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Old 28-03-2012, 07:00   #1
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Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

Much of the discussion about marine SSB on boats tends to focus on costs, with opinions varying widely. Some claim that costs are prohibitive or exorbitant, while other "do-it-yourselfers" claim it's hardly more than the cost of a dinner for two and a movie.

Having recently reviewed the data on a number of SSB installations I've done over the past five years or so, and being deeply involved in the whole HF radio thing -- both marine and amateur -- I thought it might be helpful to take a crack at laying out some of the options.

The spreadsheet below estimates costs for various marine SSB configurations. Some include HF/DSC, others not. Some include email, including both Pactor 3 and the new Pactor 4 modems. Both new and used equipment options are shown.

Just a few observations before presenting the data:

1. marine SSB equipment doesn't necessarily cost much more, if any, than ham SSB;

2. high-quality used marine SSB equipment is generally available at a considerable cost savings;

3. most folks tend to WAY underestimate the actual cost of installation -- both materials and labor -- because they don't understand the requirements of a good installation; and

4. email adds a lot of $$$ to the total cost, both due to the cost of a Pactor modem and because many good used marine SSBs are not really well suited to the data modes.

NB: I have not considered WinMor or other data modes for email here, since Pactor services are much more widely available at present, both on the marine SSB bands and on the ham bands (WinLink).

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Old 28-03-2012, 08:55   #2
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

I would definitely agree that Pactor services are much more widely available at present. But I think the operative words are "at present." Both Winmor and pskmail have been growing in popularity recently, with more servers popping up almost weekly. I suspect that in another year or so these services will be widespread enough to make them extremely viable alternatives to the much more expensive Pactor solution.

(And, of course, the competition will probably force down the price of Pactor modems at the same time.)

In any case, thanks for putting together the chart.
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Old 28-03-2012, 09:04   #3
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

Bill, I've just received my AT-140 tuner, Pactor III usb modem and M-802 rig, and will be buying the intervening bits as needed. Because I set up my CB and SW receiver rigs as a kid myself (including salvaging a steel tower and making a directional antenna), I'm going to do all the labour myself.

Having a steel boat with a cambered deck and a double backstay to the quarters helps...I have a better shot than most of getting plenty of DX because I will have a nice big ground plate...

So I'll keep you posted if you wish. This will take some time as I am still on land and mastless, but I can actually mount the boxes and rig for reception before I launch.
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Old 28-03-2012, 09:06   #4
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

I got an m700 pro with tuner for under a grand. There are some ways to cut the costs down pretty dramatically.
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Old 28-03-2012, 09:09   #5
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

denverd0n,

My pleasure. Hope it clarifies a few things for those trying to make the big "SSB decision" :-)

I agree with you that WinMor and other modes are growing and in a year or two will be much more widespread.

But, I think they will primarily fill in a different market than does Pactor 3 and 4 at the moment, i.e., those who are unwilling or unable to shell out the $1,000 or more to have good email capability.

This is particularly the case because WinMor, clever as it is, can't come anywhere near the thruput speed of either Pactor 3 or 4. Most tests I've seen so far put P4 at about twice the speed of P3, and WinMor speed somewhere below P3 speed, so between P2 and P3. This probably will be adequate for many folks when enough WinMor relay stations are available -- especially for short emails, position reports, etc. -- but may not be adequate for larger data files.

Bottom line: no question that P3 and, especially, P4 are by far the best modes for HF data transmission, but they are very expensive and not for everyone. And, truth be told, only those voyaging far from the reach of the thousands of WiFi setups will truly need the HF data modes.

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Old 28-03-2012, 09:12   #6
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

Quote:
Originally Posted by S/V Alchemy View Post
Bill, I've just received my AT-140 tuner, Pactor III usb modem and M-802 rig, and will be buying the intervening bits as needed. Because I set up my CB and SW receiver rigs as a kid myself (including salvaging a steel tower and making a directional antenna), I'm going to do all the labour myself.

Having a steel boat with a cambered deck and a double backstay to the quarters helps...I have a better shot than most of getting plenty of DX because I will have a nice big ground plate...

So I'll keep you posted if you wish. This will take some time as I am still on land and mastless, but I can actually mount the boxes and rig for reception before I launch.
Yes, I'd sure like to hear how you make out.

As you correctly surmise, the steel boat represents a great platform from which to launch HF/SSB signals!

However, if you plan to/need to use one of your two backstays for an antenna, you will have to install two insulators -- best are the Haydn fail-safe insulators -- and these can cost $300 apiece and up plus the cost of installation in the backstay.

