As is usual with this subject matter, there are a lot of good observations, a bunch of misleading ones, and a few dead wrong ones. There are also some missing ones, i.e., which didn't reply to the OP's initial concerns.
Here are a few I've noted in a quick reading:
The Kenwood TS-480SAT is an EXCELLENT ham radio. I'd consider keeping it.
By all means, get a ham license.
The number of hams amongst cruising sailors is growing, as is the general population of hams. Over 700,000 are licensed now in the U.S. alone....about 2 million worldwide.
In an emergency, sometimes ham radio is your BEST BET.
Better than a satphone, better than marine SSB. I recently participated in the rescue
of a stranded ham on a reef in a remote
area of Cuba
. Many hams participated over a period of two days....some stayed up 24 hours a day....to maintain contact with the stranded boat, and to sustain contact with the many authorities who were involved. This included other hams & cruising sailors, diplomats, multiple countries, multiple rescue
facilities, etc. In the end, help was successful. The case is being written up now for publication.
Quite simply, this could not have been done as well without ham radio.
Yes, any radio can be used on the ham bands if you have a ham license.
The reverse is not true, i.e., ham radios may not be used on the marine bands (or, for that matter, on the aviation bands, military bands, land-mobile bands, or other discreet bands). Except, of course, in a dire emergency
....any radio can be used on any band.
No question about it, SAILMAIL connects on the marine bands are often easier than WinLink or WINMOR or other connects on the ham bands.
This is both because the marine band channels have less QRM and because the SAILMAIL stations can handle multiple connects on multiple channels simultaneously. This cannot typically be done by WinLink stations, and there's no way to tell for sure whether or not a given station is busy on another of its published channels. This may well be the case even if you hear nothing on one or another of the station's frequencies.
, which costs $250 per year, can also be used for business purposes, which WinLink cannot be.
Still, many cruisers do use WinLink
daily and are happy with it.
In the U.S. Marine SSB sets indeed have to be "FCC Certificated"
(new term for "Type Acceptance") for use on the marine bands, and have to meet higher specifications. This includes rather strict ones dealing with spectral purity. Very few ham sets can match these standards. Marine SSB sets also need to operate with lower voltages, while some ham sets will distort or actually cut out if the supply voltage is much below 12.6 or 12.8VDC. Many cruising boats have battery
voltages below this, especially in emergency situations.
Used marine SSB sets are available at favorable prices.
There's no reason not to have BOTH ham and marine sets. I've had both on my boat for many years. I use a high-quality (Alpha Delta) coax switch to choose the radio I want to use. This switch is connected to a coax running to the SGC SG-230 antenna coupler.
HF/DSC can be of interest and use
, but IMHO it's far from being mandatory. Suggestion: read the 39 pages of instructions on how to use HF/DSC in the Icom M-802 manual and see what you think. Then, watch the well-done instruction videos done by John (KA4WJA) and posted in several places. Many experienced cruisers and radio operators don't see the need for HF/DSC, even in Europe
or other areas of the globe where we're told that "no one monitors voice transmissions any more". That is simply not true.
Installation of ham/SSB radios
can be straightforward and relatively simple. However, it depends very much on the specific boat. I do this professionally, and the level of difficulty can range from simple to moderate to complicated and very difficult.
I've seen MANY bad installations
, though, and I talk every day of the year to boats with installed radios. As a result, having talked to literally thousands of boats on the ham and marine SSB bands over the past 35 years, I can attest that there are many installations with problems. Some of these are easily solved
, some are more fundamental....bad coax, bad connections, improper power sourcing, severe RF interference
with other instruments & equipment on the boat, etc., etc.
What's essential 2-way communications for long-distance cruising?
YMMV, but in my view the essentials are:
1. ham license and good ham or marine SSB installation
2. HF email if you plan to be out of wi-fi range; and
I have and have used all three for many years on my boat, ranging from Maine