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Best satellite messenger and tracker for sailing and boating

Fox Morgan takes a look at some of the best satellite messenger and tracking devices on the market to see how they compare against each other for usability, functionality and cost of use.

The best satellite messenger and trackers have come a long way in just a few years since we last looked at them with Pip Hare. (12 yacht trackers compared)

Here’s the latest bunch of easy to use and affordable satellite messengers and trackers with typical price plans for comparison.

best satellite messenger - garmin inreach mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2

Reasons to buy

tiny device fits into any compact gear set up, easy navigational experience via the app

Reasons to avoid

some may find the interface fiddly, might be a bit small for some to handle

See the review for the Garmin Inreach Mini 2

The smallest tracker currently available on the market the Garmin Inreach Mini 2 is a wearable device. Clip this to a bag or belt loop and you’ll virtually forget it’s there.

It can store 100 waypoints or favourite locations and has a battery life of up to 90 days, but this will be much less if you set the tracker to a short interval of say 10 minutes.

You can hook up to it via the Garmin App and send and receive texts using bluetooth connectivity with a smart phone. If your phone battery dies, you can still send pre-set messages directly from the unit.

A typical subscription cost for an average frequent user would be:

“Recreation Plan”
Activation Fee: £25.00
Monthly Fee:  £32.00*
Minimum Term 30 Days
Suitable For  Frequent users sending regular messages/track points
Inclusive Allowance  Unlimited SOS, Up to 60 Text Messages or 600 Tracking Points
Overage Charges : £5.80 per 1,000 Bytes Used, Text Message: £0.50 +/- , Track Point: £0.05

Specification

Dimensions: 5.17 x 9.9 x 2.61 cm
Weight: 100g
Waterproofing: IPX7
SOS button
Voice calls: No
2 way messaging: Yes

Buy from Global Telesat Communications


best satellite messenger - zoleo

ZOLEO GLOBAL TWO-WAY SATELLITE COMMUNICATOR

Reasons to buy

handy built in clip, rugged outer, simple interface, useful accessories for multiple ways to mount the device

Reasons to avoid

needs a smart phone and app to send messages, doesn’t support voice calls

A smart little satellite messenger, the Zoleo relies on your mobile phone to function fully using an app.
With the app you can message others with the same app on their phone. The Zoleo will use your phone signal if it has one first rather than use your satellite credit/allowance, only using it when your mobile phone is out of range of any land signal.

I like the fact the Zoleo gives you an assigned number that doesn’t change for receiving SMS texts and there’s a dedicated email address too which the Zoleo can check periodically for you.

As with all of these satellite messengers, this one has an SOS button which Zoleo the company have specified as being monitored 24 hours.
You can control how often ZOLEO checks the Iridium satellite network for new messages. Choose a shorter interval for a better messaging experience or a longer interval to extend battery life of the device.
Without a mobile phone you can still press the check in button (the tick button seen in the picture above) which notifies a designated person of your GPS coordinates and you can of course use the SOS button if there’s a genuine emergency with imminent threat to life.

Typical costs for subscription

Monthly Fee for a mid range user £32
Satellite Messages Included: 250
Additional Messages £0.55/ea
Satellite Check-in Messages: unlimited
Mobile Network & Wi-Fi Messages: unlimited

Location Share+ is an additional £4.50 per month

Specification

Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm
Weight: 150grams
Waterproof: IP68
SOS button: monitored 24 hrs
Voice calls: No
2 way messaging: Yes (via a smart phone and app)

Buy Zoleo from Amazon


best satellite messenger - garmin messenger

Garmin InReach Messenger

Best satellite messenger for those on a budget

Reasons to buy

a low cost way to stay in touch via satellite, easy to use Garmin app

Reasons to avoid

may be a little too basic for some users, this doesn’t do tracking

The Garmin inReach Messenger switches automatically between standard mobile land signals and satellite signals when out of land network signal range.

Through the Messenger App, you can communicate with other people who have the same app.

