea: T1 to a marina running a moderately powerful server (cobalt, linux, etc) providing wireless access to an area covering roughly a few acres. Provide wireless lan pcmcia cards to users...Premium rates would probably apply ($30/month?). The folks I've talked to would be happy to pay it!

  • Ethernet was a direct descendant of the alohanet protocols. The first ethernet was a 3Mbps implementation of aloha, contained on a thick coax cable with terminators at each end, and each machine was assigned a callsign in what are now destination and source addresses. The original project was to simulate a number of radio stations, without actually transmitting, hence the name ethernet to indicate the coax was simulating the ether.

    When BBN was developing IP, they looked at alohanet and liked what they saw. So many of the problems worked out by radio amateurs working across a "1 transmitter, many listener, non-reliable transmission" network were incorporated into IP.

    the AC
  • what about the bitches?

    Bring your own. I've done a 2 week sail around the mediteranean with a girl I'd met at a friends wedding. I just called her up the next week, and asked if she could take a week off for sun, sea, and sex. By the end of the trip we were completely exhausted from all the sex, sunburned despite all the sunblock, and had a great relaxing time. One hint, 3 couple should not share a boat with only 2 cabins.

    And I only went looking for internet cafes in a couple of ports :-)

    the AC
  • Alright let's clear this up. International waters does not mean that you can do whatever you please. It simply means that you can't interfere with a ship from another country. [example] if the ship was from Great Britian it could go were ever it wants in international waters. As soon as it enters a countries waters though it is subject to inspection, boarding, etc. [/example] The ship is still held to the laws of the country it is registered in. So if the boat is registered in America then it would be considered part of America and would be held to it's laws but couldn't interfere with anyone else in international waters except under very certain circumstances (time of war, etc).

  • 1. remote and obscure location(s)
    2. what you do every day
    3. a whiz-bang internet gadget
    4. expensive internet service
    5. signifacant other

    I have been swamped at work lately, 2., and feel totally burnt out. So I figured I needed a vacation. So, this summer, myself and 5. are going to 1. to get away from it all. However that will leave me without internet access. Without internet access I will be stranded, unable to do 2. Does anybody have any ideas? I mean, I could use 3. with 4., but is that necessary?
  • I had a friend (who may very well read this, and want to speak for himself,) who worked on a research ship in the Pacific a year or two ago. Whenever they needed net access, they just dropped a cable down and plugged into the trans-oceanic lines that sit on the ocean floor. Nice and fast, if you don't mind being tethered to one place.

    No, this is not a terribly useful suggestion for most people. And yes, it is possible that this guy was putting me on, although he swore he was serious.
  • There are a number of emailham radio bridges operated by yacht clubs for boaters.

    Contact the clubs in the area of your home port for more info. (Please don't contact them unless you plan to actually use it for offshore boating - the clubs have limited resources, so we'd ruin it for real users by slashdotting them out of curiosity.)

    You can use an off-the-shelf ham TNC and your boat's longwave radio. (You don't have a longwave? Well GET one if you're going offshore! Longwave licenses for boaters are easy to get, and your boat's HF is line-of-sight, so it quits once you're over the horizon from land.)

    They must be used sparingly - it's a single 1200 baud channel (further degraded by by the protocol's handshaking turnarounds), shared by everybody using that bridge (which essentially means everybody in that part of the ocean).
  • [Weather reports] can make the difference of crossing on your 40' Hunter or your 10' life raft.

    Especially if you're chosing a Hunter to take offshore. B-)

    Sorry, couldn't resist. My wife the marine-architecture fan has a LOT to say about Hunters.
  • Is it also available on land - say in valleys surrounded by mountains and far from an ISP's POP?
  • Ok.. Internet access is tough get in out of the way places, but if E-Mail is all you want, you have several options:

    SailMail, PinOak, or other SSB EMail: You'll need a Single Side Band reciever and a terminal node modem (a fancy accoustic modem) PinOak and several other companies provide SLOW email over the SSB airwaves for a low fee. If free (like beer, and kinda like speech) is what you want, look at SailMail. A network of volunteer HAM radio buffs around the world and a handful of free windows software make up a pretty good free solution

    Satelite: Garmin's GSC-100 is a dandy little handheld GPS/Satelite EMail Gadget. Ususally theyre around $1000 but Garmin is selling them off for $99 plus like 3 years service. Check out West Marine [] and they'll hook you up (Yes, I work there). There are also some more expensive, larger satelite solutions like C-Sat which can also provide phone and data calls (At like $2/min!) but those require a greater starting cost.

