Satellite communications for safety at sea
Icom’s IC-SAT100 satellite PTT radio covered the 1,726-nm Yokohama-to-Palau yacht race with one-to-many communications.
Staying connected when out in the ocean is of utmost importance. That’s why to avoid perilous situations, it is recommended that ocean race participants (especially those in long-distance races) carry satellite phones. However, a standard satellite phone uses geostationary satellites and may experience communication difficulties when a user makes a call to a race yacht on the ocean. In addition, satellite phones are for one-to-one communication and take a long time to share information with everyone. On the other hand, VHF marine radios are not suitable for long-distance communication, and some require complicated license applications. Therefore, the organisers of the 2020 Yokohamato-Palau race needed a more efficient and reliable communication tool, and they found it in the IC-SAT100, Icom’s satellite PTT radio.
The event was a 1,726-nautical mile, long-distance yacht race from Yokohama to Palau, held from 29 December 2019 to 20 January 2020, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Palau’s independence. The communications plan called for a single talk group and long-distance range for the twice-daily roll call. One IC-SAT100 (plus a spare for backup) unit was used by the organisers based in Yokohama (where, for in-building use, an external AH-40 antenna was used when needed), plus there was one aboard the escort ship, and one each was carried aboard each of the seven yachts.
The IC-SAT100’s one-to-many communication capabilities are activated by a simple push of the transmit button. The disaster-resistant and real time communication system uses 66 low-Earth orbit Iridium satellites. The satellites are non-geostationary, so users do not need to be concerned with the satellites’ locations. In addition, the satellite PTT radio does not require a license, needs no qualifications and does not need to be registered.
During the roll calls, the race participants reported their location, wind direction and any difficulties with their yachts. For previous races, the organisers and participants had used standard satellite phones, but this meant it took a long time to complete the roll calls because standard satphones are suitable only for one-to-one communication. It also meant that real-time information sharing could not be achieved. In contrast, the IC-SAT100 offers one-to-many communication, so the roll call time was greatly reduced and organisers could share timely information with all race participants.
At one point there was a severe storm and the ocean became very rough. Fortunately, the organisers were able to inform race participants of the weather in advance using the IC-SAT100. The satellite PTT radio gave organisers the ability to share the storm information in real time and be prepared in case the worst situation, an accident, should have occurred, in which eventuality a nearby ship would have been alerted and sent to the sailor’s rescue.
The IC-SAT100 provided two unexpected bonuses. One was that it contributed to the excitement of the race. When receiving a signal, the IC-SAT100 shows the transmitter’s position information direction and distance on the display, so each of the race participants could know where they and the other participants were ranking in the race. The other was that because the IC-SAT100’s audio was so clear, the organisers could detect the emotions in the participants’ voices and help them to determine the sailors’ mental states. This made it much easier to take care of the participants and improve the overall safety of the race.
In summary, Mr Ken Ando, organiser of the race, said that the IC-SAT100 provides “An epochal system that can timely grasp the position information of yachts and immediately share it with everyone.”
Features of the IC-SAT100 include:
- Wide-area global communications
- Real-time, low-latency communications
- Waterproof, dust-tight and durable body
- Long-lasting battery
- Secure conversations with AES encryption
- Short Data Message function
- Integrated GNSS receiver
- SMA-type connector for an external antenna
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