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Old 03-06-2006, 11:03   #1
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HF/SSB selection and reception

This is my first post although I have been attempting to search through the great amount of information in the archives for awhile and understand the info posted so far. With the time constraints we're under, I have become more and more confused. Not being an engineer by any stretch of the imagination and not having loads of time to learn and absorb the copious amounts of info available, I thought I'd just come right out and ask a specific question or two.

We are in the process of outfitting our boat, HC 33T. In about 10 days time we expect to have the mast pulled, refinished and various things added. One of those is radar and that looks like it will be a Raymarine 4kw unit with a 24" mast mount. Another is the addition of HF/SSB and VHF radios and antennas. We are strongly considering the ICOM M802 with the automatic tuner that is suggested for it and M602 as our communications solutions.

First question: Licenses. We have HAM technician licenses that we are getting back to studying for upgrade to general status for long distance comms. So far, without a radio to use, we have not utilized the license. But I digress.

Way back "at the dawn of time" when I was more familiar with these things, Station licenses were free and you simply went to your local marine store, completed the form with every imaginable form of electronic device that would ever be wanted, sent it in and they would send back your station license. These days, like everything else, I'm sure that has changed. I expect that there are now fees, etc. So before I run out and make a fool out of myself at the local marine store with my questions, I thought I'd make a fool out of myself here and find out what the "proper" procedures are for licenses in this day. I've gone to the fcc site and like most things dealing with this have been largely unsuccessful. Anything but our technician license has long since expired.

Second question: Installation of equipment so that it works well and from great distances. From what I have been able to understand from the info I have so far been able to read, there appears to be different ways to install comm equipment. We plan to utilize an insulated backstay for an antenna. then there is the foil vs dynaplate issue. We are sinking a relatively large amount of cash into this and can't afford to a failure due to stupidity on our part or stupidity on the part of the installer. Nor can we install all possible solutions. We do however need to reach out long distances reliably (no sat phones) and communicate with aged relatives and I'm sure other reasons will present themselves over time. Is there a "proper" way of installation to accomplish this or are we at the "it all depends" stage once again?

Rick B.
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Old 03-06-2006, 11:13   #2
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Try the above link to Gordon West for licenses application.
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Old 04-06-2006, 08:20   #3

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Greetings Rick, here's my $.02

On the first point. A Ham license is required to operate your M802 on amateur bands of course. For operation on marine SSB, I think there is still a station license that is needed. IIRC it is simply fill out a form and pay the fee. When I worked at West Marine years back, we had a stack of FCC applications we handed out to customers. Check the docs of your new ICOM. I may very well come with info and application.

On the second qestion:

If you search the Internet long enough, you will find sailors who have tried all sorts of antenna configurations (insulated backstays to whips mounted on the stern pulpit) and found they have worked "well". This of course is a highly subjective term. The most important key is to have an effective ground plane. Here, different approaches have also worked well for others.

My setup: I use a dynaplate with an insulated backstay. Equipment is ICOM. I am in the PNW and have checked into the Alaska and Pacific nets with strong signal reports using fairly low power (20-30 watts). So I consider that "pretty good".

Often what you most likely will find is the performance of the radio affected by other devices on the boat causing noise (refrigeration, inverters, generators, etc). If you can turn such devices off while doing comms, then great. If you cannot, however, you may need to rethink wiring of these noise causing devices and/or try installing RF filters. One of Nigel Calders books (Boatowners Electrical and Mechanical Handbook I think) has a good section on wiring to minimize RF noise.

Unfortunately you may never discover these issues "till you try it" which means install the system, take the boat out, try a contact, get a signal report. Trying it from the dock in a marina almost never works what with all of the AC and rigging around you. At our marina nothing can get in or out on SSB when she is docked.

Hope that helps. Its probably not what you wanted to hear being under a time constraint. You do need time and patience to "dial in" an SSB setup to find it's optimal setup.
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Old 04-06-2006, 09:03   #4
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Thanks for these suggestions. Ronbo1, I had completely forgoten about the Gordon West site having seen it long ago. Will do that asap as soon as I can tear myself away from all the "stuff" that absolutely has to get done in the next two weeks.