Extended battery life of up to 200 hours, plus reverse charging from another device, means you can stay connected for longer.

A typical subscription cost for an average frequent user would be:

“Recreation Plan”
Activation Fee: £25.00
Monthly Fee:  £32.00*
Minimum Term 30 Days
Suitable For  Frequent users sending regular messages/track points
Inclusive Allowance  Unlimited SOS, Up to 60 Text Messages or 600 Tracking Points
Overage Charges : £5.80 per 1,000 Bytes Used, Text Message: £0.50 +/- , Track Point: £0.05

Specification

Dimensions: 7.8 x 6.4 x 2.3 cm
Weight: 114g
Waterproofing: IPX7
SOS button
Voice calls: No
2 way messaging: Yes (via a smart phone and app)

Buy from Global Telesat Communications


best satellite messenger - Bivy

ACR Bivy Stick Two-Way Global Satellite Communicator

Best messenger and tracker to retain same phone number

Reasons to buy

easy app interface, roll over credits, you keep the same number

Reasons to avoid

not ruggedized, no built in screen,

See the review for the ACR Bivy stick satellite messenger

The Bivy Stick and Bivy App from ACR transforms your smartphone into a fully-functioning piece of satellite communication equipment.

There are no activation fees; simply connect your phone to the Bivy Stick via Bluetooth to access the Iridium satellite network.

Features including two-way SMS messaging, SOS calls, location sharing, one-touch Check-in, and in-depth weather reports sent to your smartphone.

On activation you are assigned a dedicated phone number and email allowing you to maintain the same contact details throughout, unlike some other systems that assign a new number with each message making it impossible for outsiders to initiate contact. In the past I have used a sat device that gives me a random number which can be confusing when contacting friends and family initially. The bivy stick does away with that.

The Bivy App gives stats including current pace, mileage, altitude, as well as offline maps.

Typical mid range user contract might look like

PLUS plan based annually (monthly plans are also available)
Annual*

Cost Per month £24.99
80 Credits
Overage Charge Per Credit: £0.50/Credit
Dedicated Phone Number & Email
Includes Tri-Network Coverage
Satellite, Cell, or Wifi
Unlimited Check-In Messages
Customisable preset messages with GPS coordinates

Specification

Dimensions: 11.35 cm x 4.7 cm x 2.11 cm
Weight: 100grams
Waterproofing: IP67
SOS button: 24/7 monitoring provided by Global Rescue
Voice calls: No
2 way messaging: Yes (via a smart phone and app)

Buy now from Global Telesat Communications


Yellow Brick

Best Satellite tracker for simplicity of use

Reasons to buy

rugged unit, long battery life, simple airtime plans

Reasons to avoid

bulky for what it is, the YB3 is long overdue an update

This tracker has been around for over 10 years now and has gone through a few changes along the way, but fundamentally it has remained the same. The Yellow Brick tracker is seen widely used across a range of organised marine events as a way to plot whole fleets of boats onto a map and track their progress relative to each other.

But the Yellow Brick is a really simple tool for anyone going off adventuring who wants to track their journey on a viewable map. You can send messages via the Yellow Brick too either by pre-setting them in the menu or by connecting up using your smart phone and bluetooth.

Predominantly this is used as a tracking device and less so for messages. It has some great value packages for tracking purposes.

Typical cost of tracking package

Monthly Line Rental – £12 per month per device
You only need to pay line rental for the months where you wish to use the YB3. There are no annual contracts with a YB3.

Credits are used each time you transmit
1 credit is used per position report.
1 credit is used per 50 characters sent or received.
1 extra credit is used for delivery to a mobile phone / SMS destination.
1 credit is used per ‘mailbox check’ (this feature is turned off by default, since whenever the unit sends a normal position report it will automatically check for new messages at no extra charge.)
Credits do not expire unless you do not use your account at all for 12 months.

