There was a time when being at sea meant you were totally out of touch with the rest of civilization. Not any more. While some may regret the loss of anonymity, modern technology does provide an excellent safety factor. The inReach Explorer, built by the map-making and navigation company DeLorme, saved us a lot of grief on a recent Bermuda to Newport delivery. With it, we could ask for weather advice and get it.
The inReach is larger than a smartphone and smaller than an EPIRB 406, with features of both. It uses the Iridium network of satellites for worldwide coverage. There is an SOS button that sends your location to GEOS, a 24/7 SAR monitoring center that will coordinate a rescue. GEOS will even verify they have received your request, and you can text them the nature of your problem.
The inReach unit is also a compass, an altimeter and a tracker that up-links your lat/long every few minutes or hours (you choose) to a website called MapShare, showing your position on a topo map or NOAA chart. You and others at home can follow your breadcrumb trail as you travel. Your own MapShare website is connected to your inReach and displays your trail, all your messages sent and received, along with information on your speed, direction, elevation and lat/long. You can even add other inReach owners to your screen to follow your fellow climbers, hikers, bikers and yachts.
The inReach Explorer, the upgraded version of the inReach ($379 plus a monthly data package) is also a communicator. You can send and receive text messages (limited to 160 characters) to and from anyone worldwide. Now while the tiny screen and keypad is a pain to use for texting, you can connect your inReach to your smartphone or iPad via Bluetooth. All the inReach functions then appear on your larger screen. The inReach itself can now be parked on deck, with a clear view of the sky, serving as the antenna for your hand-held. You can download topo maps from DeLorme, or NOAA charts, to your handheld, allowing you to follow your own voyage — similar to a chartplotter.
DeLorme will be adding a weather alert function for the inReach, expanding its group plan for fleets, races and rallies.