Sirius vs XM, the coverage footprints

Sirius-xmorbitanimLooking at the animated version of this graphic too long may make you ill, but it does nicely illustrate the very different schemes that Sirius and XM chose in their efforts to blanket North America in audio and data, including, of course, our recent obsession…live marine weather. Both schemes seem to work fine around the U.S., especially on boats with their naturally wide open sky views, but how far offshore, north, and south can you receive Sirius or XM? A lot of cruisers would like to know, but the company Web sites seem vague on the subject. For one thing, I don’t think they themselves are positive about their footprint edges, and don’t want to over promise. 
   Another issue is that XM and Sirius may broadcast into countries where they are not licensed to, and where someone thinks they should be. You may recall a long period when Canadians could only subscribe to satellite radio using U.S. addresses, even though most could get it fine. XM and Sirius were not bragging about their Canadian coverage then! Both Audio services are now licensed in Canada but, head’s up, Sirius Weather isn’t yet. Which brings us to some legalese in the Raymarine Sirius literature suggesting that your expensive weather receiver might not work if youSirius Coverage go outside U.S. territorial waters. Not true; I checked!
   And judging from the unofficial footprint map kicking around the Internet (right, and slightly bigger here), Sirius will deliver fine service in Canada, out past Bermuda, down to around Antigua, across to maybe the Canal, and actually further into Alaska than shown (so I’ve heard). I understand that XM is similar except that it doesn’t reach as far south, which seems confirmed by the unofficial XM footprint map below, created by WxWorx, the company that’s developed a PC hardware/software system for XM Weather. They’d like to hear more reports from XM users on the edge, and I’d like to hear from anyone who knows more about how far either service reaches. Thanks.

PS, 7/28: We’ve been kindly sent links to a good collection of footprint maps and to a related forum discussion in which one poster describes getting XM in the Azores using a dinky home antenna (though it was before some changes in XM’s satellites).

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

26 Responses

  1. DefJef says:

    With some antenna doodling we received Sirius in English Harbour, Freeman Bay Antigua last Fall… in fact all the way down from LI via Bermuda.
    sv Shiva
    Contest 36s

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Jef. I remember that I’ve heard other sailors describe similar range, so I changed my description. But what do you mean by antenna ‘doodling’?

  3. DefJef says:

    The antenna we used was the supplied wire attached to the little radio. To get reception in the iffy areas we had to “find” (doodling) the sweet spot on deck, dodger, boom etc.. which I suppose gave the antenna a clear view at the satellite. In strong areas the antenna did fine down below in the cabin… no doodling necessary.
    sv Shiva
    Contest 36s

  4. robert says:

    We ran Sirius using the larger Shakespeare Mushroom antenna mounted on the stern pulpit.
    We just got back from north of the 50th paralell in on the BC coast. Great reception, even against the big “rock cliffs” of Desolation Sound. Not exactly “way out there” but we were happy to have Sirius. It has been one of the best buys we ever made. I never listen to terrestial radio anymore.
    It would be nice if Sirius had the weather data that XM does.
    I am, however, biased against XM because of their affiliation with Clear Channel Communcations (a “moral communications conglomerate”). I will never subscribe to XM.
    sv Learning Curve, Skookum 28
    “unamed”, Westsail 42 (under construction)

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Robert. Sirius recently introduced marine weather data, on Raymarine E-Series, and coming soon to PCs (I’m told). Try the link at the top of this entry.
    PS I like the name “Learning Curve”; if you ever go aground, please send Panbo a picture!

  6. Brandon says:

    When you are writing for the magazine you might now be able to express preference, and I don’t know if that changes on your blog, but do you have a feeling either way for weather Sirius or XM provides a better service? Does Sirius offer weather overlay?

  7. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Brandon, Sirius on the Raymarine overlays on a simple outline map, not the regular chart (a good idea I think). The Sirius and XM products are much, much more alike than they are different. Plus they’re both evolving. Someday I’ll do an entry on product shoot outs, but basically I distrust them and am usually reluctant to declare a “best” product (for who?).

  8. Mark Read says:

    The topic of range is to me a two part question.
    1. What antenna are you using? Many people report increased coverage if they will swap out the supplied shakespeare antenna with a TERK Sir6 antenna. This is an outdoor antenna, cost about $58 on Amazon. The increased coverage is due in part to the 50 Ohm rating.
    2. Are the weather data/images available? The scenario is that you have Sirius satellite coverage, but no weather data is being displayed where you are located.
    Just because you can get coverage in Panama (some people have reported they can get Sirius radio coverage onboard cruise ships as they go through the canal) does not mean you will have the radar weather images. I have been unable to determine for sure what data or scope of images are being sent out. It is possible that the data/images just cover the US and the upper half of Mexico. It appears that anything south of Cuba (lower half of Mexico) is not supplied with the related/available weather data. I would like verification of this from someone who has installed the unit. We will be leaving Mazatlan, Mexico this fall for the canal, but it appears the Raymarine system would not be of help to us.

