Emergency communications

Just wondering if there is someone out there with a view on what is the best value for money remote emergency communication system and where best to purchase them from.
I generally only travel a maximum of twice a year for may be a maximum of 8 weeks in total and to moderately remote areas.
In the pet have travelled with another vehicle but my wife and
I are now looking to travel by ourselves.

I understand my options are: purchase of
1) satellite phone or
2) HF radio or
3) Epirb or
4) hire of any of the above.

Does anyone have experience buying second hand if so what issues to look out for and where to buy from?
Thanks Craig

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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:06

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:06
You say "emergency" communication.....
1. PLB (Epirb). Buy one, it is good for the 7 year battery life with no further expense.
2. Sat. phone. Will only work outside the vehicle unless you have an antennae.

OKA196 Motorhome.
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Reply By: Motherhen - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:20

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:20
We chose a satellite phone, but if you are going to be doing long or risky walks, take a PLB with you Craig.

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Reply By: Idler Chris - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:40

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:40
Very easy, PLB and Satphone. Best deal I have found is with ExplorOz member http://www.satphonesales.com.au
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:56

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 21:56
A satphone is probably the communications option that ticks the most boxes. We use hf radio and a satphone but if I had to pick one it would be the phone.
Globalstar is probably the cheapest satphone deal....$500 for the phone, $20 a month service and $1/min for calls. Thats what we have and it seems excellent overall (though minimal use to date)....their supplied Qualcomm phone is a bit big and clunky but you get sparkling clear voice quality.
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Follow Up By: Craig M1 - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 22:09

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 22:09
Thanks Darian, do you know if you can just connect the service on a month by month basis as and when of need it, or is the fee on an annual basis.
Regards Craig
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Follow Up By: Michael H9 - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 06:28

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 06:28
I bought an Inmarsat Isatphone Pro for around $700 new and just buy a month's airtime when needed. If I'm not travelling then it sits in a drawer at home not costing me anything. I chose a satphone because it allows for proper 2 way communication. Sometimes there are small emergencies back at home that you would like to know about as well. I figure that a satphone covers the most common things better where a PLB covers things that are perhaps less common better. The safest option is both.
There is one thing that has always made me ponder about PLB's. Do I set it off now or do I wait? There are many situations besides the obvious crash/injury/breakdown where it could be handy to discuss a problem with a professional who could decide whether a situation is potentially dire or not.
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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 09:46

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 09:46
To Craig M1 - you can 'sort of' treat the basic Pivotel / Globalstar plan as casual, in that there is no setup fee currently (could change soon) and no formal contract period....they have direct debit too, for the payments. If you want to close the account (as opposed to suspend - see below) you just ring them and it's over...but when you want to get it up again, you get a new phone number and you have to deal face to face with an agent again (not Pivotel)....but the agent doesn't charge the client any $ for setup. Alternatively, I think I saw in the docs somewhere that you can hold your initial setup and phone number but suspend the service for up to 3 months @$11 a month.
Also, I see on the Pivotel site they have the Globalstar traveller bundle on sale for $700....down $300 from a year back...(I bought the phone only.....would have had the lot at this price)..... and they now include the first year's service. All sounds to be great value, seeing the gear included....maybe it is ? ..... :-).
All of the various provider plans have their good points (Michael's Inmarsat sounds good too, if service and call costs are reasonable and the voice quality is good). I see my plan as basic, bare bones (no texting) but top voice quality....suits my minimal communications needs, at the price. Good luck with it.

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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 23:07

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 23:07
Hi Craig

The cheapest life insurance policy you can buy will be a PLB, at around the $300 mark with GPS enabled.

The next best thing that you can use while away from your vehicle will be a satellite phone.

When travelling solo, as we do quite often, safety for you should paramount and with today's cheap prices, there are no excuses for anyone being caught out.

Today on the news here in South Australia, 4 men were rescued when there yacht struck a reef in the Southeast, off of Beachport. Within 5 minutes of the skipper activating his own PLB, two of his family members back in Adelaide received phone call from the search and rescue mob, asking there where there husband and father was. They then spent the night cold and wet on a very remote beach before police found them this morning. Without that PLB, the situation could have ended very different.


