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Old 25-10-2014, 05:00   #1
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Sailmail won't work

We've got a Pactor modem and want to use it with Sailmail, which has worked successfully before, but since having some work done on our boat this fall (solar panels installed), the sailmail is no longer working, although the SSB works just fine. The tech guy who has done all of our electronics (but not the solar panels) is stumped. He thinks it's an electrical interference, but has put suppressors (is that the right word for the things you put on electrical cables that cut down on interference????) on everything he can think of. The problem has been the same with 3 different laptops and 2 different cables. Does anyone have any suggestions???? My husband and a crew are going offshore with the Salty Dawg Rally to Virgin Gorda in a week! We'd really like to have the Sailmail working again.
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:15   #2
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Is Sailmail still able to change the frequency of the radio?

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Old 25-10-2014, 05:20   #3
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Yes, it can change the frequency.
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:26   #4
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Re: Sailmail won't work

When you say it doesn't work, are you saying everything comes up on the computer as it should and the sailmail is calling normally but does not connect???
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:30   #5
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Yes - about 20% of the time it will connect and the message will get through, but about 80% of the time it won't.
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:35   #6
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Are you in a marina when you do the test. at the dock.
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:45   #7
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Re: Sailmail won't work

If you are in a marina then odds are that you are getting a lot of interference with all the other boats as well as all the normal competing signals and local antennas etc. etc. Naturally your sailmail will do much much better away from the dock and city.
If you are testing it away from the dock and still having issues it could be your choice of frequencies and time of day.
It is a good thing that you are getting connections some of the time.
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:49   #8
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Re: Sailmail won't work

One other thought, if its been awhile since the SSB has been used it might be a good idea to double check your grounding system (counterpoise) to make sure it is all properly in place. Some of the thin copper tape corrodes over the years.
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Old 25-10-2014, 05:55   #9
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Re: Sailmail won't work

The results are the same as in the marina and at our home dock. I did lower the wattage output on the Icom to Med from High and that seemed to take care of the "Modem lost error message" and ERROR message when transmitting on a 8M and using transmitting on High. Now we can call Sailmail stations without receiving the Error message but it has not helped with getting the stations to connect. We are using the propagation tables in Sailmail to pick the correct freqs.
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Old 25-10-2014, 06:06   #10
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Have you taken off , cleaned and reinstalled the antenna to backstay connection? It may have been marginal and bumped during the solar install.
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Old 25-10-2014, 06:15   #11
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Yes, the cable from the tuner to antenna has been removed and cleaned along with the grounding strap.
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Old 25-10-2014, 06:26   #12
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Re: Sailmail won't work

Quote:
Originally Posted by muttnut View Post
We've got a Pactor modem and want to use it with Sailmail, which has worked successfully before, but since having some work done on our boat this fall (solar panels installed), the sailmail is no longer working, although the SSB works just fine. The tech guy who has done all of our electronics (but not the solar panels) is stumped. He thinks it's an electrical interference, but has put suppressors (is that the right word for the things you put on electrical cables that cut down on interference????) on everything he can think of. The problem has been the same with 3 different laptops and 2 different cables. Does anyone have any suggestions???? My husband and a crew are going offshore with the Salty Dawg Rally to Virgin Gorda in a week! We'd really like to have the Sailmail working again.
Since the problem appeared after you had solar panels installed, it's logical to assume the problem originates there. But to be sure you should disconnect the solar panels from the regulators and the regulators from the batteries (in that order) and try Sailmail.

Do you use MPPT solar regulators? They work on a high frequency and some models (often made in a certain People's Republic) produce a lot of harmonics. If they're MPPT, try exchanging them for PWM.

Harmonics s*ck. I know someone whose AIS wouldn't display a single contact after he installed multiplexed LED navigation lights in the top of the mast and switched them on.
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Old 25-10-2014, 06:31   #13
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Re: Sailmail won't work

The modem lost error is normally from TX getting into other cabling, eg USB cables, power etc. Is the antenna run from the ssb to the tuner separated from the other cables, ie not in the same wire chases and not parallel with the other wires (solar wiring was new). You could test by temp rerunning it.
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Old 28-10-2014, 12:17   #14
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Re: Sailmail won't work

muttnut,
Others here have given you some good ideas (especially Paul's last posting)....perhaps I can help narrow down the problem even more...

EDIT>>>>
I forgot the FIRST step....duh!!
Asking you to make sure that the radio's 12vdc power comes directly from the main house battery bank, and NOT thru a buss bar / distribution panel / circuit breaker panel, etc...
This a VERY important part of puzzle and while we can all assume that your install was done this way, it should be verified!!

