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Old 22-11-2006, 19:56   #1
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SSB Radio installation

Hello,

I am curious as to what needs to be done to install a SSB on a sailboat, what equipment is needed, and just some general "How To" comments from those willing to take the time.

I am not looking to install a system that allows me to chat with the Mars Rovers, but something simple but adequate that will work in the most remote part of the Pacific.

Thanks all in advance,

Classycoro
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Old 22-11-2006, 20:53   #2
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Classycoro,

The requirements, equipment, and procedures for installing a marine SSB radio aboard a sailboat are numerous, in part determined by your own level of knowledge and expertise, and by your own requirements for anticipated use of the radio.

Assuming you've already chosen and acquired the radio, tuner, and related parts, here are some of the basic elements of a successful installation:

1. a good power supply which will provide 20-30A to the radio without significant voltage drop;

2. a good antenna and RF ground system (there are several choices to be made both with respect to the antenna and the RF ground system);

3. normally, an automatic tuner which will match your radio's output to the antenna on the desired bands;

4. all the necessary wires, connecting cables, and fuses for the DC power supply to the radio;

5. GTO-15 wire from the tuner to the antenna; RG-8x coax to connect the radio to the tuner; ferrite beads and RF blocking devices if needed;

6. required cabling, copper foil, and other parts to make up the RF ground system (exact components depend on each individual boat, and on whether or not it is desired to construct a traditional groundplane/counterpoise system, or a pseudo-ground/driven-ground system such as radials; see my recent post on SSCA board);

http://64.70.221.24/DiscBoard/viewtopic.php?t=1177

7. a good RF power/swr meter which can measure the output from the transmitter, and the standing wave ratio on the antenna feed line; and

8. lots of time, patience, and willingness to experiment a bit.

To actually transmit with the radio, you need both a station license and a restricted radio operators license (both available from the FCC upon application and payment of the fees).

That about covers a "typical" installation. If you're talking about ham radio, there are some twists. If you're planning on operating ONLY on one or two HF bands, it's possible to build a very efficient antenna expressly for those bands which would optimize long-distance communications (you mentioned the South Pacific), and which would not require either a tuner or an RF ground system.

Hope this overview helps.

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Old 22-11-2006, 21:15   #3
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A different cable choice

In addition to Bill's advice: a lot of hams and some commercial installers are using Davis RF Co "Bury-Flex" low-loss 50 Ohm cable (approx 0.42 inch dia.) instead of RG 8U or RG 8x because of its superior dielectric and jacketing resistance to moisture.

I have had some degradation over time with various of the other cables due to the eventual contamination over time by moist sea air in the tropics. While this will first be evidenced with VHF signal degradation and later HF degradation the newer cable type will not degrade and offeres a more robust coax over RG8-X in the case of lightning strikes or discharges.

Plan on terminating your critical cables in 50 Ohm dummy loads (even relatively low power ones are better than an open or a short) when you can in lightning storms because an open or shorted termination results in a doubling of any reflected wave induced into the cable increasing the risk of dielectric flashover and damage internally.

As a technical note be aware that any SWR metering made not at the antenna drive point but at a conveniently observed one near the transceiver will not be valid unless the coax is an even half-wave multiple at the frequency of interest. Normally in most cases it is convenient to use a half-wave on the center of the 40 meter band because you then get a full wave on the 20 meter band automatically.
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Old 23-11-2006, 20:13   #4
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Yah right, I got it down pat...

Come on fellas, try to make this a little easier will ya! :-) your lingo assumes I know a lot about this SSB or Ham means of staying in touch.

I like the one or two bands idea, I mainly want the radio for weather and news of what is going on in the rest of the world but able to transmit in case of an emergency or to find out if I am ever a grandfather. Just a good basic setup is all I am looking to acheive.

I am saving the thread so your info is not wasted by any means but I need a good place to start and we are talking about ohms resistance in coax, ferrites, etc (Which I know what they are) and I need something a little more simple like...

First do this

then do this

and you need this and that

and make your antenna this long or buy this antenna from xyb supply, use this water resistant 50 ohm cable...

and your in business, able to send/receive on these bands which I fully reccomend.

I would like to have the grounding thing and tuner thing explained further, a power supply is simple to understand but this copper foil thing has me curious.

Also, I would like to know why I need a license from the US Government when neither my boat or myself belong to the FCC or the US and I am in the middle of the South Pacific? Do all international people need to get a licence from the Americans to opperate a radio? Seems a bit strange... anyway can you clairify this for me?

Again Thank you very much for your time,

Classycoro
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Old 23-11-2006, 20:23   #5
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Bill, I did read your post by the way, very interesting... Can you explain a wire radial? What is the difference between a tuner and a transceiver?

