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Old 24-03-2015, 20:02   #1
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Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

I have been looking around on ebay, and it seems a used setup of SSB + pactor = $1000-2000. That seems really expensive.

With iridium launching "next" this year, I keep asking myself... Do we really need this to cruise?

We bought our boat, and have been putting money into it every paycheck getting everything on the "we cant leave without X" list.

I am wondering if an SSB/pactor is worth it. I can get internet via wifi extension near shore. Being able to do simply email/weather is neat but idunno if its worth the money.

I have ~$10k in gear needed between me and casting off. Does it need to be $11k?
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Old 24-03-2015, 20:06   #2
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

Depends where you are going. If coastal, no. If real bluewater, and remote loactions, for an extended period, then IMO yes. The only other option for weather gribs etc is sat phone. Sat ph, in my experience is more expensive, and often slower than a pactor 4. Others have different opinions. I've used both, long term. I've now sold my sat ph as the Pactor is better for my locations and use.
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Old 24-03-2015, 20:55   #3
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

With the radio equipment, it's a one time cost. Sat phone will still require a subscription service and continued costs.

Personally, I'd go with the radio equipment. But then again, I already have the equipment. Nice to keep things simple.
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Old 25-03-2015, 03:44   #4
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

Depends on your cruising location and style. If you are long term and out of the way cruiser an SSB and Pactor is a must. Airmail if you dont have a ham license.
The ability to get email, gribs and the ability to post to a blog is just great BUT the best experience is keeping in contact with other cruisers through nets just expands you friends in the cruising community and that is a safety issue.
A satphone is one to one cpntact, expensive and does not always work.
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Old 25-03-2015, 04:37   #5
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

We debated this ourselves but our cruising friends convinced us to go ssb for reasons already mentioned. I just got my ham license and I went with an ic-7200. Its got a USB connector so you can hook it up to your notebook directly no pactor required.
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Old 25-03-2015, 05:37   #6
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

Where are you going? If you will be near coasts, then you don't need either satphone or SSB. The killer app for data comms on board -- as long as you will be near coasts in even slightly civilized places -- is mobile phone data, using a router which takes a SIM card. You don't need anything else, even wifi, if you have this, provided you can live without data when more than a few miles offshore.

If you need data comms offshore, there are pluses and minuses to both systems. If you want a solution which allows you to push a button, and doesn't require much or any installation, then sat phone is the way to do it. Capital costs are low but operating costs are high. For a single ocean crossing, you can't beat a rented sat phone (or buy one and resell it) -- much cheaper than an SSB installation.

My own choice, however, was SSB. I actually have a fixed-installed sat phone which came with my boat -- I have never activated it. As others have said, SSB has no operating costs or usage charges (except the annual fee, admittedly not small, for SailMail, if you need to be able to use email for business or professional reasons). It is a highly versatile device which can be used for all kinds of different purposes, from talking on nets, to downloading weather, to listening to shortwave radio broadcasts, to communication with hams (you need a license), to email (free if you have a ham license and don't communicate about business). But the downside to SSB is that it is expensive and complicated to acquire and install (many thousands altogether if you have it professionally installed), and it takes a fair amount of study and skill to use it effectively. It is really not for the technophobic who expect results with the press of a single button; but on the other hand, it can be a great deal of fun for people who like to play with technical things -- it is a terrific toy. The Pactor modem is not the main expense by any means. You can use a software modem called "Winmor" instead of a Pactor if you run out of money before you get to that, but the Pactor has a lot of advantages.

There are tons and tons of materials about this in the archives; a browse around there will be rewarding.


P.S. One other communications solution you might consider -- is a text-only satellite device like the DeLorme or the Yellow Brick. This is much cheaper to acquire and use than a satphone, and may be effective of comms for your purposes. If you want to just receive weather, you don't have to have a whole SSB installation -- you can buy a cheap SSB receiver, connect it to your laptop's sound card, and you can get weather, navtex, and such things to your heart's content. So for minimal expense, with a Yellow Brick and an SSB receiver (pay attention to how you set up the antenna), you have pretty capabilities of getting weather, plus text comms with anyone in the world, with minimal operating expense, and no installation of anything. Probably a great solution for a lot of people.
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Old 25-03-2015, 07:45   #7
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

Another consideration is redundancy. The marine environment is tough on electronics and they always seem to fail you right when you need the most (see Rebel Heart for a dramatic example...not a physical failure, but loss of service).

Back when I had more need to be in touch for business purposes, I had both SSB & sat phone aboard. Now I have SSB and SPOT (...and VHF, and EPIRB, and cell phone...). SPOT soon to be replaced with Delorme Explorer.

I have had to use SSB when sat phone was not working (Global Star is garbage...don't waste your money on that, get true sat phone service: Iridium).

+1 on what DockHead said. I think SSB and a sat texting device is an excellent combination. Delorme SEs are becoming common on ebay following the introduction of the Explorer. Earlier models are also available on eBay inexpensively.
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Old 25-03-2015, 07:57   #8
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

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Originally Posted by belizesailor View Post
Another consideration is redundancy. The marine environment is tough on electronics and they always seem to fail you right when you need the most (see Rebel Heart for a dramatic example...not a physical failure, but loss of service).

Back when I had more need to be in touch for business purposes, I had both SSB & sat phone aboard. Now I have SSB and SPOT (...and VHF, and EPIRB, and cell phone...). SPOT soon to be replaced with Delorme Explorer.