    Feel free to email me if you have questions!
  • Use Iridium, it works anywhere in the world.
  • Think about it - what would be happening that would be so urgent as to require your immediate response? And if there is something like that, then what the hell are you doing out sailing?

    I'm just as much as a technofreak as the next person, but when I go out on the water or into the woods, it's to get relief from the email or the pager.

  • Does anyone know if the original Aloha Network [] is still running, and how to connect to it? Do you have an Alto on your sailboat?

    Seriously, you have two realistic options: Inmarsat and cellular. Either way you're using a modem and getting a slow connection. Inmarsat is expensive, as in an investment that becomes part of the boat. Probably beyond your vacation budget. As some others have speculated, I can confirm that this is what the Navy uses for unclassified Internet email on all but its largest ships. Alternatively, Cellular is probably the most cost-effective and easy to use option. The downside is the range is limited to about 10-15 miles offshore, depending on conditions. You will want to use a marine-grade cell phone, rather than a hand-held, in order to get the best range. You can probably rent one of these.

    Even more seriously, doesn't email sort of defeat the whole purpose of sailing as a vacation?

    "What I cannot create, I do not understand."

  • Does anyone know if the original Aloha Network is still running, and how to connect to it?

    It's long gone. It was WAY ahead of its time, dating from about 1970. AlohaNet was a VHF radio inter-island packet switching system built by the University of Hawaii, because inter-island data links were very expensive. The basic idea was that stations could send when they heard nobody else sending, with backoff to deal with collisions. Slow, though, due to the available spectrum space. Alohanet was very influential; Ethernet was based on the same idea, and Alan Kay described Ethernet in 1975, when I first toured Xerox PARC, as "Alohanet with a captive ether".

    There's a tradeoff between bandwidth, propagation delay, and utilization in Alohanet; you can't make a fast wide-area network that way, because the collision-resolution time goes up with distance. Wireless LANs, though, work fine.

  • Yes, for a one-time setup fee of $2.5M and $50,000 a month you too can have a Challenge Athena T1-line-in-the-sky!


  • The answer is pretty straight forward - Inmarsat.. Depending on the solution (or actually the cost, as allways...) You can get in touch with e-mail, the internet in general, god, your mom etc... Check for further info. We use it on our boat in the cheap version and it is all :-) to *8-). You even get weather forcasts..
  • Working for an oceanographic research lab, I have had some experience in this area. In fact, I am currently using Orbcomm for communications with some autonomous instruments off the Oregon coast. Orbcomm will work for email -- it is essentially an email based system -- but it is very expensive, approx 0.01USD/byte. A single page email will cost you about 10 bucks!

    A service like Inmarsat is a better deal for data as they charge by the minute. Most of the research ships I have been out on use Inmarsat for Net access. Some of the ship use Inmarsat when offshore but switch to cell phone when close to shore.

    Globalstar is another possibility ( []). They have a medium earth orbit satellite network (a somewaht less ambitious version of Iridium) but due to licensing issues they only offer service in the Pacific out to the 200 mile limit. This situation probably won't change until someone builds a downlink in Hawaii.

    Personally, if I were sailing to Hawaii, I would just relax and enjoy the ride -- sometimes it's good to be out of touch ...


  • If you're having trouble with this, maybe you should be running a more appropriate networking protocol. Actually, Microsoft has made a fine contribution to this field... netBUOY.
  • SatCom is probably your only real choice for E-mail. Expensive? Yes. But it works. Check out the Singlehanded round the world racers. Not long ago a fantastic rescue was performed in the South Pacific when a racer was rolled and dismasted. Her rescuer was alerted to her trouble and given her E-mail. I'd check out with the orginizers of the event. I'm sure they'd be more helpful than the people here are being, and more understanding of why you might want to do this. There are a lot of valid reasons for having E-mail access on a private boat. Safty is just one of them. So everybody take off their holier than though geek hats and stop flaming this person who is just looking for help. Jesus, no wonder nobody likes geeks.
  • These would be pretty useless to browse the web, though... AFAIK, they're just for relaying messages.
  • The . at the end of the name should have tipped you folks off.
  • Ha makes it a valid point, one that I've echoed above. Why so defensive?
  • (excuse the Chandler impression)

    I don't know about you but when I go sailing I don't want to be bothered with the "real" world. I guess this is good for some people but I don't need access to the internet 24/7.

