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Old 18-11-2010, 05:30   #1
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Get Another SSB or Go for a Sat Phone ?

My radio GuRu has pronounced my 24 year old side band as officially dead

I've been perusing the net for a new one and the choices are overwhelming! Aside from being a LOT smaller, they do a LOT more, and I really don't know how to use a lot of the "modern" conveniences.

THEN a schmuck shows me a sat-phone.... CRIPES!

Choices, choices! What's an old timer to do?
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Old 18-11-2010, 05:55   #2
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Well which one to pick will depend on what the old timer wants to do, the old timer's budget and skills.

Satphone is pretty no brainer to use, works globally with few problems but if you use it much will cost you.

SSB depending on band and ionosphere conditions can have range limitations and sometimes hard to get through. But much cheaper if you use it a lot and also let's you connect directly to other cruisers, cruising nets, etc.

If the budget is unlimited get both.
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Old 18-11-2010, 07:05   #3
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Hi George,

We are at a moment in history when the old and new are in balance.
But HF radio will definitly die as a safety device if it hasn't already.
For cruisers nets it may last longer till someone invents that thing on a sat phone platform.

We have a Sat Phone which is now out of coverage area Thuraya, however I can still use it for emergency calls (I think) on 112 and 911.
When we were in coverage area I had SMS contact with mu sister in Australia for 50 cents per sms and she could send to me free via their website.

When Nicolle had to make an emergency phone call in the Gulf of Aden to report a pirate attack that was actually occuring her call clicked through instantly and she had perfect voice comes with exactly the right person. Just like a cell phone at home.

As a safety device its unbeatable.

I havent used it to download weather as I dont have a data cable.
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Old 18-11-2010, 07:28   #4
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Hi George,

We are at a moment in history when the old and new are in balance.
But HF radio will definitly die as a safety device if it hasn't already.
For cruisers nets it may last longer till someone invents that thing on a sat phone platform. .....
I disagree. HF radio, including both marine SSB and amateur radio, are alive and well. There's little sign of their decline. In fact, both are GROWING. There is an active interest in ham radio and in marine SSB by the present community of cruising sailors, and for good reason.

HF radio is an excellent safety device. Many, perhaps most, of the distress calls from small pleasure vessels on the high seas are via HF radio. Communications with most of the vessels in distress are via HF radio. The USCG regularly uses HF radio, including ham radio frequencies, in assisting vessels in distress on the high seas.

Satphones are great -- I've had and used one for many years -- but comparing them to HF radio is apples and oranges.

- communications via satphone are point-to-point; no one except the person at the other end can hear you. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes it's not good, because you could be cutting out of the communication vessels or authorities who could provide assistance

- HF radio is an excellent medium for obtaining daily weather information, navigational warnings, safety and security information, making contact with other vessels, etc., etc. It can be used for email as well.

These are complementary technologies. As someone said above, if you can afford both, by all means do so. If not, and depending on your cruising style and plans, many will find that HF radio is the more useful device -- and more often actually used -- than are satphones.

Bottom line: it's not about old and new technologies competing. Rather, it's about choosing the correct tool for the job(s) at hand.

Bill
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Old 18-11-2010, 08:15   #5
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As I have posted on this forum in the past the I believe the SSB has been made obsolete by sat phones. The SSB is extremely unreliable because of propogation issues.

On our Atlantic crossing this summer we had both. With the sat phone I could call my wife, children, parents, etc. whenever I wanted to. In turn they could call me.. Additionally, I could download email and GRIB files very efficiently using the XGATE software. Communication is available everywhere on the planet for a Iridium phone.

The SSB was a source of frustration and from day-to-day, we did not know what the conditions would be for use and half the time we could not communicate with Herb. Others near us had exactly the same issues. The SSB was good for ship-to-ship communication but even that was unreliable from day-to-day as we talked with a party 3 days behind us.

Also, consider if you end up in a life raft...we had a waterproof bag next to the sat phone station just in case. Cannot do this with a SSB radio. The sat phone was instantly available and was a higher priority than the ditch bag.
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Old 18-11-2010, 08:24   #6
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Ok, thanks..... To be more specific:
My cruising is mostly island hopping from Key West to places within a 500 mile radius. Once I retire (3 years) I may expand on that. So far, the VHF has sufficed for cruiser net type comms. I never had any data capability on my old HF, so I've not used sailmail etc. However I see that I would once I had the hardware.

The biggest draw (to me) for the Sat-phone is the ability to operate without the boat (the dreaded abandon ship scenario). I have had 3 go down on me in my years on the water, and NONE lasted more that a few minutes from discovery to gone.

I would say my primary long range commo interest would be emergencies, followed by "we're OK" check-ins with family ashore. We have a SPOT on the boat now which works well for that too. My 3rd use would be for procuring spare parts when in remote areas.

My understanding is both platforms offer data ability for WX, email, SMS, etc.
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Old 18-11-2010, 08:29   #7
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Many, perhaps most, of the distress calls from small pleasure vessels on the high seas are via HF radio.

Would'nt EPIRB have taken over by now?