I have had to use SSB when sat phone was not working (Global Star is garbage...don't waste your money on that, get true sat phone service: Iridium).
Good point!

The Rebel Heart disaster is a good lesson about communications.

He had both sat phone and SSB. His sat phone was switched off because of a billing problem, and he couldn't raise anyone on his SSB, and he decided to abandon specifically because he could not get medical advice on how to help a sick infant. He lost his boat, basically, because of a failure in comms.

The lesson, besides the need for redundancy, is that just having the equipment is not nearly enough. You have to be sure that it all works and will continue to work, and that you know well enough how to use it, and that you've covered all the issues which might cause a problem (like billing).

SSB radios have to be installed well (which is $$$) and can fail at different points. It takes practice and proficiency to use them effectively. It's not at all like using VHF. You can't just buy an SSB radio set, install it, and expect it to be useful in an emergency, if you don't use it regularly and understand how to overcome problems and make contacts.

SSB radio is a bit of a hobby, which requires a certain amount of time and enthusiasm. It's very much not a purchased, plug n' play, push-button solution.
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Old 25-03-2015, 09:56   #9
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

I agree with all of the above posts. The only thing I think I could is when we installed my SSB the pro took down my back stay of my mast and replaced it with a regular back stay antenna. You do not want to be in contact of this back stay while someone is keying the mic. We also had to put copper strips in a grid form from to stern and length wise for the ground. In practice the whole boat became the antenna and ground for best reception and output. Side note: you can get your local ham license from local ham operators that will offer ham courses for the general public. their are two levels and the first level is an introduction to learn about how it works and to be able to receive messages. The second level is the General license so you can receive and transmit message all over the world. Any one can put out a may day signal on the SSB radio in case of an emergency. I received my instruction along with my wife who was not happy about it taking the course, but did it anyway. She was very proud because the first 15 people out of 32 didn't pass. She was the only female who passed out of 8. If your headed to Marco Island you should look up the local club and take their course. They also helped in my installation. There are smaller antennas then making your whole back stay of your mast for the antenna.
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Old 25-03-2015, 10:08   #10
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

As has been mentioned, SSB email communication is possible without a Pactor modem by installing and using a software solution called Winmor, developed just in the last few years. But Winmor requires that the HAM radio operator at the receiving shore station has the Winmor software installed and in use. QUESTION: How common are shore stations with Winmor? Does anyone on CF have recent experience or knowledge?
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Old 25-03-2015, 10:15   #11
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

If you do decide to go this way some advise and maybe a bit of clarification.

SSB is the terminology commonly referring to a marine radio. Ham of course is an amateur radio. Both operate on the HF (high frequency) bands so will have similar range, capabilities, etc. but the are allocated to slightly different frequency bands in the HF range.

Most marine SSBs can be modified to also work on the HAM specific frequencies and most HAM radios can be modified to also work on the marine SSB specific frequencies. BUT, there is a difference.

Marine SSB radios are designed and built to work on very tight specifications and also are designed to work well on a lower voltage that might be seen on a boat with batteries not fully charged. So you can use a marine SSB on HAM bands knowing it will comply with regulations for distortion and interference on the channels.

HAM radios on the other hand are not legally certified to use on marine SSB bands and generally will not meet the standards.

So if you do go for HF radio and plan to use marine SSB channels you should buy a radio certified for marine SSB use.
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Old 25-03-2015, 10:23   #12
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

If you're going offshore, and you're going to be in various parts of the world, it makes sense to have both, at least at the current time.

My experience with sat phones offshore has been spotty, particularly for data. They lose their signal and the data rate is slow, so getting weather information can be frustrating if you're not getting a good strong signal for any reason. OTOH, the cost of the hardware and plans is coming down sharply. A friend of mine signed up for a Globalstar "all you can eat" plan, both time and data, that runs him $150/mo. which I believe was a boat show special. While that's uncommon it shows where things are going.

SSB reception can also be spotty depending on atmospheric conditions and there is more to go wrong between the installation and various components.

So, a good conservative plan is to have both. If I were going to pick one over the other it would depend on what my tracks were going to be. SSB has the distinct advantage of giving you access to local nets which can be of huge value in getting information about local conditions, logistics, social events, etc.
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Old 25-03-2015, 10:28   #13
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

Here is a map showing active WINMOR stations (http://www.winlink.org/RMSChannels)
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Old 25-03-2015, 10:31   #14
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

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Originally Posted by suenodelmar View Post
As has been mentioned, SSB email communication is possible without a Pactor modem by installing and using a software solution called Winmor, developed just in the last few years. But Winmor requires that the HAM radio operator at the receiving shore station has the Winmor software installed and in use. QUESTION: How common are shore stations with Winmor? Does anyone on CF have recent experience or knowledge?
Related note: There is a WINMOR Yahoo Group with lots of info and an active forum.

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/WINMOR/info
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Old 25-03-2015, 10:32   #15
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Re: Is an SSB/pactor modem worth it?

We need to consider the high Amp use of any SSB radio, add the autotuner and you look at 15Amp 12V minimum. That is high for small cruisers with minimal power set up. The satphone is great as it can be recharged when engine runs or so,ar, wind generation optimal. Then there is the fact that pactor needs a laptop to be used while on pactor, again more power. I never use my i stalled SSB and autotuner because of thus. When coastal, even on East African coast where I criise G3. When offshore, passage making or in area eithout cell phone cocerage I use satphone. Satphobe only for emergencies. My email can wait until I got G3.
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