  • Yes, submarines actually use what is called Very Low Frequency or VLF (Sometimes called Ultra Low Frequency or ULF.) Unfortunately, they only get in the neighborhood of 1 character every 3 seconds. (If I remember what my US Navy Sumbariner friend said.) Yes, that is a whopping .3 baud. But, the good part is that the chosen radio frequency actually travels through the Earth, so the US Navy actually only has two broadcast antennas, both in the mainland U.S., to broadcast to all US Navy subs. They really only use it to tell a sub to come to periscope depth so they can recieve a higher speed satellite-based message. (It's kind of like emailing someone to tell them to turn on ICQ...)
  • by dublin ( 31215 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @08:31AM (#1036605) Homepage
    A few years ago, I had the privelege to do one of the coolest consulting gigs of my career. The job was for a global oil company that ships more oil than anyone else, and was very concerned about minimizing environmental damage and having the right command and control structures in place instantly in the event of a spill. Here are a few tips based on that experience:

    We wound up using an Inmarsat phone by Magnavox (back then only Magnavox and NEC were *seriously* in that business, but Nera and Thrane & Thrane seem to aim more at the serious marine market now.) Inmarsat is rather expensive, but other than the protocol performance problems inherent in the horrible latency to geosynchronous orbit, it works reliably. Prices have come *way* down from the $17/minute of a few years ago to monthly fees of a few dozen dollars plus airtime of $2-5/minute.

    The Magnavox phone we used had a folding parabolic antenna which had great response, but was finicky w.r.t. alignment. Many of the newer (and lower cost) phones use multiple phased array antennae which are much better suited to a smallish boat - you don't want to be trying to keep an antenna pointed straight at the bird while on the seas in a rocking boat! You get what you pay for here. There are some decent entry-level phones that are compact, easy-to-use, and affordable, but they often have data rates of around 2400 bps! 64 kbps phones have been out since late last year.

    Also, pay atention to how you get connected to the Net on the ground end. I've heard (second-hand) that the Dutch PTT has good Internet access and competitive rates.

    Make sure the computers on both ends have RFC 1323 (the LFN RFC) compliant TCP/IP stacks. This makes a *huge* difference in the way your machine will handle geosync latencies! Most modern machines will have this feature by now, but if it's missing on either end, you'll see big performance problems.

    Inmarsat is probably still the best bet for a boat because you get voice and data and they're on pretty much every ship in the world, which can be handy for checking weather, etc. from your neighbors. (Learn the wetiquette for this before spamming folks at high connect charges!)

    Iridium would have been a good choice, but sadly, they're gone. Globalstar is still an option, and one that might work for you, but despite their name, they're not global yet, so coverage may be an issue. Globalstar phones though, have the advantage of being seriously multimode: Globalstar satellite, AMPS analog cellular, CDMA Digital, or the crude, brain-frying GSM. These could save a lot of money near shore, if roaming doesn't bite you worse than satellite time!

    Good luck. I'm envious of anyone heading out to sea...
  • by Janthkin ( 32289 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:40AM (#1036606)
    Obviously, the best person to ask this question of is Hagbard Celine. Of course, they're looking for a sailing solution, and he uses a submarine.... Might not work out quite right.
  • Lots of people have email on boats now, it really is the best way to stay in touch at sea.

    There are two ends to your problem, the boat end and the land end. You'll need to have radio gear on land, turned on 24/24, 7x7. Given how crowded the HF bands are these days, its not practical to set up your own landside transceiver. There is no way to connect to a dialup ISP these days by tunneling through a radio connection, so abandon that idea now. But there are many boater email services available, a few are linked below.

    Satellite gear is expensive, ignore it if you can. It is all high-latency 1200 or 2400 baud packet transmissions, and you end up using the providers email service, and they aren't in the email business. You can't really use satellite phones to make modem calls to any ISP, but if you get desperate set up a 110/300 baud FSK modem on a phone line at home with UUCP on a linux box.

    I would assume the boat is already equipped with a good HF radio. If not, then start shopping for a higher end radio with computer control designed to integrate with laptop computers and an SSB HF modem. Read a few boating mags, and a few amateur radio mags for reviews, and search deja for other reports.

    In addition to a good HF rig, you'll need a good HF modem. Look at kantronics [] website for starters.

    Get your mother trained up on HF radio operations. There is no easy shortcut when you are 1000 miles from the nearest land. It is as important as learning how to sail and basic emergency procedures.

    No matter which route you go, it will be necessary to have a server landside to store the email and filter out spam whenever possible, and to intercept messages containing large attachments. Keep the email address off the internet, don't post it prominently on a web page, or post to usenet from it, or spam will follow. Give it out only to those who your mother wants to communicate with, and send out an explanitory email to her friends not to try to send pictures or big attachments.

    The link will be between 300 and 1200 baud, so plan accordingly. But any modern HF gear can run in unattended mode, so picking up email can happen over a period of hours.

    There are a bunch of commercial email gateway services to boaters.

