First, I''d suggest you take a look at this same topic thread on the SSCA site (http://ssca.org/discus/index.htm) as you''ll find some additional ground covered, which may be helpful.
Second, I''d suggest you look at HF comms from another perspective. If you''re eventually going offshore, there is no (nada, zip, none) other resource that will give you the same kind of inter-ship, wx data, safety & ''local knowledge'' information that HF radio can provide - even if you''re packing a sat phone. So let''s start with the presumption that a)if coastal cruising, HF SSB is not needed but nice to have, while b) if offshore, it''s worth considering for safety and current weather info if no other reason.
Now...think about that system the same way you will look at all the other key systems aboard. You''d be unlikely to install or use a pressure water system, diesel engine or navigation instruments without fully understanding how they work, how to do simple trouble shooting when they don''t, how they can be put to best use, what constitutes poor or abusive use, etc. - right? Same goes for HF SSB.
With that premise, there''s only one inexpensive, readily available means I know of to acquire that ''system knowledge'', or ''how to install/use/troubleshoot'' your HF radio...and that''s pursue a ham license. You''ll find a gaggle of local vendors who will gladly sell you a radio, tuner, etc., will install it for you, will test it for you, and will then pat you on the back. But there you are: when you turn it on, you''re just another poorly informed user clogging up the band. This is one of my disagreements with Pete''s post; IME there''s far more dysfunctional use of the Marine SSB bands than the ham bands - altho'' contests are a problem, they only occur occasionally - because many users of the Marine SSB bands bought their HF SSB just like they bought their autopilot. They had it installed and assumed it was dead simple and therefore a glance at the manual is all it takes to shoulder their way onto the airwaves.
So consider attending a beginner''s class in ham radio, drop in at the local club for a meeting or two, just explain that you know very little but are eager to learn more, and you''ll get a great education - over time, with a bit of effort - that will ultimately pay big dividends should you install a SSB of any kind.