PS Tests Farallons Pactor-4 Modem, SailMail


Pactor-4 modem

As email access is a big draw for many potential (and current owners) of single-sideband systems, we decided this was a good opportunity to see how our easy-install system performed in that area as well.

Farallon Electronics, a Sausalito, Calif., company specializing in the design, sale, and distribution of gear for marine, commercial, and emergency service organizations, provided us with an SCS DR-7400 Dragon modem for testing.

The compact DR-7400 P4dragon HF/SSB modem has been optimized for faster data transmission mode PACTOR-4 (P4).The DR-7400s software is compatible with the SCS PTC series of modems, so you can continue to use existing PACTOR software (Airmail, RMS Express, Alpha, etc.). The DR-7400 also provides transmit remote control, a GPS input, and an optional Bluetooth interface.

The $1,498 DR-7400 offers sailors a more affordable option in the P4dragon modem class. We found it easy to install and set up, and it worked flawlessly during our six-month trial.

To evaluate the units email capabilities, the folks at SailMail set us up with an account to use during our test period. The SailMail Association is a nonprofit group of yacht owners that operates and maintains an email communications system for use by its members. SailMail email can be seamlessly retrieved via SailMails own worldwide network of SSB-Pactor radio stations, or via satellite (Iridium, Inmarsat, KVH VSAT, Globalstar, Thuraya) or any other method of Internet access.

Their website states that the SailMail system implements an efficient email transfer protocol that is optimized for use over communications systems that have limited bandwidth and high latency, which is a fancy way of saying it can send email exceptionally fast even at the slower SSB data speeds. SailMails email protocol is designed to substantially reduce the number of link-turn-arounds. It also implements compression, virus filtering, spam filtering, and attachment filtering.

There is an annual membership fee to join the SailMail Association ($250), but there is no cost per message for use of the SailMail radio network; however, members are limited to 90 minutes of SailMail station time per week, calculated over the previous week. There is no limit to the number of messages sent and received via satellite or other Internet access.

In order to use SailMail email, youll need a Windows-compatible computer and access to the Internet via WiFi, satellite, or a marine SSB radio with a Pactor modem. The modem gives you access to SailMails worldwide network of SSB-Pactor radio stations. Youll also have to download and install their AirMail software, which handles message creation/editing.

We found AirMail to be straightforward and intuitive, although there are a few nuances (such as selecting stations and the proper transmit frequencies) that differentiate it from the typical message-handling programs. We especially liked the ability to check our SailMail account using the Webmail feature. If WiFi is available, it allows you to open AirMail and check and send messages using the Internet. This allows you to load all of your messages into your AirMail folder without using any of your weekly 90-minute allocation.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at