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Follow Up By: Craig M1 - Monday, May 11, 2015 at 23:34

Monday, May 11, 2015 at 23:34
Thanks Stephen, yes I think for the amount, or should I say small amount of travel that we do, a PLB is the cost effective and safe way to go.
Regards craig
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Reply By: Member - Robert1660 - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 08:57

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 08:57
Hi Craig,
I bought an Iridium satellite phone in the days when you could get a 50% government subsidy. Along with the phone I have a Telstra satellite sim. I purchased the Iridium phone because they have satellites in low orbit which means there is no delay with respect to voice communication. Also supposedly their coverage of Australia is better. The plan I am on is with Telstra at $30 per month with $10 of included calls. Unfortunately it is not a casual plan so it costs $360 per year just to keep the number. However, I have heard that the Iridium phones will take a Telstra full size mobile sim and operate as a satellite phone. The phone came with a waterproof/dustproof case, external aerial, 240v and 12v chargers. I bought it from the Satphone Shop in Melbourne. Very happy with their service.
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Reply By: TomH - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 09:07

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 09:07
This will get some very devisive answers.

A EPIRB is for life threatening events. Not because you have a puncture and your spare is flat. Or something else that you could/should have provided for.

A satellite phone is for getting help to fix the puncture etc.

The cheapest way to run a satfone is to buy a s/hand Motorola 9505 or a later model and get a you TELSTRA sim that is on a plan and has roaming enabled.

Costs nothing if you are at home and not using it. When travelling remote put the sim from your cellphone in it and initialize it.

Calls will cost approx $4 a minute both IN and OUT.

I believe that if you ask nicely you can still get a $10 a month plan to run it on,

Do a search on here for satfones or go back 10 or so pages as has been discussed quite a bit in recent past.
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Follow Up By: Stephen_L - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:01

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:01
I can confirm that I was able to purchase a $10 plan a couple of months ago.
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Reply By: The Landy - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 09:23

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 09:23
Hi Craig

Our choice follows;

HF Radio – Covers a lot of communication needs. Generally second hand units can be purchased relatively easily and at reasonable prices versus brand new.

Sat phone – Useful to remain in contact and enables direct contact with others. We are connected via Globalstar (Pivotel) and pay $20.00 per month to remain connected and $1.00 per minute calls. It sits in the vehicle ready for use.

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) – If you have an emergency that is or could become life-threatening this is what you need. The ability of these units to communicate very specifically to authorities that you need urgent assistance at the location is invaluable and makes the cost of them look cheap. Everyone should have one…

None of these items are mutually exclusive, if finances permit have them all…


My theory is that when it all goes “pear-shaped” Murphy’s Law stands at the ready to intrude, so always have some form of back-up communication option available, don’t rely on one form alone.

So by default the best combination should include a minimum of either HF Radio or Sat phone and a PLB.

But also noting, these discussions mostly revolve around emergency communications, but in favour of HF Radio is that they provide the ability to listen to weather reports, news, etc. Now that may not be for all, but they do provide more than just a form of emergency communication.

Good luck out there,

Baz – The Landy
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Follow Up By: Craig M1 - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 10:26

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 10:26
Thanks to everyone for all their constructive comments and advice. It's really appreciated. Now all I have to do is make a decision.

Regards Craig
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Reply By: Wayne's 60 - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 10:40

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 10:40
Hi Craig,

I was going to give you a thumb up "Thanks"

Fortunately my "old fashioned-ness" overrode this.


Craig, Thanks for posting a very interesting question and I was a little concerned that you were going to get beaten up with the replies, simply because - everyone has differing views on an "Emergency"

We teach people to be as well prepared as they can be, and as indicated further up - Murph gets involved.

I guess that this is where the variables come into play and a person needs to assess "just how bad IS this emergency??"

We have taught people to have a higher level of awareness and to keep this in mind.
If you think that you think that you should have done something (insert whatever here) then you should have done it!!

Don't wait until you are left with no water, before you activate the EPIRB or SPOT Messenger as it may take a considerable amount of time for the rescue crew to arrive.

One rescue that I am aware of was carried out in record time, simply because the rescue services were on a training run in the local area.

Again, thank you for the question.

