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Old 19-04-2015, 05:59   #1
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Communications equipment

I'm getting my Ericson 35 ready for some long-distance cruising in the Pacific. The comms gear I have onboard right now consists of:

* Old-school VHF: one fixed, one hand-held.
* A Garmin GPS plotter of mid-2000s vintage and a handheld unit
* GPS and VHF antennas
* Portable all-wave receiver with SSB. YachtBoy something or other.

My current plan is:
* replace the VHF with a Standard Horizon unit that has DSC, GPS and AIS receiver,
* add an EPIRB,
* add a satellite messaging gadget like DeLorme inReach,
* make a simple antenna for the SSB receiver that can be hoisted on a flag halyard

One thing I'm debating is whether to add an SSB tranceiver or not. On one hand, I know how to use this stuff. On the other, it's an $5k project to do it right (backstay antenna, tuner, ground etc), and while it's a bearable cost per se, maybe I should rather spend it on, I don't know, a better anchor, really nice stove, new genoa - stuff like that.

Questions to the collective wisdom of this community:
* am I right about how much SSB costs?
* is it going to make my life afloat that much better/safer/more fun/???
* does my plan above make sense to you in the context of a "spend a sane amount of money and go now" strategy?
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Old 19-04-2015, 06:05   #2
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Re: Communications equipment

I'd consider skipping the in reach and investing in a sat phone or iridium go. The set up cost will only be a few hundred bucks more, ongoing costs about the same with the ability to send and receive information, weather, SOS, etc. then there's really no need to bother with the ssb unless you want to chat
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Old 19-04-2015, 06:52   #3
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Re: Communications equipment

It's always a challenge to know what equipment to buy, given the amazing array of electronic goodies these days!

But, it's important to prioritize, give the type of cruising you're planning. For you, planning long-distance sailing in the Pacific, I'd do the following:

1. Modern VHF with DSC -- the VHF is the most important piece of communications gear aboard; don't compromise.

2. AIS -- I'd go for a standalone AIS transceiver, not just a reciever. The transmit portion is an important safety feature because it often helps AIS-equipped vessels, especially ships, to see and avoid you.

3. SSB - in my opinion, is more useful and important than a satphone PROVIDED that it's installed well and you have practice in using it. You can go for a full-blown 802/140 setup installed professionally for about $5000 or you can go for a used ham rig or older marine SSB for much less. These latter won't have HF-DSC capability which might come in handy in the Pacific, but they're still very useful.

4. Satphone - these can be great for calling home or even in emergencies, but as many have found they're nowhere near as reliable in actual operation as most folks believe.

5. Email via HF radio (ham and marine) or via satphone can be quite useful as well. Pactor modems cost a bundle, but are extremely efficient.

That's my list. I'm assuming that you have a 406 EPIRB already, as that's a critical piece of gear.

Bill
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Old 19-04-2015, 06:58   #4
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Re: Communications equipment

Don't know from where you got a cost of $5000 for an HF (SSB) receiver and antenna but that is an order of magnitude higher than reality. You don't need a tuner or an isolated back stay antenna simply to receive. Virtually any random length wire of reasonable size will suffice.
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Old 19-04-2015, 07:11   #5
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Re: Communications equipment

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Originally Posted by S/V Illusion View Post
Don't know from where you got a cost of $5000 for an HF (SSB) receiver and antenna but that is an order of magnitude higher than reality. You don't need a tuner or an isolated back stay antenna simply to receive. Virtually any random length wire of reasonable size will suffice.
The OP asked about two-way SSB communications, not receive only.

The receive-only remark pertained to AIS, not SSB.

And, FYI, $5000 is a pretty good guesstimate of the all-in cost of a professionally installed M802/AT140 system. How do I know? I've done dozens of them.

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Old 19-04-2015, 07:33   #6
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Re: Communications equipment

I'm in a similar boat regarding long range comms. We've decided to wait and see regarding the whole SSB transceiver/satallite-phone thing. We're slowly making our way further afield, and instead of trying to anticipate our needs, we're waiting to see what actually transpire. I'm more drawn to an HF setup b/c of operating costs, but I'm just not sure, so we're going to wait and learn what we actually need.

I've costed a new SSB system to be about $5k. Of course if all you want is a receiver then you can get one with an external antenna for a few hundred bucks. I will probably do this first.

