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Old 26-03-2012, 08:29   #76
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

Allan is right about digital selective calling or in the commercial world “Global Marine Distress and Safety System” (GMDSS).

If you refer to Chapter IV of SOLAS commercial ships are no longer required to actively monitor safety channels while at sea (Including Chanel 16). Although, many still do, they are only required to have a passive alarm on their radios that sounds when they receive a DSC call...


Here is a clip from SOLAS Chapter IV:
Listening watches on 2182 kHz are no longer mandatory. Until 1 February 2005, every ship while at sea
shall maintain, when practicable, a continuous listening watch on VHF Ch. 16; such a watch shall be kept at the position from which the ship is normally navigated.
Ship stations complying with the provisions of the Radio Regulations should, where practicable, maintain a watch on the frequency 156.650 MHz (VHF Ch. 13) for communications related to the safety of navigation
DISCLAIMER: I do not own or receive benefit from any radio manufacture or saleperson

You can read the entire chapter at:
http://msi.nga.mil/MSISiteContent/StaticFiles/NAV_PUBS/RNA/117chapter4.pdf
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Old 26-03-2012, 08:30   #77
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

Quote:
Originally Posted by BettiedelMar View Post
I'm incredibly confused. We have an icom m710 with a pactor modem that came with our boat, and I thought it would be nice to use it for email, weather and voice communication. So I got my technicians license, but the guys who administered the ham test told me that I'd need the general license to use marine frequencies. I'm taking the test tomorrow.
It's okay. Really. Here you go:

High frequency (HF) radio is often called shortwave. There are lots of services that use HF, including ham, marine, weather fax, lots of military and government, and land mobile.

To use the ham HF frequencies you need a ham radio license of General class or above. The ham radio license is both a station license and an operator license.

To use the marine HF frequencies (often called "SSB" which is a mode, not a frequency or service) you need a station license (for the boat and equipment) and an operator license (for you). You can get the marine licenses in about 15 or 20 minutes online.

The process is a little obtuse. Go to the FCC Universal Licensing System website (start at fcc.gov) and register for an FRN; the FRN is just the record number the FCC uses to keep track of your licenses. With that number you can get the station license and the operators license. The last time I sat down to help someone get set up it took less than 10 minutes. The paper will catch up with you but you'll have all the numbers you need. Most particularly the call sign (part of the station license) and internationally registered MMSI (part of the station license).
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Old 26-03-2012, 09:47   #78
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One could hope the entire DSC comedy would get scrapped. It could be easily replaced, and greatly improved, by some SatPhone based system. Lower cost. Simpler. Better performance.
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Old 26-03-2012, 09:47   #79
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Thanks so much for the advice! It's good to know that there's a pretty simple answer. And perhaps now I won't get arrested.
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Old 26-03-2012, 10:06   #80
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

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Originally Posted by daddle View Post
One could hope the entire DSC comedy would get scrapped. It could be easily replaced, and greatly improved, by some SatPhone based system. Lower cost. Simpler. Better performance.
Not sure about lower costs, the equipment and subscription are pretty high. Add to the problems with no coverage in a lot of the watery parts of the planet, unstable companies in the satphone business and the sat phone would be my last consideration for a safety broadcast. Chuck
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Old 26-03-2012, 10:49   #81
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

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One could hope the entire DSC comedy would get scrapped. It could be easily replaced, and greatly improved, by some SatPhone based system. Lower cost. Simpler. Better performance.
I don't know if you own a Sat Phone, but when I purchased my Iridium Sat Phone 1.5 years ago, it was $1200 US plus $1.25 a minute, if I purchased time in 500 minute bundles... Which to me isn't cheap... My Sat Phone also drops calls on a regular basis, even if I am tied to the dock and is not water resistant.

