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Old 28-11-2011, 20:03   #1
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Let the Hams in ?

Current FCC regulations forbid the use of non “type certified” radios on the marine bands excepting an emergency. So what would be the tragedy of allowing knowledgeable ham operators to utilize the marine bands while operating offshore in a maritime mobile application?

Let’s be clear. I am not suggesting anyone break the law and transmit out of band. This is purely an academic discussion challenging the wisdom of current FCC regulations and the view of many new cruisers.

Technology has evolved and the use of HF by commercial marine carriers has significantly diminished over the past two decades. Simultaneously, the cruising community has grown exponentially to the point where it seems the majority of users on the marine bands are relatively untrained recreational cruisers. At the same time, HAM radios have evolved from the build it yourself Heath kits of the 60’s to highly sophisticated transceivers.

Let’s really think about many of the comments made in previous posts and see how they stack up. Admittedly, I will have a HAM operator’s perspective so please take my comments from where they come. For comparison purposes, the numbers I state below are from Icom’s specification sheets for the 706 mkiiG and the marine 802 . I believe these two units are representative of the most popular rigs used by recreational cruising sailors on either side of the spectrum.

So what’s been said….

Marine HF radios draw less power and have a significantly greater tolerance for low voltage

Icom 802 13.6V (DC) +/- 15%
Icom 706 13.8V (DC) +/- 15%

On the low voltage range critical to cruisers, Icom certifies performance at 11.56 vs. 11.73 volts. Yep, .17 volts. Decide for yourself how significant this is. Unfortunately, neither of these numbers are likely to improve in the future given the digital technologies.

Ham radios frequently transmit out of frequency and cannot match the much higher tolerance requirements of marine HF radios

Spurious Emmissions

Icom 802 -62db
Icom 706 -60db

Frequency Stability

Icom 802 10hz
Icom 706 1 ppm = 8hz @ 8mhz; “warmed up” unit. 7 ppm vs. unstated for 802 for 1st 60 minutes

Marine HF radios are much more weather resistant and suited to use on yachts

Just silly.

Marine HF radios are easier to operate

I suspect this is more a matter of preference and what unit one learned on. For me, I am confused by the controls of the 802 but can easily adapt to most intermediate level ham radios. As for the untrained crew argument – both my wife and I hold general amateur licenses. I don’t think we are unique in the cruising world. That’s our normal crew. There’s a reason ham radios have all those dials – we can pull in a signal.

Marine HF radios are a safety item, inclusive of “one touch” access to rescue teams

So program a key on the ham radio. This is getting silly. Must all gear used on a cruising yacht require no forethought?


So what’s the bottom line?

The use of HF by commercial marine operators is decreasing rapidly. I think you can make a credible argument that the FCC should enter the 21st century and lift their antiquated and senseless ban on using non type certified radios on the MB frequencies. Without a change in these regulations, marine HF will be relegated to an essentially unlicensed amateur band used by affluent recreational cruisers. Due to superior marketing, the financial position of American cruisers and the significantly easier licensing requirements of marine HF in the US vs. HAM, I suspect that marine HF will become the norm for American cruisers. As such, the majority of the cruising nets will ultimately move to marine HF frequencies along with commercial weather routers (who cannot operate on the HAM bands). Are we really better served with untrained operators using (at best) marginally better equipment?

Come on FCC – open up.
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Old 28-11-2011, 22:15   #2
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I have my General Ham license as well. We have both Ham (Icom 7000) & SSB (Icom 802) aboard. I feel our SSB is far easier to use while out cruising for weather because of the channels programed. I can quickly flip to those channels (names given) for weather, etc.

To clarify, are you wanting Ham channels to be allowed to be used on marine band by cruising sailors? Or do you want to add & have HF marine band licensed?

There may be reasons why the FCC doesn't allow it-but I don't understand it. It's not any more complicated than repairing a diesel engine (ok-much less complicated than repairing a diesel engine) but it does involve others in communication over the air. This is a great question and I hope this gets a good discussion. I will ask a friend who is a lawyer for the FCC to see if he knows their reasons!
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Old 28-11-2011, 22:31   #3
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

G'day, Penceler. Excellent post. Just another example of bureaucracy at it's best. Icom 706MKIIG, Icom 751 and a Sea 223 units on board, bet you can guess which one is used. Funny, I never have encountered a FCC compliance officer on my travels. Maybe I missed them at the Bora Bora Yacht Club.