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Old 28-03-2012, 09:15   #7
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

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Originally Posted by rebel heart View Post
I got an m700 pro with tuner for under a grand. There are some ways to cut the costs down pretty dramatically.
Yes, you are spot-on my #6 and #7 estimates in which I allowed $1,000 for the cost of a good used marine SSB and a used AT-140 modem :-)

You still have the installation costs to go, though!

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Old 28-03-2012, 09:24   #8
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

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Bottom line: no question that P3 and, especially, P4 are by far the best modes for HF data transmission, but they are very expensive and not for everyone. And, truth be told, only those voyaging far from the reach of the thousands of WiFi setups will truly need the HF data modes.

Bill
We are planning a fair bit of off-the-beaten track sailing, and, for reasons of requiring GRIBs and because we will be educating our teen son predicated on fairly regular e-mail exchanges with his Canadian school system, we need the throughput.

Yes, there are expenses here, but not like we would have for a satphone, which, being point-to-point rather than broadcast, is not as good for us should the SSB be needed to state an emergency/MAYDAY from some obscure place.

Like AIS is complementary to RADAR, so a satphone (if largely unused!) is conplementary to a well-set up SSB, in my view.
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Old 28-03-2012, 09:24   #9
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

We have been useing Marine SSB for years never had a pactor modem Yet. We have been looking into one but not as yet. Our children also have ssb equipment so we have been able to talk to them, when distance and conditions are correct. We also have a converted ssb to CB 25 watt set, thats fun to play the skip game at night on those long mid watchs !! low power comsumption, and unbeliveable range when conditions are right !! We have never felt the need to e-mail anyone as yet, rather talk to em direct! or they can wait till we have phone service! the only folks who care where we are our kids so we don't have to e-mail if we can talk a couple of times a mo. just our 2 cents
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Old 28-03-2012, 09:29   #10
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

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Yes, I'd sure like to hear how you make out.

As you correctly surmise, the steel boat represents a great platform from which to launch HF/SSB signals!

However, if you plan to/need to use one of your two backstays for an antenna, you will have to install two insulators -- best are the Haydn fail-safe insulators -- and these can cost $300 apiece and up plus the cost of installation in the backstay.

Bill
I have four sheaves at the mast top facing aft. Trysail halyard, main halyard, topping lift and a spare. I plan on cutting my own antenna for optimal coverage of the usual frequencies. The antenna would come down close to a deck gland, with about a three foot run to the tuner under the deck, and a seven-foot run to the rig in the forward bulkhead of the aft cabin.

So I prefer the idea of an antenna I can lower or raise as needed on the centerline to get the "full pop" from that steel deck, and to minimize the futzing around with tuning issues.

I still, however, have plenty to learn and may conclude cutting into a stay makes more sense.
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Old 28-03-2012, 09:37   #11
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

Yes, that could work.

However, I almost NEVER advise going with a removable antenna which you "raise when you want" as the primary SSB antenna. Problem is, just when you want or need it, it's not going to be in place and conditions may be such that getting it up quickly isn't feasible.

If you have room for a semi-permanent "alternate backstay" antenna made of s/s lifeline, that's a better setup. It must, however, be fairly clear of other rigging and your boom and mainsail must clear it OK.

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Old 28-03-2012, 09:41   #12
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Re: Marine SSB: What's It Really Cost?

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Originally Posted by bobconnie View Post
We have been useing Marine SSB for years never had a pactor modem Yet. We have been looking into one but not as yet. Our children also have ssb equipment so we have been able to talk to them, when distance and conditions are correct. We also have a converted ssb to CB 25 watt set, thats fun to play the skip game at night on those long mid watchs !! low power comsumption, and unbeliveable range when conditions are right !! We have never felt the need to e-mail anyone as yet, rather talk to em direct! or they can wait till we have phone service! the only folks who care where we are our kids so we don't have to e-mail if we can talk a couple of times a mo. just our 2 cents
Different strokes for different folks:-) Some just HAVE to be in email touch every day, or feel the need to be.

I have two SSB transceivers on my boat (ham and marine), a Pactor modem, and a satphone. When away on longish trips I, too, have almost never felt that absolute need to email.

On those few occasions when I did feel the need, I used the satphone 9600 baud connection (Globalstar) or the Pactor modem connection.

Most of the time, however, I used voice SSB -- ham or marine -- and that did the trick for staying in touch, including daily contacts with loved ones via phone patch (ham or commercial).

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