The coastlines of Alaska and British Columbia are still remote territory with inadequate communications for the average small boater. Cell phone service is nonexistent except in populated areas, VHF radio stations are unreachable from many, if not most anchorages, and much of the coast is uncovered by any commercial radio or television broadcast station. Therefore most cruisers will want to look at options for long-distance communications.
HF Single Sideband
Aboard CAMAI, we use high-frequency (HF) single-sideband (SSB) radio for long distance voice and data communications. Although the U.S. no longer has shore stations with marine radiotelephone operators, HF signals can travel over long distances and it is usually possible to talk to someone. Regular weather broadcasts and weatherfax transmissions make it possible to receive the latest weather in the most remote parts of the coast.
The down side of HF radio is the necessity for the operator to understand how radio waves travel, and why certain frequencies work better during daylight hours while others work better at night. Folks without an interest or an understanding of radio propagation can be frustrated by some of its limitations.
Since Barb and I are both amateur “ham” radio operators, we have the added benefit of keeping in touch with other hams through radio “nets” and scheduled contacts. We also use the ham freqencies for data communications including Internet email. Once the licenses and equipment are acquired, ham radio is free–but it can only by used for safety, social or experimental purposes (yes, we get to tinker with our radios and try new stuff.) For business communications such as boat parts or moorage reservations, however, we are required to use commercial marine frequencies.
Probably the simplest and most reliable system to use is the satellite telephone. It’s also the most expensive, but certainly justifiable considering its value in an emergency. Other satellite-based data systems are worth comparing for boats large enough to be so equipped. For cruisers who want “plug and play” reliable communications in remote areas, the sat-phone is probably the best choice–most units are not much more complicated to use than a cell-phone.
On Camai, we do not carry sat-phone since the marine HF and ham radios fill our communication needs.