We have an old HF radio at this point in time, as finances allow, we will up grade and your post with its replies, is a sound starting point.

Safe travels.

Wayne & Sally.
AnswerID: 553626

Follow Up By: The Landy - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 11:47

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 11:47
Hey Wayne & Sally

That is a very important point you raise on PLBs and emergency devices. If you think you should activate one, then activate. No point second guessing an outcome, especially if the situation is deteriorating, or may deteriorate to critical levels, noting you always need to factor the time for a rescue party to arrive.

Often there is commentary that they are not for flat tyres, flat batteries or the like. Now in the normal course of events travellers should always be adequately prepared for the trip or undertaking at hand. However, rather innocuous events (like a puncture) can easily become life threatening if you are remotely located with a diminishing water supply and no usable spare tyre.

So an excellent point you make – regardless of how the situation arose, whether poor planning, poor preparation, stupidity, or just plain old bad luck, one should never die wondering whether a PLB should be activated or not…

Cheers, Baz – The Landy
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Follow Up By: Member Andys Adventures - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 12:46

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 12:46
Had a camper set an EPIRB off at Lorella Springs only 6km from home stead because he broke a spring. But the police rang the station to find out what was going on before sending a helicopter. We sent a search party out to find him and found he only was broken down. Then it took a couple of phone calls to stop the helicopter from coming.

He was not in any danger as he sign out in the morning and if he had not returned that night we would have gone looking for him. He set it off straight away once he broke down, he was not in danger, just did not want to stay in the bush overnight.

Would hate to see the bill for the helicopter if it was for nothing.
And if they did turn they still could not help him except to extract him from where he was.

So a Sat phone would be the best as you can describe your emergency a lot better.

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Reply By: craigandej - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 12:26

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 12:26
Go for a Sat phone. We purchased an iridium 9555 second hand. We got a $10 pm Telstra casual plan, and use it to send and receive texts mainly as they are cheap. HF is a bit fiddly for other family members to use, and in a roll over your antenna will be out of action. Our sat phone sits cradled on the dash (troopy) and has signal always.

When doing a trip, make up a quick list of emergency no.s for that area. eg Cape York, rangers, police and health clinics along your route.

Was invaluable 2 years ago when first on scene to a head on up the Cape on the PDR. Had police in contact within minutes, they then had our Sat. number to coordinate rescue etc.

We take it every camp also, and carry it on daypacks etc.

Craig & EJ
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Follow Up By: The Landy - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:25

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:25
On HFs, that doesn’t necessarily need be the case.

Learning to use a HF Radio isn’t hard for those with an interest. In fact modern HF handsets are not too dissimilar to a mobile phone.

In terms of damage in a roll-over, well anything is possible of course, first and foremost incapacitation rendering any device useless if it can’t be operated by someone.

Undoubtedly, bull-bar mounted self-tune antennas would most likely suffer damage in a roll-over event, but HF antennas should not be located there under most State Registration regulations. More sensible mounting can achieve a much higher level of protection.

We have a Codan 3050 self-tune antenna mounted on the rear of the vehicle, which has an excellent chance of avoiding damage in a rollover.

Mind you, I’m not being picky here, but offer as “food for thought” a way around common arguments against HF, both user ability and rollovers.

The over-reaching message should be, have one form of communication and another to back it up if it becomes redundant.

Cheers, Baz – The Landy
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Reply By: Peter_n_Margaret - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 13:07

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 13:07
If you roll the vehicle, are injured and trapped inside, the sat. 'phone probably won't work, but you might be able to chuck the PLB out the window.
Chucking the sat. 'phone out the window won't achieve much :(

OKA196 Motorhome
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Follow Up By: Craig M1 - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 14:43

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 14:43
Hi Guys
I didn't mean to start WW3 here.

All great information. Maybe mirrors and smoke signals will do the job??

Regards Craig
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Follow Up By: TomH - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:12

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:12
This always starts a war as no one can define what is and whats not an emergency.

Do a search and read the various wars in the past.

Buy an Epirb and a Satfone and you will be ok Watch the weather on the net and dont get bogged.
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Follow Up By: TomH - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:17

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:17
Here you go got all the bits with it

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Follow Up By: garrycol - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:44

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:44
You need a PLB not an EPIRB - might do the same thing but an EPIRB is larger and is fitted to aircraft and boats/ships and are designed to automatically (and manually if required) activate.