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The USCG regularly uses HF radio, including ham radio frequencies, in assisting vessels in distress on the high seas.
Bill
Good the USCG is The US is just about on their own, unfortunately, as it seems most have dumped it and use VHF for short range and sat for everything else.

Ships don't use HF for rescues, they use AMVER which is the US satellite system exchanges information with the Japanese Ship Reporting System (JASREP), the Australian Ship Reporting System (AUSREP), the Chilean Ship Reporting System (CHILREP), and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MAREP).
The whole systems work only by satellite as they take automated location reports from all ships all the time. When a rescue mission occurs their computer identifies the closest ships and they are contacted with the SAR details by email.

The only time someone starts talking, as far as I know, is when the ship lobs the first line over and then yells into the VHF: 'I claim salvage of you!'


That anyone sits around listening to 2182 is almost incomprehensible in oceans less traveled by yachts than the eastern seaboard of the USA.
Indeed, Australia has no person listening to high seas HF for Mayday calls! "continuous automated watch of HF digital selective calling (DSC) frequencies for distress calls". Unless you have the Distress button and use it you won't be heard! As far as I know few cruisers regularly scan the distress frequencies while at sea.
Aussie states provide "HF aural watchkeeping services". However as they only operate to 200nms and do not reply to non emergency calls getting a radio check from them is impossible.


In seconds a Sat phone can call +612 6230 6811 and have an Australian duty officer in the command centre on the line. Or whatever mob you run with. Just keep the number somewhere waterproof


There is only 1 HF email transponder in the Indonesia - India - Oman area. I think that was pretty flakey 12 months ago and unlikely to have gotten better.


If the USA is the last bastion of HF MARINE use (ham is a different thing) then folks going further afield must consider their options.

Lets look at one last issue. Cost.
If Satellite phone costs in hardware and usage plummet to anything like Cell phones and USB internet modems then there will be lots of Icom 802's with $5,000 price tags heading for the bargain bin.

That will be the turning point. Whether that happens next year or in 5 years is the question.


Perhaps that may mean some cheap HF radios on the market so cruisers can still have fun with nets.


Mark
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Old 18-11-2010, 11:05   #8
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Well, we just gotta disagree on several points.

Folks are gonna believe what they're gonna believe, no matter the facts.

FACT #1: marine nets for cruisers are active all over the world, not just in the US.

FACT #2: these take place on both the marine HF/SSB frequencies and the ham HF/SSB frequencies.

FACT #3: while propagation has been pretty bad the past couple of years -- with the deepest and longest sunspot minima seen thus far -- nevertheless daily communication between boats and between boats and shore stations is the norm.

FACT #4: we're finally beginning to come out of the sunspot slump; propagation is getting better, signals are getting stronger on average. We can expect this trend to continue for several years.

FACT #5: many cruising boats from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean are in DAILY contact on both ham and marine nets. Their numbers are INCREASING, not decreasing. If you care to verify this, instead of taking someone's word for it, just listen in on the ham WaterWay Net (7268kHz LSB @ 0745EST) and/or the marine Cruizheimer's Net (6516kHz USB @ 0830EST). Some of the ham and marine nets in operation can be found on Pactor-II/III Radio Modem sales, FCC License filing, Marine SSB & HAM Radio Net schedules &amp frequencies.

FACT #6: these nets provide not only social contact but weather information, medical advice on occasion, navigational information, safety and security information, etc.

FACT #7: you can't access these nets from a satphone.

FACT #8: voice SSB installations do not have to be $5,000 802-type. There are lots of very good used marine SSB radios to be had for $350 up.

FACT #9: the inability of one or more boats on passage to make contact with Herb (Southbound II operating on 12359kHz USB from Ontario) really says very little about the value of SSB. In fact, the inability to make contacts more often relates to inexperience and poor installations.

FACT #10: a ham license is extremely valuable to cruisers. HOWEVER, in an extreme emergency under the international regulations a vessel in distress may use ANY MEANS to attract attention and get help, including use of the ham bands by non-hams.

That said, there is no question that satphones have a place and are valuable assets, including in some -- not all -- emergency situations.

The 406mHz EPIRB is the first line of communication for a badly distressed vessel. These work extremely well and have saved thousands of lives. Every vessel should be equipped with a registered EPIRB. However, these are ONE-WAY communications devices only. If you wish to talk with potential rescuers or persons who could render assistance (e.g., in a grounding, medical emergency, etc.) you'd need to use either a satphone or a HF/SSB radio -- ham or marine. The choice would depend on your situation and your familiarity with the equipment.

Bill
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Old 18-11-2010, 11:36   #9
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FACT #9: the inability of one or more boats on passage to make contact with Herb (Southbound II operating on 12359kHz USB from Ontario) really says very little about the value of SSB. In fact, the inability to make contacts more often relates to inexperience and poor installations.
It may very well be inexperience or poor installations if so then it was a shared pathology for most of the fleet on the North Atlantic at one time or the other during the 19 days we were out. Consider also that for the broadcasts we were able to hear, Herb started each one with the caveat that propagation was marginal or poor.

