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Old 03-10-2018, 15:32   #1
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SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable hand

Hi, I m planning to do my first Atlantic crossing from Miami to Lisbon next spring and I m looking at different option to maintain contact once offshore, get weather forecast and so on.
I m trying to get information of what is best between sat phones, sat access points, SSB and so on. I also don’t want to take the mast down to fit another antenna (if possible) and some info of installation for SSB are very $$$
Onboard I have EPIRB, AIS on my new Gx 1700 VHF radio with nmea2000 but I feel something is missing ...
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Old 03-10-2018, 16:36   #2
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Keep an eye out for a used Icom IC-M802 and an antenna tuner. They show up on fleabay once in a while. You can do a search and set up an alert for when one is listed. Craigslist is another possibility. The reason I suggest this particular radio is it is type accepted for Marine SSB use, but is also convenient to use on the HAM bands. Not many HF transcievers you can say that about. Your backstay will make a decent antenna, with the antenna tuner located high in the lazarette, as close to the lower end of the wire as possible. You will want some heavy duty insulators, so that they will be strong enough to safely take whatever load the backstay can take. The tuner matches the impedence of the wire to the impedence of the coax antenna cable from the radio. You COULD do the install yourself but if you have not installed one before and do not have any radio experience to speak of, let one of the marine radio companies install it for you. There WILL be mast climbing or mast lowering involved, of course. Alternately you could install an HF antenna on the transom or some other place where it will not interfere with sailing the boat. Be advised, this will be a pretty tall antenna.



SSB is not just for calling for help. It has a lot of other uses, especially if the same radio can be used on the HAM bands. You can get your time ticks for celestial navigation purposes. You can get weather fax, RTTY, and other weather and safety data. You can listen to shortwave broadcast stations. There are cruiser's nets that meet regularly. You can try to find a friendly HAM who will do a phone patch for you. And if you do have an emergency, unlike satellite communications, your MAYDAY or PAN call can be heard by any other vessel in range that is listening... maybe by one that can reach you before it is too late. Satellite systems such as Iridium do have their place, and you KNOW you will be heard by a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. OR most likely, anyway. And your distress message will be handled by official government agencies. Maybe on second thought, that might not necessarily be a good thing LOL! But the way the system is supposed to work is all GMDSS vessels near enough to respond will receive a distress alert relay. Then, unforttunately you are usually expected to play communications volleyball with the responding vessels via the MRRC over Inmarsat or Iridium, whichever you are using, when at this point the most efficient communications will be via HF or VHF radio. Anyway, both satellite and HF communications have their sometimes sorta duplicated functions but Marine SSB/HAM is by far the most useful, IMHO. Both is better. There are also other services you can use, such as SPOT. One nice thing about the SSB... you pay for the license, pay for the radio, and then no bills. All that other stuff comes with recurring charges.
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Old 03-10-2018, 16:45   #3
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Another thing... most radios blessed by the FCC for use on Marine HF SSB, or HF HAM bands, can ONLY be used on its designated service. A simple operation will "open up" the channel masking on many radios, so that you can transmit on any frequency within the radio's frequency range. However, this does not make a HAM transceiver legal for use on the Marine HF frequencies, and if you perform this diode-ectomy on a type accepted Marine radio, it is no longer type accepted for Marine HF use due to the alteration. Also output filtering may not be optimized for the other service. Who will know? Probably nobody. But you will not be legal and you might also be transmitting spurious signals. Just sayin.
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Old 03-10-2018, 20:18   #4
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SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable hand

Your best option is a Delorme Inreach (now owned by Garmin). Costs around $300 and you can get unlimited text messaging for $70 for the month of your crossing. You will be in touch with friends, can get them to send you routing info, etc.

SSB is fun to have and I recommend it but as a hobby, not as your primary communications. Marine nets are boring and if you just want to receive weather, you can get by with a cheap receiver for $150 (Tecsun 660). If you want a real SSB radio I strongly recommend the SEA 235 that I have. You can find one used for $500 on eBay typically. It is a marine radio, easily controlled by a laptop, you can do short emails and get GRIBs. It does not have DSC but you can get this via an app. In any case, my view on safety at sea is that the first thing you would do is to send an sms to your shore crew/family/friends and they can organize the rescue for you. You will know that they are working on it when you get the sms back. I have witnessed 3-4 friends who raced in the Atlantic and this was the way the rescue was organized. Of course it does not hurt to get a DSC capable radio if you can but the costs add up, the radio, the tuner, wiring, you are looking at $4-5,000. The SEA you get as a kit usually taken off an older boat with everything you need.

Regarding the install, definitely do it yourself and follow the instructions above. The key is to ground your radio well. This means a copper strip that goes from the radio to a through hull and/or the keel with lots of contact surface area. Make sure the connections are tight, that you have an ample power supply (direct to the battery, do not go through the panel and test it for voice and data).

