Here is a simple, and proven easy way to get you up and running without all the hassle: A lot of sailors have bought their SSB HF radios on E-Bay, look there. If not there are less expensive ones than the Icom M802's. The 802 is thye best, but there are a number of other models and brands that also do just fine. If you do not want to cut your backstay and put in insulators, then get yourself a "GAM clip on the backstay" antenna, they work just fine. As for all the hype and confusion on the copper foil, bronze Dynaplate, copper mesh, etc, go to KISS-SSB
and check out the simple KISS-SSB free standing ground plane system,and the installation diagram, it truly works very well. To put it all in perspective, Icom IC-710 radio $1,550.0, Icom At-130 tuner - $430.00, GAM clip-on antenna - $450.00, KISS-SSB ground plane system $130.00 It all adds up to - $2,560.00. This is one of the least expensive ways to go, that still gives you a great signal. Plus can all be installed by most anyone in a day and is the most simple. Hope that helps, Carl
I agree with Carl re: eBay as a good place to find used radios, both marine and ham. However, you have to know what you're looking at or for...sometimes it's better to deal with a professional.
By the way, the prices Carl mentioned above were for all-new components. It's perfectly possible to come up with complete marine SSB system components (used) for under $1,000, as many of my clients have found. For example, you can get a good marine radio for $500-600 (like the M600 or M700 or the excellent TKM-707), and add a tuner for $200-350 more.
An excellent way to go with the antenna for many boats is with an "alternative backstay" made of insulated stainless lifeline, and carried from mast top to one side of the pushpit. I've installed many of these, and have one on my own boat which is nearly 20 years old. Works every bit as well as an insulated backstay, and doesn't require cutting your backstay.
Carl and I also seem to agree about RF grounds, i.e., the traditional Dynaplate and copper foil solutions are unnecessary. There are other -- and perhaps better -- ways, including his own KISS-SSB radials product mentioned above. Alternatively, you can fashion your own, depending on your boat and your circumstances.
Bottom line: there's little reason not to have an SSB aboard if you intend any serious cruising. If you're talented, experienced, and inclined, you can do-it-yourself. Or, for many sailors, you'd be better advised to engage or work with an electronics/communications professional who could save you money and help you avoid the many pot holes out there while you're earning your SSB legs :-)
Captain Blue: the M600 is a very nice radio. I even have one here for sale, fully programmed and tested for both marine and ham. Really like its small footprint and good performance.