VHF is an absolute must, and I really like the new Standard Horizon VHF with GPS and AIS receive built in. Not a fan of transmitting my AIS data (yes, I understand the issues). We also have a inReach so people we know can follow our progress. You can send text messages to individuals or groups. The cost is fairly small to buy and operate (depending on the package).
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Old 19-04-2015, 07:42   #7
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Re: Communications equipment

Quote:
Originally Posted by RedHerring View Post
I'm getting my Ericson 35 ready for some long-distance cruising in the Pacific. The comms gear I have onboard right now consists of:

* Old-school VHF: one fixed, one hand-held.
* A Garmin GPS plotter of mid-2000s vintage and a handheld unit
* GPS and VHF antennas
* Portable all-wave receiver with SSB. YachtBoy something or other.

My current plan is:
* replace the VHF with a Standard Horizon unit that has DSC, GPS and AIS receiver,
* add an EPIRB,
* add a satellite messaging gadget like DeLorme inReach,
* make a simple antenna for the SSB receiver that can be hoisted on a flag halyard

One thing I'm debating is whether to add an SSB tranceiver or not. On one hand, I know how to use this stuff. On the other, it's an $5k project to do it right (backstay antenna, tuner, ground etc), and while it's a bearable cost per se, maybe I should rather spend it on, I don't know, a better anchor, really nice stove, new genoa - stuff like that.

Questions to the collective wisdom of this community:
* am I right about how much SSB costs?
* is it going to make my life afloat that much better/safer/more fun/???
* does my plan above make sense to you in the context of a "spend a sane amount of money and go now" strategy?
Actually I consider SSB to be a very useful tool in the Pacific, in particular. This is because you will be able to join radio nets which will connect you with dozens of other sailing craft making the crossing, and in your vicinity. This may well prove invaluable for assistance and advice, but also possibly for rescue, as you will be very far from ordinary shipping lanes and very far beyond SAR aircraft cover. If you get into serious trouble halfway between Galapagos and the Marquesas or Gambiers, you will likely find that another sailor with whom you have been in contact daily may be your best bet for assistance, as they may only be hours or a day or so away. Further, a DSC distress sent on a properly set up SSB will light up the sets, with loud audible alarms, of every equipped yacht AND commercial vessel for thousands of miles. Most importantly it will do so for those within the ground wave vicinity, so the nearest 300 to 500 miles. The expense of installation varies, but the cost of use is, rather importantly, pragmatically nil.

With regard to EPIRBs, I would strongly encourage you to equip your craft with more than one. A compact one packed into your life raft to ensure that you have at least SOME means of comms should a fire force you suddenly from the boat (a very possible scenario), but also because MRCC stations are much more likely to initiate a long range SAR operation if the signal of distress they are receiving is adequately confirmed. I have witnessed quite a few false firings of EPIRBS, including one incident where I was stood by by the French MRCC in Biscay, along with another responding vessel, until that vessel was informed by the authorities that, not only did they happen to be right on station, but they were themselves the casualty. The weather was stinking and their EPIRB had been knocked from the rail without their knowledge. MRCCs MAY WELL merely issue an alert for one EPIRB fired in an extremely remote area, but not launch a rescue operation without corroborating evidence of a true emergency, on account of the cost of such an operation if no vessels can easily be tasked to the casualty and no corroborating other signals are received. But if two EPIRB signals are received, then this will confirm emergency and initiate a more robust response. You can always then turn the second EPIRB off after an hour or two of transmission, and stagger its signal with the operation of the first.

Corroborating signals can also be from Satphone or SSB or similar. Remember the the latter will require the rig to be intact. I would check any non GMDSS type equipment such as Spotlocators or InReach (I am not sure whether this latter is but I doubt it) for their actual coverage area. Spot relies on the Globalstar satellite system and is simply not supported through more than 50% of the whole Pacific, North and South.

I would strongly recommend a compact satellite phone to be kept in a Peli or similar hard waterproof case in the grab bag. I do not agree with the other poster about their "unreliability". They are extremely reliable and highly functional and I have used satcomms professionally for many years. Occasionally calls may be a bit unclear or dropped, but this is a minor inconvenience.

Remember NOTHING communicates long range distress and its nature like the voice, and so SSB and Satphone are invaluable tools. Your distress may well be medical. UK flagged vessels have the distinct felicity of having 3 radiomedically qualified doctors on 24/7 standby accessible by both SSB, and more reliably Satphone. Very useful in the wilderness. There may be other services you can avail youself of, similar, but not if you cant, if you get my meaning.

