What is a marine single sideband (SSB) radio?
A High Frequency (HF) transmitter and receiver (transceiver) that operates on frequencies of 1.6 to 30 million cycles per second (MHZ). They are used for long range ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore voice and data communications. Special licenses are not required because their use is covered by your ship's station license.
Can I use a HAM radio in place of a marine SSB?
Yes, however, there are some significant differences in amateur (HAM) and marine SSB radios. Amateur radio equipment is not built to the same demanding specifications that marine SSB units are in order to meet the strict Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) reliability standards. HAM radios are generally more complex to operate and require the user to pass a license test to use certain frequencies.
Do I really need a SSB transceiver for cruising?
Yes, for safety. The SSB transceiver is the only reliable method of long range communication. Marine Very High Frequency (VHF / FM) transceivers have an effective range of only about 20 nautical miles and cellular phones have a very limited range. Satellite phones are very expensive and have limited coverage. In addition to ship-to- ship communications, marine SSB allows you access to AT&T's High Seas Services, which can connect your radio to any phone in the world. An SSB will also give you ability to receive free Weatherfax and NAVTEX broadcasts and access HAM nets to communicate with other cruisers.
Which marine SSB transceiver do you recommend?
I highly recommend the ICOM M710 all in one or the ICOM M710RT with the remote face. This is the best and most robust HF SSB available today. It is especially good for e-mail. The ICOM M710RT is available at SailNet. Click on the ICOM link for a comprehensive description.
Do I need an automatic tuner or coupler for my SSB transceiver?
Yes, an automatic tuner tunes your transmitter's frequency to the size of your antenna whether it is an insulated back stay or mast type antenna. Without a tuner you would be limited to only frequencies available for antenna length. Modern tuners are fully automatic.
Do I have to buy a marine SSB or HAM transceiver to receive Weatherfax and NAVTEX data?
No, you can use the portable Sangean ATS All Band Receiver that features a sensitive digital tuner, and external antenna connector. This radio makes a great SSB backup.
Can I send and receive Internet e-mail with a SSB or HAM transceiver?
Yes, you can buy a hardware and software system made by Software Systems Consulting (SSC) that links your SSB / HAM transceiver, computer, and a private service provider station such as Mobile Marine Radio (MMR). This system is called P-Sea Mail and offers Internet E-mail, Fax, Telex, weather reports, and other communications services from anywhere in the world. P-Sea Mail includes a FSK Radio Modem with 25 to 9 pin serial adapter and uses Simplex Telex Over Radio (SITOR) technology.