Oh No! Silent Pactor Modem

Those of you “traditionalists” that use an SSB radio in conjunction with a Pactor III modem to receive Winlink, Sailmail and Saildocs, may understand my frustration when I  turned on our ICom M802 radio for the first time this season, and heard NO reassuring Pactor III modem beep. For years and over 15,000 miles from Annapolis to Cartagena, Colombia, that familiar beep was our primary connection with the outside world – and family and elderly parents – especially while we were cruising the Western Caribbean.

During the commuter cruiser “off season”, the radio and modem spend the summer disconnected and literally in the boat oven.  In a normal year, after being reconnected whenever I turn on my SSB, a split second later I hear the familiar (and reassuring if we’re out of communications range) beep from our dependable, always there, Pactor III modem.

SCS PTS-IIPro pactor modem

SCS PTS-IIPro pactor modem

But not this year.  🙁   No beep, and two different, but equally frustrating, popup alerts on Airmail on the laptop telling me the radio wasn’t talking to the modem and vice versa.  I tried changing settings, I tried different com ports, I tried re-downloading the Airmail software, I tried … and tried … and tried….   Nada.  Silence from that little beep.

Other than the lack of an audible beep, the symptoms included every light on the front of the modem flashing quickly but irregularly, then  pausing long enough to have all the lights solid before going back to the flashing routine.  It was crazy, there were even green dashes flashing on the little LCD screen on the top right.  Hmmm….

To top it off, my reliable “tech support” (i.e. where I bought the radio/modem/tuner system), Don Melcher at HF Radio Aboard, retired a couple years ago.  How am I supposed to figure this out?  Finally out of desperation on a Saturday afternoon about 3 PM, I googled Pactor III modem and found, surprisingly enough, a dealer located in Punta Gorda, FL – i.e. close to me!  I called Dockside Radio, not really expecting anyone to answer the phone, but Gary answered and patiently guided me a few steps to diagnose that my poor Pactor modem isn’t even talking to itself anymore (meaning I can’t upgrade firmware if that’s the problem because it won’t communicate with the radio or the computer) …  🙁

Gary recommended I call Gary Wood at Farallon Electronics (the US distributor of SCS Pactor modems) on Monday.  Sure enough Gary Wood seconded Gary at Dockside Radio’s diagnosis, something’s wrong and the modem needed to be sent in for repair.  (NOTE:  Gary sent me an e-mail not even two days after we Priority Mailed it saying he received the modem, had already run a preliminary check and it was on his technician’s bench, awaiting diagnosis … that’s amazingly efficient! THANKS Gary & Farallon Electronics!)


Anchored far from communications in the Holendes Cayes, San Blas Islands

Anchored far from communications in the Holendes Cayes, San Blas Islands

But the good news is, we took the modem to the post office & it fit perfectly (with a bit of bubble wrap to protect it) in a US Post Office Priority Mail “if it fits it ships” medium box.  So  for $13 my dependable link to the outside world all those cruising years, is now en route to Sausalito California/Farallon Electronics, to see if Gary can figure out why it’s being stubborn and doesn’t want to talk to itself these days.  Hopefully he can repair it because the alternatives are pretty expensive….  But if we leave to go cruising again, especially since we tend to frequent out of the way places, that modem always gave us confidence that anyone could reach us morning or evening, the two times a day I checked e-mail aboard while cruising.

Anyone got a perfectly good but unused Pactor IIpro modem they’d like to sell cheap, just in case?  Please leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll let you know what we find out from Farallon Electronics as soon as we hear back!  Cheers!  Jan


  1. Small world … I was catching up on your blog today as I received this email:
    Hi Rich,
    Just a quick note to let you know that your PTC-IIE modem arrived. The modem
    has been inspected and the work order written up. It’s on the technicians
    bench ready for the ESN installation. Because of the Thanksgiving holiday,
    the work won’t be done until early next week. I’ll give you a call at that

    Gary Wood ____@farallon.us
    Farallon Electronics
    2346 Marinship Way, Suite 101
    Sausalito, CA 94965 USA
    +415 331 1924 x112
    +415 331 2063 / fax

    • Oh my goodness. It’s a conspiracy, all the Pactor modems in the world are being disabled. 🙂 Just kidding. So our modems are both on the technician’s bench waiting together. At least they aren’t lonely. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving – Jan

  2. Gaby Eman says:

    Hi Jan,
    unfortunately i seem to have the same problem with my pactorII-pro. What seems to help is to put something hot on it for about 30 minutes…. But that’s not ideal ofcourse! Can you tell me what was wrong with your modem??
    Thanks in advance!

    Gaby Eman
    sy Foxy Lady

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