    Check out Message Center [], Mobile Marine Radio [], the HF on Board [] guys are cool for DIY, and globe wireless [] are expensive but reliable.

    Disclaimer, I've used globe, they work but you'll still need to know what you are doing on the boat end. And they cost a lot of money. And they don't have any spam filtering, since they make about $2 to $5 per message transferred.

    Test out the service for at least a month before heading off to sea. Try it on a shakedown voyage as well. No sense on spending all that money and time just to haul a bunch of useless equipment to hawaii.

    the AC
    [ I'm jealous as can be, now my day is shot thinking of sailing to hawaii :-]
  • by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:53AM (#1036608) Homepage

    Not the quickest or most effective but traditional.

    A new protocol for the previous generation (maybe I should RFC it)

    1) Place a disk into a bottle, this should be an automatic email reader that encodes the recieved data an puts it into a file.

    2) Put bottle in sea

    3) Wait

    4) When bottle is recovered the recoveree will place the disk in their online computer and the program will store all the current emails onto the disk.

    5) Replace disk in bottle

    6) Put bottle in sea

    7) Pick up bottle, decrypt and read email

    Error correction is left to the user.
  • by An0nym0us C0w@rd ( 128409 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:58AM (#1036609) Homepage
    Orbcomm makes a satellite based internet relay network. It is burst-message based, so it can't be used for telnet sessions, or other sessions that require low latency. E.G., you can't play quake...

    However, the orbcomm units are perfect for email, ICQ, and other message services that are very burst oriented, and don't care what the latency is.

    So, if you are looking for something that can do email, and is in a reasonable price range.. try Orbcomm.

    Reach out, extend to, and embrace the universe.
    Embrace, extend, and engulf the universe.
  • by fantom_winter ( 194762 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @07:31AM (#1036610)
    First, locate the underwater cable running to Hawaii. Use the wirecutters to strip to pierce the shielding and strip the end of your CAT5. Use the electrical tape to splice into the cable. Use the crimper to put an end on the CAT5. Now you can sail anywhere within ~300 miles of your splice. For longer distances, use a longer cable.

    Actually, it is alot easier than this, because seawater is an excellent conductor. All you really need to do is leave your phone line dipped in the ocean before you leave, and plug into the Pacific on the other side. But watch out for Aqua-Boxers; they might use your phone to set up a party line while they are on cruise.

  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:42AM (#1036611)

    I know folks into amature radio can get internet connections pretty much anywhere. Connections are 1200 baud, and it is shared, so don't expect much. Web browsing is out, but email can work.

    Note that my information is a bit old in this area. I used to know one of the admins for the Minneapolis amature radio IP network, but that was a few years ago and I've since lost touch. Seems like someone in this crowd would have a solution though.

  • by acb ( 2797 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:52AM (#1036612) Homepage can take a big box, fill it with lots of MP3s and run the world's first real pirate MP3 server...
  • by NetJunkie ( 56134 ) <jason DOT nash AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:54AM (#1036613)

    We went on a New Years cruise on the Norwegian Sky and it had an Internet cafe and in room access (via a fake dialup to an on-ship extension). It is EXPENSIVE and slow, but it works.

    I know this was the first ship with access, but supposedly most cruise lines are now putting it in the older ships as well.

    It was funny to be checking mail in the Internet cafe and have people ask the help guy why they couldn't connect to AOL and what was the local number out there. Maybe AOL should consider putting some POPs on bouys. :)

  • by sail-n ( 78409 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:55AM (#1036614)
    Several friends out there sailing (mostly cruising in the Carribean, Bahamas, and along the south and east coasts of the US) use PocketMail . Unfortunately, this is a send/receive you email from a fixed telephone land line solution. Other options are: ham radio with a TNC (this runs at 300 baud and is limited to non-commercial application), a commercial 'portal' using SSB and Clover modulation techniques (this is generally charged by the character transmitted), a cell phone with a digital interface to your PC if you are close to shore, or one of the satellite products.

    Being a bit of a chinch mite, I'd opt for the pocketmail solution, you just have to wait to do email until you get to shore.
  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @06:10AM (#1036615) Journal
    The person in question would have to be willing to learn a little bit about electrical/radio theory, FCC rules and regulations, operating procedures, etc in order to take the Technician Class license exam, but they could have email almost anywhere in the world if they went to the trouble. (As a ham with a technician class license, I'd like to say the exam isn't really too hard, most people could get the license if they cared too).

    Additionally, they would have to learn to understand Morse Code at a rate of 5 words per minute (in order to get Shortwave privileges, which would probably be necessary for getting email in the middle of the ocean).