Thanks
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Old 23-11-2006, 21:23   #6
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Yeah, that's what I was afraid of, and never should have attempted to answer your original query. But, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt.

You're asking for a lot of detailed information, without giving any specific information about yourself, your location or situation, your nationality, your boat's registration, whether or not you have already bought an SSB and a tuner, etc., etc.

I'd really suggest that the best course of action for you is to forget the SSB and buy an Iridium satphone.

Bill
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Old 23-11-2006, 22:18   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by classycoro
I am saving the thread so your info is not wasted by any means but I need a good place to start and we are talking about ohms resistance in coax, ferrites, etc (Which I know what they are) and I need something a little more simple like...
For your level of knowledge, I really wouldn't recommend doing it yourself. Actually, for most people I wouldn't recommend it. Basic boat DC and house wiring does not prepare you for the weird stuff that happens at radio frequencies.

I don't mean to be unhelpful, but probably the right answer is to pay a dealer to install the radio for you, or at least find one that can give you the detailed instructions you need. Once you spend US$2500 or more for equipment, another few hundred to have it installed properly doesn't look so bad. If that is a problem, you might talk to a dealer who at least can give you some support.

Quote:
I would like to have the grounding thing and tuner thing explained further, a power supply is simple to understand but this copper foil thing has me curious.
tuner : A radio wave has a property called "wavelength". The wave length is the speed of light divided by the frequency. To effectively radiate the signal from the antenna, the antenna needs to be a certain fraction of the wavelength. 1/4 is commonly used, for example.

One size does not fit all. The antenna is only the right size for one exact frequency, and is only pretty close for a small bit of the spectrum. With a typical backstay antenna, it could be wrong for ANY frequency that you are going to use.

You compensate with a device called an "antenna tuner". It inserts circuitry between your radio and antenna (at the base of the antenna) to compensate for the antenna being the wrong size. The exact compensation to be done is different for each frequency, and is not the same on your boat as it is on another boat. When you transmit, an automatic antenna tuner figures out what compensation is necessary right now and switches itself accordingly. If you get the tuner and radio from the same manufacturer, sometimes the radio has a separate wire to send clues to the tuner, so it can get tuned faster.

copper foil : At radio frequencies, there is a behaviour called "skin effect". The current only flows on the very surface of the wire, not in the center. (In fact, in coaxial cable you can have current flowing one way on the inside of the shield while simultaneously having it flow the other way on the outside.) Copper foil has a very large surface area compared to typical wire, so it provides a lower "impedance" path.

If you have a high impedance, a wire can look like a dead short when you measure it with DC, but can look like an open circuit to radio frequency energy. The worst thing you can do with an RF ground wire is to use a thin round wire, then wrap the extra wire up in a coil -- it can prevent the RF getting through at all, and so be like not having a ground at all.

Antennas are really made of two parts; if you have only one part (like a backstay antenna), the ground is the other one. Without the ground, it doesn't work well. Copper foil for a ground wire is one way to solve part of the problem of getting a good ground.

Quote:
Also, I would like to know why I need a license from the US Government when neither my boat or myself belong to the FCC or the US and I am in the middle of the South Pacific? Do all international people need to get a licence from the Americans to opperate a radio? Seems a bit strange... anyway can you clairify this for me?
Your profile says you are in "Key West", which is the name of a well-known island in the southern US. Coupled with that, your post could pass for American English. We're just making incorrect assumptions about your nationality.

The more literally correct answer is that you need a license from the country that your boat is flagged in. For example, if you are a German citizen, your wife is Swiss, and your boat is French and entitled to fly the French flag, you need a license from France. (I actually met this boat a few years ago.)
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Old 26-11-2006, 11:31   #8
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classycoro, unfortunately for you you have stepped into an old, tired pile of cr*p in the cruisers world. You will never get a straight answer as you can tell from Mr Trayfors 2nd post and his unfortunate attitude toward all of us who aren't "radio heads". I have been through this on another forum where the radio forum frequently turned into SSB radio versions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There are straight answers to your questions and they are available from many web sources and radio manufacturers. Coot does a nice job in expaining the basics but I disagree that you can't install a workable system yourself. You can, and many have, with great results. I would set up a consulting agreement with the dealer you buy your system from and use them for questions and advice and stay away from the forums for "hard" advice on this subject. Unfortunately there are as many different opinions on this subject as atoms in the universe and everyone thinks they are the only one who knows anything!

Some people in these forums will overwhelm you with the pursuit of perfection at the expense of the perfectly workable. You will also find there are those that "teach" Radio courses and sell products that push their particular brand of installation. I have found that the manufacturers of the radios often disagree with these folks and so do some of the dealers I have talked to. I would try to find a dealer that does radio work for commercial vessels as well as recreational.