Learningcurve, thanks for the "real world" comments. Not being an engineer and having to learn on "on the fly" isn't the easiest thing to do. Things I had never thought I'd need or need again are back but without the time needed to do it "right" or like I would like to do but that still doesn't mean I can duck them.

I've been searching the 'net for a while. You get hundreds to thousands of "results" and getting through them has proved to be a great time sink but not too "profitable." Not having it work or work well in a marina is something that I had not heard before that I can remember. So, some of what you have said is new to me and some confirmation.

Hopefully, others will chime in and share some more info. I plan to do all that I can to be able to be there when the installer puts it in and hopefully be able to learn more of what is specific to our units that way. It would be nice to know enough to ask questions semi-intelligently though.

Rick B.
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Old 24-07-2006, 08:27   #5
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How did the install go? Have you completed it? Made any contacts?
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Old 24-07-2006, 10:48   #6
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You need an FCC station license. Lots of paperwork and about $110.00 in fees if memory serves right.

I like my SEA 235 R.

It has performed flawless over the last 6 years and they have good product support.

It came with an automatic tuner, all for about $2,000.00 or so.
Have a gounding plate and insulated back stays. (Split back-stay, 3 insulators.)

Excellent reception on both ends.
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Old 24-07-2006, 12:17   #7

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Rick, if you are in the US call 800 information and ask for the FCC Licensing Division in Gettysburg, they'll give you all the most current information.

For Marine VHF operation in US waters, no license is needed for recreational users any more. The bad news is that OUT of US waters, you still need a license and that's gone up to $150-200 now. That's for the ship and then I think you need the operators' license (one lifetime fee, maybe $50) now too. Those are guestimates from memory but the FCC licensing folks will give you current information, they tend to change things in June/July for the coming year.

The ham tech license will only buy you morse code privleges on HF, voice pvileges on UHF/VHF only. License terms are supposed to change "one of these days" to allow a no-code HF license but they've been sitting on their thumbs doing nothing about that for nearly two years now, don't hold your breath. The same folks can direct you to all the right information about ham & marine licenses.
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Old 24-07-2006, 14:00   #8
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I think you need an "Marine Radio Operators Permit" for using the SSB in foreign waters.

Take a written test for the FCC with about 30 or 40 questions. Fee is $60.00. (I paid the $60.00 to a commercial marine school here in FL. It may be free if ya take it straight from the FCC..Not sure)

This one is also required for domestic commerical operations.

I took it some years ago but have never been asked to show the permit, in the US or international.

Since it is an easy ticket and fairly inexpensive, there is no reason to not get it. (I also learned something... )
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Old 24-07-2006, 18:59   #9
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The "Marine Radio Operator's Permit" is 24 questions out of a pool of 170 these days [aka Element One]. You need 18 correct to pass. Gordon co authored the study book (all of the questions are in it):

The MP is a 5 year ticket. The RP (Restricted Permit) is lifetime and requires no test.

RP holders are authorized to operate most aircraft and aeronautical ground stations. They can also operate marine radiotelephone stations aboard pleasure craft (other than those carrying more than six passengers for hire on the Great Lakes or bays or tidewaters or in the open sea) when operator licensing is required. An RP is NOT needed to operate the following:
  • a voluntarily equipped ship or aircraft station (including a CAP station) which operates only on VHF frequencies and does not make foreign voyages or flights.
  • an aeronautical ground or coast station which operates only on VHF frequencies.
  • on-board stations.
  • a marine utility station unless it is taken aboard a vessel which makes a foreign voyage.
  • a survival craft station when using telephony or an emergency position indicating radiobeacon (EPIRB) station.
  • a ship radar station, if the operating frequency is determined by a fixed tuned device and the radar is capable of being operated by only external controls.
  • shore radar, shore radiolocation, maritime support, or shore radio-navigation stations.

To qualify, you must:
  • be either a legal resident of (or otherwise eligible for employment in) the United States or hold an aircraft pilot certificate valid in the United States or hold an FCC radio station in your own name; and
  • be able to speak and hear; and
  • be able to keep at least a rough written log; and
  • be familiar with provisions of applicable treaties, laws and rules which govern the radio station you will operate.
If you are a non-resident alien you must hold one of the following three documents to be eligible for an RP:
  • a valid United States pilot certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration; or
  • a foreign aircraft pilot certificate which is valid in the United States on the basis of reciprocal agreements with foreign governments; or
  • a valid radio station license issued by the FCC in your own name. (An RP issued on this basis will authorize you to operate your own station only.)
MPs are required to operate radiotelephone stations aboard certain vessels that sail the Great Lakes. They are also required to operate radiotelephone stations aboard vessels of more than 300 gross tons and vessels which carry more than six passengers for hire in the open sea or any tidewater area of the United States. They are also required to operate certain aviation radiotelephone stations and certain coast radiotelephone stations.