    If you are interested in getting more information about becoming an amateur, go to: []

    For information about digital wireless communication over amateur radio go to: []

  • There are only three things I know of that work well from a boat in blue water:

    1. Satellite comms, preferably Inmarsat or some other well established crowd with geostationary sats. Yes, it's expensive, but kitting a boat out for that kind of voyage is _really_ expensive anyway, so maybe another grand or so won't hurt. Check out:

    Inmarsat-B may be the one - 56kb modem equiv, fits in a suitcase.

    2. SSB radio, but I've never heard of anyone running digital comms over it. And it depends on weather conditions how far it goes. But, it's nice to be able to hear real live crackly voices 1000 miles from land...

    3. Set off the EPIRB and when the come to rescue you tell them you're fine but could they send this message for you? :-)

    What boat is being used here? Are they looking for crew?!

  • by Kaa ( 21510 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:52AM (#1036617) Homepage
    There is one quite amazing guy -- calls himself a technomad -- that seems intent on building for himself (and his current girlfriend) a human- (or wind-) powered mobile home jam-packed with electronics. He started with a bike, switched to trimaranish kayak, then to a big almost-blue-water trimaran, then back to a canoe-based small trimaran. The site is called [] and there are, basically, work diaries online -- makes for very interesting reading.

    I think that of all people he should be the most knowledgeable about the issue of 'net access from the middle of nowhere. There may even be information on his site -- plenty of stuff there.

  • by sohp ( 22984 ) <{snewton} {at} {}> on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @06:24AM (#1036618) Homepage
    A while back a couple sailed around the world and recorded their trip through the Houston Chronicle newspaper's web site. All the stuff is still up at the At Sea site [] and if you take a look at the FAQ I think you'll see they sent and recieved e-mail via Inmarsat-C satellite transmission. BTW I coded up the mapping from open-source tools -- gnuplot and perl :)
  • by FascDot Killed My Pr ( 24021 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:46AM (#1036619)
    You will need:

    1 Wire cutters
    1 RJ45 crimper
    1 foot of electrical tape
    300 miles of CAT5 cable

    First, locate the underwater cable running to Hawaii. Use the wirecutters to strip to pierce the shielding and strip the end of your CAT5. Use the electrical tape to splice into the cable. Use the crimper to put an end on the CAT5. Now you can sail anywhere within ~300 miles of your splice. For longer distances, use a longer cable.
    Have Exchange users? Want to run Linux? Can't afford OpenMail?
  • by pkj ( 64294 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @06:40AM (#1036620)
    There are two solutions for email when you are in the middle of the ocean: HF/SSB and satellite.

    On the satellite side, there is exactly one product on the market. I don't remember the name or mfgr, but you can find them in any boating gear catalog. This is a small, self-contained unit with a small keyboard and LCD display. They go for about a grand, plus you need to subscribe to service and pay per message. Not cheap, but I hear they work quite well.

    The other, and much more common, option is HF/SSB/Marine Radio. Any ocean-going vessel will (or should) have a SSB radio, although you need a fairly decent radio and a good antenna for data use. If you have a General (or better) class amateur radio license, then your choice is simple: WinLink 2000 [] is pretty much the defacto standard for amateur radio internet email. Yes, the software runs under 'doze, but it is free, and the service is also free, run by fellow ham operators.

    If you do not have a General Class license and are operating on Marine SSB frequency bands, there are a number of commercial solutions that work just the same as WinLink. Unfortunately, they are not cheap, and none of them provide service any where near as good as the amateur WinLink setup.

    In either case, (Marine/commercial or Amateur/Ham) you will need a radio modem to sit in-between your laptop and your radio. Which one you get will be determined by which service you use. If you go with a commercial provider, they will tell you what unit to use. If you use WinLink, there are many more options, all well documented on k4cjx's web site.

    Also, if you are serious about this, I *highly* recomend that you take at least two laptops with you and that someone on board knows how to re-install both of them. Yes, your laptop will get fried, so make sure that you have an extended service policy on it! Why? I guarantee that someone will start the engine, start the anchor windless, or kick in the wind generator while the laptop is plugged in, sending a nasty spike through the electrical system and frying your laptop, or at the very least scrambling memory and corrupting the disk. Keying up 1KW on your HF radio can also do nasty things to your laptop as well.

    BTW, I spent nine months as a live-aboard in the carribean, so I know all these issues only too well. If anyone wants more info, I'd be happy to provice all the gory details...


  • by Chunky-Spinach ( 122007 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2000 @05:49AM (#1036621) Homepage
    I can just see it now...

    "Warning, unable to connect: Connection reset by pier"...

"The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception a neccessity." - Oscar Wilde