Thursday, February 28, 2013

Online Position Tracking with Your Inmarsat ISatPhone for Free (By Mark Kilty)

We recently purchased the ISatPhone to allow us to receive weather information (via email) and for emergencies while offshore on our upcoming trips in the Pacific.  We do not have an SSB installation on Irie, and nowadays, with Sat Phones being more reasonably priced, don’t see a reason to justify the cost of an SSB.  The phone we purchased was $550 new, and the basic cost per minute is $1.  Data calls and voice calls are all billed the same, so however long you are connected getting your emails is what you pay.

One of the nice features of the ISatPhone is it allows you to send short emails (160 characters) directly from the phone.  So, no need to turn on your computer to let someone know everything is ok, just power on the phone, type your email, and send.  Nice and easy.  These emails cost a flat $.50 per address that the email is sent to.  By the way, short emails (160 characters) can also be sent directly to the ISatPhone from anyone you give your email address to, and the cost per incoming message: $0.  Nice. It is also free for the sender.

Along with this built-in email feature is another feature called a “Position Report”.  Since the phone has a built in GPS, you can configure a list of recipients to receive a Position Report (including a 55 character custom message), with the click of a button.  Also costing only $.50/address the report is sent to.  The position report is just a preformatted email that the phone builds based on the current latitude/longitude that the GPS receiver in the phone receives, and then adds your custom message to it.

This is again a great feature, but I wanted to be able to map our location, and keep track of our history as we moved, all on our blog, and on a map.  Similar to the way the SPOT device works that a lot of cruisers use.  But if I could figure out how to get the SPOT mapping equivalent, using our ISatPhone, it would be great.

Here is what my goals were:
1)    Create a map that was always current with our location on our blog.
2)    Be able to update the position via our ISatPhone.
3)    Be able to update the position via a normal WiFi connection when available.
4)    Be free.

Google Maps has the best mapping service available for free, so I wanted to use their maps to display our location on our blog.  Google also provides a service called Google Latitude that allows you to share your current position with others, and provides a way to display it on your website or blog (  The issues with this service, however, is it does not allow anyone but you to view your history, and there is no way to update the location from the ISatPhone.  It is tightly integrated with Google Maps, and there are a number of third party applications available for Apple and Android devices that can be used to share your location.

Further searching led me to another service, (  This service is similar in functionality to Google Latitude, but uses open source maps for their map data.   I wanted to show the satellite view from Google Maps, not a map one would use to drive in a city with, which is what uses.  Therefore Google Latitude has to be linked to Some of the great things about are: it allows a number of ways to update your location (including email, and now the ISatPhone), allows anyone you permit to view your history, and integrates with Google Latitude (and other location based services) so your location is in sync between the services.

So here is what you need to do to get up and running:
1)    Create a account for your boat (  Set up your account (“Accounts” tab) and upload a photo to be used when your location is displayed.
2)    Create a Google account ( if you don’t already have one.  Log into Google Latitude ( and set your Privacy Settings to “Set Your Location”.  This will make sure Latitude only updates your location when you request it and not automatically, when you use your computer for instance.  Also, log in to Gmail with this user account, and set a “Google Profile” photo for your boat.  This image will be displayed on your Google Map on your blog/website.
3)    Link your Google Latitude account with your account.  Click on the Sources tab at, and select “Push your location from to Google Latitude” and follow the steps to authorize the sharing of location data between the two services.
4)    In, also in “Sources”, generate an email address you can use to update your location with.  It will create a custom email address,
5)    Enable the “Sharing” settings on to allow “The Public”, “Full Accuracy”.  There are ways to limit access to your location information, which you can try as you need.
6)    Turn on the Google Latitude Badge in “Application Settings” at Google Latitude, and integrate that HTML into your blog or website.
7)    On your ISatPhone, configure the “Personal Alert” (Menu->Extras->Personal Alert->Configure Personal Alert), and add the email address from

That’s it.  You can update your location on (and in turn, Google Latitude) by one of these methods:
1)    Send a Personal Alert from your ISatPhone to your email address.
2)    Go to and manually enter your lat/long.
3)    If you have a GPS enabled phone/tablet, and are online, go to and click on the “Auto CheckIn” box to update you position, then you can uncheck it so it does not update as you walk around town :).
4)   See the “Tracking” section for more ways as well:

The link to your history page is simply, so you can add this link to your blog/site as well to allow people to view your past locations.  USERNAME is your account name you set up on
Now you have full mapping and tracking from a number of sources, including your ISatPhone via their simple and inexpensive, Personal Alert feature.

1 comment:

dmmbruce said...

Great thanks. That must have taken you AGES to work out!

In the meantime, go on smiling and enjoying your new surroundings and cold water!