Article by Dave Dodgen titled How to Make Calls on a Sailboat of Florida Yacht Group

How to Make Calls on a Sailboat

By Dave Dodgen Jun 11, 2015 Tips & Tricks, international, budget (6) Comments

My wife and I took a long vacation for 18 months sailing around the Caribbean on our sailboat, “Wildest Dream”. Here are some of the things we learned along the way.

The last piece of our communications triple play turned out to be actually quite simple and people do it all the time even on land.  But to us, it was an epiphany to find out that we could do this so easily.

Cell phone use during international travel is historically expensive.  We always use AT&T and had contacted then to initiate an international plan for our use on the trip.  It works well but, even with the discount, it still ran in the dollars per minute to use the phone in the islands.  Except in Puerto Rico and the USVI, where it was “free” since these are US territories and the phone system is like being home! 

Then we discovered the “local phone, SIM card, pay as you go” process.  But to do this we needed to have an unlocked phone and in the US it was difficult to get the normal suppliers to do this.  During our first trip home after three months and getting ready to leave the USVI for other foreign countries, we went to the AT&T store in Miami, got them to unlock one of our older flip phones and make it ready to use.

Our first stop back on the boat was the island country of Anquilla and we immediately went to the LIME (British island cell supplier) and bought our first prepaid SIM card.  It was an interesting process but very easy.  We now had a LIME phone and we could call anywhere.  If we used up the minutes, we could just fill it in at many local stores.    If you have an unlocked smart phone with the right service, you can even use it as a local hotspot for internet connectivity.

We used this process for the rest of the trip.  LIME, ORANGE (French islands), and Digicel were the main companies.  The cost was usually about $25-30 dollars to initiate the service but you go a block of minutes with the startup.  And the service was excellent everywhere.  Check out the phone store on Nargana.

The only difference to the service was in the San Blas of Panama.  If you remember, the WiFi story, it was impossible to get any WiFi internet reception except near the school in Nargana.  But the cell service was powerful everywhere.  So the cruisers switched systems, bougth a SIM card for their laptops (the receiver for the laptop they called a “Dongle” there but we would call it an aircard), and would get a direct internet link even in the outer anchorages with no WiFi even close.  It was great! And this is becoming an even more popular option throughout the islands.  

So we had our communications complete.  Sat phone with modem, WiFi antenna and cell phone.  It surely made keeping in touch with world very simple.  What did everyone do before this?

And stay tuned for more info on things we found handy on our trip!  And let us know if you have any questions.

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About the author

Hailing from Dallas, Texas, David Dodgen and his wife, Gail, have been documenting their travels aboard since 2013, adventuring to countries including Guatemala, Belize, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.

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