Handbook for Caribbean Cruising

Volume 1: Eastern Caribbean



Staying in contact with family, friends or just the outside world takes on a totally new dimension when cruising.  Being incommunicado is no longer an option for us.  We also need the all important current weather information to keep us safe when at sea or planning our passages. 

The easiest and best way to accomplish these tasks is to use e-mail on your boat.  In order to do this you need some method to connect to the Internet. 

Globalstar – This satellite phone system is the most affordable and the least reliable.  Service is very spotty throughout the Caribbean even though the system is designed to work down here. Trinidad is not included in your local calling area (this means you will be charged a significant roaming fee if you use it in Trinidad).  In addition to data transmissions you also have voice capabilities with your phone.  You can use the phone just like a cell phone, when you get lucky and pick a satellite up.  The normal cost for the phone and a data connection kit is right around $600.  The monthly fees for the service depend on the package you choose but the standard package that cruisers choose provides 400 minutes of monthly talk/data time at a cost of $99.  There are many other packages to choose from.  The connection rate for internet access is 7200 bps.  Yes, you read that right.  However, there are some 3rd party venders who offer software to speed transmission rates on a PC.  They usually advertise in the glossy sailing magazines and are often found at the major boat shows. The web site for Globalstar is

Iridium – This is the top of the line satellite phone system.  The costs are significantly more than your other options and what you receive for your money is a system that works.  However, unless you are sailing outside of the Caribbean you probably will not spend the money to purchase this system because it is so expensive.  The internet connection rate is 9600 bps.  This is a bit faster than Globalstar but not much.  If you are still interested the web site is

WiFi – This can be the best option if you can pick up a signal from a land based provider.  Obviously this will not work when you are out at sea or sailing between the islands.  When you plan to spend quite a lot of time at an anchorage there just may be a provider on the island.  Most providers charge a monthly fee for this service.  You will need a tall, permanently installed aerial if you want absolutely reliable service or at least an outside antenna with an amplifier.  The small internal and desktop WiFi antennas are not robust enough when you are further out at anchor and want a consistent signal.  On many islands you may find a free WiFi signal that you can pick up when you are on shore.  Simply bring your laptop with you and sit down and enjoy a beverage while you surf the net.

If you get desperate you can always use an Internet café on shore.  However, the costs can add up if you are there for any length of time. Today the standard price to use an Internet café is $5.00 for 30 minutes of use (or 5 Euros on the French islands).  The cheapest Internet café rates are found in Trinidad where you can pay about $1.00 per half hour.

VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) – This evolving technology is used with your computer to place a telephone call or computer-to-computer voice call.  You need good bandwidth to use this service but it does work fairly well.  The best known system is called SKYPE but there are other products on the market that work just as well.  All you need is a computer, headphone/microphone headset and of course a connection to the Internet.  It is best not to use this system in a quiet Internet café where you risk the wrath of those seated around you when talking into your microphone.

Cellular Phone – A cell phone is another option for keeping in contact when you are away too.  However, your US based cell phone provider most likely will not be recognized south of the US Virgin Islands.  Each island usually has their own cellular service system and you must subscribe to a different network once you make landfall at a different island.  Do not expect to use your cell phone as a data link since that service is not available.  The best way to use cellular phones is to purchase a Quad Band Cell Phone that accepts a SIM card.  When you make landfall simply visit the local cellular provider and purchase a SIM card at a cost of around $15.00.  Then you purchase the amount of minutes you want and can call anywhere in the world.

Sailmail – An SSB e-mail service that is also called snail mail.  You must purchase a very expensive Pactor modem to utilize this service.  The modem is approximately $900.00 and then there is a fee to use the service.  The communication rate is very slow and you are very limited as to the size of the messages you can transmit and receive.  If you exceed your allotted time you are locked out of the system for a specified time interval.

Winlink – This is an e-mail service that requires you to be a licensed ham operator.  It is a free service that is also very slow and e-mails are size limited.

Immersat C – This excellent system provides worldwide weather information aboard your vessel.

VHF Hailing Frequencies

When you are cruising in the islands it is fun to keep in contact with your friends.  Channel 16 is treated the same everywhere and is not to be used for chitchat.  It can be used as a hailing channel when at sea.  When you are anchored in a nice anchorage there are certain channels that are used to call other vessels.  You use these channels to hail a station and then switch to another channel for talking.  The main hailing frequencies are:

Trinidad – VHF Channel 68

Grenada – VHF Channel 68

St. Maarten – VHF Channel 14

Antigua – VHF Channel 14

Whenever you use a hailing frequency make sure you are using low power.  After making contact switch to another channel for your conversation.  The VHF hailing frequencies are also working channels on some of these islands so please be courteous.

SSB Hailing Frequency

The primary Caribbean hailing frequency is 8104.0 USB.  This is the same frequency used for the morning Safety and Security Net at 8:15 AM so you should make your call before or after this net.  When you make contact switch to another frequency to continue your conversation.

SSB Weather

You can still obtain weather fax information from New Orleans and Miami, if you are patient and have a good receiver.  These services are still used but have been replaced for the most part by Internet services.

VHF Morning Nets

The most popular islands have a cruiser’s net that broadcasts weather, safety issues and general cruiser information as well as a platform to barter or sell any items you may have onboard your vessel.  These nets are broadcast each morning at the times listed below.  These broadcasts are informative, interesting and very useful for cruisers.  If you stay long enough at an island that has a cruiser’s net you may have the opportunity to help out with the cruisers net at some point.  By all means jump at the chance to help your fellow cruisers!

Here is a list of the VHF Cruiser nets that broadcast in the Caribbean:

Trinidad – This is the best net in the Caribbean.  It begins every morning at 0800 on VHF channel 68 and lasts for approximately 30 minutes.  The topics include safety and security, weather, general announcements, items for barter or trade and a check in for those coming and going. 

Grenada – There is a net at 0730 on VHF channel 68 that broadcasts every day except Sunday.  Recently this net was expanded so that it can be heard as far north as Carriacou.  The net is very well run and is very interesting.

St. Maarten – This net operates at 0730 every morning except Sunday on VHF channel 14 at 0730.  It tends to be fairly boring and short when compared with Trinidad and Grenada. For some reason the net emphasizes the Yahoo forecast that has no relationship whatsoever to the weather on St. Maarten.  There presently is a conflict of interest with the net controller who also runs a business on the island and heavily advertises his services for inquiries and announcements on the morning net. However, the net is a good forum for selling items. 

Antigua – The net operates daily at 0900 on VHF channel 14.  This is a classic and classy net broadcast by a true gentleman.

VHF Weather

Yes, there is weather available on the VHF, just like in the United States.  NOAA weather can be heard on the WX stations on your VHF radio and broadcasts from Puerto Rico.  The broadcast can be heard in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and as far south as St. Maarten/St. Martin.  These continuous broadcasts are given in both English and Spanish on WX 06 and WX 02.

Local AM and FM Radio Weather

Local AM and FM stations broadcast the weather at various times during the day.  These forecasts tend to be very general and should not be used to make a go-no go sailing decision.