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Old 13-04-2011, 11:34   #1
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Best Ham Radio Options

hey folks,

I recently got my ham ticket, and now I'm researching the best option for an onboard radio.

my instructor says that the best option is to just go straight for the icom m-802, just bite the bullet and pay for it.

I'm tempted, but I also see these "portable" options from Yaesu that seem like they might fit the bill as well...?

then of course there's always buying used gear, like an icom 702 or something...

I've got a blank slate here. I'm hoping to use my radio to keep in touch with family, download grib files, and email - though the idea of paying an extra thousand for a pactor modem when I could just be using packet/psk31 (I'm a unix/networking guy by trade) leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

ham guys, what do you recommend? if you were starting from scratch right now, what would you install, and why?
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Old 13-04-2011, 12:27   #2
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I would just use a nice ham rig like a Yaesu FT-897 or Icom 706 or 718. Couple one of those to an autotuner, and if you really want to email a Pactor modem with appropriate cables. You might get by with using Winmor and a soundcard instead of a Pactor modem, but i would be sure to spend some time trying it out before relying on it. PSK31 and like modes are are fine for one on one chats, but PSKmail is pretty slow with few stations outside of Europe to connect to when I looked into it.

Chip
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Old 13-04-2011, 12:29   #3
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Re: best ham radio options?

You will get a wide range of advice. Here is my set up, Alinco dx70(not the best radio but I got a great buy on it),LDG Z100 tuner(eBay),LDG 1:1 balun, random wire(#14 copper) from stern radar tower to mast head. I tied the stern push pit,swim ladder and a thru hull to the ground side of the balun. Works like a champ. Talked to NY, NM,OH, Southern Calif from Portland,OR. Yes I know propagation is every thing. I can use the Alinco at home, in the car, camping etc. When you get on the air let me know. Most weekends I am on the boat and the radio is on.
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Old 13-04-2011, 12:32   #4
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The Icom IC-7200 would also make a nice boat rig, and the Kenwood TS-480HX too.
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Old 13-04-2011, 12:39   #5
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Re: best ham radio options?

I would look hard at the ICOM 7200. It has a USB sound interface, which makes using the radio with Winmor a breeze, according to what I have read on the Winmor yahoo group. It is also sort of rugged, which in my mind is a plus.

I Have a Kenwood TS-480SAT. The split rig is nice, but the use of phone cord as a connector is a bit flimsy. I would only consider this if you have a safe, dry place for the radio and head unit.

Chris
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Old 13-04-2011, 12:43   #6
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Re: best ham radio options?

You've got your ham license, why go for a marine HF?? They are somewhat more water resistant than a ham radio but two to three times the cost. Also tuning on the ham bands, where you'll spend most of your time, can be a hassle with a marine radio optimized for push button channels.

You can buy an ICOM 718 Ham radio for around $600 new/$400 used, open it up to transmit on all HF frequencies, which is super easy to do, and you are good to go. It's a basic, simple radio with full time transmit capability needed for use with Pactor Modems. Doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, just works. It also doesn't take an EE degree and dedicated study of the manual to filter through multiple level menus to to do the simplest commands. Legally, you can't transmit on the marine frequencies EXCEPT in an emergency but that's the only time I'd want to use the Marine Frequencies. You'll find all the Maritime Mobile Nets, Email, etc on the Ham frequencies. With the demise of the Marine Commercial Stations, there very little happening on the Marine channels. I bought my 718 used for $425 already opened up. Communicated all the way to Hawaii on the Maritime Mobile nets and occasional contacts all the way to the east coast. Worked well with the Pactor II modem to send email.

If you want a better, and more complicated radio, the ICOM 7200 is around $1200 new. It's got the best of the new technology and front panel is marinized to protect against water intrusion.

FWIW, I haven't had a problem with corrosion on either of my Ham radios. Don't mount the radio where it will get a straight shot of salt water and it will probably outlive you.