You can also experiment with different data modes, there are some very robust protocols that allow direct SSB to SSB connection for texting under extremely unfavorable conditions. It is a big learning curve but again if you are bored it is a great way to learn something new. If you want a quick solution I would go satellite.

Lastly, definitely get a ham license.
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Old 03-10-2018, 23:27   #5
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Go with a Ham radio if you want to go with SSB. You need to pass the General test and should go for the Extra license if you are going to Europe but that is easy with online test prep courses and the information learned is helpful in getting the best out of the radio. I went with an ICOM 718 which is an older design basic radio, simple to use but gets through just as well as more expensive radios. Bought mine used for less than $500 already modified for all band transmit capability. With a tuner, copper ground plane, Insulators for the backstay am into it for less than $1,500. Bought a used Pactor modem for email and down loading GRIBS for another $300. The advantage of Ham is they are cheaper to buy and use is free for phone patches and email access. You cannot legally transmit on non Ham frequencies but I'm sure people are doing it. I never tried the marine freq's as found everything I needed on the Ham bands. The party line atmosphere of SSB is it's biggest advantage as you can talk with multiple people in different places. Have patched through directly to NOAA weather people, engine mech's and the Ham operators are usually top notch with electronics.

The Inreach is great for tracking your position and broadcasting in an emergency. They have canned phrases you can send but composing a message on the Inreach screen is major slow. Tried it once and and got so frustrated never tried it again. You may be able to compose messages on a phone and transfer to the Inreach which would make email easier but I never learned how to do it.

No experience with a Sat Phone but the idea that you can call one person at a time and the expense was a non starter for me.
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Old 04-10-2018, 05:22   #6
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

In the past I've had a good run from very old cystal sets with limited but appropriate frequencies for my area. You can sometimes pick them up for nearly nothing with a manual tuner and they make for a cheap safety net. I still like to carry one in a waterproof container as a backup.

Installation is pretty simple with a bit of commonsense. Just a ground, an antenna and a decemt power supply. I've always installed my own units and had no issues getting 1500 miles on the right frequencies.

A cheap Ham set can sometimes be opened up to the marine bands but this is not offically allowed. You will also quite possibly need a radio operators licence, call sign and ship station licence.
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Old 04-10-2018, 05:40   #7
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Googled up a post on eham.net, https://www.eham.net/ehamforum/smf/i...=25699.15;wap2 , that gives a short list of HAM capable Marine HF SSB radios, in order of the author's preference, based mostly on ease of use. The main hindrance making some of these radios harder to use is not having continuously variable tuning via front panel knob, or having to jump through a lot of hoops to get it. Notice which radio is at the top of the list. But in a pinch, any of these CAN be used on the HAM bands. If you don't think you would ever want to do this, I still think you should get one of the rigs listed here because yeah, you probably will, some day. If you think you ARE interested in HAM, then I suggest starting from the top of the list. Which follows:


1) Icom M-802,
2) Icom M-710 (with 500hz IF filter),
3) Furuno FS1503EM,
4) Icom M-700PRO,
5) SEA 235,
6) SGC 2000, (with "power talk" head / VFO)


VFO (turn the knob, continuously variable frequency control) can be fairly well emulated, or poorly. Remember, these are first and foremost, Marine radios. All are pretty much equally functional on Marine bands. Used prices will be generally about half of new prices. Be sure you get the correct antenna tuner with it, for the easiest and most seamless installation and operation.



Installation can be a PITA, but once it is done, it is done. Need a good RF ground. Not the same as a good DC ground! One could write books about RF grounding but having your operating station only a few feet above the sea makes just about any ground more likely to be effective. Still, better, is better. Then there is the radio itself, and its power supply. Then feedline to the antenna tuner, the tuner itself, a very short connection to the antenna, and the antenna proper. Everything has to be installed correctly. This is a one time PITA but doing it right makes a huge difference in how well you can transmit and receive.


I have the M-700PRO and I think I would place it a notch or two higher on the list. YMMV. The M-802 is universally acknowledged as the best available dual use transceiver.
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Old 04-10-2018, 05:41   #8
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

From Miami to Lisbon, you’ll stop in the Azores for a few weeks and at most need 3 months from departure to arrival. An Iridium GO can be purchased for under $500 used on eBay. Unlimited email/text is $130 a month. So, at most $390 for service on the trip and $500 for the device... just sell it at the end and only lose eBay fees as your ‘rental’ cost. With this, you have email, full weather information, and a sat phone to call anyone in case of an emergency.

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Old 04-10-2018, 06:01   #9
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

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From Miami to Lisbon, you’ll stop in the Azores for a few weeks and at most need 3 months from departure to arrival. An Iridium GO can be purchased for under $500 used on eBay. Unlimited email/text is $130 a month. So, at most $390 for service on the trip and $500 for the device... just sell it at the end and only lose eBay fees as your ‘rental’ cost. With this, you have email, full weather information, and a sat phone to call anyone in case of an emergency.

