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Old 25-01-2013, 10:34   #1
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Ham License

I'm in the process of installing an Icom M802 and have been reading everything I can get my hands on about HF radio. I'm really looking forward to learning new skills in this entirely new area.

I have never really been interested in ham radio - collecting QSOs has never seemed like a good way to spend my time, despite the appeal of playing with technological tools. But the more I read, the more fascinated I have become with digital communication over HF radio. Our options with marine SSB are pretty much limited to sail mail, but hams do pretty much what they want, and there are lots more options. I own an SCS TNC with Pactor III, but I am intrigued by Winmor and other interesting means of digital comms.

I looked through the license materials and it doesn't look daunting. I think I might just try to pass the technician license in February when I'm in Boston. I know that gives me very limited rights in the radio spectrum, but if that goes ok then I'll follow up with a general exam soon.

Anyone have any helpful hints? Recommended reading?
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Old 25-01-2013, 10:50   #2
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Re: Ham License

I think I would just go for the General Licence. Multiple choice questions NO Morse so study the question answer books and Bob shoulod be your Uncle! It's a great helpfull world out there! good Luck
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Old 25-01-2013, 10:51   #3
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Re: Ham License

try this: HamTestOnline - Ham Radio Exam Courses and Practice Tests

I've held a General Class license since 1984. Try out PSK31 mode. That's about all I use now...LL
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Old 25-01-2013, 11:32   #4
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Re: Ham License

I would also recommend you just go for the General. But your statement of "Hams can pretty much do what they want" is far from accurate. They can do no more or less than SSB users except on different frequencies. The plus is the availability of various Ham nets depending on where you plan to sail, and the fact that The Ham community is much more active on the Ham frequencies than the SSB users outside of the scheduled nets. The availability of email and weather information via Ham frequencies is another big plus. It seems that Airmail is on the way out but RMS Express is the new replacement and is being supported, developed and is easier to use, IMO. By all means, go the small extra effort and get your General and enjoy the additions Ham operations have to offer. Chuck
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Old 25-01-2013, 11:35   #5
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Re: Ham License

Definitely try for the General. You get much better access to frequencies appropriate for voyaging.

The ham technology is quite interesting. WINMOR doesn't have the speed or station-availability of PACTOR, but it's getting there and the price is right.

Good luck!
Paul / wb6cxc (ham Advanced license, which they don't issue any more!)
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Old 25-01-2013, 11:47   #6
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Re: Ham License

There are many digital modes available to you on Marine frequencies. There is SITOR, (A and B) RTTY, and the granddaddy of them all, CW. You would, I believe, need to get a RadioTelegraph Operator License, though. I would check on that. You can also use your HF transceiver for WEFAX. Come to think of it, a GMDSS Operator License should work, except for hand-sent Morse Telegraphy. That said, I haven't been on a ship in a very long time where any traffic was sent via CW. However, some coast stations still send traffic lists and the weather in Morse. WLO does, and their weather broadcast is excellent practice copy. That was my learning tool.
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:26   #7
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Re: Ham License

I've been hoping to setup a PSK31 sailors chat frequency, and then try to evolve it to a cruisers net that I don't have to wake up for -- just let my laptop check in for me and read the transcript later.

I'd also want a map of other people who've checked in, with wind roses for their weather reports, overlaid with the current forecast.

The overall vibe is you just leave your radio on, with a connected laptop or tablet, and there's an n thousand mile chat room with other cruising sailors. Add paging -- so that if someone wants to talk to us, they can type our callsign and the computer will beep.

The next step would be to try and make some kind of mesh network out of it, and to allow other connectivity to the network for satellite, cellular, or wifi sailors, though I think the third party traffic rules would mean that only folks with ham licenses could participate on these networks.
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:33   #8
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Re: Ham License

The General is the way to go. It should be a piece of cake with no morse code. Just practice the multiple choice questions over and over. When test time comes you just mark the correct answer automatically at that point!
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:34   #9
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Re: Ham License

If you want to have a listen to what's out there around the world, this is very cool indeed

Software Defined Radio

Download & install, then click "remote via network", then in popup box click browse web and find a US station, hit start and you should be listening to a radio somewhere. Between 14.2Khz & 14.3Khz you should find some chatter.