And, also not using the all-to-lengthy Icom power cord, but using a heavier gauge wire as needed if the run is long...

And, making sure that the solar array wiring is not directly connected at the same terminals as the HF-SSB Radio is....


1) First and foremost, I fully understand the reasoning for wanting everything working properly before leaving port....but, in reality, leaving on an offshore passage without e-mail is really no big deal (as many, including myself, have sailed across oceans quite often and never had e-mail while at sea!)....as you already have free access to the "gold standard" of offshore/hi-sea weather info/forecasts, as well as easy access to inexpensive ship-to-shore telephone calls, etc....without the PACTOR modem nor Sailmail working...(see below for details...)



And, please be sure that you understand how to use your SSB radio properly, and that it is all working properly before leaving port....
Test the HF-DSC functions, test the HF Voice functions, as well as test your e-mail/pactor functions...
And, be sure to review this page and make sure you have all of these frequencies properly programmed and that they all work....(both DSC and Voice...)

http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=cgcommsCall

And, have a look at these videos that explain proper operation much better than my ramblings here....

Icom M-802 Instr Videos(basic-adv) & LIVE DSC-Distress Call





2) Secondly, if you're attempting to troubleshoot on-line and/or on-the-boat without professional (i.e. NOT "some guy on another boat") help, providing as much info as possible, no matter how innocuous, to everyone WILL get you the best/most useful answers back...
Troubleshooting from far away, on a keyboard, is always a pain....but the more info the better...

BTW, I don't know the expertise of your "tech guy", but transmit RFI isn't a quick thing to find, so give him this info here and ask him if needs more help....



3) Thirdly, and probably most important to you and husband/crew, following the Sailmail recommendations PRECISELY and COMPLETELY, as laid out in great detail in the Sailmail Primer, is always the first step...

{I hope you will take solace in the fact that this type of RFI (Radio frequency Interference), RFI ingress from your transmissions, usually takes time to track-down....but if you do follow all the advice/recommendations it is solvable!!!}

Everyone with an HF rig on-board, whether they have a PACTOR modem and are a member of Sailmail or not, should read and follow the experienced and leaned advice/recommendations in the Sailmail Primer...
(you can download it in PDF form, and print it out and keep a hard copy in file on-board as well...)
SailMail Primer

http://www.sailmail.com/sailmail%20website.pdf

SailMail Primer

SailMail



a) Although the fact that the problem started after the installation of your solar array, DOES point to this as being the proximate cause of your Sailmail connection difficulties, this is not an absolute, and making sure that all other wiring/connections are correct is a good idea...

b) Having a look at how effectively you are transmitting your HF-SSB Voice signal (by BOTH measuring the output AND making contact with shore stations and other boats, and assessing your HF radio system's performance), is a very important part of the troubleshooting process...
Quote:
Originally Posted by muttnut View Post
We've got a Pactor modem and want to use it with Sailmail, which has worked successfully before, but since having some work done on our boat this fall (solar panels installed), the sailmail is no longer working, although the SSB works just fine.
Okay, so far so good!!!
Wondering how you tested / evaluated the "SSB", but that'll come later...



c) Making sure that any of your USB cables and/or USB-Serial adapters are the SAME as before, is VERY important as there have been many who have changed USB-Serial adapters (to non-Keyspan / Tripplite brands) and have lots of troubles...as well as many of the newer USB cables being a bit lacking on the construction/shielding, etc...


d) And adding the "suppressors" (ferrites) as you've done is very good...
Quote:
Originally Posted by muttnut View Post
The tech guy who has done all of our electronics (but not the solar panels) is stumped. He thinks it's an electrical interference, but has put suppressors (is that the right word for the things you put on electrical cables that cut down on interference????) on everything he can think of. The problem has been the same with 3 different laptops and 2 different cables. Does anyone have any suggestions???
If you do not have a coaxial line isolator installed in your coaxial cable (at the remote tuner end of the coax), this is the SECOND thing you should do, or have your "tech guy" do!!!
This will eliminate common mode radiation from the coaxial feedline (has about the same effect as using a few dozen, or more, "suppressors"), which may now be being picked-up by the solar array wiring, and now causing RFI into your modem/computer connection as well as RFI into your modem/radio connection....
This statement here is very telling, in that the interference can be reduced on lower power, and that tends to be a VERY good sign that use of a line isolator, etc. WILL work well for this problem...
Quote:
Originally Posted by muttnut View Post
I did lower the wattage output on the Icom to Med from High and that seemed to take care of the "Modem lost error message" and ERROR message when transmitting on a 8M and using transmitting on High. Now we can call Sailmail stations without receiving the Error message but it has not helped with getting the stations to connect.
Whether you choose Radioworks or DX Engineering....either will work well for you...
T-4
Line Isolators
Line Isolator System