Get the SGC 230 antenna tuner, whatever you do. It's reputed to be the best out there and works with any radio should you decide to make a change. It tunes from the RF output of the radio not some proprietary switching circuit like the ICOM and probably other radio manufacturer's tuners. Just get a good ground plane and it's plug and play.

Aloha
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:29   #7
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Re: best ham radio options?

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Originally Posted by roverhi View Post
You've got your ham license, why go for a marine HF??
I heard that if you hold down the "2", "MODE" and "TX" buttons when you power on the M-802, you open it up to transmit on all frequencies...? Isn't that the same thing as a classical "ham" radio, or am I missing something? I'm new to this stuff.

Basically I'd like to get something that isn't going to corrode to non-working within a year or two... my boat isn't the dryest. It sounds like your experience is that this isn't a problem at all?

Thanks to everyone for your input, lots to think about.
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:34   #8
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

I've never regretted getting an 802. It's a very good radio and gets used on ham frequencies more than marine, but it keeps on ticking even when the batteries are really really low. I have had a Pactor modem so long it only cost me about 500USD but that was a lot of money back then.

I have a Kenwood TS450SAT I use for IOTA and field day. I wouldn't use a ham radio at sea.

73 es sail fast, dave KO4MI
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:45   #9
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

I have a power boat and I use a Kenwood TS-440SAT to a MFJ-949E tuner. I have a 23 ft Shakespeare 393 HF antenna and the KISS SSB counterpoise. For the PSK31 part, I use a Tigertronics SignaLink USB modem and my Lenovo T60 laptop. Works good for me..........LL
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:50   #10
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Re: best ham radio options?

Quote:
Originally Posted by drew23 View Post
Basically I'd like to get something that isn't going to corrode to non-working within a year or two... my boat isn't the dryest.
The M802 is a two piece system, remote control head unit and transceiver unit. The transceiver unit is not water resistant at all and has venting slots on each side and internal fan. The remote head is not gasketed either although I would say it is somewhat splashproof. The M710 is a well gasketed rig although it also has an internal fan but has only one smaller vent on the bottom. Either will work fairly well on the ham bands with the M802 being easier but neither is a "ham rig" and lack the many user controls available on most ham rigs.

Dave, do you know your transmitting AIS from dry land down there?

Eric
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:51   #11
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

My 718 has been on the boat for 4 years and a TransPac without any problems. Before that, had an Atlas 715 for two years of cruising SoPac with no issues on our previous boat. Don't think any radio will survive a direct shot of salt water. Marine radios may be better at day to day life on the water because they do make some effort to seal them but they aren't water proof. The problem is the marine radios cost so damn much. You can buy 3-4 718's for the cost of an 802. The 7200 apparently has the same weather resistant front panel engineering as the 802 at 2/3rd the cost.

I'm not familiar with tuning the 802 for other than Marine channels. Have heard that many of the marine radios are very inconvenient to tune outside the preset channel selector, however. If you must have a Marine radio, would want to actually use one and see how easy it is to tune through the ham bands.

Be sure that any radio you buy has the constant transmit capability needed with a Modem.
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Old 13-04-2011, 14:15   #12
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

G'Day Drew,

Here are some more anecdotal musings...

We had an "opened" Icom 735 on our previous boat. Bought new in 1986 when we left for Mexico, still on the boat (working) in 2004 when we sold her. One visit to a tech when an RF feedback problem developed. He couldn't fix it, but a few months later it went away on its own. Go figger!

Bought an Icom 746 for the new boat, paid the extra for a master oscillator crystal oven which brings its frequency stability up to marine radio standards. Still on theboat and working fine.

In both cases I opted for a manual tuner (MFJ Versa Tuner because of reliability issues with auto tuners that I've personally observed on other boats over the years, and this works well for me.

As to the 802 -- well, this will likely ruffle a few feathers, but out in the long term cruising world where we are, the 802 has been an extremely troublesome machine. A rather large percentage of my own friends who have had them have had multiple problems with these radios. The well known "clipping" issue has affected nearly every one. Some have been successfully cured by trips to the factory, others have had less success. There are warranty problems if you have traveled away from the country of purchase, resulting in international shipping costs and delays. Icom can be a difficult company to deal with.