In any case, the ONLY guarantee of initiating a proper SAR to your distress is if it is a corroborated distress, so received from MORE than simply one EPIRB.

Of course everything costs money, but in the Pacific in particular it would be foolish to skimp on long range comms. I rather disagree with the previous poster suggesting VHF is the most important tool. In the Pacific, you will spend many days and often weeks at a time without having the slightest use for your VHF as there will be nobody remotely close to the line of sight necessary. A good VHF is very useful for Bridge to Bridge comms, especially for pilotage or to request mild assistance or intentions at close quarters. It is totally useless as a long range comms or distress system, unless close by a well equipped coast guard or other monitoring coastal station. Of course DO have one on board as standard in any case, as it is invaluable for intership and ship to shore at close quarters, particularly at anchor.
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Old 19-04-2015, 07:48   #8
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Re: Communications equipment

Having crossed a lot of blue water. I'd say a iridium satphone ( and no other ) is a good reasonable compromise for long distance comms. I've not found HF much use. But. Have found amateur frequencies a bit more useful.
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Old 19-04-2015, 07:58   #9
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Re: Communications equipment

InReach uses Iridium network. Therefore - in theory - same coverage as an Iridium satphone.

In practice, of course, it's a small transmitter with puny power source and a tiny antenna, up to a thousand kilometers away from the receiver. Some people have them as a minimum official requirement for long range comms in offshore rallies, so they are probably good enough. If I go the satellite route, I'd be buying something slightly more serious.
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Old 19-04-2015, 09:42   #10
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Re: Communications equipment

Quote:
Originally Posted by RedHerring View Post
My current plan is:
* replace the VHF with a Standard Horizon unit that has DSC, GPS and AIS receiver,
* add an EPIRB,
* add a satellite messaging gadget like DeLorme inReach,
* make a simple antenna for the SSB receiver that can be hoisted on a flag halyard
Hi RedHerring!

I think your plan is completely fine and perfect for efficiently spending money.

I don't agree that you 'need' two EPIRBs, an AIS transceiver (especially for the practically deserted South Pacific!), a DSC SSB, or an Iridium radio more hardcore than a DeLorne. You mention your boat could use a better anchor or sails -- those are a heck of a lot more important and relevant to your safety and comfort than adding a third and fourth way to call for help.

Keep in the back of your mind that you can make a perfectly workable budget ham radio rig for ~$500. Get a used Icom 718 (or similar) and make a split vertical dipole antenna tuned for the Pacific Seafarers net. Ham radio folks are a friendly bunch and you can probably find someone at a local club who'd be happy to help you set that up. Yes, it's not as perfect or luxurious or amazing in an emergency as the $5k DSC SSB with a tuner and backstay antenna. But it's also 90% of the usefulness (and 100% of the fun) at 1/10th the cost. I feel an HF radio is fun but not Necessary, especially if you will have some kind of Iridium in addition to an EPIRB.

Anyways, enjoy this period of wrapping up all the details before you shove off. Have fun out there.
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Old 19-04-2015, 11:21   #11
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Re: Communications equipment

I think your plan is excellent. In Reach is much more reliable than satellite voice comms just like SMS works on a mobile phone with a signal too weak for voice. It will try and retry and get the message through. Excellent device to have on board. Consider also Yellow Brick.

SSB transceiver is also great, especially if you can swing for a used M802 with DSC. You can do it for a lot less than $5k if you have time to install yourself and experiment with antenna setups. A wire parallel backstay may be much cheaper than insulating the backstay.

One of the greatest (of many) applications of SSB is for text-only email. Get a ham license and use Winlink for free. Pactor is great, and used PIIs and PIIIs are much cheaper now that Dragon is out. Or if your budget is really tight, you can use Winmor - no hardware required -- on Winlink.

I echo comments above about PLB in your life jacket to back up your EPIRB. Cheap insurance against the unthinkable.

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Old 20-04-2015, 00:07   #12
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Re: Communications equipment

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Hi RedHerring!

I think your plan is completely fine and perfect for efficiently spending money.

I don't agree that you 'need' two EPIRBs, an AIS transceiver (especially for the practically deserted South Pacific!), a DSC SSB, or an Iridium radio more hardcore than a DeLorne. You mention your boat could use a better anchor or sails -- those are a heck of a lot more important and relevant to your safety and comfort than adding a third and fourth way to call for help.

