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Singlehander by Default
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Discussion Starter #1
Seems like every so often a post pops in about ham radio operation here on SN, so I'm wondering. If one were to entertain the thought of blue water cruising, would it be considered a necessary skill to have or is it more of a hobby with those who do it? I can see where it would extend the range of communication, especially in a critical situation, but how many sailors consider it necessary to have aboard. Seems to me that a sat phone or similar device would do the same.

This is jsut an observation, don't anybody shoot me, jsut asking for opinion here--cause SNetters always have opinions! HEHEHE
 

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I would have SSB (Single Side Band) rather than ham (aka short wave). SSB is designed for maritime use, does not require much in the way of skills (no morse code), and opens up all the maritime cruisers/safety/weather nets.
You do need to learn the mechanics of operating the system, and have a good installation of good equipment.
Some new radios can utilize both the SSB frequencies and the ham frequencies if you're licensed for both, or in case of a serious emergency.
I would rather have an SSB than a satphone, but that's just me.
 

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Ah..<cough>..SSB is a type of modulation used by ham radios and marine radios. Most modern marine SSB radios are capable of operating on the ham bands as well. It isn't an either/or choice ;)
That said, no kind of radio is NEEDED to get from point A to B. You can just go and not talk to anyone. That said, it is very nice and sometimes a huge safety factor to be able to talk to other boats and shore stations. You can get all kinds of information, advice, and help if need be. Getting a ham license is pretty easy now. All that is required is a written test and you will learn things that are a huge help with marine radios as well.
You will find that radio <> sat phone. They just don't do the same thing. You can call the Coast Guard on a phone for sure, but you can't talk to the boats/ships around you. You also can't get on a net and find out what the best place to anchor is in Georgetown.
 

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Pretty much standard equipment on a well founded off shore vessel. Still like talking to my friends half a world away on the SSB. Passage making radio calls a way to break up the monotony, also real time weather info from vessels making the same passage. Not to mention on board email, weatherr fax etc. Don't leave home without it.
 

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Daniel - Norsea 27
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As Coquina mentioned, SSB is a mode. There are also certain VHF ham transceivers that have it too.

Personally, I would go for the ham license. The studies you need in order to take the test will be beneficial when it comes to using the marine HF radio. Might help you to understand why propagation isn't in your favor or what the best frequency is to reach a certain place, how to build a simple wire antenna, MUF/LUF (Maximum/Lowest Usable Frequency), etc. With the digital modes available now, there is so much you can do on the ham bands. Getting a ham license will at least open up a lot more bands for you to operate with a lot more people to talk to.

I got licensed in the middle of high school in '95 and while not as active as I used to be, I still enjoy it very much.
 

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Nighthawk,

As has been said, a HAM ticket is not “necessary” in the same way an engine is not. BUT, it can sure ADD to your capability when at sea if you are doing more than day hops.

A sat phone will not allow you to check on what's in front of you from other vessels on the same course. And, there are a LOT more HAM radio operators out there listening in than there are people listening on the SSB bands.

A short, true story.....
We were about 100 miles off the Baja coast heading south. I came down with a toothache! We have 3 types of antibiotic in the first aid kit, witch one to use? I make a short call on the HAM to a friend who is a ham, his wife is a dental assistant. Within a short time I know the type to take and for how long. All is good in the end!

And, with HAM you get FREE (after the equipment purchase) Winlink e-mail. The first time we got e-mail 50 miles at sea was like magic. With that email is also weather reports targeted to the area you are in. Note that Sailmail (uses the same hardware) has a yearly cost to it, but works the same.

Greg
 

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Necessary vs. Desirable


SSB for me is quite desirable when off shore. Having a Ham license would be even more so, which I do not. While helpful information can be received on Ham only frequencies as described in previous posts, much is available on SSB marine frequencies as well.

I have a Pactor modem and using sail-mail I down load GRIB charts which is the main reason for my installation. It takes a lot of the surprises out of a voyage. Email to family is also a benefit.