A considerate radio operator will operate and maintain their rig in a way not to be nuisance on the air waves. Just like someone should be a considerate driver on the roadways. You can be a considerate driver and still speed, if you know what I mean.

Looking forward to the discussion. Cheers.
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Old 29-11-2011, 00:20   #4
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

I think the biggest issue, and nobody has brought it up yet, is that ham gear is variable frequency and marine gear is crystal controlled (disclosure:never used a marine radio). There might also be different power output specs.
One also forgets that ham gear incorporates pretty much anything from a glorified spark gap transmitter to something NASA could use so how do you incorporate that in the specs as to who is and who is not allowed to transmit on marine frequencies.
Last but not least, I doubt anyone cares if you are in the middle of nowhere and use a ham radio on marine frequencies IF (and that is important) you know what you are doing and are not causing grief to anybody else.
Watch that frequency drift on older gear though .....
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Old 29-11-2011, 03:36   #5
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Penceler there's two different issues here

There is certainly a case to be made that under utilised marine HF space could be deassigned from the marine space and handed to Amateurs. That's fine

As to simply allowing amateurs access the bands from standard HF sets you've overlooked several key points.. The issue was never technical specifications per say.


(a) since amateurs are by definition not subject to type rules or specific equipment specs, they can put any old crap on the marine HF band. You use two very sophisticated HF sets for comparison, however the amateur could be using a knocked together home brew that's well outside the specs.

(b) marine HF is chanalised by international treaty. Amateur sets would have to confirm to the channels and simply allowing soft keys to be programmed by the user isn't enough control

(c) under GMDSS MF and HF has specific DSC and distress alerting functionality. This is a legal requirement on those bands for compulsory fit vessels. These features are missing from amateur radios and unchanalised radios could interfere with that operation.

(d) the US is not free to act independently on this. Such decision are in the remit of the WTF and ITU.

(e) wheres the need, changing international rules to facilitate a tiny number of maritime mobile amateurs doesn't seem to make sense to me.

(f) Amateurs can access the marine HF bands, they just need a simple license and another set, big deal. It's much harder to do it the other way round

Dave
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Old 29-11-2011, 05:02   #6
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, Penceler.

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Old 29-11-2011, 06:07   #7
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

Interesting thread. As a surveyor I see many boats with HF equipment aboard both HAM and marine. 9 out of 10 owners have no clue how to use the equipment or even if it works. I have seen many boats with HAM only radios and the owner has no license, I am told the electronics guy told them this is what they needed. Bottom line is most owners have no clue how to use this equipment. The cruising group who do use HF are a very small percentage and most have taken the time to really understand things.
I do wonder at times why HAMs cannot use a HAM radio on marine frequencies but like some of the other posters say not all HAM transmitters are as stable as a marine radio is designed to be. Also as HAM licenses have gotten easier to get without code and there seem to be many more operators who do not follow the rules, not using call signs, tuning over conversations and sometimes just deliberately trying to jamb nets. So far I have not seen much of this on the nets on marine frequencies. I hope it stays that way.
I have 2 radios 1 for marine and one for HAM, not sure I need both but it is nice to have a backup. The marine is open to HAM so I have backup there as well. I guess in the end it boils down to the experience of the operator.

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Old 29-11-2011, 06:34   #8
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

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Originally Posted by Sailor g View Post
To clarify, are you wanting Ham channels to be allowed to be used on marine band by cruising sailors? Or do you want to add & have HF marine band licensed?
Sorry if I rambled. What I'm suggesting is that the FCC should consider an exemption to type certifed radios for operators who can demonstrate an ability to certify the unit themsleves. Possible means of demonstrating that ability could be a ham license (pick your level), completion of a technical course, college degree in a related field, etc.

I believe this would be a benefit to the users of those bands and address those change in purpose for which the band is now being used.

Yes, there will always be some HAM out there using a home made radio - thank god. There will also be cruisers using 10 year old 802's and completely unaware the radio is in need of repair.
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Old 29-11-2011, 07:33   #9
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

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Sorry if I rambled. What I'm suggesting is that the FCC should consider an exemption to type certifed radios for operators who can demonstrate an ability to certify the unit themsleves.
One cannot certify a radio on their own. Certification requires following certain procedures using the proper test equipment and setup procedures to prove the radio meets FCC technical requirements. This can only be done either by the FCC or a designated TCB (Telecommunications Certification Body). They must file a certification application with the FCC and include the results of the test data.

