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Old 18-02-2011, 12:46   #61
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Mark keeps saying that SSB is only really useful to those of us in the U.S. and near it's coast. That's dead wrong: HF-SSB becomes even more useful the further you travel from the States, because very often it's the best way to maintain long-distance and very-long-distance communications.

As a Foreign Service Officer I've lived, worked and traveled over much of this earth. And, beginning in 1966, I've used and experimented with HF/SSB radio in various locations around the world, including on sailboats.

I have found HF/SSB to be a constant companion wherever I lived and traveled -- always free and always there when needed.

Satphones are great, too. They're just different in that they perform different and more limited functions -- like point-to-point private (and costly) voice and email.

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Old 18-02-2011, 13:35   #62
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Interesting. I don't understand why you have better luck with sat phones than SSB. What weather products do you use? What is your SSB installation like? Where are you? If you're on my side of the country we can pick a time and place to meet and do some more side-by-side comparisons.
Mark, it's not that I can't make a good connection to Sailmail -- I usually can. Sometimes the open bands have interference (or other people using Sailmail), but I can usually find a time / frequency that works. I've had less success with Winlink, but I've usually been able to get through. Admittedly, it's been a while since I used Winlink, and I've never done anything with it but occasionally send a test message. I consider it my Sailmail backup.

I find satphone email superior to SSB email for my purposes because the satphone data throughput is faster (perhaps 2X or 3X?). Sailmail doesn't permit more than perhaps 10Kbytes of data a day, and it's probably bad manners for Winlink. I regularly transfer 100Kbytes / day via satphone. I also phone home regularly (when I go racing my family stays home, unless they fly out to meet me). Satphone is extremely convenient for this.

SSB email also can get very tough in marginal conditions. As I'm sure you've experienced, you can get stuck in an endless "retry" loop. You eventually have to pull the plug, having wasted many minutes trying to send or receive, and wait for better conditions.

Satphone email can also drop out in the middle of a connection, but I usually only have to wait a few minutes and then I can resume my transfer with no problems.

Another advantage of satphone (if you have to choose one or the other), is that you can take it with you when you get in the liferaft. Try that with your SSB! I've not needed to do this, but I know people who have.

I'm fortunate in that the cost difference between the two systems isn't an issue for me. My budget, needs, and priorities are no doubt different than many others. I'm not a typical cruiser, in fact I'm not really a cruiser at all. I have both SSB and satphone and use each of them as I find appropriate.

As for my SSB installation, I've got an Icom 710RT (remote head), an AT-120 tuner feeding an insulated backstay. I've got grounding foil embedded in the hull and attached to the keelbolts. The SSB works well and we usually have one of the better signals (among the Pacific Cup fleet). We've been communications boat for the last two San Francisco - Hawaii races (and for the return). We have a Pactor-3 modem, and while I sometimes use it to receive the USCG WFAX transmissions, usually I get GRIBs and text forecasts from Saildocs via Sailmail. When I use satphone email (XGate) I get GRIBs, WFAX graphics, and text forecasts from Saildocs.
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Old 18-02-2011, 15:32   #63
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Okay, so Paul what does it cost you to use your SatPhone?? When I checked into SatPhones they weren't cheap and locked me into year long contracts that would be worthless to me for most of that time. SatPhones may be wonderful but the costs to use, that I got quoted, just weren't worth it especially if I actually used the phone.
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Old 18-02-2011, 19:53   #64
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I bought 1000 minutes at $1.30 per minute. No contract. Bought prepaid minutes. Cost is somewhat a relative issue as most people do a conscience or unconscience cost/benefit analysis when purchasing goods and services.

The up front investment in an SSB or Iridium (nav station installation) is essentially equal. With a sat phone there is a recurring cost for using the service. With an SSB ongoing costs are zero.

With a SSB there is a significant investment in learning to understand and use the technology. There is a major hassle factor with data rates, propagation windows, etc.

When I am using the sat phone I am paying for reliability, ease of use, efficiency, and simplicity. I don't have to mess around.