Also there are some very good books and experts out there that can tell you what you need to know without treating you as if you are too stupid to do the work involved. There are pitfalls and challenges but these can be handled.

It is unfortunate that so many of the folks that could help, have the attitude that unless you are a radio professional you should just buy a sat phone. don't fall for that. This is R A D I O, an early 20th century technology...not rocket science. It is just my opinion that these forums are not the best place to get unbiased, accurate and technologically savvy advice on this particular subject. Good luck and hang in there.

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Old 26-11-2006, 12:20   #9
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Alan,

Sorry you feel that way.

I think you've correctly noted that SSB installations aboard boats is a subject on which there are many "expert" opinions, often differing one from the other.

However, I think you've misunderstood or mis-characterized the posts which have been offered on the various Boards, including mine, as being "too technical" or unhelpful or elitist or whatever. Many of us have spent many, many hours trying to provide helpful advice to sailors with widely differing skill and interest levels. The result, while confusing to some because "experts" can differ on what is still a complex topic -- the "early 20th century technology" notwithstanding -- has more often been to assist numerous sailors to achieve a workable SSB installation on their boats. There are numerous unsolicited "thank you" posts by these persons.

By the way, to my knowledge the ONLY previous post you have made on the subject of SSB radio was to hammer a working radio professional on the SSCA Board for being too commercial.

I don't think you've tried to help anyone to get his/her radio installation up and running, and your advice in this situation is lacking. I suggested that classycoro forget SSB and go with a satphone, based on his demonstrated level of understanding and -- more importantly -- his attitude which suggested that he is not likely to be very successful with SSB radio even if he manages somehow to get one installed properly. Even a great radio installation doesn't automatically mean you're gonna be able to USE it properly....that takes practice, skill, and -- oh yes -- knowledge.

I was very discouraged after my first post in which I tried to get across some of the fundamentals, which provoked a tirade from classycoro re: too technical, tell me step-by-step what to do, etc. That's why I suggested the satphone.

Coot's advice to use a professional to get the radio installed is good, too. At this point, we don't know much about classycoro....don't know his nationality, the registry of his boat, whether or not he has already bought a radio and tuner, whether his boat already has an insulated backstay, etc., etc. Yet we're being asked for step-by-step installation instructions.

Coot and I felt that in these circumstances the best thing would be for classycoro to either enlist professional help or get a satphone.

I'd like very much to be proven wrong, e.g., for classycoro to get with the program: buy some books, do the homework, get the necessary licenses from whichever country he/his boat belong to, learn enough to acquire and install his ssb correctly, and actually develop the skills required to make good use of it.

Somehow, sadly, I remain sceptical.

Bill
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Old 26-11-2006, 13:37   #10
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Mr. Trayfors, what is unfortunate was your response to the poster in telling him to get a sat phone based on your perception of his "demonstrated level of understanding". I would point out that if he understood all of the technical aspects, language and protocols he wouldnt be posting that particular question.

I have participated many times in threads on SSB installations (mostly on the SSCA site) and came away completely disgusted by the level of discourse and elitist attitude of those who consider themselves "experts". After doing my own reserach and talking to dealers and manufacturers I came to the conclusion that one is not particularly well served by the "expert" opinions often found on the forums. Pointing this out and expressing my opinion is my way of helping the poster. I do not make pretentions of expertise in radio but I have successfully installed VHF, SSB and Radar on my boat by myself . All work just fine and I did it with minimal, but appreciated input from my dealer. My point in my post was...it can be done.

Classycoro will have to speak for himself/herself, however I read the answering post not as a tirade, as you did, but as a plea for simple direct language and step by step order of tasks. All too often when one asks for just this we are dismissed as too dimwitted to understand the vaunted world of radio and told to get a sat phone...how sad.

The "hammering" you say I gave to a "working radio professional" makes it sound like I murdered a cop. A bit of hype I think, but not unexpected.
My disagreement with that "radio Professional" was about the commercial aspect of his posts, not his expertise. I really do not see how that is relevant here. I used a very general warning to classycoro that I think is appropriate, to be aware that there are those out there who have the profit motive behind the advice they give and while it may be accurate, forewarned is forearmed.

I think my point is well made by your post when you wrote that I must have misunderstood or misinterpreted the posts where help is being offered. It seems all too often that when a "radio Professional" is disagreed with or asked to back up their information with source material, this is the most common response; We mere laymen (radio wise) simply can't understand.

You wrote: "his attitude which suggested that he is not likely to be very successful with SSB radio even if he manages somehow to get one installed properly. Even a great radio installation doesn't automatically mean you're gonna be able to USE it properly..."