I don't think many ham radio's would meet the requirements for part 80 certification but some could and I don't see any reason why they could not be given the certification. There are already some handheld marine radio's that are certified for both part 80 and part 90 (land mobile).

I have seen some of the applications filed by manufacturers for radio certification and Iv'e never seen anything in them about operator requirements, it's all about meeting the technical requirements. To get a marine station license and operator permit, you just file some paperwork and pay a fee. No test required, no proof at all that you know how to follow FCC rules pertaining to operation. At least with a ham license, you do have to pass a test that at least means you read something about operation although most questions are technical stuff that most casual user's could care less about.

Eric
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Old 29-11-2011, 07:35   #10
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

Hi Penceler,

Interesting points you make but in regards to the comparison of the specs for the ICOM marine and ham radios, the ham version does appear to compare favorably with the marine 802 but that is only one example.

In general from posts I have seen on this issue, even from those that are active and knowledgeable hams, the specs for ham radios are not nearly as strict as those for marine radios and with many ham units you will trash adjacent channels if you use them to transmit in the marine bands.
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Old 29-11-2011, 08:03   #11
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

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In general from posts I have seen on this issue, even from those that are active and knowledgeable hams, the specs for ham radios are not nearly as strict as those for marine radios and with many ham units you will trash adjacent channels if you use them to transmit in the marine bands.
A good example of this requirement is the 802. A marine SSB that is advertised as having more "talk power" due to it's DSP audio speech compression. This feature is in fact not enabled by software control because it was found the radio did not meet spurious emission requirements for certification with it turned on. The 802 is known for it's weak average power output, noticeably less than the 710 in fact, because of this. Many turn this feature on and doing so is even advocated by well known ham radio and marine radio guru Gordon West. Is this really causing interference problems? I doubt it.

Eric
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Old 29-11-2011, 08:28   #12
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

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I don't think many ham radio's would meet the requirements for part 80 certification but some could and I don't see any reason why they could not be given the certification.
Well, let me respond to my own post. Just one reason is that application for certification of marine SSB's received after June of 1999 require that they have DSC capability. There are probably lots of other requirements of part 80 and other international rules that apply that would preclude amateur radio's from being certified for part 80. In addition, even though the documentation filed by a TCB is to show the radio meets the transmitter requirements, it is assumed that the radio meets all the other requirements of part 80. It would be a huge deal to make this happen and I think that it really never will happen.

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Old 29-11-2011, 09:06   #13
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

I'm not as concerned about any technical deficiencies of the ham radios as I am about opening up the marine bands to hams and their (our) contests. Marine bands are there for emergency and business, and I would not want to fight through a ham pile-up if I needed to make a critical call.

Sure, hams will yield the frequency in an emergency, but there is plenty of non-emergency marine SSB activity -- for example, VALIS has been communications vessel for the Pacific Cup San Francisco-Hawaii race, and as such I probably spend over an hour every day in communication with the fleet. This is hard enough without adding in a bunch of hams. Even in an emergency, given the characteristics of propagation, many operators will be unable to hear the emergency traffic and so will not release the frequency. The same applies to marine SSB operators, but these things become *much* more difficult when you add thousands of hobby-operators to the mix.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a ham myself (wb6cxc), and I enjoy it. But the ham priorities are not marine priorities. I suppose a counter-argument is that there are successful ham-band marine nets (such as the Pacific Seafarer's Net). I'm still worried about generally opening the marine bands though.
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Old 29-11-2011, 11:30   #14
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

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...the specs for ham radios are not nearly as strict as those for marine radios
Actually, there are no specs for ham radios. As a ham you can make your own radio, in whatever way you want, with whatever bits and pieces you can scrounge up, and transmit to your hearts content. No restrictions or specifications whatsoever on the hardware that you use.

As a ham myself, I do sympathize with the sentiments of the OP. I just don't see any workable way to implement the idea without trashing the marine channels.
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Old 29-11-2011, 11:48   #15
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Re: Let the Hams in ?

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Actually, there are no specs for ham radios
In fact, there are specifications: Part 97 - Amateur Radio (in Subpart D)
These include spectral purity requirements. I haven't compared these with the marine SSB specs, but I assume that the ham requirements are looser. These are FCC (U.S.A.) specs, but these are often coordinated world-wide.
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