Did I mention the irritation of foreign stations continually stepping on Herb's broadcast?

In fact, the last 6 or 7 days of the passage Herb was completely gone. I would probably attribute this more to the variations in signal propagation than inexperience or poor installation.

In those final days on our passage a 970 mb low was passing to the north of us and we were taking action to minimize our exposure. It was very important to have daily weather updates as this was developing. Sorry, the SSB was useless.

Not to say that SSB is not without value it's just that new technology, sat phones, have become a better choice.
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Old 18-11-2010, 11:42   #10
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The 406mHz EPIRB is the first line of communication for a badly distressed vessel. These work extremely well and have saved thousands of lives. Every vessel should be equipped with a registered EPIRB. However, these are ONE-WAY communications devices only. If you wish to talk with potential rescuers or persons who could render assistance (e.g., in a grounding, medical emergency, etc.) you'd need to use either a satphone or a HF/SSB radio -- ham or marine. The choice would depend on your situation and your familiarity with the equipment.
Great info and healthy debate guys! One question I have Bill is if I do use the EPIRB and help is coming, what channel would I use on an SSB to make contact with them? Would it be 2182? I'm sure VHF 16 would be best when they are closer.

In this whole safety debate I can't understand why every boat doesn't have a SPOT for $100 in addition to an EPIRB etc.
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Old 18-11-2010, 12:11   #11
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Lake Superior,

The inexperience demonstrated was the apparent total reliance on Herb for weather. HF comms are sometimes difficult or impossible over a given path for a given frequency. Did you try Herb's alternate 8mHz frequency? Did you attempt to make contact on another HF channel?

If you were a ham, you could have contacted the MM Net or any of several other stations.

Experienced HF operators know not to depend on point-to-point communications on a single frequency over a single path. Conditions change. The trick is, if you can't make it on one frequency, try another. If you can't contact one station, try another. If you're a ham, there are MILLIONS of stations out there, scattered all around the world. In a very real sense, it's impossible NOT to be able to make a good contact with someone.

This is one of the reasons why Nets work so well...both marine and ham nets. There are participants located at many different locations, sometimes located thousands of miles apart. SOMEONE will hear you.

The USCG broadcasts High Seas and Offshore weather on several HF frequencies from several U.S. locations several times a day. They use powerful transmitters and are almost always copyable on one or another frequency.

WLO -- the Public Coast Station in New Orleans -- also broadcasts high seas weather several times a day on several of their frequencies.

There are dozens of stations in Europe, North Africa and around the world which broadcast WX and/or stand guard on HF/SSB frequencies. For a sample listing, see: MF/HF SSB Frequencies

In sum, there's an incredible wealth of information out there. You just gotta know where and when to look, and you need to know something about HF propagation.

Bill
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Old 18-11-2010, 12:16   #12
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Great info and healthy debate guys! One question I have Bill is if I do use the EPIRB and help is coming, what channel would I use on an SSB to make contact with them? Would it be 2182? I'm sure VHF 16 would be best when they are closer.
The frequency you might use depends on where you are and what type of assistance you need.

There are designated HF emergency frequencies -- worldwide. These are monitored by the USCG and other authorities:

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During daylight hours, the ham-operated Maritime Mobile Net on 14300kHz USB is a good bet.

Usually, you'd make contact either directly or indirectly with the responder or SAR manager who would then advise you of the best frequency or frequencies to use.

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Old 18-11-2010, 12:46   #13
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You just gotta know where and when to look, and you need to know something about HF propagation.

Bill
From the point of view of a vaguely knowledgeable HF wannabe I think this is the biggest issue. Sat systems require less user skill than HF ham or marine SSB. For sailors unwilling or unable to make the commitment to the HF learning curve Sat phones can do most of what they would want or need with a few, significant missing pieces.

Both would be nice but if I had to choose one over the other, for me HF is the choice. The portability of a sat phone in an abandon ship scenario is very interesting but a portable EPIRB and handheld VHF in the ditch bag should do the same job.
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Old 18-11-2010, 13:26   #14
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From the point of view of a vaguely knowledgeable HF wannabe I think this is the biggest issue. Sat systems require less user skill than HF ham or marine SSB. For sailors unwilling or unable to make the commitment to the HF learning curve Sat phones can do most of what they would want or need with a few, significant missing pieces.....
Exactly! I'd say you are more than "vaguely knowledgeable" :-)

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Old 18-11-2010, 14:51   #15
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As I type this I am listening to a rescue of a sailing vessel in the Bahamas. They are on the Ham Maritime net with operators on there working with the coast guard. The vessel has turned on its EPIRB but the amateur radio operators are passing information to the vessel about rescue efforts and times.

I just got my amateurs license this summer and glad I did. I have talked to locations as far away as Oregon from my slip in North Carolina. I think SSB is a valuable tool, and recommend any one thinking of getting a radio get one that will work on the amateur frequencies as well as marine SSB. Even if you do not have a license you can transmit in an emergency on any channel you can hear someone.

Over the last year I have heard about 4-5 rescues helped by amateur radio operators. It is proof that they are useful tools to have onboard.

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