Each user needs to figure out what their optimum is.
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Old 18-02-2011, 22:25   #65
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personally belive more is better,qualify that by saying the more current info you have the better,a ssb receiver fills that gap,being able to transmit as well even better.

sat phone cant say we need it,but it worked out cheaper than using a cell phone on roaming charges.also used pre pay cards so only used it when crosing oceans.

these days with skype,wifi and dongles,the internet and good connetivity in most parts of the world.

ssb and sat phones are fairly redundent un less on passage
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Old 18-02-2011, 23:17   #66
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Okay, so Paul what does it cost you to use your SatPhone?? When I checked into SatPhones they weren't cheap and locked me into year long contracts that would be worthless to me for most of that time. SatPhones may be wonderful but the costs to use, that I got quoted, just weren't worth it especially if I actually used the phone.
I also buy pre-paid minutes for about what LakeSuperior paid. If you buy 500 minute blocks they expire after one year unless you buy another block before the expiration date. Different block-sizes have different terms.

For satphone data I also have to subscribe to a service provider -- I use Global Marine Network and XGate. The annual cost is similar to a SailMail membership (XGate is $240 plus a one-time setup fee). There are short-term plans and rental satphones available.

If cost is your metric (and this is certainly a reasonable position), for long-term use with moderate data requirements SSB is going to be cheaper than satphone. For short-term use, satphone may be cheaper. For greater data needs, SSB may not be appropriate. If convenience is a factor, I have to give the satphone the edge.
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Old 18-02-2011, 23:39   #67
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SatPhones may be wonderful but the costs to use, that I got quoted, just weren't worth it especially if I actually used the phone.
That was my experience, not so much the cost to use, though it's not cheap. But the monthly line rental. And it being the only monthly bill I had it got dumped quickly. And if you ditch it getting a pay as you go card delivered for the next ocean is another thing to be avoided. Will it arrive this week or this month? Who knows the ways of customs in the tropics.
So next time it will be ssb. Even if offshore it just sends an email once every few days or a week, thats enough for me, weatherfax does the weather and i don't need anything else out there. Hope winlink works.
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Old 19-02-2011, 01:50   #68
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I read all this with great interest as my first transatlantic is likely in the near future.
It seems there are very good points from both camps and my simple conclusion would be to have both ! . this is just throwing money at things , which I dont do , so what is the considered opinion of having :
1. an HF receiver for w/fax through to a laptop and to listen to Herb and nets when in the caribbean
2. a s/hand satphone with prepaid minutes for brief contact to home to tell them alls ok when doing a crossing .

Is this just too simple a solution for budget cruising ?
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Old 19-02-2011, 04:29   #69
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I read all this with great interest as my first transatlantic is likely in the near future.
It seems there are very good points from both camps and my simple conclusion would be to have both ! . this is just throwing money at things , which I dont do , so what is the considered opinion of having :
1. an HF receiver for w/fax through to a laptop and to listen to Herb and nets when in the caribbean
2. a s/hand satphone with prepaid minutes for brief contact to home to tell them alls ok when doing a crossing .

Is this just too simple a solution for budget cruising ?
Our boat and many other on the Atlantic could not reliably communicate with Herb last summer. We could listen to Herb about 10 out of the 19 days of the crossing. There was a fair amount of "relay comm" for some. We were fortunate to have a sat phone so we get the weather we needed to move to a favorable position to minimize the impact four major North Atlantic lows in June.

In other words you may want to be set up to download GRIB files with the sat phone. This more or less implies a nav station installation.
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Old 19-02-2011, 05:05   #70
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I read all this with great interest as my first transatlantic is likely in the near future.
It seems there are very good points from both camps and my simple conclusion would be to have both ! . this is just throwing money at things , which I dont do , so what is the considered opinion of having :
1. an HF receiver for w/fax through to a laptop and to listen to Herb and nets when in the caribbean
2. a s/hand satphone with prepaid minutes for brief contact to home to tell them alls ok when doing a crossing .

Is this just too simple a solution for budget cruising ?
Well, neither a satphone nor SSB use really fall under "budget cruising"...some people have gone with a transistor radio!

Point 1 is certainly valid. I've stated elsewhere how Herb's guidance, not to mention the reports from boats in the 100-mile vicinity, kept us safe and sound during a pretty rough passage in 2009 to Bermuda and then south to USVIs. The "daily ritual" of spending half-an-hour listening to Herb's "round-up", plus getting extra weather ken from the Carib 1500 racers who were out as the same time as us was invaluable.

