Skippers, don’t get jailed for owning a satellite phone!

There are bans on sat phones in several countries.

Emergency reasons, urgent calls home, weather information and the almighty Internet. They are the reasons why satellite phone is a must-have for living aboard. Did you know that sat phones can be illegal in some countries? Why Inmarsat uses just 4 satellites while Iridium uses 66? Let’s check some interesting information with Kraken.
We do not want to bother you with price analysis. Always look for fresh information directly from providers. Sometimes you can find special offers, especially for calls to landlines or in geographic areas with low traffic. Usually, you are buying the device and pre-paid plan. If you buy a used device, check if it is still supported by your selected provider. 
When you will be looking for a provider, check these:
  • Inmarsat – old-school company, operating with geostationary satellites. That means that satellites have fixed position in space, so they are able to cover the whole globe with only 3-4 satellites. They are just “sitting” there, it is the Earth which is rotating fast between them. 
  • Iridium – would be so old-school as Inmarsat, if it wouldn’t go bankrupt in 1999, but since then they are up and running. Seems that most sailors are using Iridium right now.  This company uses the low earth orbit of our planet near poles. 66 satellites are orbiting at high speed around the globe, so there should be no gaps. 
  • Globalstar – with small gaps (especially on poles) this network is available for commercial usage since 1999. If you don’t mind small gaps, their prices seem to be better. 
There are several shops where you can purchase, www.globalmarinenet.com seems to be a good choice, they have plenty of devices and most common operators. Thumbs up for a great choice of products!

Kraken’s advice: Don’t get arrested!

In some countries, usage of satellite phones is highly regulated or forbidden. Relax, there is not a lot of them. Of course, you probably won’t sail to North Korea, but locations like India, Burma, China, and Cuba can become part of your voyages.
  • Burma and Myanmar – according to local conflicts prohibition for sat phones continues. Recently the rules became relaxed for tourists with licensed phones.
  • China – not a surprise, in a country where GPS is suspicious and the Internet is heavily censored, you cannot use or have sat phone in China seas. Government is proud that their cell phone coverage is excellent even in remote areas like Tibet, but say that to sailors… 
  • India – there is no problem if you are using Inmarsat network. Others are forbidden and police have devices for monitoring sat phone usage. Many sailors reported issues with their sat phones.
  • Chad and Libya – there is no way to posses sat phone in Chad. If you take it there, you will lose it and very likely end up in jail. In Libya there was espionage affair with Thuraya, sat phone provider and since then the law is unclear. 
  • Russia – there is no ban for satellite phones, but you have to register your SIM card before entering their seas. 
  • Sri Lanka – there is a mandatory license for usage of the sat phone. This can take some time and administration processes so ask officials in advance. 
  • Cuba – most of the electronics is still banned in Cuba. There is a way for obtaining a permit from Cuban Ministry of Informatics and Communications, but you can easily be refused. 
So, what to do when you are sailing to some kind of restricted area? Dealing with border control at the place can be problematic. Reasonable procedure to come should be sealing your device until you leave their jurisdiction. The seal can be removed when checking out of the country. Not all border patrol guys have this approach. They are able to confiscate your pricey device, they can give you fine. You can end up in jail for a few hours before that fine. Not cool in these countries. This sounds crazy, but in 2017 Indian police detected usage of satellite phone and arrested 46-year old Australian tourist in a yoga center. Fine was just 150 USD, but he had to spend the night behind bars.  Several sailors had issues with their sat phones when they have arrived in India. Still, in India, it is “just breaking some regulation”. In countries like China, Cuba or Chad you can end up with accusations of espionage. It is nice that you have 007 feeling when calling your mum for 15USD per minute from a badass gadget, but in those cases, you could end up like some unlucky real spies.

Consult with the embassy in advance, always!

The best thing you can do is ask embassy before arrival. Contact your embassy in the target country or any kind of officials. Even when you found some nasty border control officer, who wants to be bribed, you have a strong argument – information from the embassy or officials. With this approach, you can avoid many struggles.  When you are traveling to this kind of countries you will probably consult more things with the embassy, don’t forget to mention your sat phone and it’s service provider. 

You can see the struggle of S/V Delos crew in Indian border patrol because of Iridium sat phone.
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