To qualify, you must:
  • be a legal resident of (or otherwise eligible for employment in) the United States; and
  • be able to receive and transmit spoken messages in English; and
  • pass a written and/or telegraphy examination(s) (Element 1).
For more:

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Old 25-07-2006, 02:58   #10
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Everything you ever wanted to know about marine communications.

The attached link takes you to an excellent site in the UK. Bob Smith's knowledge of marine comms is exceptional.

From this site there are links to many other sources of valuable information.

Best of luck

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Old 08-08-2006, 11:07   #11
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Hello Rick___________________________After you take care of all the red tape, and if you will be cruising more than 600 miles from those you wish to communicate with on 20 meters(best long range ham band currently)......For a spare as well as a very long range high performance 20m antenna..... I would suggest you construct a simple, inexpensive($30 us) 20 meter dipole with a 30 foot(or longer if needed) coaxial feedline(suggest rg8x). Total length of the antenna itself will be about 33 feet. This antenna will only work well on 20m....since, without a tuner inline, it is resonant only on 20. If you do use a tuner, you will be able to use this antenna effectively on higher frequencies than 20m(14mc)....but not much lower. Check with some of your local hams on 2m if construction help is needed. When anchored or when you're underway without headsails deployed, this dipole can be used as a much better long range antenna than the grossly mis-understood and poorly radiation efficient(no matter how many radials or Dynaplates) bottom fed insulated backstay.....which, by convention, is the typical sailboat antenna. This simple dipole requires no radials, no grounding, no tuner........and yet it is still 98% radiation efficient at resonance.(ARRL's figures..not mine) Once you have it together, attach one of the small plastic end insulators(recommended for safety) to a spare halyard and haul till the bottom of the dipole is about 3-7 feet off the foredeck. Try to drape the small diameter coax aft at a right angle to the feedpoint as much as possible. If you have mast steps, this is made easier if you throw the feedline over your lowest spreader...then lead it down thru a dorade or hatch to your txceiver. Small adjustments with the well as clipping the bottom end of the dipole to various areas of your foredeck will help you bottom out your SWR.......suggest you invest in a cheap swr bridge...about $50-100. If you find, as I have, that the longer range performance of this cheap little dipole routinely makes contacts(due to it's extremely low radiation angle) that you sometimes can't even hear on the backstay.......then you may want to invest in marine grade RG8X.......which, if you use this antenna a lot, will last longer and tolerate the salt spray much better in the long run. Once you get your General class or higher ham ticket and get on the air with this forewarned ! will have such a ball talking with hams all over the world, that the XYL(wife) will have to put an firecracker under you to get you away from the radio. But get to know the fine people that participate in the 14300 Maritime net. Best time to check in is from 11am till about 6 or 7 pm eastern time. I'm a retired MM net control op myself and check in with these fine folks regularly....especially when I'm down in the islands on the boat. If you don't have a cell or sat phone, there are many hams on this net who will be glad to provide a free phone patch to the folks back home........or at least make a one-way for you if a particular ham don't happen to own a phone patch. I've been a ham for 43 years and I never had so much fun in my life(short of wearing ship) than since I installed my old Atlas ham rig aboard my first little sailboat almost 30 years ago. I now have an old "Charley" Morgan 38 with a Kenwood 430....which I've been using aboard now for about 25 years. You can buy a good used 430 for about $300......and has a lot more functions and versatility than "marine" grade ssb radios costing up to 10 times the $. However, there are much newer ham radios(appropriate for sea duty) available on the used market for about $500 or so( new ones starting at $600. If you already have a marine ssb.....I would suggest you buy a good used 12 volt ham rig for a back-up........although you'll find it so user friendly and intuitive, that you'll probably prefer to use it most of the time. If I can be of any further here or email. --jim"Hosanna in the Highest!"
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