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Old 10-02-2011, 15:50   #1
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Advice on Having SSB Aboard

Have been looking at a number of boats in USA . Not many seem to have ssb radio although they claim some long ocean passages in their pedigree.
I have been out of sailing for a number of years - it was if you went offshore an ssb radio was standard required equipment ( I'm from Australia ).
Is that no longer the case . I have been factoring in the cost of an ssb to any boats that dont have it.
What is your advise for presant day communications for open water passages ( or out of VHF range for that matter ).

Thanks in advance.

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Old 10-02-2011, 16:06   #2
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As far as I can tell, there are 2 camps. One is Satellite phone, and the other is SSB. One can get voice and email communications from either one. It comes down to preference and where you want your costs to be. SSB is up front cost, with around $250./yr. for sailmail, or free email if you also get a ham licence and a radio that supports it and a modem. Satellite is less up front cost, but continuing costs, based on plan and usage. With the phone, you can dial a # (if you know it) and be connected. SSB allows you to connect with other cruisers. Both can be used for email, weather faxes and routing. I decided to go the SSB route, your preference may differ. The best decision will be the one that works best for your individual situation.

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Old 10-02-2011, 16:11   #3
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Is that no longer the case . I have been factoring in the cost of an ssb to any boats that dont have it.
SSB is still popular. It comes in handy for regional crusiers radio nets and can transmit long distance and handle text email and GRB weather data across much of the globe cheaply. Sat phones do phone calls but not at a cheap price. Not everything is a phone call. A cell phone with global capacity works in most ports even if it is expensive it is a fraction of sat phone rate. SSB is bascially WW I technology done electronic but it works. There is an infrastructure behind it that isn't owned by one company.

I have been factoring in the cost of an ssb to any boats that dont have it.
I don't see that as a hard computation. Basic open water technolgy has not changed at all. Sat phones still cost a lot and are not without holes and issues. SSB is a bit more technical but not overly so considering all the technology you deal with just operating a boat given at times it is very important.

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Old 10-02-2011, 16:18   #4
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A lot of sailors are using satellite phones for long range communications instead of a SSB. The problem with this thinking is the same as using a cell phone instead of a VHF. Phones only call one person at a time, radio's call everybody in range and having the radio on. I personally would not go offshore without one as it gave us our position in Hurricane Alex and we were able to sail ourselves out of this storm. Also, you can get weather maps using your laptop and a free program called SeaTTY. Also you can participate in many of the cruising nets for info and help.
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Old 10-02-2011, 20:24   #5
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SSB is still popular.
while im a fan of SSB, I would dispute that statement, certainly in the ARC survey is anything to go by. In reality theres very little a satphone cant do for the average user, especially the non-radio techie user.

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Old 10-02-2011, 20:40   #6
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Originally Posted by mjwarner View Post
As far as I can tell, there are 2 camps.
Actually there are 3 camps... the 3rd is why bother with the other 2...
“I do not exist to impress the world.
I exist to live my life in a way that will make me happy. ”

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Old 10-02-2011, 20:50   #7
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SSB was not practical until 1930s and not wide spe=read until the 50's.
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Old 10-02-2011, 21:19   #8
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You are right as usual Boatman! I should have thought of that. Not to mention that a lot of offshore cruisers can't afford to go if the cost of either stands between them and casting off. As it is written: go small (and cheap) but GO NOW! Of course, I'm still glad to have mine. Do I feel safer? Nah, but I like the idea of being more in contact with the fam. and friends and other cruisers. If I didn't have one or the other, would I head offshore? Does a bear....
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Old 10-02-2011, 21:19   #9
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Originally Posted by boatman61 View Post
Originally Posted by mjwarner View Post
As far as I can tell, there are 2 camps.
Actually there are 3 camps... the 3rd is why bother with the other 2...

Unless the wife requires email for work during the next cruise, then we'll see.
A house is but a boat so poorly built and so firmly run aground no one would think to try and refloat it.
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Old 11-02-2011, 07:43   #10
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By the time one adds a car kit and marine antenna the upfront cost of a satellite phone starts to look a lot like an SSB. YMMV.
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Old 11-02-2011, 09:55   #11
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I have seen the value of SSB on delivery...without the guidance of a weather guru and the knowledge gained from listening to the weather reports of boats 50-100 NM around us, we would have had, I suspect, a far rougher time of it. Weatherfax/GRIB files also proved invaluable.

