Gone Floatabout

Lucky to live on a boat!

OCENS Satellite Systems

NB: After careful research, we approached OCENS and MVS for sponsorship.  Not only would it be dishonest and unhelpful to endorse products we don’t believe in, but we wouldn’t want stuff on our boat that we can’t trust!  In short, we only work with companies whose products we would use regardless of sponsorship.

ocens (2)Communications are vital for Arctic voyaging and important for safer passages regardless of latitude.  With OCENS we have a reliable satellite connection and an arsenal of weather files available through user-friendly software.

For the first two years of our circumnavigation we had no data services whatsoever.  Our communications were limited to voice radio over SSB or VHF.  We started using a modem with our SSB to receive text e-mail and black-and-white GRIB weather files when we crossed the Indian Ocean to South Africa and were relieved to have even that for tackling one of the ‘great capes’.  But it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to have much better communications than that, and it’s extremely important to have reliable and accurate weather services for high latitudes.  After researching a variety of satellite communications providers, we wanted to go with OCENS.

We opted for the Iridium Extreme phone – Iridium was the best choice for us, as it is really the only provider to have coverage in the Arctic – hooked up to a high latitude external antenna and talking to our laptops through OCENS’ own Sidekick router/firewall that blocks unwanted traffic.

Satellite phone, router/firewall. and computer

Satellite phone, router/firewall (the old one – we’ve now switched to the Sidekick), and computer

The high latitude external antenna has ensured an unbroken signal everywhere we’ve used it, even in mountainous anchorages and as far north as 71*40′.  The router/firewall is also very important: not only does it allow our computer to talk to the phone, but it keeps airtime use to a minimum by blocking unnecessary data traffic – like Windows updates….

High latitude sat phone antenna on left side of stern pulpit

High latitude sat phone antenna on left side of stern pulpit

Met Mapper at work. Photo courtesy of OCENS.

Met Mapper at work, photo by OCENS.

OCENS has created all the software and services to go with this hardware: WeatherNet, GRIB (Gridded Information Binary) Explorer, MetMapper, and OCENS Mail.  WeatherNet provides forecasts of up to 7 days showing wind, waves, surface pressure, and air temperature among other indicators, all accelerated for delivery to the computer.  MetMapper enables us to view these forecasts (in animation, which is fun!) overlaid on an interactive map.  If we hook up our GPS to the computer, we even have our vessel position displayed within the weather analysis.

GRIB Explorer does something similar for Gridded Information Binary forecasts, which we also obtain through WeatherNet.  GRIB files are small, versatile, and contain an amazing amount of information, which makes them perfect for low bandwidth connections like a satellite phone.  GRIB Explorer allows us to control exactly what information is displayed, and it can make the files 3D or animated, giving a much more easily-interpreted forecast than those small monochrome GRIBs we used to peer at.

Downloading GRIBs for the Arctic with WeatherNet

Downloading GRIBs for the Arctic with WeatherNet

Equally important is OCENS’s e-mail service and software.  We use primarily for staying in touch with our families, Seth’s thesis advisors, and our fellow sailors, but it’s also been great for accessing ice charts in the far north – we can get ice charts both from WeatherNet and over email from family members who send them.

Last but definitely not least, we’re thrilled with OCENS’ new mobile app, OneMail, by which we can access our Gmail accounts by satellite phone! It compresses the emails and lets you choose which ones you want to download to read thoroughly and it lets you send emails as if they are coming from Gmail. Super useful!! Check out my two cents about it in Ocean Navigator‘s recent survey of voyager’s favorite apps!

3D GRIB of some strong winds off the Alaska Peninsula in 2014

3D GRIB of some strong winds off the Alaska Peninsula

So far we’ve been very pleased with the accuracy of our information and the ease of its use.

Blog posts having something to do with OCENS:

Learn more about OCENS at http://www.ocens.com.