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Old 04-04-2005, 16:28   #1
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When to invest in a Ham radio

We are 2 years and a month from retirement and cruising. The collective wisdom of this and other boards has me convinced to wait until we are much closer to retirement to by a bigger boat (we have a Cal 22 now).

My question is when to buy a ham radio. I have studied and passed the general exam. Seems that communications for cruisers is changing every day. Would it be wise to wait to invest in a radio or other types of communication gear to take advantage of further advancements?

Just passing the test doesn't mean much as far as how to actually communicate and use a radio. I keep wondering if I should get something now and get it set up and start learning how this all works while I have time?

If yes to starting now, any suggestions on what to start with? We live in Colorado and have a house in the middle of a fair sized town so an antenna is going to be the next question.

Thanks for any thoughts,

John
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Old 05-04-2005, 01:20   #2
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Hello, John...and congrats on closing in on the fateful (wonderful!) day. Also, congrats on the General ticket; good for you!

I'm not sure where you got your advice to hold off on a boat until closer to retirement as you're already quite close, but if your plans are for extended cruising then I think you will find you will be spending up to a year getting a new-to-you boat truly ready. Some of us take much longer than that. I mention this not to persuade you to rush out and start shopping - after all, you ARE in Colorado - but just to adjust your expectations a bit. It the basic Plan A after retirement is to relocate, move aboard a boat, and then shove off...step 3 isn't likely to happen anytime soon after step 2.

Re: ham radio, I think there's a lot to be said for getting into the activity sooner rather than later. Talking about voice comms on a boat is a big topic so this will be pretty top-line, but let's see where it leads...
1. There is nothing that will significantly change the technology in the next 2 years. Inmarsat by that point will have intro'd a basic internet connectivity system that will truly be revolutionary...but all the satcomm systems do not do the same things as the SSB systems, and you will find many satcomm equipped boats with SSB for just this reason. So...first of all, things won't suddenly make your efforts obsolete.
2. There's an unavoidable learning curve with SSB, and it has to do with learning how to use the hardware, learning how to use the airwaves, learning how to make the whole affair meet your needs, AND then transferring this learning to the boat by installing the gear. This is clearly one of those areas where you can be doing something that will have to be done, sooner or later, but save yourself from having it compete for your precious time later when on the boat and a thousand projects beckon.
3. While in CO and a house, think 'boat' from the very beginning and the only hardware purchases that will not be transferable will likely be the antenna and a 12V power supply...which you may well choose to use later in your life, anyway. To leave open the most options for what you can do with a SSB, you will want to choose one of the most capable and most common of the marine or ham SSB transceivers. Those currently are the Icom 710, 802 and 706. The latter one is a ham radio, far less expensive, very capable, the smallest (and most easily installed) of the choices, but not initially the easiest to learn because it is a true ham radio. You will want to 'open it up' (have a qualified tech do it) so it can be used on ALL frequencies for transmitting, not just receiving. I have used one of these for all our onboard email and wx product downloading since 1999 (I have an earlier version) and think it's a great choice...but if you have the deeper pockets, an 802 is the more common does-everything choice these days. Consider visiting the SSCA Discussion Board (in fact, you should consider joining the organization which is quite inexpensive...) at http://ssca.org/sscabb/index.php and reading some of the threads that relate to using a SSB on a boat. Lots of differing views and comments but I think you will find them very helpful.
4. Join your local club, attend the meetings, let your inexperience and need for help be widely recognized, and you'll learn a lot and get helpful advice and extra hands to the extent you need them. Hams are quite an odd bunch to look at...but with very good hearts and a love of their hobby; try to benefit from their willingness to pitch in.

Hope this is a bit helpful. We're cruising in Europe right now, having started our shakedown from St. Pete in early 2000. Come on in, the water's fine!

Jack
WHOOSH, lying St. Katharine's Haven, London
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Old 05-04-2005, 06:48   #3
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Jack, Thanks for your reply to this and many other posts from others that I have read over the last couple of years of getting ready to go.

The people here involved in ham radio are indeed some of the most giving of knowledge of any group I've run into. I will take your advise and get more involved with the local goings on.

We joined SSCA a couple of years ago when preparations started and some of the recent threads there are really what prompted my question. I read them and realize how little knowledge it takes to pass the test when compared to what it takes to install and efficiently use a ham radio while cruising.

Priorities!!!??? When to buy a boat? Where? What systems? What length and displacement?

Lots of questions remain unanswered for us at the moment. I am hoping that by working on the ones the ones I can answer now the answers to the others will be a little easier and less expensive to answer in the future.

Again, thanks for be so willing to give of your hard earned experience and knowledge.

John

PS I read your post about Skype and have been using it ...Great product!
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Old 05-04-2005, 11:01   #4
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I must agree with Euro cruiser. It makes an awful lot of sense to start acquiring your equipment and expertise now! My wife and I looked for 6 months after we were ready to buy before we found the boat we wanted. We have spent 5 additional months getting it ready to go. I figure we are about 6 months away from finished. It is not unusual to spend a year looking for the right boat. I don't think it is unusual to spend a year in outfitting the boat. From what I hear from brokers it is not unusual to spend a year in outfitting even a new boat.

Getting an SSB now, getting access to email are rather major accomplishments. Most of the principles will be applicable for home or marine. You could even purchase a marine type antenna. You won't have to deal with the ground issues you'll have in a boat, but, you will at least know the issues.

Good luck. See you out here!

Keith
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Old 05-04-2005, 11:03   #5
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Very kind words, John. Thanks...

The next two years will indeed be packed with an infinite # of questions; your challenge is not to answer them all (that is of course an impossible task...!) but rather to sort out a) which ones are important to you, and b) what YOUR answers are rather than then next guy's. I still find how amazingly difficult that turns out to be.

We're off for England's South Coast and then across Biscay to see Spain and Portugal. That will mean, by and large, no web access. However, if you'd like to shoot me a question now and then, or converse on a given topic, please feel free to do so. And good luck on the Big Adventure that is unfolding for you two.

Jack
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