Do not abandon your EPIRB or PLB yet, they are still the best way to sed an SOS in an emergency at sea (or land too). The EPIRB is waterproof, automatic and is required by design to transmit a rescue signal for a minimum of 24 hours at full power while floating on the water or onboard a boat, life raft, etc. There is no fee to use an EPIRB and no subscription. It is an official worldwide service operated by governments and international rescue authorities.
The newest Apple iPhone 14 was recently introduced and, as usual, has many improvements over the previous models. While many of us do not go out and buy a new iPhone just because a new model is available, this time boaters may want to rethink. The iPhone 14 has a Satellite SOS feature that could work in a boating emergency! Apple added an impressive feature called Emergency SOS via satellite connectivity to its all-new iPhone 14 lineup.
What Is Emergency SOS via Satellite on iPhone 14 Series?
There are many regions where cellular towers cannot be reached. Connectivity in these areas can be achieved by communication satellites, hundreds of miles above the Earth. However, limited bandwidth is a major challenge, making it difficult to even send a text message or make a call. To overcome this, traditional satellite phones feature advanced technology, leading to bulky form factor and large external antennas as compared to a sleek and compact smartphone.
With the new iPhone 14, if you are outside the range of cellular and Wi-Fi coverage and cannot connect to cellular emergency SOS services, your iPhone AUTOMATICALLY attempts to connect you to the required assistance through a satellite connection. This built-in service shows where to point your phone to establish a satellite connection and how to stay connected as the satellite moves during the message transmission and dialogue with rescue authorities.
Because the bandwidth of iPhone to satellite connection is not capable of standard messaging protocols (SMS), Apple created a custom short text compression algorithm to reduce the size of messages to one-third of the actual data size. A satellite text message may take 15 seconds to a minute to be sent in perfect conditions with a direct view of the sky. This satellite feature is currently ONLY for specialized text messages to a Apple rescue center. Voice phone calls using satellite connection are not available nor are traditional texting to friends using the satellite connection.
What happens once the Apple rescue center receives your SOS?
Once Apple receives the SOS information, they relay your SOS to the appropriate emergency services. Once you are connected to them, you can start a text conversation with emergency responders by sharing your Medical ID and emergency contact information, along with the emergency questionnaire answers. Additionally, your location details and remaining battery percentage can also be shared to authorities.
Supported iPhones and Regions for iPhone Emergency SOS via Satellite
While this feature is a powerful addition to the iPhone, its availability is subject to a few conditions. Here is the official information that Apple has provided but may change as the system matures:
Supported Devices: An iPhone 14 or later running the latest iOS 16 update. (Exception: If you purchased iPhone 14 in China mainland, Hong
Kong, or Macao, you will not have access to the feature)
Supported Regions: The U.S. and Canada (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) as well as international travelers visiting the U.S. and Canada could use Emergency SOS via satellite, except if they bought their phone in mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao.
Exceptions: Emergency SOS via Satellite is not available in: Guam or American Samoa and Places above 62° latitude like northern parts of Alaska. This satellite service is provided by Globalstar, a familiar name with boaters.
Sadly, you cannot use the Emergency SOS via Satellite feature right away. It will be available in November 2022 with an iOS 16 software update. Moreover, this is a premium service. But the good news is that iPhone 14 users can access it for free for the first two years.
Business-minded boaters will be interested to learn that Apple is investing in Globalstar by covering 95% of the capital expenditures made by Globalstar to build up its network, including new satellites, to provide the service. Apple will require Globalstar to allocate 85% of its “current and future network capacity” to support the SOS service. It looks like Apple is in the satellite business for the long haul.
This new iPhone SOS feature might just be the reason to upgrade your smartphone, though do not give up on your trusty EPIRB!