Wednesday, June 25, 2008

TechTip - Skype

Self Portrait
Self Portrait
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Short Story
Most cruisers budget $100 to $200 per month to communicate with friends and family back home. Charges go towards Internet, cell phones, land phones, and other Internet service charges. One major way to cut costs is to install and use Skype, particularly the International calling plans for SkypeOut.

Long Version
There is no cheap way to get Internet access everywhere, but you can get it often enough as a cruiser that investing some time and money into setting up services to take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer is worthwhile. For Don Quixote, our best move thus was to invest in a good head set and web cam to enable us to use Skype.

Skype is essentially telephone on the Internet. There are a million outstanding articles explaining how to install and use Skype. Google Skype. Read the Skype web site for that matter. If you’re a cruiser sitting on the fence on whether to invest in the extra hardware, here are a few more compelling reasons to spend time and energy getting yourself up and running on Skype:

Skype to Skype calls are free no matter where you are located. Get your family set up before you cut the lines. Macs come fully prepared with everything you need. You’ll probably need to purchase a head set or web cam for your family members still relegated to Windows. Experience with our family tells me that you want to do this yourself. They will never figure it out on their own. Make it your last birthday or Christmas presents before you leave.

Skype includes video. When you cruise, your parents are convinced your boat is in the middle of nowhere even when you’re on a dock in Victoria Harbor in the shadow of the Empress Hotel. Live action video of your children hamming it over over the web cam goes a long way to convincing them otherwise.

Skype audio works even with gimpy connections. We’ve had the opportunity to test Skype under a variety of really crappy conditions. While the video is sometimes lousy, the audio is just about always solid. For example, in Nanaimo when we were all the way across the harbor in Mark Bay with a 14% (one bar) signal, we could still conduct a conversation. I continue to be surprised by the sound quality.

SkypeOut international is extraordinarily cheap. SkypeOut is the features that enables you to use your computer to make a call to a land line telephone just about anywhere in the world. We routinely call mechanics, our chandlery, and our rigger in the United States from Canada. The cost is $.021a minute. It varies by country but the price never comes close to a comparable cell phone or land line charge. If you SkypeOut enough, you should seriously consider their subscription plans. Even their premium International SkypeOut unlimited is only $9.95/month.

Skype is no substitute for having a working cell phone. As much as I hate to do it, we’re going to keep a cell phone on our budget. We use the pay as you go, disposable “drug runner” phones you can get at any drug store or airport. But, with a little planning you can offload almost all of your calls to those times when you are also taking care of your Internet business, and thereby shift virtually all of your call time to the price point of “free”.


Anonymous said...

Great information. We tried Skype when it first came out with a friend in Germany and it was "ok", but had a pretty bad lag and skipped a lot. It was hard to keep a conversation. I have heard that it has come a long way in the last couple of years - I am glad to hear first hand that this is true.

Behan said...

we actually use it with Germany all the time (for husband's business, mostly) and it works quite well! Even on our current, very anaemic marina wifi. when we can't raise a web page, we can still talk over skype.

I can't imagine budgeting $100-200/m for "communications back home" but I suppose things might add up...but still... *shudders*