How to Text when you are out of Cellular Range – Satellite Communication

Compact two-way satellite communicators. The Garmin inReach and the Spot X. Photography by Glenn Hayes
Compact two-way satellite communicators. The Garmin inReach and the Spot X. Photography by Glenn Hayes

It is understandable that when you’re afloat you want to get away from all the everyday nuisances such as phone calls and texts. Sometimes, when you are out of cellular range, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to contact a loved one and tell them you’re fine but are going to be late? Even more so, wouldn’t it be comforting to know you can summon help and communicate back and forth with your rescuers should the need occur? Well now you can without having to spend a fortune on satellite communication equipment and expensive air-time minutes. Some new offerings from a couple of well-known manufacturers have brought two-way satellite communication to within the realm and budget of most, and all in a very compact package.

Garmin’s inReach Mini. Photography by Glenn Hayes
Garmin’s inReach Mini. Photography by Glenn Hayes

Garmin’s New inReach Mini

While Garmin is not new to two-way satellite messaging with their very popular inReach SE+ and inReach Explorer +, they recently introduced a new super compact communicator that is feature rich and will pair with an array of smart devices as well as some of Garmin’s wearable technologies. The inReach Mini offers a compact solution to anyone wanting worldwide satellite communication and rescue capability.

The inReach Mini

  • Measures 2.04 x 3.90 x 1.03in (5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61cm),
  • Weighs a mere 3.5 ounces
  • Costs around $350
  • It is waterproof to IPX7 standards
  • Has a rechargeable battery capable of lasting up to 50 hours when set to the default ten-minute tracking setting, and up to 20 days in a power saving mode.

Despite its diminutive size this communicator is capable of global satellite two-way text messaging as well as summoning help in a life-threatening situation via GEOS. Just push the button under the protective cover on the side of the unit and an emergency signal is transmitted via satellite to GEOS. They can then contact you directly via text to determine the nature of your life-threatening emergency and remain in communication throughout the rescue operation. A subscription is required for the SOS feature to work, so if you go with this model make sure your subscription is up to date. 

Two-way texting and SOS rescues are not all this petite Garmin communicator is capable of. An internal GPS can be used for basic navigation. GPS location tracking allows your friends and family to follow along on your adventures and see exactly where you are. You can also easily post your adventures with just a couple of button pushes to social media. All this can be done directly on the inReach Mini through its intuitive operating system and buttons located on either side of the unit.

How to Type out a Message on the inReach Mini?

Accessing functions is not hard on this device but typing out messages can be a bit cumbersome having to scroll through the alphabet for each letter. If you have your cell phone with you, by connecting via Bluetooth and utilizing Garmin’s free Earthmate app you can use the keyboard on your phone for much faster typing. Communicating in this manner also allows for viewing of texts on your larger phone screen.

Satellite Internet

When paired with your mobile device and utilizing the Earthmate app you can download unlimited maps, US NOAA charts and aerial imagery. This little marvel will also pair with some of the new Garmin smartwatches, putting its full capability right on your wrist.

The inReach mini also has the possibility of downloading weather information via satellite from the notoriously accurate Dark Sky weather provider. A basic weather download is considered a text message under the various subscription plans, but premium weather downloads will cost an additional $1 each. 

The communicator works on the Iridium satellite system and is truly a global unit. Take it with you boating, skiing, in the back country and on that dream trip to far-flung places. Subscriptions vary depending on your needs and start as low as $11.95 a month with an annual contract or $14.95 with their freedom plan (which requires only a 30-day commitment and the ability to suspend service when not needed). More details about the unit and subscription plans can be found at garmin.com

The Spot X. Photography by Glenn Hayes
The Spot X. Photography by Glenn Hayes

Spot X

Spot X is a new offering from the makers of the Spot Gen3 and Spot Trace. Utilizing the Globalstar satellite network this innovative new handheld communicator is larger than the inReach Mini and has a larger 2.7-inch backlit screen and a full backlit QWERTY keyboard. Looking a bit like a rugged Blackberry this device is capable of two-way text messaging when cellular signals are nowhere to be found.

Check your Cruising Grounds as Globalstar is “not quite global”

The ability of two-way texting is not quite global with the Globalstar network but is possible throughout most of the western hemisphere and beyond. For full coverage details there is a clear map illustrating coverage on their site, findmespot.com. 

The Spot X also claims to be the lowest cost device currently on the market that allows for two-way satellite texting. At around $250 it is a low cost, high tech, capable communicator that can also alert search and rescue centers 24 hours a day should a life-threatening emergency occur.

There are two ways to create the alert on the Spot X

  1. Through an on-screen icon or
  2. by lifting a cover over a manual button on the front of the unit.

Once the emergency center is notified they can communicate via text messaging to determine the nature of the emergency and can remain in communication throughout the rescue. Just like other satellite communicators it is important to make sure your subscriptions are up to date and active if wanting to text or use the device’s emergency features. 

Globalstar offers a variety of subscription plans, and rates vary depending on the amount and type of use the Spot X will incur.

  • Annual plans start as low as $11.95 and $14.95 for their flexible month to month plan.
  • Rates increase in relation to the number of text messages (incoming and outgoing) but all plans have an unlimited number of SOS messages and unlimited check-in messages – these are prewritten short messages sent to a predetermined recipient. This feature is nice if you tend to run late and just want to let your significant other know that you are OK. More details are available on their site. 

This handy communicator also has tracking capability that can be set to track your movements every 2.5, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes sending your location and track via a Google Maps interface to predetermined recipients.

It has a built-in compass and programmable waypoints as well as a quick access check-in icon on the screen. Another icon is one that when activated creates a quick and simple way to post to social accounts and share your adventures. 

Because this is a bigger unit than the inReach Mini its battery is larger and as a result will last longer. The manufacturer claims 240 hours or ten days of life when set to ten-minute tracking intervals. The internal lithium battery can be charged via an included mini USB cable.

It is impact proof, dust proof and waterproof to an IPX 6 rating. Lighter in weight than some cell phones, it fits easily into a pack or bag and can be clipped to an accessible point via its included carabiner clip. 

No matter which unit you buy you will have two-way texting and a handy emergency communicator at a much lower cost than a satellite phone. It’s nice to know that now you can get in touch even if you do want to get away from the daily grind for a while. 

 

Glenn Hayes
Glenn Hayes is a writer and photographer based out of west central Florida and has marine industry background spanning almost a quarter century. He can be reached through his web site www.HayesStudios.