A PLB as the P says is designed to be carried on the person and manually activated.
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Reply By: Robin Miller - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 15:52

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 15:52
Always been HF radio for us and I would recommend a Barret 950 (mine was around $700 second hand).

There can be several answers as per above which really reflect the different situations people might perceive themselves in - hence no one right answer.

I presume you would have a good UHF setup before any of the other 3 options.
We have seen a situation where they have made contact when satellite phone systems would not - (and probably an eprib would not have worked either).

Of the 3 systems the HF radio can be proactive as well (by listening to daily skeds and being aware of whats going on ) and help prevent getting into a problem whereas the other 2 systems are re-active.

My neighbour for instance had nothing but an Eprib and triggered it when hoplessly bogged just off the Canning - helicopters dropped 2 sat phones to assist but in the gloom and water both were lost and his rescue meant the complete loss of a new 200 series he never saw again.

Would he have been there if he listened to the skeds on HF radio , good question , but hard to get an honest answer !

Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: TomH - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:09

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 16:09
True but will be a bit useless in a roll over with the aerial stuffed in the dirt Had he had a satfone the choppers wouldnt have needed to waste 2.
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Follow Up By: The Landy - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 17:37

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 17:37

We can dream up a lot of hypotheticals with this discussion, in fact they would be endless. I mean, who is to say the Sat-phone survived? So let's not get too bogged down with hypo's!

The main thing is that neither is exclusively mutual – Sat-phone or HF.

The roll-over argument is often cited as a reason not to have a HF Radio due to many being mounted on a bull-bar. But is the risk as high as some suggest?

A self-tune HF antenna can be mounted with consideration to the possibility of a roll-over in a way that damage may be avoided. We have one mounted on the rear of our vehicle that has a high level of protection should we suffer a roll-over. The Codan 3050 lends itself to being mounted with an optimum level of protection due its compact size and dimension.

Noting they should not be mounted on a bull-bar as most, if not all, State Regulations prohibit it.

Mounting it the way I have may lead to some degraded performance, but gives a far better chance of being there when needed.

A HF Radio does not need a self-tuning antenna to operate, in fact they are a more modern addition to a very reliable form of communication that pre-date many other forms.

Mind you, these days you can purchase a portable HF Antenna that can be used as a back-up, no tuner required, but I’ll leave that to others to explain better than I could ever hope to…

Cheers, Baz – The Landy

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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 19:44

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 19:44
Its an interesting subject guys and all fun stuff but as you say Landy the senarios are endless and can be put to favour many points of view , and the people concerned have to decide whats best for their situation and hopefully these types of posts make the issues visible.

On a bit of a side note - when the 200 series was up to its door handles in slush this actually makes a better ground plane for the antenna and it puts out a stronger signal.

Oh! for those who don't know if you ever loose an aerial off a HF radio it will transmit almost better than the aerial it comes with if 30ft wire is attached to the aerial sockets centre pin when on the 8122 Vks737 call channel. A second 30ft wire on the other pin is even better again as it makes a 1/2 wave dipole - so its always worth carry some spare hookup wire in your kit.
Robin Miller

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Reply By: Member - Leigh (Vic) - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 21:26

Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 21:26
Some good thoughts here but the question for Craig to answer is what scenario is he attempting to guard against and then for him to make a choice that best aligns with his potential circumstances? For the risk averse I'd suggest you consider any two of the available options remembering some are available through hire companies or friends.
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Reply By: aussiedingo (River Rina) - Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 09:42

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 09:42
G'day Craig, most travellers I talk to say hiring a sat phone is overall the cheapest if you only going to use it once a year, regards
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Follow Up By: Zippo - Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 11:37

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 11:37
We went the satphone route. First trip cost over $280 for rent, to cover the part of our journey in isolated territory (about three weeks). Having decided that it was the tool we wanted to have at hand, we bought a 9505A for subsequent journeys.

For Craig's durations of up to 8 weeks, buying a good secondhand 9505A - and sticking it on the Telstra casual (no plan) $10/month deal for when he travels - makes a lot more sense than lengthy or repeated hiring.
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