Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

The Ultimate Cruisers' Planning Tool


You are here: Home / Users / webmaster / SailMail network expands in response to increasing requests from cruising yachts

SailMail network expands in response to increasing requests from cruising yachts

By webmaster last modified Feb 23, 2005 12:17 PM

Published: 2005-02-23 12:17:31
Topics: Communications

With the addition of gateways in Australia and Brunei, SailMail now provides a low cost e-mail service with coverage in the world's popular cruising regions and principle ocean passages.

SailMail's station network includes four sites on mainland USA, plus Hawaii. In addition stations in Nova Scotia, Australia, Brunei and South Africa provide service along the main world cruising routes. Most stations are remote sites with automatic operation. Two sites, - Australia ( ) and Brunei ( ) - are operated by Limited Coast Stations offering voice and other services to cruising and racing yachts. These two stations provide communication throughout the Panama Canal to Red Sea section of the trade winds counter-clockwise circumnavigation route.

The SailMail Association ( ) is a not-for-profit association of yacht owners. The annual membership fee is just US$200. This gives access to 10 minutes connection time (averaged over 7 days) every day of the year, with no additional connection fees.

SailMail is not designed for heavy commercial traffic. File attachments are not possible, and messages must be kept relatively short so station time is accessible for other members. It?s slower than satellite connections, but it is also massively cheaper to set up and operate.

Since almost all world cruising yachts have an HF radio for free vessel to vessel communication, and many already have PCs or notebooks on board for navigation software, the addition of a Pactor HF modem is a relatively small cost to establish a reliable e-mail service.

Special qualifications are not needed. A normal HF radio licence for the vessel and skipper is the only requirement. An Amateur Radio licence is not necessary, and the on-board software is a free download. The SailMail software is windows based and functions similarly to popular e-mail software for on shore applications.

Yachts can send e-mails to any other e-mail address in the world including other yachts with SailMail. Friends, relatives, equipment suppliers, sail makers etc can send e-mails to the yacht using an address based on the yacht's radio callsign eg: (marine radio callsign) Yachts can also collect mail from their SailMail POP account when ashore using their own laptop, or via an internet café.

Some people still believe that HF radio is a mystical art and an antiquated option, but modern understanding of HF radio propagation, plus more sophisticated equipment, and user friendly operation removes most of the mystery and makes HF communications far more reliable than the old movies make out. There will be days when propagation is difficult, but when balanced against the cost and equipment versatility, using HF for a world or regional cruise has substantial cost advantages, and considerable convenience, especially when travelling with other yachts.

A variety of additional services are available via SailMail. Of great importance is receiving up to date weather information. Many countries are closing their free to air HF coast stations, and with it the weather broadcasts, and HF weatherfax transmitters. Some countries (eg: Mauritius) won?t disseminate their high seas weather forecasts via any means other than an expensive satellite connection.

The Fleetcode system (see: and ) allows yachts in certain parts of the globe to receive synoptic charts via a SailMail e-mail message.

Another system is under test at present which will e-mail yachts a 5 day prediction of wind and swell conditions for almost anywhere in the world. This small e-mail file is easily transmitted via SailMail.

For about US$0.55 cents a day, SailMail membership gives yachts 10 minutes e-mail connection time a day, from almost anywhere in the world.

Allan Riches

Brunei Bay Radio

Update March 2004: appears to no longer be in operation but the fleetcode decoder is available on

The Fleetcode system has been largely superseded by the GRIB file system. GRIB files for particular ocean areas can be requested from the SailDocs computer by e-mail message, and sent automatically via low cost SailMail; data via HF radio.

Transmitted GRIB files are relatively small size, and can be read by free downloadable software installed in the onboard PC. The displayed chart shows isobars and wind speed/direction barbs. These are particularly useful in low latitudes where small pressure changes can create big changes in wind speed.

To get information on free GRIB files send and empty e-mail to [email protected]