With closest A&E located 50 miles by sea, 3 hours by quad on rough track or, as last resort, by helicopter – ‘hope for best and plan for worst’ is the best practice.
Prevention being better than cure, all sensible precautions should be taken when far from the nearest town or cellular reception. During any sea kayak expedition Octane remains in communication with one person on the mainland. However, for anyone planning to do the same on an expedition it is vital they have the correct equipment guaranteeing the communication plan is feasible.
Promises of daily phone calls, although well intentioned, can lead to concerned family members if unfulfilled. This in turn can set the ball rolling for a man-hunt which is the last thing anyone wants.
Once on a week long kayak expedition, group members were advised that they would be out of cellular coverage for stretches of the route. Unknown to the expedition leader, one of the group had a private agreement to text home to his wife each day. As predicted, our group soon ventured outside all cellular network coverage and a daily message home failed to send.
Although the group arrived at its objective on time, we were greeted by a concerned farmer who had been searching for us because we had been reported missing. Even the coastguard was involved. Although the expedition had notified the coastguard of its departure time, intended route, number of people in the group and estimated time of arrival, this unforeseen spanner in the works had scuppered well-laid plans.
Despite the expedition being some 60 miles long, taking five days to complete and arriving at its destination to the hour agreed, it took some time for the expedition leader to shake off his nickname ‘the missing kayaker’.
Preceding each Octane expedition departure we brief the coastguard detailing all necessary information concerning intended route, group size, group names, expedition duration and ETA. We also inform one dedicated person at the expedition destination who we report to on arrival.
During expeditions Octane is in touch with civilisation daily and more often if it so chooses. We use a sat phone which has reception everywhere in line of site if the sky which, in the western isles, is just about everywhere except in Fingal’s Cave.
There are a few satellite telephone systems for the sea kayaker to ponder:
Thuraya Satellite Phone
Thuraya is best for Asia, Africa and southern Europe. They have some great products such as the iPhone SatSleeve which clicks onto the back of an iPhone to extend all that it does into any location in sight if the sky. Unfortunately it is no good for Scotland as the satellites, at about 20 degrees high from the horizon, are too low in the sky for a reliable service
Iridium Satellite Phone
Iridium caters for North and South America, the oceans, Europe and the poles. Indeed, with Iridium, it is possible to call from or to anywhere in the world as long as you don’t want a chat with a North Korean due to some frosty trade embargos.
Apart from all the usual sat phones Iridium have some interesting products such as the Iridium GO! – it connects to the satellite and offers itself as a wifi terminal, which a smart phone can connect to. Iridium handsets are probably the most robust and the price reflects this but the data transfer speeds are not, in Scotland, comparable to Globalstar.
Inmarsat Satellite Phone
Inmarsat coverage claims to be global but their satellites are in the same orbit as Thuraya so I am told its not much good for Scotland
Globalstar Satellite Phone
Globalstar is only good for the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Russia and, for Scotland, it offers the quickest data transfer and the best voice quality. Globalstar also have a wifi terminal point that links your smart phone, pad or laptop to the satellite network. An app enables the user to use voice data.