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Satellite Phone Rental for Wilderness Travel

We depend on satellite phone rental for emergency communications during our annual high adventure canoe trips. Since we’ll be travelling out of cell phone range we want some way to contact help if needed. There are a number of technologies available but a satellite phone is the only one that enables two-way voice communication  If you look around you’ll find a number of vendors in the satellite phone rental business, but buyer beware – there can be hidden charges for shipping, obligations to buy a package of minutes and up-charges for things like spare batteries for the phone.

Mobal.com has the clearest, least expensive rental agreements I have found (and I have tried a number of companies over the past 9 years of trips). We’ll spend about $160.00 for a ten day rental, $12.00 per day(including shipping both ways), and $42.00 to insure the phone for the rental period. A satellite phone retails for about $1000.00 so the insurance is a good idea.

We carry the phones in our own waterproof hard case to protect it against the elements, Mobal.com rentals include a spare battery that we charge up and carry along.

Satellite phones require a clear line of sight to function, you won’t get a signal without an open, unobstructed view of the sky. On a canoe trip we can paddle out from shore and get a signal if needed. There’s also no 911 service available to satellite phones, so you’ll need to have the contact  information for the local emergency responders.

We’ve never used the phones (knock wood) to summon help but we have tested the signal and operation of the phones. Making a call on a satellite phone is not much different from using a cell phone.

satellite phone rentalMobal.com rents the Iridium 9555 pictured here. It weighs a compact 9.4 ounces. The manufacturer reports that a battery lasts 30 hours on standby (phone on but not transmitting) and 3.1 hours of talk time.

Our trips put us out of cell phone range for 8 days. We’ve discussed sending messages back home or just checking in with home and have decided against it. There’s too many ways for that to go wrong. If, for instance, we were to learn of some problem at home we wouldn’t be able to respond quickly (it would take 24-48 hours for any of us to get home). In the same way nobody at home would be able to help us. We decided that we would be out of contact for eight days and use the satellite phone only for emergencies.

Here’s my cost comparison form my own online research:

mobal satphonestore roadpost allroadsat satellitephonesdirect
Daily rate  $  12.00  $  12.71  $    9.99  $    7.14  $  12.90
x 10  $120.00  $127.10  $  99.90  $  71.40  $129.00
Insurance  $  42.00  $  45.00  $  49.99  $  50.00  ???
Extra Battery  free  $  10.00  free  $    9.99  $  10.00
Shipping  free  $  28.00  $  40.00  $  39.99  $  73.00
 $162.00  $210.10  $199.88  $171.38  $212.00

Contributor Walter Underwood is an amateur radio operator who wrote an excellent article discussing the different options for emergency communication in the wilderness, he concludes that satellite phone rental is the best option if you are out of cell phone range.

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