Ocean Navigator Communications Newsletter #25
Why Do We Really Need To Stay In Touch Anyway? - Some Lessons Learned
Having recently returned from a successful trans-Atlantic passage with more communications gadgets than anyone should rightfully be allowed to simultaneously possess, I took some time (a bit too much time if you ask my editor) to reflect on what was done with the devices. Not so much from a technical standpoint, but from one that considers the type of information passed.
Let me share the results:
The most common use, by far, for all of the people and systems onboard was for personal communication. Mostly of this sort: "Hi honey, everything's fine. The weather's great. See you in a couple of weeks." The corresponding news from home is something that is always much anticipated and eagerly awaited.
The next most common use was to retrieve weather information. We did this through a variety of channels including - a weather overlay file emailed daily by Nobeltec's weather subscription service, weather fax charts downloaded over the Internet using Ocens' WeatherStation software, and personal weather guidance provided by Ken McKinley's Locus Weather.
Oddly enough, the next most common use for our communications gear was to exchange technical support information (in my case both providing support as well as obtaining it). In one case, a few days out from Grand Canary - I got a call on my Iridium phone from a boat in the Atlantic Rally Challenge (ARC) which had an unusual computer problem. After about 20 minutes on the phone in my "office" on the transom, we sorted out his problems and signed off. In another case, a faulty battery charger had us calling for tech support in the other direction. Our local dealer suggested a few troubleshooting tips, we tried them and sent back a quick drawing of our wiring which he forwarded to the manufacturer for further clarification and direction. We were also able to get in touch with Nobeltec to solve a weather file problem, Boater's Mini Web to fix a software problem (and remotely update our terminal), and MarineNet to update our email settings.
Some folks onboard were also keenly interested in updates from the financial markets which were provided by friends at home.
Prior to departure, I was worried about being somewhat bored over the course of five weeks with little around to entertain me. In hindsight, this worry was completely unfounded. Managing nine separate communications systems takes quite some time. Even when they're all working. Sending, reading, and replying to emails ate up at least an hour each day. Though I did find time to finish reading the seven books I'd brought along - only to discover that two of them involved shipwrecks - not the best reading considering the circumstances.
With all the testing and analyzing I was doing, I found myself sending the same email several different ways, downloading the same file many times over, and calling the same people over and over again. I'd guess that my friends and family were anxiously awaiting my return if only to stop the flood of emails, instant messages, phone calls, and faxes that I was spewing forth.
In summary, the best advice I'd have to offer based on this trip is:
- setup a second email address for use ONLY aboard the boat
- sign up for a service provider who focuses on satellite data (e.g. MarineNet, UUPlus, BoatersMiniWeb)
- setup and test everything a few weeks before you depart so you'll have a chance to troubleshoot any problems
- sort through your weather information at home (where airtime is cheap) and narrow down the list of items/charts/forecasts you'll want each day and where to find supplemental information if you need it
- have a "go to guy" back home who wouldn't mind answering the phone in the middle of the night, calling your dealer for you, reading you sports scores or newspaper articles, or looking something up on the Internet (As always - Tim Hasson, my go-to-guy, was invaluable.)
Happy Holidays to all.
Keep in touch.
- Dan Piltch