View Full Version : Out-of-cell-coverage Communication / Ham Radio

12-04-2012, 06:12 PM

I hunted elk this year solo in somewhat unfamiliar county. I have previously hunted just a couple miles west of this area and had cell service, but the part I was in this year had no coverage. I did have an FRS/GMRS radio so I wasn't completely out of comm. I would prefer a more robust and reliable system.

A sat phone may be the way to go, but I don't need any information/opinion where they are concerned.

At present, I'm leaning towards the Spot Connect/InReach/Briartek Cerberus GPS units that when combined with an iPhone or smartphone have two-way text messaging capability. Unfortunately the companies' collective websites seem to be a little less than clear on how messages are received and responded to.

Ideally, I would like to be able to send a text message to a cell phone via the satellite capability and the recipient be able to respond to me without needing anything other than a cell phone; probably by directly responding to an address/number that goes to a system that routes the message back to me through the satellite. From my reading, it appears that the recipient must first go to a particular website to respond, and then the website response is routed through the satellite back to me. That is fine unless I'm texting someone without data access, or in a weak coverage area.

Does anyone have any details on the response procedure using the Spot Connect/InReach/Briartek Cerberus units? Apologies if my questions are ill-informed; I'm still trying to piece this together.

An alternative idea I had is to use a ham radio. My dad and I have talked about getting ham licenses for disaster prep, so it's not much of a stretch. Anyone have any experience using ham radio in the backcountry?



12-04-2012, 09:40 PM
My partner opted to return the InReach unit for a couple of reasons: it is heavy, it is another do-dad to pack around, another member of our party has a Spot unit.
With the Spot our families are all connected in the daily updates of our location and know we are OK. The protocol is to send 2 messages, one after the other when we are ready to exfil and head for the trailhead.
The Spot shows map updates and coordinates at home with every message sent in so our better halves know where we are. It can be programmed to send the packer/outfitter a message and coordinates on where to come and get the meat.
We considered a Sat phone, but agreed that the Spot was adequate, even 15+ miles back in the wilds.
We also have a pretty stringent rule on the home front regarding return times. We have a date in mind when we should be to the trucks and heading home. That said, we also have a full 24 hour cushion built in at each homestead before the SAR siren is sounded.
HAM may be an option, but understand that any handheld is going to be a line-of-sight proposition for the most part, especially in 2-meter. That said, if you have a repeater in the neighborhood that you can hit, you would have some pretty decent long-range comms in a fairly compact package.

12-11-2012, 11:02 PM
Thanks, Randy.

12-13-2012, 12:12 PM
I've used both the SPOT and inReach extensively. I am what I guess you might call a "professional" user, meaning that I have used these worldwide while at work.

I started with the SPOT I about four years ago, all survey crews were outfitted with one and were required to check-in three times a day with tracking enabled in-between check-in messages. Overall I had fairly decent success with the SPOT I, this was later replaced with he SPOT II which was even better. I was a real proponent of these devices until earlier this year. We had been using them in the Atacama Desert in Chile and both of them seemed to only send messages intermittently. When we returned to Canada on the next job, they both stopped sending all together. SPOT customer service was no help, both units were paid-up, but neither would send a single message out during the course of the day, even out in the open. It was as though we were in a Globalstar "dead zone". As a result I switched over to the inReach and have never looked back. I can't say enough good things about this, it's hands down better than the SPOT. I've had 100% success with getting messages in/out. It interfaces easily with an iPhone for two-way messaging, and it's much better on batteries (5-6 days with one set of Eneloop AA), and there is now a 12v power adapter available for it . The only downside really is that it's a touch larger than the SPOT II (not enough to be a deal-breaker IMO 5.2oz vs 8oz), and both pricier to purchase, and more expensive to operate (about $250 vs $150 for SPOT to purchase, to operate $10-$50/month vs $8.33/month for SPOT), but really it's a small price to pay for the piece of mind it brings . The Iridium network that the inReach uses also seems to be overall much more reliable than the Globalstar network used by the SPOT.

I also carry a Fast Track PLB and an Iridium satphone. The new Iridium Extreme is pretty slick, with built in GPS it can operate as a tracking/check-in device just like the inReach ($1695 to buy, ~$50/month for basic telephone plan, plus additional $30/month for LBS tracking).

We used to use Spilsbury SBX-11 HF radios a lot in the Arctic years ago. The SBX-11 was a battery powered "portable" HF radio with a wire-spool type antenna. They worked great, but I haven't seen one in years. I heard that Spilsbury is no longer in business, but Paracomm is making one that looks almost identical (http://www.hfradio.ca/). I can remember using these to talk to the radio-operator almost 800km away (when weather was ideal).

12-14-2012, 12:54 AM
I cant comment on any of the sat stuff but as far as ham goes I use a Kenwood D7a coupled with a Garmin 530 Rino for 2m/70cm talk and APRS beacons. Works great here in AZ due to the excellent coverage of mountain top repeaters. Also the garmin dbls as a FRS/GMRS radio. Another great option is the Yaesu http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/hamhf/1817.html A great compact all band radio.