As for point 2, one guy brought a SPOT device. He would punch the "OK" button or the yellow one for "rough conditions but OK" at 6 am and 6 pm. When I returned, I saw that Google Maps had a perfect capture of nearly 30 waypoints showing our progress. Cost was less than 10% of a satphone.

We have become very used to "forever connectivity". I for one, despite a now decades-long participation in every flavour of the Internet, think that cruising isn't necessarily about answering phones, even if money and knowhow can facilitate that. Others may differ, and they can pay to do so, but me? I go sailing to get away, not be available. The SPOT device shows "we are neither dead nor stopped". How much more do loved ones require? "Yeah, saw a flying fish today. Was sunny. You?"

Good grief, wait for the e-mail from the next port of call. Or even a postcard!
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Old 19-02-2011, 05:14   #71
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In other words you may want to be set up to download GRIB files with the sat phone. This more or less implies a nav station installation.
You may indeed. I forgot if it was south of 30 or 25 N, but you eventually lose the Boston wfax and can't see the fronts anymore. Or they start coming from the south. There are still many weather options, however: just observation, pilot charts, "dead reckoning" from the last available chart, or using the SSB to contact boats 200 NM ahead or behind for updates.

Herb's not young. It's possible that the logic of SSB is too tied to the generally older guys who love the hobby. You can see where I'm going with this. However, right now it's still a part of the comms puzzle aboard, and it has aspects satphones don't. I would like both, but SSB still edges out at the moment, because I have to anticipate a fair bit of short SailMail bursts in order to stay in contact with my kid's teachers while he's being "boat schooled". Yakking on the phone every two days would be prohibitive.

If they sold a $200 satphone with a $300/year contract that gave you 1 GB/year of data and 200 minutes of talk time, I would buy it in a heartbeat...and then not use up the time!

I have had a 200 min/month plan with my cell phone (the cheapest), and never break that limit. I can't see being more loquacious at sea than on land.
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Old 19-02-2011, 07:43   #72
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Back when I was using off-the-air WFAXes, between San Francisco and Hawaii I could usually pick up the Point Reyes signal as long as I chose my time and frequency appropriately. If I had trouble (or didn't want to wait) I could usually receive from Honolulu or Kodiak. I recall there being a station in Guam, but I don't see it now.

Is the situation so different in the Atlantic? The list I have shows a whole bunch of WFAX stations over there.

And then there are always the voice broadcasts.

I don't think you absolutely need a SSB transceiver, or for that matter a satphone, to sail safely. A SSB receiver would be nice, and a laptop WFAX decoder would be great. Picking the right season is probably the most important thing. (In the spirit of full disclosure, aboard VALIS I have just about every communications gadget known to man...)
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Old 19-02-2011, 08:00   #73
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Is the situation so different in the Atlantic? The list I have shows a whole bunch of WFAX stations over there.
I had no problems at all Carib - uk last summer. Degen 1103 plugged into the fm radio aerial. New orleans, then Boston then Northwood. Just caught Herb a few times but he seemed more involved with boats coming east to west. I did have satphone for that passage but ended up much prefering WFAX and not bothering with gribs. With the cost of airtime I would only download a grib for a small area around the boat (from mailasail - Global Weather Downloads (GRIB / Synoptic / Text)/ Express-Weather | The Weather Window). But these didn't show the big picture at all or the fronts so ended up not downloading any more gribs and going for wfax instead. Somehow it seemed like living more in the real world.
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Old 19-02-2011, 08:11   #74
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Sat phone is prohibitively expensive for us middle class sailors. SSB works wonderfully. I've had one for years, self-installed. You can get weatherfax chart printouts, sailmail, local weather broadcasts, cruising group info/chatter, and long range communication. You need a good SSB (ICOM), antenna unit, a PactorII modem, a sailmail account (for email anywhere on the planet), and a laptop computer. I've had very good luck with a twin lead antenna which simply slips over the backstay, no insulators and all those potential points of failure required. It is also potentially re-riggable should the mast YIKES! come down. No special license other than a mail-in with fee FCC operator's license needed unless you want to activate/use HAM channels.
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Old 19-02-2011, 08:36   #75
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I've never been anywhere I couldn't get good images from a weather fax station somewhere. Google rfax.pdf and you'll find the complete listing of times and frequencies worldwide.
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