  9. Billy says:

    Just to let everyone know…..XM does not work in Puerto Rico as of yet. I have a factory installed system in my grand prix and shipped it here from the U.S. no good

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Billy, You might try Digital Antenna’s newish XM antenna; I’ve heard good things about it:

  11. Cameron says:

    Does anybody know if Sirius weather will show radar images for Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.
    Let’s say I’m an American who will be visiting Canadian Waters this summer, not a Canadian asking this question 😉

  12. Jon Hill says:

    XM WxWorx does well in the Exumas with nearly as strong a signal as in Florida, although the farther out you get the more sensitive the antenna is to anything shading it from the satellite. A reasonably small mast in the way is enough to knock out the radio signal from both satellites as the boat swings but since the data is stored it isn’t a problem for WxWorx. I had problems with the Terk antenna and the Digital Antenna replacement that they now use does well.
    NEXRAD radar coverage includes most of Grand Bahama and Andros Islands but that’s about as far east as it goes – just a couple hundred miles off the US coast. I’ve not paid any attention to the Canadian weather coverage but know it’s there as a Transport Canada splash screen is a bit of a start-up annoyance.
    I’ve found that the surface wind predictions from the “Surface” depiction are usually more accurate than NOAA forecasts although they only go out 36 hours. Wave info usually shows a little worse than actual and it takes a pretty good sized landmass before a diminished sea state in the lee is recognized.
    All in all no complaints or regrets.

  13. Glenn says:

    I have a sirius wxmate pc based system using a small mushroom antenna (supplied with wxmate receiver) located in the cabin under a window, and I received uninterrupted weather data while sailing from the Abacos to NC in July ’08.

  14. datablanck says:

    I don’t know if anyone who uses Sirius weather with Furuno or Raymarine has noticed, but on my Navnet vx2 I’ve had some serious problems with it. It actually froze the machine and had to turn my battery switches off to disconnect and reboot the power.

  15. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I don’t know if it’s related to your Sirius/Furuno issue, but during Hurricane Ike, Raymarine issued a technical bulletin stating that some users were experiencing system resets due to the large amount of data being downloaded from the Sirius satellites. They recommended that users experiencing the problem turn off storm tracking, and said a fix was being worked on.

  16. Mark Read says:

    This summer I took my own sailboat through the Panama Canal, and if I pointed the mushroom antenna towards the “North”, I could get Sirius reception. We are currently in Rio Dulce, Guatemala and we no longer have to do any aiming. With no problem at all we get a clear constant Sirius signal. Now if only we could get the weather overlay down here on our Raymarine plotter.

  17. Dan (b393capt) says:

    datablanck … No simliar problems with Sirius on Raymarine or XM on Garmin for that matter.

  18. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Mark, how long did you have to wait to go thru the canal ?

  19. Techy says:

    You never have to disconnect power from a Navnet 1, vx2, or NN3D display if it freezes with a software problem. This is a core function of the displays. Just press and hold the power key for 5 seconds on any of them and they will always turn off. The display may not do anything but, continue to hold the key and it will shut down and can be restarted again without having to remove power. This is not true with some other manufacturer’s products in my experience.
    As far as the problem goes, please call Furuno Tech support for more information.

  20. Trevor says:

    I have just installed Sirius weather on a Furuno VX2 in Vancouver Canada. There seems to be good coverage up and down the coast. I have found because it is not licensed in Canada that there is some major issues for Canadian users. With a US subscription we receive all the data except there is no written forecasts for Canada as well some other local information does not come in. I do not recommend these systems to my Canadian clients. Hopefully one day it will be available in Canada.

  21. Joe says:

    Actually, XM 1, 3, and 5’s theoretical beam coverage…
    …reaches Greenland, western Iceland, and Portugal. A little help from a fixed satellite dish to mount the antenna to might be needed though.

  22. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Joe. That’s an interesting site, but I’m not sure it’s completely accurate.

  23. FromtheRight says:

    I have received Sirius loud and clear on my Audiovox SIR-PNP2 receiver using the regular Sirius antenna in the following countries: Aruba (just off the shore of Venezuela), Dominica, Grenada and the Panama Canal. I have pictures of the receiver (display showing the song being played next) next to my Nuvi GPS (showing a map picture and lat/Long).

  24. Ron says:

    My XM works around Dutch hbr AK, Togiak AK am trying Sirius this year

  25. Lew Thomas says:

    Ron: I see you recently posted on Panbo that you recieve Sirius XM weather around Togiak. I’m hoping to install the service and was wondering about the reception for SE Alaska.

  26. Turk says:

    I am on the Research Vessel Atlantis.
    We’re currently just off Puerto Rico. We use one antenna with many splitters to feed Sirius and Xm radios that folks bring out (entertainment only, no weather).
    The Sirius folks are still receiving ok. Unfortunately, I have not had Xm reception since maybe a couple of hundred miles north of Puerto Rico. Oh well, I’m just glad I can usually receive Xm on most of our cruises.

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