Enjoy

BTW, what US license class do you need to get a maritime mobile call sign? UK it's advanced.
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:35   #10
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Re: Ham License

Cool! So there are other like minded cruisers. Data rules - so much more efficient means of communication than blathering with your vocal chords. I love the definedness of CW Morse communications. I love the idea of a HF data chat. Best of all would be if there would be some means to contribute to Cruisers Forum over a HF data connection
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:45   #11
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Re: Ham License

Dockhead, are you a British Citizen or US in England?? That will make a difference in the licensing and how you use your radio. If you are looking to get a US license. There are a number of test prep sites on the internet. A couple of days of concentration on taking the tests should allow you to pass both the Technician and General license exams. They have to be taken in order but can be done at the same exam session. Unfortunately, you may have to fly to the States to take the tests. Check with the ARRL on test site availablitly. I flew to the mainland and drove from San Diego to Orange County to get a test date that fit into my schedule. Made taking the test correspond to a time we were visiting our son in Carlsbad, CA. If you are looking at a British license, have no idea what the test requirements are or what test prep opportunities exist.

Depending on your location, Ham radio is a much more sociable way to use an HF radio. There are local (1,000 mile area or so) nets many places in the world and the biggies on 14.300 that monitor ocean traffic over very large areas. When we were in SoPac, there was a travelling net that followed the migration of boats from the Marquesas to points west and south. Don't know how far it continued to exist as it was honcho'd by one boat on it's way to NZ. You also might find a ham or two that has the same interests and just enjoy talking with. We struck up a friendship with a Ham operator in SoCal and kept a regular schedule just to talk about anything but radio. Ham radio QSO's are not just what kind of rig and antenna you have. Marine SSB Freq's may be completely devoid of activity in some parts of the world and have very limited traffic elsewhere.
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:50   #12
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Re: Ham License

I used the ARRL manuals, like this one...
Amazon.com: General Class License Manual (Softcover) (Arrl General Class License Manual for the Radio Amateur) (9780872598119): American Radio Relay League: Books

I would advise going for both the Tech and Gen'l tests at the same time, even though I didn't do it that way.

Good luck.
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Old 25-01-2013, 12:53   #13
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Re: Ham License

A little story about the extremely high value of ultra low bandwidth (in the Internet, not radio sense) digital comms. When they were developing the GSM standard, which is now the backbone of world mobile telephony, the idea of Short Messaging Services was debated, and was intensely ridiculed, and got included almost by accident. Everyone was surprised when the exchange of ridiculously tiny - 128 bytes!! Not megabytes! Not kilobytes! Just bytes! -- messages would surpass voice in use of the mobile telephone system.

Why not the same on HF radio? What would the challenges be to handle such tiny scraps of data over HF? Wouldn't it be cool?!
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Old 25-01-2013, 13:11   #14
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Re: Ham License

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Why not the same on HF radio? What would the challenges be to handle such tiny scraps of data over HF? Wouldn't it be cool?!
Have a look at psk31, not so much the small amounts of data but the very narrow bandwidth..

Quote:
PSK31's efficiency and narrow bandwidth make it highly suitable for low-power and crowded-band operation. PSK31 contacts can be conducted at less than 100 Hz separation, so with disciplined operation at least twenty simultaneous PSK31 contacts can be carried out side-by-side in the bandwidth required for just one SSB voice contact.
PSK31 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Also, wspr is interesting - WSJT Home Page
A laptop can say hello to another laptop on the other side of the world using just 5w
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Old 25-01-2013, 13:19   #15
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Re: Ham License

I'm hoping for sailors to start using PSK31 on some agreed on frequencies, and then play around with 'chat bots' that auto checkin to the 'net' every couple of hours. The next natural step is to listen for those checkins and plot them on a map, and after that, to allow checkins and listen-ins through other systems (satellite and etc).

I think it'd be pretty fun to have a rolling conversation, throughout the day, with other folks while on a long passage. We sometimes setup informal nets with other people heading in the same direction, and it'd be fun to have it more random and low key, not a 'meet me at 8am every day' thing, but a 'let's just kind of listen for each other on this frequency' -- maybe have random conversations on night watch to stay awake. Texting back and forth is less intrusive, and annoying, than yelling into a microphone and trying to figure out what they are saying through the static. And etc.

Among it's many advantages, another nice thing about PSK31 is that it's so narrow that you can easily move slightly off frequency to have a side conversation with other folks and not interfere with the party line.

The other nice thing about PSK31 is that you don't need a TNC or fancy equipment, to listen in just a headphone cable to plug into your laptop or device. And making a cable for the computer to transmit is usually not that much harder.
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