Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

Out here on the water, the answer to that question  is, "Not really anymore."

One of the truly frustrating issues with cruising in this particular area of the world is communications. The pockets of no-coverage zones in the Salish Sea are actually becoming worse rather than improving, and as anyone who sails in the San Juan Islands is aware, the international roaming fees are hard to dodge. Canada's towers are stronger than most of the US-based cell towers, meaning even when one is well within the US boundaries, the bloated phone bill awaiting them back on land doesn't necessarily represent it.

In the past year, between the three of us, we accumulated about 270 sea-days in and around the waters between Coos Bay Oregon up to Kodiak, Alaska. The issue of reliable and affordable communications has hit home in a very realistic way. (Made even more relevant by a recent disagreement with our mobile carrier over international roaming fees and a North America coverage plan).

What has led to the recent decrease in coverage areas in parts of the San Juan Islands and up into the inside passage?

Jeffery surmises that as many of the PNW logging camps have shut down, the cell towers have been dismantled or "turned off". Thereby making our coverage more spotty. My theory might be a tad more conspiracy-leaning... I often think that the mobile companies do not necessarily mind the rise in roaming fees for data and phone usage, even when it is clearly documented that the customer was in a "safe-zone". The obstacles that they set in place for disputing over-billing fees clearly demonstrates that they expect many to give up and simply pay the overages rather than fight the system.

The satellite phones are quite handy, and in event of emergencies the VSATs are life-savers. However, the expense of relying on sat phones for regular communication are pretty cost prohibitive as well.

We've become big fans of Skype for cheap and easy conversing while tied to the dock and gunkholing around the pacific northwest, although when we're anchored in a low reception area of any of the islands or once we head off-shore, it's impossible to use. So, then it's back to the old mobile phone service option (and issues), once again. Our wireless jet pack no longer picks up reception in areas of Chuckanut Bay!

The GSM model used in Europe and around the rest of the globe, seems the most pragmatic solution. It also comes with pre-paid options that can be used with an existing phone number. (I'm still trying to determine the cost relativity for use while we are still in the PNW).

As we prep for our world-cruising lifestyle aboard Sugaree, we're paying close attention to telecommunication technology, with an eye toward the next big thing... and really hoping that it doesn't break the Wallace/Carson bank.

Meanwhile, out here in the Salish Sea, it seems as if we'll just have to make due with standing up on the spreaders to make that call!

Anybody found a service plan that has consistent coverage in the islands/ Inside Passage these days?

 ~ Chris.


  1. T-Mobile now includes free data and 20 cents per min. voice in Canada (and other countries). Good price on the plans too.

  2. Thanks--we'll be checking into that.
    Also debating on purchasing a Telex (Canadian) plan as pay-per-use when we know we'll be close to the increasingly ambiguous border.