Satellite Phone

More and more GC trips are carrying sat phones for their
communication. Evidently there are two major options, as far as
providers --  each with advantages and disadvantages.

Would anyone like to contribute information about providers, or
experiences about the  use of sat phones in the Grand Canyon?


From: "Marshall"
Outfitter satellite seems to be the best. You can go with a little rinky dink provider, but I've had problems with that in the past, shipping charges adding to the rental time etc. Outfitter satellite doesn't play those games. They aren't the cheapest, but I'd say they probably are the best, at least from MY experience, and that of my friends.


From: "brady black"
I've experienced about a 5-15 minute window at Diamond Creek above and below.  Typically I have gone out on my boat but I don't know that it matters.  Need more R & D.  After losing service if you wait a minute, the phone will pick up another Sat and it's on it's way.  I have received several calls in the past three months asking for a drop at Diamond or early pickup and I experienced about the same air-time.

One trip upstream of us reached in to tie up to a chock rock at the
Grotto(230) and got bit by a rattlesnake.  Someone rowed downstream to us and caught us right as it got dark.  The snakebite victim stayed at the Grotto so it was kind of difficult for them to talk to the park because they didn't know his status.  It turned out a mild reaction.

50% of the Satellite phone calls to me from the Canyon are to bring beer to the takeout. Our SAT phones have the first 10 minutes free so people figure if they haven't used it they might as well get their moneys worth at the takeout.  8$/person is a cheap price to pay for emergencies.

Brady Black

From: "rgomez_70510"
I rented a phone from Satellite Outfitters for our 11/06 trip. I needed it to stay in touch with my business on a semi-regular basis (checked in every 2 or 3 days) and for emergencies. It was relatively inexpensive (for what you get in return) and reliable. I also rented the solar charger.

From experience, using a sat phone in the Grand Canyon is definitely a hit-or-miss proposition. You can make a call from almost anywhere, but your window of talk time can vary drastically depending on your view of the open sky. Two minutes of talk time was average. The least being about 30 seconds (somewhere where the walls of the canyon are steep, like Ledges Camp) and the most being about 5 minutes (somewhere fairly open like Nankoweap). Also, you may have to wait for the phone to lock onto a satellite. Waiting 10 minutes for a signal was not uncommon.

Don't expect to be able to hold a meaningful conversation while using a sat phone in the GC. Most of the times my conversations were "Hey, I am fine. Everything is going good. Do you have any questions for me?" When we were at Ledges Camp, some members of our group were dying to find out the score of the Ohio St. - Michigan game. It took almost an hour to finally get someone on the phone (wait for a  signal, make a call, get an answering machine, lose the signal, wait 20 minutes for a signal, make a call, get an answering machine-you get the idea).

I would not go without one, but don't expect to use it like a cell phone.  Also, expect people to want to use the phone to check in and I am too much of a softy to apply the "only for emergency" rule. I bought some extra minutes because I knew it would get passed around. Luckily, because the average talk time was 2 minutes, I didn't have to worry about people burning up the minutes.

One last bit of advice. There is a pay phone at Phantom Ranch. Bring a calling card that has a bunch of minutes. The phone provider charges you 90 cents to place a call and that chews up your minutes quickly. I brought a 30-minute card, but once I placed the call I had 7-½ minutes left. Just placing the call cost me 22 ½ minutes.

Ricky Gomez

From: "mountainrivers"
Good info Ricky. Also check the number of satellites the company you rent from has in the sky. My last check was Iridium has the most.

From: "Wayne Slattery".
Ricky, good comments on the usefulness of a sat phone. I have a question.

I tried charging my sat phone directly from a solar charger and very
quickly the battery shut down because the voltage was variable (due to passing clouds). Some time ago some one mentioned that it is better to solar charge a 12v battery and then use that to charge the phone since the rate of change in voltage from a larger battery would be small. Was your rented solar charger set up this way?

Does anyone have experience charging a 12v battery from the sun?


From: "richp4797"
Hi Wayne,

Getting into solar on the river isn't hard at all, and it can be used for
far more than just sat phones.

I have a 32 amp hour AGM battery ($35 or so) in an ammo can, that I charge with a 10 watt solar panel bought on eBay for about $25 or $30. I installed a waterproof  accessory (cigarette lighter-type) socket in the lid of the ammo can, and wired it to the battery terminals. I then connected a waterproof 12-volt accessory plug to the solar panel, so it plugs into the top of the ammo can to charge the battery. Total cost less than $100, including all the plugs and sockets.

When I want to use the battery to power a device, I unplug the solar panel and plug my device into the accessory socket. I originally used it to power bilge pumps for my Avon bucket boat, but now that that rig is gone, it's more a general utility power source. Runs everything from my small 12-volt LVM pump on a riverbank where you can't get a car down to access its battery, to camera and satphone battery chargers in the middle of a trip. With an inverter, it will also power small 120 volt devices (margarita-lovers, take note).


Rich Phillips

From: "Michael Pfeuffer"
If you're worried about phone capacity, I'd consider taking along a 7AH 12VDC gel cell battery.  A full charge will last months, and if you
discharge if fully while talking, you biggest problem will be paying the
bill.  🙂

At ~5.5 lbs, they're not light, but not as heavy as a dutch oven.  Be sure to insulate the terminals during storage.

Here's a link to one that I've been using for a different application:


 From: "richp4797"

Hi Wayne,

You are right, a controller is necessary for some applications,
particularly if you use a large panel and don't want to boil your battery.  Essentially, if your panel is ju st going to trickle the charge in, you will never damage the battery. But if your panel feeds a heavy amp load into the battery, then it could be a problem. There
is a formula (see ) to help make that determination.

For more info, here is a pretty good (if somewhat detailed and
RV-oriented) site to look at.
  Once you get it sorted out, it
really is great -- I use solar  (140 watts in panels and two golf cart
batteries) in my travel trailer, and have lived for as much as 10 weeks
out on the ranger station without plugging in.

And I do have a small controller on my river rig -- forgot to mention it in my first post. I knew there was a reason my costs got up to $100..... I use a Morningstar that is specific for AGM batteries, because they have a different charging profile. But other brands are available as well. My system actually probably could do without one, but out of an abundance of caution, I added it anyway.

Hope this helps.
Rich Phillips

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