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Your smartphone is your third most important safety equipment

High speed data coverage of Elisa, one of three mobile network operators in Finland. Blue color: 900 MHz band Orange color: 2100 MHZ band

High speed wireless data coverage of Elisa, one of three mobile network operators in Finland. In most of the greay areas, voice services are available. Blue color: 21 Mbit/s max in 900 MHz band Orange color: 21 Mbit/s max in 2100 MHZ band

Close on the heels of your life jacket and good charts, your smartphone is your third most important safety equipment on your boat. Let me explain.

The mobile network coverage in the Finnish archipelago and on the Finnish lakes is nothing short of stellar. Even on the most remote islands at the edge of the archipelago, you will have a hard time finding a spot without decent cellular coverage. Because of this, your smartphone performs at least three very important safety functions:

  1. Emergency calls. Because of the popularity of cellular, most recreational boats no longer use VHF so calling the boats nearby on VHF is rather unlikely to get you help. There are VHF stations, but if you have a small handheld VHF, the coverage is actually poorer that for the cellular service.If you are in an emergency, call 112 (the pan-European emergency number, equivalent on 911) or directly to the sea rescue centers: 0294 1000 (this number actually is not free so you cannot call it without a SIM-card)
  2. Weather forcasts. Yes, you can get a weather forecasts in English over VHF but that VHF forecasts totally pales when compared to the special marine forecast services targeting mobile phones provided by the Finnish Meteorological Institute or the mobile weather forecast by the private company Foreca. Foreign weather forecasts for the Baltic sea and in particular the archipelago and the inland lakes are also much more unreliable, you really should use the local services.
  3. Emergency location services. Unless you have a proper navigation software installed on your smartphone, you should under no circumstances use your mobile phone for navigation. But even with the standard software that comes with the phone, you can use the phone to locate yourself in an emergency and use this information to help rescuers locate you.

Besides having really good coverage, mobile services in Finland are really cheap. Using your mobile phone subscription abroad can be really expensive due to what is called “roaming charges”. For voice calls and text messaging (SMS) the roaming charges have come down and are now bearable. However, roaming charges for data can be really high.

High speed data coverage of Telia-Sonera (one of three major mobile network operators in Finland. Most blue areas have voice coverage.  Orange color: 21 Mbit/s 900 MHz band Yellow color: lower bandwidths in the 900 MHz band.

High speed data coverage of Telia-Sonera (one of three major mobile network operators in Finland. Most blue areas have voice coverage. Orange color: 21 Mbit/s 900 MHz band Yellow color: lower bandwidths in the 900 MHz band.

If you want to use data services in Finland, I warmly suggest you invest in a prepaid mobile data subscription. With these prepaid data subscriptions, you get one month of unlimited data for as little as 25€! Telia-Sonera (one of three main operators in Finland) has a prepaid data service that is called Prepaid Nettikuukausi (translates as “Prepaid Netmonth”) and costs 24.90£/month for the first month and 19.90€/month for subsequent months. The data transfer rate is 21 Mbit/s for up to 10Gbytes of data after which the maximum speed drops off to 128 kbit/s, but there is no volume surcharge! Buy your data subscription at any of these outlets.