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Old 31-10-2013, 00:52   #1
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Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

I am thinking of adding a SSB receiver only for picking up weather enroute accross the Atlantic, and need some basic information on what to avoid and what to lookout for when buying. I have attached a picture of a unit that seems to be priced well, but realy don't know much about this model apart from the blurb that the sellers website. I have a satphone and had thought of using that to pick up weather but the software seems either not very good or very expensive. Hense my thinking a HF/SSB may be the best way to go.
I would welcome any thoughts or sugestions to help making a final choice.
Thank you
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Old 31-10-2013, 01:07   #2
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

Excellent, works well and comes with good software. I used one on the same route last year. I also have an SSB transceiver so was looking for an aerial that would work without interference between the two sets. Tried using the guard wires and it worked very well. You do get a better signal with an external aerial rigged, needs about 7-10m as high as possible.
One problem was that there was an area north of Cape Verdi Is which is right on the corner of the North-wood and German transmission areas but to far east to be on the US ones so no information was available. We did have times when interference mean no signal for a few days but reception on everything was very bad at the time.
Compared to the full SSB rig the Nasa needed a silightly better signal to give a clear picture but the difference was small and probably down to the full set having a better aerial
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Old 31-10-2013, 01:10   #3
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Thank you for the info much apprecieated :-)
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Old 31-10-2013, 02:03   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrismin View Post
I am thinking of adding a SSB receiver only for picking up weather enroute accross the Atlantic, and need some basic information on what to avoid and what to lookout for when buying. I have attached a picture of a unit that seems to be priced well, but realy don't know much about this model apart from the blurb that the sellers website. I have a satphone and had thought of using that to pick up weather but the software seems either not very good or very expensive. Hense my thinking a HF/SSB may be the best way to go.
I would welcome any thoughts or sugestions to help making a final choice.
Thank you
Having had both onboard a Degen 1103 is much much better IMHO.

http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/4288
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Old 31-10-2013, 04:12   #5
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

I'm not impressed with the NASA unit. Sensitivity seems low. The included software, based on MScan, has some shortfalls that are a big deal at sea particularly overwriting previously received charts.

You can get a better and cheaper solution using a Degen 1103 or Kaito KA-1103 (the same radio), and free JVCOMM-32 wefax software. Get as much wire up as high as you can for the antenna. For the patch cable between the shortwave receiver and laptop you'll want a stereo 1/8" mini-plug on the radio end and a mono 1/8" mini-plug on the laptop end.
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Old 31-10-2013, 05:31   #6
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

Once you have decided on the gear to use, I recommend a good study of the info at

Frank Singleton's Weather and Sailing Pages / Franks-Weather | The Weather Window

and you will find this invaluable

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/rfax.pdf
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Old 01-11-2013, 00:36   #7
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

Quote:
Originally Posted by chrismin View Post
I have a satphone and had thought of using that to pick up weather but the software seems either not very good or very expensive.
If you already have the satphone (which model by the way?), then you have already spent a lot of what you need to get weather via email. There are actually a couple of free or affordable satphone email programs to get you started downloading free weather quite quickly (see below), so the bulk of your expenditure going forward would simply be paying for usage of satellite minutes.

OK, satphone minutes are still somewhat expensive, but you don't need to use all that many. More importantly, satphones have significant feature benefits over HFs, which are well worth a few $ a day: (1) "on-demand" access to weather forecasts, (2) ability to get much longer duration and more detailed forecasts (via GRIB files), (3) much lower comms failure rate (no propogation or radio frequency interference), particularly if you make sure to check that you have a 4 or 5 bar signal (out of 5) before dialing.

An HF with a Pactor modem (quite expensive in its own right) resolves problems #1 and #2, but still faces #3.

Note also that HF antenna/RFI issues seem to be much greater with the handheld SSBs models like suggested above, so it takes experience & trial & error to get those to work - there are some fairly disappointed users out there, including myself (we tried the Tecsun PL-660 which appears well recommended, but never got good signals from various HF voice forecasts using just the built-in & wire antennas). Based on my experience, I would not rely on the portable models for primary weather until I had thoroughly tested it on board.

