Best New Thingss

"You're More Powerful Than You Think": The Best New Thing In the Boat

Sunday, February 01, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it.

Almost . . . but not quite.

We managed to avoid owning a smart phone until eight months ago.  I know  I know.  It’s shocking.  How could we possibly survive without being ‘connected’ 24/7 all these years?

The answer’s simple: Because we didn’t want to be. 

So, what changed? 

We were sailing up the Strait of Juan de Fuca last year when we found ourselves in the middle of an electrical storm and needed access to live radar so we could make an informed decision about what we should do next.  It was then that we knew we were going to have to join the rest of the world.

So, we picked up a hand-me-down iPhone from our niece and had it unlocked by her carrier (AT&T offers this service for free up to 7 times).  Most companies don’t provide data coverage outside the US, so we opted to buy a SIM card in Canada where we spend our cruising season.  There are several carriers to choose from but we went with Bell because it fit our needs the best.   For CA$50 we received 1 Gb of data every 30 days (no carryover for unused data) with additional costs for talk and text (which we didn’t use).  It doesn’t sound like much; but considering how often we’re in areas that actually have coverage, it was more than enough to meet our needs.

And it’s the ‘best new thing in the boat’.

Okay, so it’s no portable freezer.  Something that literally changed the way we cruise.  But we're now able to pull down a full complement of weather (complete with text, synoptic weather charts and satellite photos) quickly and efficiently whenever we have a signal.  But more importantly, it gives us a clearer picture of what's happening around us than the VHF radio weather broadcast alone and that's allowed us to make better, more informed decisions when we need to the most . . . I can also update the blog more regularly, throw in a Facebook post in every now and again and Skype my mom so she doesn't worry about us as much. 

Now it’s your turn.  What things have made your life easier and better on the water?  Share your tips below in the comments section.


We have a Pactor Modem aboard and can access synoptic charts through our sideband radio but only at a predesignated times . . . and very, very slowly.

For more information about adding a Canadian data plan to your phone, take a look at this article written by Three Sheets Northwest editor, Scott Wilson.  

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  1. 2016: Consider also "Koodo" prepaid SIM. Data and talk "boosters" do not expire, as long as account kept active (C$15/mo for cheapest prepaid plan). Netwok uses Telus network, which is the most extensive in BC, especially on the coast. (FYI, I believe Bell and Telus share network towers in remote areas of BC. On the other hand, Rogers and those that use its network, has fewer facilities on the central/northern coast and west coast Vancouver Island.)

    SV Pelagia

    1. We actually ended up switching to T-Mobile a year ago and now have unlimited data in Canada. It's slow, but it takes the hassle out of it and the coverage has been good.