I also think you are missing the point.... DSC or GMDSS was designed for safety and to elliminate over abundant voice calls. Digital Calls travel farther than voice (Similar to Morse code transmissions) and provide more information; Lat/Long and vessel MMSI, which means full vessel info

My ICOM M-802 SSB cost about $3000 and so far has been the most reliable piece of equipment on my boat. It is free to use and works every time without additional costs... In combination with a modem, I sent and receive email and weather grib files, again for free or if you prefer through Sailmail for $250 a year.

The IMO and SOLAS started talking about DSC or GMDSS twenty years ago and adopted it over ten years ago as the standard. The time to fight DSC has long passed.

So instead of wishing it would go away like the difference between MAC or IBM, I would suggest you start figuring out how to use it, whether or not you think it is good or bad, it could save your life.
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Old 26-03-2012, 12:14   #82
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You read me wrong. I'm not against DSC. I have it. I just think the Internet will kill it pretty soon. But then DSC and all the associated stuff are government programs so they are apt to live far beyond their economic usefulness (loran).
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Old 26-03-2012, 12:18   #83
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

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Originally Posted by daddle View Post
One could hope the entire DSC comedy would get scrapped. It could be easily replaced, and greatly improved, by some SatPhone based system. Lower cost. Simpler. Better performance.
I think you're off track. If it was that simple Inmarsat GMDSS would have added the DSC function by now and HF would have fallen off the table. Those frequencies and services aren't for the recreational boater - they're for commercial shipping and HF is demonstrably more robust than satellite systems. When satellite works it's great, when it doesn't it's gone.

"Can you hear me now?" *grin*
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Old 26-03-2012, 12:29   #84
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

Hi BettiedelMar,

The confusion you describe is what underpins the communication problems we regularly see over here in Australasia. For some reassurance:

Your M710 with Pactor modem will work very well to give you effective email coverage around the world. You can get a subscription to SailMail (but that does need a FCC licence and marine callsign) or WinLink (if you get your appropriate HAM license) and have access to an excellent range of emailed weather (METAREA, regional and coastal forecasts) and the very useful GRIB weather charts (superior to weatherfax - at least around here - because they have wind speed and direction arrows, wave height, rain areas, predictions to 10 days ahead, you can request/receive them when on-board activities permit; rather than wait for the right weatherfax transmission time, and you don't need to track down the weatherfax frequencies or wonder if the service is actually working), using SailMail's SailDocs service.

The SailMail network of stations around the world has been steadily growing. The worlwide WinLink network has also been growing, although stations come and go, depending on the HAMs who operate them. In my area - SE Asia - there is now a reliable WinLink station in Indonesia and a SailMail station running for over ten years in Brunei.

The M710 should have all the international marine frequencies pre-installed. If you get that HAM license completed you can add HAM frequencies to the user programmable section of the M710. A marine radio is technically acceptable to use on the HAM freqeuncies, but you are right, the reverse is not the case, a HAM radio cannot be used on the marine frequencies, except as a few post had highlighted, in an emergency.

The M710 is a tough, robust radio, well able to cope with the bumps and rough treatment at sea. It's limitation is probably that it does not have DSC - the maritime alarm system now required to initiate contact with most MRCCs around the world, and with big ships - and a growing number of recreational vessels and other small commercial vessels. In SE Asia and Australia's maritime Search and Rescue area, you will need DSC - or some other means, like a satellite phone - to call the MRCC and get them to talk with you on the marine emergency frequencies.

I have heard that it is possible to get a FCC ship station license and callsign without being in the USA; for example when a USA citizen buys a USA flagged boat overseas. So you may still have the opportunity to get the license and callsign and the SailMail subscription. Here is a quote from the SailMail site regarding radio selection:

"The Icom IC-718 and most other ham radios work with SailMail if they are equipped with a High Stability Crystal Unit, and if the radio is modified to transmit on all bands. .... Ham radios are not type accepted for use on marine frequencies and their use may not be permitted by your country's radio regulations. For US-registered vessels, the US FCC requires marine type-accepted radios (e.g. Icom M802, M710, M700Pro etc).