That's not how I define help.

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Old 26-11-2006, 13:46   #11
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Alan, I think you are wrong in your opinion of the people on this and other forums who spend so much time trying to help others with their radio installations. As an advanced ham I have a deep appreciation for their efforts, especially Bill Trayfor's work.

What Classycoro has asked for is something like "Cliff's notes for Amateur Radio". It's just plain lazyness to ask someone to try to write out step by step procedures for such an advanced subject without doing their homework first.

Bill, keep up the good work. I greatly admire the knowledge, expertise and attitude that you bring to the many forums where you participate.

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Old 26-11-2006, 14:14   #12
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I have to agree with some but not all of Alan's comments. I have seen some of these radio posts on this board and many others fall into something short of the original post. I also believe that Bills post was a bit short and may be not called for. But then some of my posts have had the same comment made. I am a service tech that has installed many many radios and I am sure my installations are not up to the standards of some that post here. But in EVERY case the radio functions at a level that is more than acceptable to the user and meets their needs. If someone doesn't like a response and can't contribute something in a helpful way then perhaps sometimes a response might not be appropriate. I have had several customers ask me to walk them through step by step and in understandable sequence. Yes they pay me for this but I am happy to oblige without criticism or trying to belittle their skills and knowledge. Sometimes I need to put it together for them in such simple terms that even a 10 year old understands. If that is what it takes to be helpful and to have them come away satisfied and a bit more knowledgeable then before we started that so be it. It really doesn't hurt and in the end when you see the light bulb go on you feel a little warm and fuzzy. We see too much belittling and criticizing in our society. My motto has been " be helpful or be Quiet" and my life seems less stressful. Step by step instructions are available from ICOM and several others, whether you agree with them or not, so perhaps someone might have referred classycoro there instead and let him take his chances. Or perhaps one of the many GURU's might put out their own publication of SSB for idiots. Most that have the radios or are contemplating installing one DO NOT know all of the technical terms nor do they really need to in the beginning. Time, practice and research will correct that and not chastising on a web board. It is my understanding of cruisersforum that the board is there to share information and HELP others in the community. I hope we do not loose sight of that purpose. Just my opinion.
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Old 26-11-2006, 14:29   #13
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Deepfrz, I agree with much you say especially on the cliff notes. However that is what was asked for. Is it up to the responder to decide the level of someones intelligence, manual skills and abilities? Or is it just to answer the question the best one can?

I was not making any general statements about anyone except btrayfors and his response, of which I have read many and which invariably are rather contemptuous when it comes to those he suspects are beneath his efforts. This is clearly evidenced by the parts of his post I quoted.

Coots efforts were much more direct and actually aimed at help in my opinion.

Again I was making no general statements about anyone except Mr. Trayfors and that particular post. Many radio guys do try to help in a non-judgemental way. However I will note that his atitude is not uncommon among those that haunt these forums in the radio subject. That is not to say that everyone is like that.

I will say that as a Ham you may appreciate his approach more than those that are not. While you may see it as helpful that does not mean that it is to the vast majority of folks that are innocently seeking help and are told summarily and rather arrogantly to get a sat phone. I am sorry but that was uncalled for and exactly the kind of "help" that is counter productive in my opinion. It was not my intention to magnify this beyond it's relevancy I just beleive that no one achieves their objective with answers like Mr. Trayfors gave in his second post.

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Old 26-11-2006, 14:35   #14
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Thank You Chuck! you understand teaching and you are a radio person that deserves a great deal of credit for your approach. You stated it better than I and hopefully some will understand that turning people off gains you nothing and doesnt advance your profession or others knowledge.

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Old 26-11-2006, 15:48   #15
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OK, since I'm as opinionated as the next guy, I'll throw my 2cents in. There really is no "cliff notes" version of ssb installation. It's a complicated subject, and asking for simple instructions is kind of like saying "I want to learn algebra, teach me the quick,short version." Or "I want to learn how to sail, but don't confuse me with words like halyard, sheet, or luff. I just want the quick, simple way." When I wanted to install my radio as a novice I spent hundreds of hours reading piles of info and studying the ham books and then spent hundreds more hours experimenting with different setups for each aspect of grounds, antennas, cables,etc. If it were easy than there would be a lot less people who do that sort of thing for a living. Internet forums are great places to get specific information, and I'm often amazed at the level of knowledge of some of the people here, but asking for easy ssb installation answers is just not realistic. It's a difficult, complicated subject and an idiot's guide would still be hundreds of pages long if it were going to be usefull. If you want big fish you either have to be willing to go into the deep water, or you go to the market and buy them. There's piles of good information to learn here but it's best done with more specific questions.
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