The IMOCA fleet taking on the challenge of the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race has been fitted with a state-of-the-art satellite communications system, comprised of the Thales VesseLINK and the Iridium Certus service.

This means that every skipper will have truly global, reliable ship-to-shore connectivity anywhere on the ocean – whether it be the Atlantic or the wilds of the Southern Ocean – for communication through data, voice, text, video and photographs, and for safety applications.

This simple-to-use technology that is based on Iridium’s upgraded constellation of 66 satellites in low Earth orbit, has been installed on the fleet following a partnership agreement between the IMOCA class and Iridium and Thales that was announced in July 2019.

Jérémie Beyou, one of the favourites to win the race on board Charal, says Thales VesseLINK on Iridium Certus is a major and important asset on board all the boats in the fleet.

“The equipment we have with Thales and Iridium is top technology at the top level of reliability,”  said Beyou, who used the system earlier this summer when winning both the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d’Olonne Race and the Défi Azimut 48-hour race. “When you have a safety issue and you have to call land, the system has to work and we know we have the equipment to do that.”

“It is really important when you start the Vendée Globe, and know you will have issues with your boat, and you will be alone for nearly three months, that your communication system works,” added Beyou. “You need it for safety and for data communications  for weather forecast information – and we know we have that with Thales and Iridium.”

© Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE /IMOCA

Brian Aziz, Vice President of Satcom Solutions at Thales, believes VesseLINK perfectly matches the needs of IMOCA skippers racing  around the world. “We have been able to deliver a technology platform to the market that meets the requirements of the racers that are part of IMOCA,” he said.

“We truly believe that we have developed and designed the most sophisticated L-Band solution that is on the market today,” he added. “We spent years surveying the market, getting feedback and interviewing the maritime community to find out what their requirements were and what they need and understanding better the environment they work in."

“So we have a system that works even in adverse weather conditions – whether its high temperature or low and in rough or calm seas and is easy to use. These qualities make it ideal for solo skippers concentrating on racing, but also needing to stay in contact with their families and race teams.”

Bryan Hartin, Iridium Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing, says the upgraded Iridium® satellite network is the ideal choice for sailors racing in some of the toughest and most remote areas of the globe.

“Iridium really is a unique network in that we cover 100% of the planet,” he said, “Our system is uniquely suited for tough conditions because we operate using an L-Band network which is weather-resilient to all the conditions that the IMOCA racers might find at sea. It is important for mariners to know they can rely on the high-quality communications from Thales and Iridium that provide global coverage enabling  them to stay connected no matter where they sail.”

© © Eloi Stichelbaut - polaRYSE / Corum l'épargne

Hartin also underlined the safety aspect of the Iridium network – which could be a critical factor if an IMOCA skipper gets into difficulty on his or her own during the race. “Iridium was the first satellite communications company to include an SOS button on our satellite phone, and safety is in our DNA. The Iridium Certus system was built from the ground up with safety of life services in mind. With Iridium’s reliable offering, IMOCA skippers can quickly reach out for the support they need,” he explained.

Like all his rivals, Beyou will be using his on-board system to download weather data, to deliver pictures, video and voice reports to the media during the race and, most important of all, to stay in touch with his friends, family and race team during the weeks that he spends alone at sea.

“The Vendée Globe is quite a long race and there are times when you need to talk to someone – to your friends and to your family,” he said. “Of course it is so much better when you have good quality connectivity, when you are sure the connection will be OK and that the sound will be really nice and you can recognise the voices of the kids. That is what we get with the Iridium and Thales technology.”

The 44-year-old skipper based in Lorient in Brittany has recently added a WhatsApp connection to his nav station. This works through the Iridium system and it has made a big impact on board. “My smart phone is always on and the connection is extremely reliable,” he said. “It means I can be confident my friends and family can reach me. I try not to call them during the night, but it works anyway when you want it and when you need it, so it is perfect.”

Notes for Editors:

The Thales VesseLINK system provides global satellite coverage for all maritime communications. It features uninterrupted coverage from pole to pole and is suitable for communications for ships of any kind and fleets of any size. The system is designed to easily integrate with existing on-board equipment to fully digitize a vessel and to provide highly reliable mobile, voice, text and web communications.

VesseLINK operates using the Iridium Certus broadband services over a network of 66 satellites that cover 100% of the Earth’s surface, including the remote ocean and the poles. VesseLINK comes with an intuitive, user-friendly interface and includes built-in upgradeability to ensure peak speed and performance.