There is another reason why it is a bad idea to use a Ham radio... Ham radios are much more complicated to operate than marine radios because they have many features that marine radios don't need. If these options and features are set incorrectly the radio will not work. Often on a cruising boat there is only one knowledgeable HAM on-board. If that person is injured and others need to use the SSB, they will be much less likely to be able to operate a HAM radio than they would a marine radio. Note that it is perfectly legal to use Marine radios such as the Icom M802 on Ham frequencies. This is a better approach."


So with that in mind, you are already well ahead of the game. You have a FCC type approved radio - for which you can get a FCC license and ship station callsign - so you can use the marine radio frequencies, talk to MRCCs (eg: after you send them an email to say talk to me), join SailMail, and you can also use it on the HAM voice and WinLink networks, if you get that exam completed!
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Old 26-03-2012, 12:52   #85
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

Bettiedelmar,

To simplify:

1. Your M710 is an excellent radio which is capable of operating on both the marine and the ham bands. You don't need any other equipment.

2. To operate on the marine bands, you need both a station license and an operator's license. Follow Dave's recommendations (Auspicious) to apply online. Simple, but costs about $180. Be sure to check ALL THE BOXES for all equipment, including your VHF, Radar, satphone, etc, etc., even if you don't have the equipment. This will cover all equipment you might add in the future and will avoid re-applying and re-paying the $180.

3. To operate on the ham bands you need only a valid ham license. For voice operation on the bands of most use to cruisers, you need at least a General Class license. It sounds like you are well on your way to getting it. If you can't complete it before leaving, you should know that ham tests are given periodically in lots of places cruisers visit, including Georgetown in the Bahamas, Marathon and Key West, etc. There are ham exams scheduled this Saturday in Key West (courtesy of ND7K, Chuck).

4. For email, you'll have a lot more success with SailMail...it's a $250 per year subscription. Connects to SailMail are much more reliable than those to WinLink PMPBs at present, and you can carry out commercial transactions which you can't do on WinLink.

Have fun.

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Old 26-03-2012, 13:45   #86
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

Hi Auspicious,

I agree, HF/SSB is here to stay, because it still works when all the other fragile stuff fails:

The two main commercial HF/SSB makers in Austalia have seen excellent growth in the last ten years; as satellite comms and land based phone services became more sophisticated. In Australia, that's despite the closure of Australia's Royal Flying Doctor Service HF/SSB sytem and the School of the Air on HF. These Australian companies are doing big business overseas. Even ICOM got into the commercial HF/SBB world with their F7000.

The military continue to have HF/SSB in vehicles, on ships, in aircraft, on backpacks; despite the fact they also have very sophisticated satellite systems and plenty of money to pay for it. They have to have a serious reason to do that.

Maritime Authorities continue to require big ships to carry HF/SSB radio and to maintain a 24/7 watch on the emergency frequencies (for DSC alarms), despite the fact these ships are also required to have large, expensive, sophisticated satellite systems. They continue to develop HF/SSB based sytems and to improve these to address operational shortcomings. They must have a significant reason for doing so.

A number of significant events highlighted how easily damaged the sophisticated communications sytems are, and how long it takes to repair them; even in technically sophisticated nations with skilled technicians available:

9/11 - comms were out in the area and took ages to repair, just when the emergency response needed comms.

New Orleans - same problem in the aftermath of the TS. Lack of comms in the area to co-ordinate rescue and relief efforts.

Asian Tsunami - the shore communication systems were damaged, disabled and what was left was overloaded. Exactly when comms is important to deploy rescue services etc. SailMail and Winlink equipped yachts anchored offshore when the Tsunami hit were busy relaying emails for tourists who could not contact loved ones overseas to say they were OK.