Bundle per Credit Bundle Price
50 Credits £0.14 £7.00
100 Credits £0.13 £13.00
200 Credits £0.11 £22.00
500 Credits £0.10 £50.00
1000 Credits £0.09 £90.00
2000 Credits £0.08 £160.00
5000 Credits £0.07 £350.00
10000 Credits £0.06 £600.00
20000 Credits £0.045 £900.00

Specification

Dimensions : 144 x 76 x 36mm (plus antenna)
Weight: 303grams
Waterproofing: IP67
SOS button
Voice calls: No
2 way messaging: Yes (via a smart phone or computer plugged in)

Buy Yellow Brick


Spot messenger

Reasons to buy

message directly from the device, built in compass, good value

Reasons to avoid

Bulky, Globalstar doesn’t have full global coverage, keyboard buttons might be too small for some people

See our review from 2020 on the SPOT X messenger

The Spot X messenger resembles a large blackberry phone from the early 2000’s, but don’t let that fool you. There’s no tiddly scroll wheel to clogged with fluff on this one. It’s ruggedised and waterproofed to IP67.

The device can be connected via bluetooth to your smartphone for a fuller user experience.

The Spot X can be pre loaded with a bunch of messages that are unlimited to send, as are check-ins.
This messenger averages the lowest price per SMS message compared to other devices above on a similar price plan so it’s certainly one to consider if you’re on a budget.

This is the only device in our lineup that uses Globalstar satellite network, which unlike the all of the others above using Iridium, doesn’t give you coverage near the poles or around India etc, but the coverage is suitable for most users around Europe, North America, South America and Australia. If you’re crossing the Atlantic, cruising the Caribbean or the East Atlantic and Med , you should be fine. You can see the coverage map here

The Spot X doesn’t support voice calls (despite it looking like a phone) as per all other messengers in this messenger category above. If you want voice calls then your only budget option other than a dedicated sat phone is the product below, the Iridium Go.

Typical usage costs

ADVANCED plan
€24.95 per month (12 Month Term Applies)
100 custom messages
Overages: 25c per msg
Check In Messages: Unlimited
Tracking: 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes
Activation Fee: €29.95
Incoming Messages: Free
Send pre-defined messages: Free

Specification

Dimensions : 16.61 cm x 7.37 cm x 2.39 cm
Weight 198grams
Waterproofing: IP67
SOS button
Voice calls: No
2 way messaging: Yes (via a smart phone or directly from the device)

Buy Spot messenger


Iridium Go

Best satellite messenger for unlimited text deals

Reasons to buy

unlimited texts, connect 5 devices at once, make calls using your own mobile phone

Reasons to avoid

you need to connect this to a phone to use it, not particularly fast data, pricey

Read the Iridium Go review here

Connect your smartphone or tablet to the Iridium Go and access voice calls and data connections via satellite. Essentially this works like a little wifi dongle, albeit a very expensive one that you’ll not be streaming tv or videos through, but you can send pictures to social media and receive data too, such as weather forecasts and emails.

You’ll need to be careful with your smartphone settings to avoid burning through all of your allocation in 5 minutes flat, but with care you can have the full range of communication modes with this smart little device. Voice, text, data message, GPS coordinate ping, tracking and SOS alerts.

The unit is battery-powered and can be charged via USB.

As a hot spot you can connect up to 5 devices at once, so your tablet and phone can both be hooked up at the same time. See the note above though about the data issue, apply caution and switch off all background data use.

Typical usage costs:

Iridium Go pre-paid bundles and monthly packages vary widely.
See info  here at GTC about the Iridium Go tariffs

Specification

Dimensions 4.5″ x 3.25″ x 1.25″
Weight 305g
Waterproof: IP65
SOS button
Voice calls: Yes (via smart phone connected with bluetooth)
2 way messaging: Yes (via a smart phone connected)

Buy Iridium Go


To read more about communications onboard we have other articles that you might find interesting

If you’re looking for a portable satellite phone then have a look at our tried and tested buyers guide

For handheld VHF marine radios we have a handy tested buyers guide here too. 

 

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