Matt
Ciao Matt,
Thank you for your reply, I m strongly thinking on the inreach or sat modem or sat phone, I was inspire be having an open network of comunication during the silent crossing using n HA or SSB radio but definitely the sat... will be onboard
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Old 04-10-2018, 06:05   #10
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Thank you!!! Very good detailed reply! GMonster! I m going over the list and option n cost with my meccanic now that the boat is out for refuting
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Old 04-10-2018, 06:18   #11
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

How about a Iridium GO? It is like the InReach, but more versatile. You can then even call / receive voice calls. There are prepayd options for 6 month or a year.
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Old 04-10-2018, 07:14   #12
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

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Ciao Matt,
Thank you for your reply, I m strongly thinking on the inreach or sat modem or sat phone, I was inspire be having an open network of comunication during the silent crossing using n HA or SSB radio but definitely the sat... will be onboard

SSB nets are a personal thing. We did the crossing in 2014 from Miami with a SSB on board and tried to enjoy the nets, but they are not something we like. We crossed again this summer (we're wintering in the Azores right now) but this time with only* the Iridum GO. For us, it was much more enjoyable getting news (CNN, Reuters, NPR and a few others offer sat friendly news pages) and messages/emails from people we know rather than hearing strangers talk about the same things over and over again.

Also, being able to access weather when you want vs having to sit by and wait for the schedule wefax broadcast. Instead of just getting the NOAA forecast, we were also able to download GRIBs, both Euro and GFS models.

Matt

* We thought we had a working Furuno Weatherfax onboard as a backup to the Iridium, but it didn't work when I got board and tried playing with it mid Atlantic.
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Old 04-10-2018, 07:53   #13
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Hi Matt,

do you use just the brick or do you have the marine kit with external antenna?

What weather apps / grib viewer are you using (PredictWind subscription with weather routing or some more basic free stuff?)

We will go next sailing season the same road with IridiumGO and the yearly prepaid subscription 1000 minutes / 750€ - should be enough I guess for weather on passages and short position messages home - and if necessary a voice call in a pan pan / mayday / medical advice situation.

Incoming calls are free for the receiver too - at some places Iridium may even be cheaper than the roaming fees of the mobile phone contract.
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Old 04-10-2018, 08:59   #14
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mysticaldive View Post
Hi, I m planning to do my first Atlantic crossing from Miami to Lisbon next spring and I m looking at different option to maintain contact once offshore, get weather forecast and so on.
I m trying to get information of what is best between sat phones, sat access points, SSB and so on. I also don’t want to take the mast down to fit another antenna (if possible) and some info of installation for SSB are very $$$
Onboard I have EPIRB, AIS on my new Gx 1700 VHF radio with nmea2000 but I feel something is missing ...
On my boat I have VFH, AIS, EPIRB, SSB (SEA 225), Skymate (satellite communicator), and InReach SE. Given your short time frame and limited budget I recommend InReach as a minimum. A second system for backup is a good idea as I had some issues with InReach returning from Hawaii and used Skymate but that may be too expensive for your budget. The SSB install is expensive and can be complicated, effective use takes practice, studying for the HAM license tests (Technician, General), backstay antenna install, etc...see what I mean for your time frame.

God Luck.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ MJH
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Old 04-10-2018, 09:12   #15
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Re: SSB radio, what are the best ‘cheap’ and easy to install solutions? Any reliable

Watch out! Iridium are free incoming calls for you, but the person calling can get billed a lot for the call ($10 a minute for some US based phone service).

We have the cheap $60 external antenna, but didn't need to use it for email or text. We could have the Go sitting below deck and still get signal through our aluminum deck... it's really good at picking up signal. I'd think you'd need the antenna for phone calls, but we never tried making any. We had an Inmarsat Isatphone Pro before and that was horrible without the external antenna.

For weather, I used Sailmail's free grib program Saildocs. You have to know the way to send the inquiry, but once you've done it a few times, it's easy to do. We also used the INavx program to send and view basic files if we didn't have a more intricate weather request.

I was never a fan of PredictWind before this last crossing- I thought their routing was too basic and caused more boat's into harms way than saved- but after leaving port the same day as friend of ours and them arrive way before us, I have had to rethink this.

They have the pro plan with current figured into the routing. Before, they had the mid range and got absolutely clobbered because it sent them on a route through opposing current and wind, so they upgrade for this passage.

We'd send email back and forth comparing what Predictwind was telling them and what my wife and I figured via our GRIBs and weatherfax. Predictwind had them motor diagonally across a high and staying in it for much longer than our quicker northern motoring. We told them it was a bad plan, but they did it anyway. I thought we'd catch the wind on the other side of the high way before they did, but it seems Predictwind was right and we missed a good front coming through only to watch them kick our butts riding it all the way to the Azores.

I still don't think I'll pay $500 a year for the PRO, but it seems like a pretty good option if you have the cash.

Matt
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