Victorian bushfire disaster in 2010. The entire sophisticted trunked radio (VHF and UHF) system stopped working, as did the FM radio broadcasts and mobile phone text systems that people had been trained to monitor for messages to evacuate before the fire hit them. Someone forgot that the first thing a rural fire brigade does is ask for the electricity to be turned off - to avoid elctrocution from fallen power lines on roads or cables in or around homes - so all those sophisticated hilltop relay towers stopped working when their battery or generator backup systems expired. Now the CFA is installing HF/SSB radios in fire trucks, and fire stations, with Pactor modems for tracking and messages.

When Iridium lost a satellite due to the collision, coverage in equatorial areas became more problematic. The polar orbiting Iridium satellites are spaced furthest apart at the equator. So bigger gaps in their satellite phone comms coverage appeared. Most low power satellite systems get problems in equatorial areas because of cloud density. Even the regional satellite TV transmissions are lost when heavy cloud covers the sky.


Some of the big advantges of HF/SSB for marine users continue to be:

The broadcast feature allows one talker to be head by many listenersIt's great for sharing information amongst cruisers and running skeds. It's aslo why marine S&R is still largely done using HF/SSB. The incident controller can speak once and all involved are immediatly updated. No need to make multiple seperate satellite phone calls to each vessel, helicopter etc involved or nearby that might be able to assist; that's assuming the controller knows all the vessels in the vacinity and their satellite phone number. In our area, here is what Australia's MRCC says:

"While satellites and satellite-compatible distress beacons have significantly improved the effectiveness of SAR operations, the system is NOT a substitute for carrying appropriate marine or aviation radio.

Depending on the circumstances, your initial distress alert should still be made by radio if possible. You should activate your distress beacon only if contact cannot be made by any other means or when told to do so by a rescue authority."


It does not cost money to alert rescue networks or co-ordinate marine rescue operations via HF/SSB radio, like it would if it was all done by satellite phone. That raises some unpleasant scenarios, such as how much are you able/willing to spend to help other people in distress.


Hope this is useful.
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Old 26-03-2012, 14:21   #87
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

There was a GMDSS attachment made for the Icom M-710. It was the Icom GM-110. Unfortunately, Icom didn't import them to the US, probably to help sales of the M-802. My entire rig, M-710 (used $350), AT-130 Tuner (used $275), Black Cat Cloning Adapter (new $60) and Tigertronics Sound Card and cable (new $110) cost less than $US 850. Priced a new Icom M-802, Icom AT-140 and an SCS Pactor III (or IV) Modem lately?? The Icom M-710 is an excellent marine radio and will serve all your HF radio needs including the Marine bands and the Ham bands if suitably programmed.

I have to say that AllenR is an example of the Marine SSB bigot, common, for some reason, among our British cousins (cf. Marine SSB Operations by J. Michael Gale which patronizes ham radio in Chapter 12 almost as an amusing child's toy comparable to CB radio).

I regard it as both unfortunate and irresponsible of the SOLAS folks to have ended listening watches on the HF emergency channels despite AllenR's lame excuses about the poor tired operators listening to that terrible noise all day. The only alternative for the sailor who doesn't have an M-802 or equivalent who gets in trouble well offshore is the 406 EPIRB or better yet GPIRB. It is scandalous that the small vessel cruiser has been abandoned in this way by the SOLAS authorities. I thought they stood for Safety Of Life At Sea. But Add "But Only When Convenient" SOLASBWC!! Thus endeth my rant.

PS., I have a US Amateur Extra License, a Marine Operator's Permit and a Ship's Station License.
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Old 26-03-2012, 18:13   #88
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

Hi Tashtigo,

Ten years ago, I was at least as concerned as you about how the introduction of the GMDSS system precipitated the abandonment of many HF/SSB (and VHF - Australia actually dismantled the system of linked VHF repeater/relays on the east coast that covered from Cooktown to Bass Strait) communications services for small-craft.

But ten years on my attitude has changed. The advantages and accessibility of the DSC system for recreational boat owners have significantly improved, with the arrival of lower priced radios, improved DSC functionality, and convenient, 24/7 access to the professionally operated MRCC stations around the world.