Finally, I find the 802's menu structure to be very cumbersome for ham usage. A radio where the frequently adjusted controls are actual knobs and buttons on the front panel is far more friendly to me. YMMV.

The SCS modem is pricey, but is about the most reliable bit of electronics available. I have not ever heard of a hardware problem with one, and that is pretty amazing considering the number that are out on cruising boats.

Cheers and 73 de Jim N9GFT/VK4GFT M/M
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Old 13-04-2011, 14:43   #13
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

I have an Icom 706MKIIG and a 718.

IC-718 is good for a desk radio and works pretty good and HF only. the 706 I have has VHF/UHF too. For a boat, I would probably lean towards the 706 radios. It has a detachable front panel. The main radio and electronics could be mounted out of sight and you could keep the front panel at the nav station where you're operating.
For digital modes, I've used soundcard programs which work pretty good. I recently started using an SCS modem. Like mentioned before, it is pricey but works pretty good.
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Old 13-04-2011, 15:15   #14
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

If you want to transmit on marine frequencies, get a marine radio -- it's the law for a reason.

My IC-700Pro came with all the ham frequencies already open, so I'm pretty sure the 802's are the same. I hear 802's on ham frequencies all the time. Just make sure the one you get had already had the clipping mod -- free from Icom.

However, if you'd prefer a ham rig, try the Icom IC-7000. I just got one and love it. It works on HF/VHF/UHF. So, now I've got an IC-M700Pro and an IC-7000 on the boat. The 7000's a mobile unit, so you can carry it with you and use it in your home/car too. The other good thing about the 7000 is that it's all DSP, so all the filters are already built in -- you don't need to buy anything else. Filters really help out on crowded ham bands.

hth...
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Old 13-04-2011, 15:19   #15
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Re: Best Ham Radio Options

I've used ham radios on sailboats since 1969. That's 42 years. I install them on client's boats, too, and service them...as well as marine radios.

In my experience, ham radios hold up VERY well in the marine environment, provided you keep salt water...not salt air....off of them. Keep 'em dry, and they'll last a very long time.

The choice between a ham radio and a marine radio with ham capability (and most of them can be made to operate on the ham bands, too) should be dependent on what you plan to do with it. For real "hamming", i.e., cruising up and down the ham bands, listening and making contacts, DX-ing, etc., you simply can't beat a real ham radio....even a simple one like the 718. I once installed a 718 next to an Icom 710 on a large motorsailor exactly for this reason; the captain was a ham and wanted to do some real hamming. As Erik said, ham radios also have many controls that are lacking with marine radios, some of which are very useful on the ham bands.

If you intend to operate on the marine bands regularly -- not just in an emergency -- then you really ought to have a marine radio. Some are decent performers on the ham bands. The 802 is one. The 700Pro, 710, older 600 and 800, and others are OK for net operations on the ham bands, but not really convenient for "real hamming". The Yaesu FT-600 and the Kenwood TKM-707 are much better in this regard, both doing ham operation pretty well with real VFOs.

There are dozens of used ham and marine radios on the market; you don't have to buy a new one unless you want. Older radios in good condition will last many, many years. Among the 25 HF radios in my shop (ham, marine, military, land mobile) there are radios which are 50 years old and which perform like new, including my collector-condition RE Collins KWM-2A.

For a new ham/sailor, I'd recommend you just go ahead and get your feet wet with any radio you find at a reasonable cost. As suggested above, be sure to get a SG-230 tuner ($499 new) because: (1) it's the best tuner on the market; (2) it can be used with ANY HF radio; and (3) it's been around for over 20 years virtually unchanged (mine on the boat is 22 years old and working perfectly).

Last thought: don't rule out the case Don mentioned, i.e., of having BOTH a marine SSB and a ham rig aboard. I do, and it's very convenient. Also, you can get both a good used marine radio and a good used ham radio for much less than the cost of an 802.

FWIW,

Bill
WA6CCA
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