DX Engineering Maxi-CoreŽ Feedline Current Chokes DXE-FCC050-H05-A - Free Shipping on Orders Over $99 at DX Engineering


The FIRST thing to check (after the RF/antenna ground connections and the backstay antenna wire connections, that you've already done) are the coaxial cable between the radio and remote tuner, and its connections.....
What might have just been a slight loose / dirty / corroded connection or squished/damaged cable earlier, and never caused an issue, might now be the proximate cause of the your Sailmail connectivity problems....




e) This statement here also makes me think, hmm...
Quote:
Originally Posted by muttnut View Post
Now we can call Sailmail stations without receiving the Error message but it has not helped with getting the stations to connect.
This is many times the case where the PACTOR drive levels might not be set correctly....
Yes, this might seem odd, if there was no change to the radio or PACTOR modem, but it is possible that "something" has been changed, either on purpose (such as changing cables), or inadvertently (such as moving a cable / connector and changing its resistiveness, etc.)....
So, checking you PACTOR drive levels is always a good thing to do....and it takes just a few seconds to do so...
Setting Drive Levels





f) And, here is another part of the puzzle...
Quote:
Originally Posted by muttnut View Post
We are using the propagation tables in Sailmail to pick the correct freqs.
While I believe Airmail/Sailmail propagation tables are based on VOACAP (a great resource), they are NOT perfect, and cannot allow for recent (this past week's) propagation issues caused by space weather storms, etc. (which caused some radio black-outs and inconsistencies).....
Which why I was wondering how you evaluated that the "SSB works just fine"???




4) Understand that just one small part of the above, or all of the above, might be exactly what you need to solve the problem you're having with Sailmail connectivity....but it is also possible that it is something else that I haven't gotten to yet....as I have NO idea what radio you have, how it is installed / wired, what boat you have and how everything else is wired/installed, nor what solar array you have, what controllers you have, nor where/how they are all installed/wired, etc. etc. etc....

Until we get more info, the best we can do is generalize....



5) And, for an index holding links to a wealth of HF-SSB info, have a look here...
Marine SSB Stuff (how-to better use/properly-install SSB)




6) Even if you cannot solve this problem in time for departure....there is a wealth of info here...
Offshore / Hi-Seas Weather data / forecasts

As for having easy / free access to the "gold standard" of offshore weather info and forecasts, you do have the USCG HF VOICE weather (US NWS/NOAA Offshore and Hi-Seas Weather) broadcasts 8 times per day from NMN and NMG (4 detailed Offshore weather forecasts and 4 wide area Hi-seas weather forecasts)...
USCG HF Voice

As well as 6 times a day from Shipcom's WLO....
HF SSB Radiotelephone, Telex and Email Frequencies and Channels


And, have the truly Gold Standard US NWS/NOAA Weather Charts, transmitted almost all day long by the USCG, from NMF and NMG....(and here all you need do is plug the radio's heaphone output into your computer's mic/line in, and with some free software you have weather charts on your computer...)
Boston Radiofax Schedule with Links
(For a US East Coast to BVI transit, I prefer the charts out of NMF, as they show a lot more of the continental weather coming...and it is these Fronts / Lows that can be a real kick in the pants when at sea...)

New Orleans Radiofax Schedule with Links


And, don't forget Shipcom's WLO ship-to-shore radiotelephone service, etc...
HF SSB Radiotelephone Email, Fax, Satellite Marine Messages, Telex Sitor & Marine Weather Services
HF SSB Radiotelephone, Telex and Email Frequencies and Channels


And, of course there is the Doo-Dah Net and free weather info from Chris Parker.....(I think they're still doing this???)
At 1700 EST daily on 8152khz....
(or alternatively 6516khz/6227khz in wintertime??)




7) And, finally....on a side note...
Be sure to properly register your EPIRB....and understand what happens upon activation, etc....

EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds


And, again, be sure that you understand how to use your SSB radio properly, and that it is all working properly before leaving port....
Test the HF-DSC functions, test the HF Voice functions, as well as test your e-mail/pactor functions...
And, be sure to review this page and make sure you have all of these frequencies properly programmed and that they all work....(both DSC and Voice...)
http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=cgcommsCall

DSC DISTRESS



I do hope this helps...

Fair winds....

John
s/v Annie Laurie
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