Keep in the back of your mind that you can make a perfectly workable budget ham radio rig for ~$500. Get a used Icom 718 (or similar) and make a split vertical dipole antenna tuned for the Pacific Seafarers net. Ham radio folks are a friendly bunch and you can probably find someone at a local club who'd be happy to help you set that up. Yes, it's not as perfect or luxurious or amazing in an emergency as the $5k DSC SSB with a tuner and backstay antenna. But it's also 90% of the usefulness (and 100% of the fun) at 1/10th the cost. I feel an HF radio is fun but not Necessary, especially if you will have some kind of Iridium in addition to an EPIRB.

Anyways, enjoy this period of wrapping up all the details before you shove off. Have fun out there.
Perhaps you may have misread my submission. I did not say that he "needed" to have two EPIRBs. Only that it is strongly recommended, but even more recommended to have at least one PLUS an additional long range comms system (IMHO preferably Iridium Satphone) in order to have a means to confirm or corroborate a distress, and for the extremely important long range voice comms option in case of the likes of a medical emergency. Ideal to have it all. But order of priority (assuming VHF as standard): 1. EPIRB 2. Iridium Satphone. 3. HF Radio 4. Additional EPIRB. Additional EPIRB can and likely should be a PLB which can be attached to the lifejacket of the current watch in rota, shorthanded. In this way it would double as MOB locator for SAR purposes where your own boat is the primary rescue vessel, as it would be. A call can be made to the registered MRCC authority if crew has fallen off, via voice long range comms, and they can be traced via PLB as necessary. However I do consider it essential to have at least ONE EPIRB PLUS one further method of long range comms. Plenty sail without them. Many have disappeared without trace.

I would add a further piece of kit, which I now consider vital and superbly useful: laser flares. One or two laser flares, of the type made by Greatland Laser in Alaska, are fantastically useful MOB recovery and general distress and signalling tools. They have a many mile long range, a beam spread at 15 degrees to increase ease of signalling, have a 40 hour lifespan, and won't set your damn liferaft aflame if used in it. Pyrotechnics, by comparison, are nearly useless, and maybe worse than that. They have a short shelf life, a tiny running time, mostly less than 1 minute, and really the supposed "rescue" ship or plane's watch must be turned more or less directly at the flare area to notice it. By contrast a laser can be aimed continuously at the bridge of a passing vessel, has more useful life than 50 times the whole standard offshore pyrotechnic locker, is waterproof to 60 meters (I take them diving and freediving whenever I go) and will not burn your boat or liferaft! Of course they are not cheap, but they are tiny (size of your thumb) and extremely effective and long lived, and in terms of reliability, and total run time, they are MUCH cheaper than pyros. If two, they can be permanently carried attached to the lifejackets of deck crew on lanyards, or else are small enough to be attached to swimsuits. Crew of mine have frequently had them in a small holster on a bikini. Great piece of kit. Most useful tool for MOB reaquisition and hugely versatile for general distress signalling.

Finally for both MOB and lifraft/casualty SAR signalling the likes of an ACR AIS SART would be very useful as well, but is fairly far down the wish list, so number 7 after the 5 preceding plus an AIS transciever somewhere in the middle.
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Old 20-04-2015, 00:40   #13
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Re: Communications equipment

I've been pondering similar questions.

Bang for buck and flexibility I would take a hard look at the irridum go.

Here's a nice article :
Iridium GO! + PredictWind for Totem’s Indian Ocean debut | Sailfeed


Ld
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Old 20-04-2015, 00:51   #14
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Re: Communications equipment

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I would add a further piece of kit, which I now consider vital and superbly useful: laser flares. One or two laser flares, of the type made by Greatland Laser in Alaska, are fantastically useful MOB recovery and general distress and signalling tools. They have a many mile long range, a beam spread at 15 degrees to increase ease of signalling, have a 40 hour lifespan, and won't set your damn liferaft aflame if used in it.
That is, of course, a 40 hour lifespan PER BATTERY.
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Old 20-04-2015, 04:06   #15
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Re: Communications equipment

About PLB on a watch lifejacket. What I like about DeLorme products is that they can serve as both PLB and a text messenger.

Also, I would like to thank you, the collective wisdom of this community, for providing me with all the information I need to make decisions.
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