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It seems that you can't use an Iridium handset to place an emergency call without a SIM card (which seems to be more a commercial than a technical issue).

What I'm wondering is whether an "expired" SIM could be used, allowing users to buy a SIM card once and for all, and then be able to use it to communicate with rescuers if need be, rather than paying for an expensive monthly plan

ps: I'm aware of the existence of PLBs, but unfortunately those only let you trigger a distress signal, not communicate with rescuers

  • Strangely enough apparently not, if I understand the wording here correctly: support.roadpost.com/kb/articles/… – Monster Feb 18 '18 at 8:47
  • In Canada, all phone companies are required to allow emergency calls. Whether you have a service plan or not, you can use any phone to dial 911. – ShemSeger Feb 18 '18 at 14:27
  • Fyi, inReach is similar to a PLB with two way communication with the rescuers. It does have monthly fees though. – ppl Feb 18 '18 at 19:13
  • @Shemseger, I think this is true for cell phones but not for sat phones. I don't know about Canada specifically, though ... – Brann Feb 19 '18 at 17:26
  • I think the idea might be that the main reason for taking a sat phone along is emergencies. You're preparing yourself to call for help, so you should really just bring a valid sim and make sure everything is setup right. You're not going to end up calling on a random other persons satellite phone. – Monster Mar 19 '18 at 5:04
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I looked at some different plans and it looks like you could buy a prepaid plan and not activate it for up to 2 years. See the pricing here.

However that seems like the really expensive option.

Since you only want something for use in emergencys and want to be able to communicate with rescuers which rules out PLBs, I would suggest a inReach instead. That would much cheaper and they work as a GPS as well

  • Thank you for the suggestion, I didn't know about inReach. That being said, I already have an Iridium handset, and I'm planning to buy an iridium Go to get weather files and to communicate on a regular basis anyway. If I can avoid paying the inReach plan on top of the Iridium Go plan, that would be great, hence my question. If it turns out I can't, I'll definitely consider Inreach! – Brann Feb 19 '18 at 4:41
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Iridium Sims

Iridium currently offer a very basic entry-level Emergency Plan for $25 a month, which suggests that you will not get any emergency facilities without an active plan.

You don't say what your usage will be, but before you make your choice you should research the pros and cons of your three main options.

PLB

The PLB is, currently, one-way only as you say. But compared to your other options it generates much the strongest signal, has by far the most reliable satellite reception, and will work under heavy tree cover and in mountainous areas, deep valleys and even gorges. Recent models will automatically communicate your GPS coordinates and broadcast a homing signal to rescuers. It also has a sealed, long-life battery. And it connects directly to the COSPAS-SARSAT global rescue dispatch service. It is much the most reliable way to call in the rescue, and does not require a costly ongoing airtime plan to work.

Satellite phones

A quality satellite phone offers by far the best communication experience, with the choice between text and voice. But compared to the PLB, it is much more expensive to purchase and run, and it has far less reliable reception. Nor does it automatically communicate your position to rescuers. You also have to be careful to keep its battery topped up, and the regular charging/discharging cycle means that its battery life will be more limited.

Messengers

These are a half-way house between the phones and the PLBs. The cheap-and-cheerful Spot offers one-way text communication, and the more upmarket InReach offers 2-way texting. But compared to a PLB, reception is much less reliable, you have ongoing service charges, and you have to keep the battery topped up.

Choosing a service

So the best solution will depend on your priorities and budget.

On a lightweight solo walk where I could only take one device it would be a PLB, as my priority would be reliable rescue.

If your priority is keeping friends and family informed on a modest budget, you'd probably prefer a messenger. But be aware that rescue will be significantly less reliable.

With a larger party in a serious and remote location, the ideal would be to carry both a PLB and a satellite phone. That way you can reliably call in the rescue in-extremis, but also have a good chance of being able to communicate with friends and family, with medical and rescue services, get access to weather reports, and organise logistics. Given the overall cost of such a trip, the relatively modest additional costs of this arrangement would seem like a good investment. People never think it can happen to them - but believe me - it can.

  • Well, to elaborate on my situation: I live on a sailboat. About once a year, I end up in a remote area (eg the middle of an Ocean) and need to be able to communicate with rescuers in the event of a disaster. Since it's only once a year, and highly unlikely, I would love to avoid paying for a monthly plan! – Brann Feb 19 '18 at 16:27
  • Ah - I was assuming you were on land. Clearly, weight becomes less of an issue and you have a wide choice of maritime beacons, On the phone side reception should be more reliable. But I'm not clear why you're so set on having communication with your rescuers. You'll only be calling them in if you're in extremis and can't self-extract. It that scenario, the beacon will be much more reliable for you and for the SAR team - it's what commercial shipping uses, after all. A phone would be a nice-to-have as an addition if budget allows, but personally I'd prioritise the beacon. – Tullochgorum Feb 19 '18 at 19:43
  • I do have an EPIRB PLB. That being said, PLB do fail, albeit not often. They also usually cease to emit after 72 hours iirc, which sounds like a lot but might not be enough if rescue attempts are delayed by heavy weather in a remote area. A satphone battery can last a very long time, and can be used to convey potentially vital information back and forth on top of your coordinates (the iridum extreme has an integrated GPS). I agree with you that a beacon is probably more reliable than a satphone, but its not an either/or choice! – Brann Feb 19 '18 at 19:54
  • @Brann - I think we are in agreement. The OP was suggesting that he wouldn't take a beacon as it didn't offer 2 way communication. I was suggesting that if his budget only stretched to one or the other he should prioritise the beacon, but that it would clearly be better to have both. Given the multitude of things that can go wrong at sea, investing in both is surely the sensible way to go, both for your own safety, and out of consideration to friends, family and SAR personnel. – Tullochgorum Feb 20 '18 at 0:10

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