Now back to weather via satphone (note: this discussion assumes a handheld, slow satphone like the Isatphone or Iridium Extreme):

(1) How many satphone minutes are needed per day?
People have different opinions, but I'd suggest:
- 2min/day if only downloading text forecasts (similar to what you'd get via HF)
e.g. MeteoFrance's Metarea II and NOAA's Metarea IV across the Atlantic -- both available at: http://weather.gmdss.org (just save the exact page web links before you leave)
=> somewhat unlikely usage scenario in practice, as most users avail themselves of the option to download GRIBs when given the opportunity

- 5min/day if downloading text forecasts + 1 basic GRIB/day (low res, large area 5-7 days forecast, in 24hr increments)

- 10min/day if downloading text forecasts + a couple GRIBs/day (for example the low res long-range forecast above + a 36-48hr high-res, small-area forecast, in 3-6hr increments, for short-range routing)

Minutes prices vary, but for example most prepaid Iridium plans cost $1.5-2.5/minute (e.g. ~$300 for 150min valid 2 months), and there are various subscription options as well. Pretty much the same cost as roaming on your cell phone...

(2) I have the satphone and minutes, now how do I email for (near) free?
You need a satphone-optimized email service (think "Outlook Express" for satphone) which can effectively use the very slow satphone data connections to access a dedicated onshore email server. There are lot of these satphone email services (see past thread links below), but my suggestions if you are price conscious are:
- Vizada Skyfile Mail (free)
- UUplus (sold via SPSMail, about $15/mo)

Both these are comparable, fully functional email programs, used by a range of sailors (incl. some professional ships), although they are probably not as common as the paid email services you will read about more often among cruisers (GMN, MailaSail). These email programs also work with different satphone service providers (Iridium/Inmarsat).

See these links for more discussion of email options and links to each product:
Satellite phone provider

Inmarsat ISatPhone Online Position Tracking

Internet / Email Access via Iridium

Problems with Iridium internet Connection

(3) I have the satphone, the minutes, and email service. Now can I get weather?
Yes, and best of all, all the next steps can be done for free.

Use Saildocs (www.saildocs.com/) as your tool for accessing any weather content (text, images, GRIB).
This is an ultra-simple email "query-reply" system, where you first send a message to a server specifying what content you want, and the server then sends you the content by email reply (within 1-2 minutes of the initial query - you can log-off during this time and re log-on later).

The query steps are easy (you can try this from any email address):
- Send an email to query@saildocs.com
- The body of the email should contain your data request, e.g.:
Send http://weather.gmdss.org/navimail/GMDSS_METAREA2_INMARSAT
=> To receive MeteoFrance Metarea 2 text forecast (other Metareas available on the same website, including NOAA Metarea 4)

Send GFS:27N,40N,20W,05W/1,1/6,12..72/PRESS,WIND,WAVES
=> To receive a GRIB file for the designated region, 1 deg resolution, 6-72hrs forecast (fully customizable)

Send http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/PYAA11.TIF
=> To receive the current situation surface weather chart for the Eastern Atlantic (all other NOAA weather charts are available in the same folder)

The key is knowing the exact address of the weather data you are trying to access, which requires research pre-departure (Talbot's links above are a great place to start).


(4) I've used the satphone and saildocs to receive GRIBS. How do I view the GRIBs and/or do my ownrouting?
Tons of free options here, but my personal preferences are:
- ZyGrib for GRIB viewing (intuitive yet powerful visualization options + convenient for use ashore by downloading GRIBs straight from the program)

- QtVlm for GRIB-based routing (emerged out of ZyGrib, less intuitive but powerful). I also use Bluewater Racing (also free) as a cross-check.

Note that routing is much more complex than simple GRIB viewing, as you need to choose/understand your boat polars, adjust for the inaccuracies of GRIBs (especially up & down the wind range + in coastal areas), adjust for cruising modes (e.g. sailing more conservatively than polars), etc. There is very much the potential to achieve "garbage in, garbage out"...

Final note: I have no commercial connection to any of the above suggestions - simply a keen user who had to figure this all out myself...
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Old 01-11-2013, 02:54   #8
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

I think a few points of perspective are appropriate here.

One is that the capital cost plus running cost of HF/SSB should be compared to that of satellite phones (including car kit and external antenna). If you're heading out for just a few months sat phones look pretty good. If you're going for a few years or more HF/SSB starts looking very good.

A pet peeve of mine is that people will spend a lot of time learning about diesel engines and watermakers and electronics but can't be bothered to spend a fraction of the time to understand basic radio propagation and a few tools to model and predict it. It just isn't hard.

Also note that satellite phones are not nearly as robust as many expect. It isn't like a cell phone in an urban area. Sometimes it just doesn't connect.

Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
(1) "on-demand" access to weather forecasts,
True enough for synoptics, but text forecasts and gribs are available anytime, just like on a sat phone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
(2) ability to get much longer duration and more detailed forecasts (via GRIB files),
Gribs have significant shortfalls, not the least of which is the inability to show the location of fronts. That means they may have lots of detail that is wrong. The good news is that is changing as NOAA works on meteorologist value-added products available as gribs. They're coming - just not here today. Of course in some places like the South Pacific there aren't alternatives so you have to do your own analysis and infer the location of fronts and other weather artifacts.

Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
(3) much lower comms failure rate (no propogation or radio frequency interference), particularly if you make sure to check that you have a 4 or 5 bar signal (out of 5) before dialing.
I disagree. In side by side comparisons I have seen HF/SSB performance as good or better than sat phones. Four or five bars don't last long on sat phones I have used.

Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
Note also that HF antenna/RFI issues seem to be much greater with the handheld SSBs models like suggested above, so it takes experience & trial & error to get those to work
Absolutely correct. The portable SSB receivers don't have the shielding of a more robust permanent installation. A good antenna helps tremendously. Beyond that, on some boats, either significant noise reduction is required or you have to turn off systems like refrigeration, inverters, and ventilation fans when operating in a weak signal environment.

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Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
Now back to weather via satphone
Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
(note: this discussion assumes a handheld, slow satphone like the Isatphone or Iridium Extreme):
The problem with which assumption is that fragile and expensive electronics, including your laptop, end up in the cockpit.

I think galacticair's time estimates are pretty low, especially if you expect to get the synoptic charts you really do want to have offshore OR if you are coordinating with a weather router.

Quote:
Originally Posted by galacticair View Post
Use Saildocs (www.saildocs.com/) as your tool for accessing any weather content (text, images, GRIB).
Agreed. A valuable supplement to synoptic charts over wefax.

HF/SSB takes a bit of effort to use effectively just like a lot of other things on our boats, including the boats themselves.

There are scenarios where there is no better solution than a sat phone, particularly if you have elderly parents to care for or significant business relationships ashore that require direct dial in and out. Wefax and Navtex are much better than sat phones for weather assuming (*grin*) you know what you are looking at when you look at a synoptic.
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Old 01-11-2013, 07:35   #9
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

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Having had both onboard a Degen 1103 is much much better IMHO.
Not to mention WAAAAAY less expensive.
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Old 01-11-2013, 08:20   #10
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
I think a few points of perspective are appropriate here.

A pet peeve of mine is that people will spend a lot of time learning about diesel engines and watermakers and electronics but can't be bothered to spend a fraction of the time to understand basic radio propagation and a few tools to model and predict it. It just isn't hard.
It is a great feeling that when there is poor propagation, you cannot get the weather you are counting on. We found the SSB signals to be unreliable. It is aggravating when you cannot get information. If you can get signal the information is not available on your schedule.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
Also note that satellite phones are not nearly as robust as many expect. It isn't like a cell phone in an urban area. Sometimes it just doesn't connect.
I had 100% connectivity with an Iridium sat phone model 9555 for two crossing of the Atlantic. I did not find this statement to be true.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
Gribs have significant shortfalls, not the least of which is the inability to show the location of fronts. That means they may have lots of detail that is wrong. The good news is that is changing as NOAA works on meteorologist value-added products available as gribs. They're coming - just not here today. Of course in some places like the South Pacific there aren't alternatives so you have to do your own analysis and infer the location of fronts and other weather artifacts.
In the North Atlantic the GRIBS gave us all of the required information we needed to make decisions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
Absolutely correct. The portable SSB receivers don't have the shielding of a more robust permanent installation. A good antenna helps tremendously. Beyond that, on some boats, either significant noise reduction is required or you have to turn off systems like refrigeration, inverters, and ventilation fans when operating in a weak signal environment.
We had a brand new top of the line SSB with good installation. We had to shut everything down when offshore just to hear Herb. It was total aggravation and eventually the $3000 worth of SSB gear plus installation, was never turned on again.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
The problem with which assumption is that fragile and expensive electronics, including your laptop, end up in the cockpit.
Our laptop with 2 backups never ended up in the cockpit in two years of cruising.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Auspicious View Post
There are scenarios where there is no better solution than a sat phone, particularly if you have elderly parents to care for or significant business relationships ashore that require direct dial in and out.
Totally agree with you on this point.
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Old 01-11-2013, 08:58   #11
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

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Originally Posted by LakeSuperior View Post
It is a great feeling that when there is poor propagation, you cannot get the weather you are counting on. We found the SSB signals to be unreliable. It is aggravating when you cannot get information. If you can get signal the information is not available on your schedule.
This has never been a problem for me on Auspicious or a wide range of delivery boats, including those on which I had to carry a portable SSB receiver to get weather.