One respondent mentioned Glen Diunstan's website and how he lists the problems with DSC. I had a number of emails with Glen in the early days of GMDSS/DSC and we were both pessimistic. His website at that stage was quite critical about the system's shortcomings. Now his website can report improvements and changes; including changes to help make the service accessible and useful for small-craft too. It's very different to the response to the original GMDSS/DSC implementation. It also identifies areas where GMDSS/DSC can improve further, to overcome the false alarms (he seems to think a lot are from testing installations, and people too quick to forward received false alarms) and better manage the true alarms.

My assesment is that DSC has improved substantially, that authorities have listened to what us small-craft owners have been saying, and there will be more improvements to further refine the effectiveness of the system.

And with the loss of voice monitioring by most MRCCs, and the expected further decline as DSC equipment replaces older non-DSC radios at MRCCs, and aboard boats, my evolving opinion is that if people are buying a new radio, buy one with DSC. It gives small-craft owners access to the professionally manned, 24/7, MRCC services that the big ship guys pay a small fortune to support.

Yes, it's disappointing that radio operators can't sit out hours of listening to static and other calls/chatter to identify distress calls, but human nature is hard to beat. For example, hands up all the cruisers who keep their VHF and HF/SSB radios on standby on the emergency frequencies; listening to the constant noise for distress calls. Hmm, not many I suspect. But we can keep our DSC radios listening for distress alarms from other vessels, or calls from MRCCs looking for vessels to help another sailor or ship in difficulty.

The advantages of HF/SSB over satellite for emergency comms and cost-saving cruising are just too great. DSC seems to eliminate the major limitation for general contact between boats and for emergency monitoring and response; listening to the background noise on your yacht while underway or in a beautiful anchorage. How many of us who tried to do this were told off by others in the anchorage or crew on our own boat?

I'm sure the DSC system and it's users can still benefit from improvements, but improvements are possible. Getting cruisers - or MRCC radio operators - to overcome human nature and keep the volume of background noise and calls blasting at them, is in my experience, far less possible.

There may be readily accessible statistics about DSC false alarms and other faults - which can lead to further system imporvements - but what we don't have are the statistics of yacht and ship crews who called MAYDAY but were not heard. Those statistics are lying on the bottom of the oceans.
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Old 26-03-2012, 19:28   #89
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

AlanR, You don't seem to get the point. I DON'T HAVE HF GMDSS!! And I don't plan on paying several thousand dollars to get an M802 system to get it. SOLAS has been irresponsible in shutting down safety watches on the Marine Emergency channels. So be it. I'll depend in my 406 MHz GPIRB and the ham nets for help. Besides, the rumors I hear indicate that HF GMDSS is on shaky legs anyway and won't be with us much longer. Small loss.
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Old 26-03-2012, 20:55   #90
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Re: HF SSB Ham Radio Option

bettie, the FCC is pretty good about using telephones:

1-888-225-5322 consumer center
>>> 1-800-322-1117 Gettysburg licensing div.
www.fcc.gov or 1-877-480-3201.opt.
email fccinfo.fcc.gov
1-888-CALL-FCC

If you have any doubt as to what you need or how to get it, CALL THEM. If you sbumit a proper license application before you cast off, the odds are that you can have the license mailed to someone, somewhere, who can get the paper copy to you. Faxed. Etcetera.

If you have no such arrangements, make a fast call to someplace that specializes in mail handling and forwarding, like Saint Brenden's Isle ("SBI"). You can have you mail sent to them, and you can "pick it up" via scans on the internet, or have it forwarded to you as needed.

Yes, someone might hassle you for not having the papers onboard before you make landfall, but you certainly can have a facsimile of them within hours of reaching your first port of call. I don't like playing odds--but those odds are about as good as it gets, unless the FCC can process things "specially" and overnight them to you. CALL TO ASK.
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