In addition, when we push off, we will be taking a son about 11 or 12 years of age. In order to continue with his education, we will need some form of email contact, and his social life (and ours!) will rely on some degree to various cruiser's nets, not to mention the utility in an increasingly troubled world of having the SSB to arrange and maintain "buddy boating" and yachts in convoy.

My question, therefore, is: do I bother with a satphone? I can see it for the ditch bag, but less for point-to-point calls, frankly. If I want to speak with anyone "live" (as opposed to e-mail), it can wait until I hit the shore or VOIP/Skype via WiFi in an anchorage. A satphone would have to get considerably cheaper before I would consider it an easy "yes".

Safety concerns and/or paranoia aside, one of the reasons I want to go on passage is to avoid having to answer the phone...
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Old 11-02-2011, 10:16   #12
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Do you like to talk? A lot of folks like the social interaction and feeling of being connected by voice. Those folks are going to tend to like the SSB a whole lot better than Sat phone.

If you're looking for a critical communication device, I think sat phones are better. They will be cheaper, less hassle, less complex and more versatile. That is to say, you're only using it in important situations, not calling back home to say hello every day. It assumes a hand held sat phone that you can put in the ditch bag, or take ashore in the dinghy. Heck, you can even call for a cab when you're in an out of the way spot and no one is listening to the VHF or SSB.

If you like to socially talk, SSB, Lot cheaper once you have it installed. No ongoing cost, unless you're doing email. If you're a ham, you know of course, no commercial type emails, i.e. checking on things in the office, can be done with the free version, have to get the paid version for that. Propagation and availability of a sail mail receiver is problamatic sometime. Pactor modems are also quite pricey.

I have an SSB. Will get a sat phone when I go cruising again.


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Old 11-02-2011, 10:19   #13
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I pulled my SSB out

And installed a very robust Fleet 33 Sat phone system. It works night and day. It doesn't care if the sun is rising or setting, if sun spot activity is up or down. SSB is obsolete technology. Go with the sat phone connection. You can make a call, receive email or get to the internet (all be it slowly). The SSB can be a fun cruising toy but if my butt depends on me getting a message through, I'll take the sat phone anytime!
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Old 11-02-2011, 11:03   #14
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We have both SSB & sat-phone. But we dropped service on the Sat Phone several years ago. Since they dropped the $300/200min deal, it costs ~$700 for a year's sat-phone service (or $500+$1.50/min). We got the sat-phone so friends & family could contact us easily (& expensively). Nobody ever used it - they just sent an email to our Winlink acct.

The SSB doesn't do everything Iridium does, but it's better for us. Which means it's probably a personal choice. How you like to communicate, & what options are you looking for? Do you like to talk to individuals ashore or surf the internet when you're in the middle of the ocean (sat-phone) or do you like to talk to the rest of the cruising community (SSB)?

FWIW, I'm told that if I dial 911 on my sat-phone, SOMEone will answer, even though service was dropped several years ago. Never tried, of course. Can anyone confirm or deny?
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Old 11-02-2011, 11:27   #15
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Ham radio is a lot cheaper way to go for long distance communication. A used Icom 718 and an AH-4 tuner will set you back something in the neighborhood of $700. Rig an antenna and a ground plane and you are in business. If you've got more money, a new Icom IC-7200 radio and SGC 230 tuner will get you up and running for a little over $1,500.00. You do need to get a ham license. Don't know about Oz but for the US there are a number of sites with practice exams. A serious day going through the exams will get you the ability to pass the General Exam, the minimum license for voice transmission.

Sat Phone is the most reliable, no brainer, pick it up and dial usage. The problem is they aren't cheap and everytime you open your mouth, it's dollars out of your wallet, and sometimes even if you stay mum. If you have a limited need to give people a call or a true emergency, they might have their place. Of course, if you have money to burn, go for it.

As others have said, if you want to talk with more than one person, want access to weather, marine nets, free email while underway, information about destinations further down the line and access to 100s of other cruisers out there, then a Ham radio makes sense. Marine HF radio will give you access to the ham frequencies if you have the proper licenses but at an added cost.

Then there is the option of relying on your Epirb for emergencies. The quiet and no need to get on the radio does have it's merits.

Peter O.
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