Perhaps some is procedural. I generally set up to receive weather fax over night (there is also a day time sequence from both Boston and Northwood for those in the Atlantic). In the morning I go over synoptics and do my analysis at my leisure. The products are released on a 12 hour cycle. If you get them when released you can look at them whenever you like. Getting a product two hours later because that's when you sit down isn't a newer product. It is what it is until the next cycle is released.

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I had 100% connectivity with an Iridium sat phone model 9555 for two crossing of the Atlantic.
Then you were fortunate. That isn't always the case. I recall a Valentine's day on delivery while four crew got through to home on ship-to-shore HF/SSB while one fellow was still yelling "Can you hear me now" into his sat phone.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LakeSuperior View Post
In the North Atlantic the GRIBS gave us all of the required information we needed to make decisions.
I'm not sure how you do that unless you can take the GFS model product and figure out for yourself where the lows, highs, and fronts are. Please elaborate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LakeSuperior View Post
We had a brand new top of the line SSB with good installation. We had to shut everything down when offshore just to hear Herb. It was total aggravation and eventually the $3000 worth of SSB gear plus installation, was never turned on again.
I suggest it wasn't a very good installation then. A good installation may require work on refrigeration compressors, inverters, and other electrical systems. The requirements aren't usually invasive or time-consuming - some capacitors and ferrites. The only item I haven't really got a handle on is quieting down ventilation fans. Those tiny motors generate huge RFI.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LakeSuperior View Post
Our laptop with 2 backups never ended up in the cockpit in two years of cruising.
What I have seen over and over is people getting sucked into the "cheap sat phone" myth and ending up with the phone and laptop in the cockpit. Most eventually end up with car kits and proper marine external antennas, but by the time all that is retrofitted much of the nominal price advantage of sat phones is gone. The lucky ones don't drown a laptop in the process.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LakeSuperior View Post
Totally agree with you on this point {direct dial to support interests at home}.
That's the kicker. Getting a elderly parent's doctor or a corporate bean counter to deal with ship-to-shore phone patches is unlikely.
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Old 01-11-2013, 09:13   #12
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

Propagation is a factor in SSB use but I always got my weather, just need a good install and pick the proper time of day.
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Old 01-11-2013, 09:53   #13
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

In the northern (also southern) hemisphere the lows and highs are clearly identified in the GRIBs by the direction of wind barbs and pressure isobars. Fronts are inferred from the precipitation information.

We lived and died by the information in the GRIBs. Frontal intensity was typically not a concern as only the depth of the lows and resulting wind speeds that would make life truly difficult were an issue. We felt we did not need additional information.

Our Iridium installation was semi fixed with an external marine antenna.

We really gave the SSB a run but in the end it was just easier to use the Iridium. We did use the SSB to communicate with other yachts in the area but the times had to be prearranged because no one left their SSBs on or monitored a specific frequency. It went into the "to hard" category.

Communicating with other yachts seemed not to be of value as what do you say?? They are sailing and you are sailing.

Yes we could have worked the noise issues etc., etc. but in the end it wasn't worth it.

The new sat phone technology boils down to install it and use it like a cell phone. Negligible learning curve, don't have to figure out where what is on what frequency at what time.
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Old 01-11-2013, 10:04   #14
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

The SSB technology is great for the "tech" hobbyist, who by the way are the most vocal supporters. I get it, nice electronics, tuning to get best performance, great physics, and a great community.

Most folks cruising are not into this tech category. They just want weather and communication, no hassle, easy, on their schedule. Look at all the threads on CF from folks requiring assistance on their SSBs, on install, use, noise issues, antennas, that are all electrical engineering/electronic technician level questions.

The reality is that most folks are not even installing a SSB these days. There are other "easier" alternatives.
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Old 01-11-2013, 11:00   #15
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Re: Newbe to ssb, anybody help me with some basic info?

Just to make a point about protocol the title of this post is Newbe to SSB while this is an interesting debate on alternative technologies I think we probably lost the original poster some time ago!!
I would point to one thing though, when I talk about cost of satphones as expensive I mean the cheapest monthly plan or prepay card is out of my budget. Also SSB is still part of SOLAS for ship safety, hand held sat phones are not (classed the same as mobiles for the same reason, the have no inter-ship capacity).
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