There are very good SSB units available on eBay (IC-700, IC-700 Pro, IC-710) at reasonable prices as well as tuners. Additionally lots of folks buy mobile Ham radios and "open them up" or ones that have been "opened up" so that they can use the SSB frequencies (yes, it is not legal. So, please never exceed the posted speed limits. Or you can use these radios only when outside US waters.). Icom IC-706 is a very popular radio in this category that has wide spread marine use.

(I won't get into a discussion on ground planes as in comparison the recent 500+ posts on rallies, SDR vs. Caribbean 1500, and the war between SmackDaddy and Jon on this issue would seem like high tea.)

But between weather charts, Chris Parker here on the East coast and Herb, oh do I miss Herb, I have found that and SSB valuable not only for safety but for pleasure. Add morning nets at various locations as an available option. All in all, it enhances the off shore experience for me.

BTW in a real emergency Ham license or not, I would not hesitate to use the Ham frequencies.
 

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I think HF/SSB/HAM whatever is undesirable on a long range cruising boat.

I would never have it, and council people against it.

Satellite phone is cheaper, more reliable, portable for a life raft.

HF/SSB/HAM radio nets for cruisers spread fear and loathing of a passage by its insistant emphasis on trying to find something wrong with the people or boats at sea and taking the fewest possible days for a passage.

Especially for new cruisers its imperative for enjoyment of sailing to shove the fear factor as far overboard as possible. Being at sea is safe, fun and exciting and passages should be an enjoyment not a thing to have the days counted off like in a jail cell. Further, happy sailors are safe sailors. Fear intoxicated panicked crew are dangerous.


Mark
 

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Necessary vs. Desirable

BTW in a real emergency Ham license or not, I would not hesitate to use the Ham frequencies.
Quick FYI...
In a true emergency, (NOT running out of ice :D ) using ANY and ALL radio IS legal!

Greg
 

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MarkofSeaLife:

I agree on the net when at sea. I'm not a rally guy and the idea of sailing off in a group and communicating with others at sea is quite undesirable to me. In fact it sounds terrible. The value of the cruiser net to me is finding out what the fish special is at the local restaurant when at anchor in a Bahamian or Caribbean harbor or the name of a good mechanic for a repair I need help with.

Ron

s/v Lucia
Wauquiez Pretorian 35
 

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Mermaid Hunter
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Seems like every so often a post pops in about ham radio operation here on SN, so I'm wondering. If one were to entertain the thought of blue water cruising, would it be considered a necessary skill to have or is it more of a hobby with those who do it?
In my opinion, with the single exception of some minor regulatory items, everything needed to pass the US Technician and General Class Amateur Radio (ham) license exams is useful for a self-sufficient cruiser.

Whether you buy hardware to use a ham license or not, getting the license is a good way to demonstrate to yourself you have the basic electrical and electronic skill set to go cruising without a credit card necessarily being taped to the top of your tool box.

I would have SSB (Single Side Band) rather than ham (aka short wave). SSB is designed for maritime use, does not require much in the way of skills (no morse code), and opens up all the maritime cruisers/safety/weather nets.
As noted elsewhere, SSB is a mode despite the shorthand in the maritime community for marine high frequency (HF)/single-sideband (SSB) radio allocations. Ham HF also uses SSB. Don't stress over the vocabulary.

The morse code requirement for a US ham radio license went away in 2006.

In my experience the maritime nets on ham frequencies are better for the active cruiser than the maritime nets on marine frequencies. The most significant reasons for this are: 1. there are many more stations listening and 2. the shore stations, often retired cruisers themselves, have outstanding high-power installations with great antennas.

We were about 100 miles off the Baja coast heading south. I came down with a toothache! We have 3 types of antibiotic in the first aid kit, witch one to use? I make a short call on the HAM to a friend who is a ham, his wife is a dental assistant. Within a short time I know the type to take and for how long.
As Greg says, the ham bands are the place to go for support offshore. I've had phone patches run to Janet from offshore, gotten weather guidance when my laptop failed, made arrangements for spare parts to be ready when we made port (saving days), gotten updates on family issues ashore, and more. The Waterway Radio Net (WWRC), Maritime Mobile Service Net (MMSN), Pacific Seafarers Net, and others have been there for me time and again. I've certainly gotten good support from the marine nets like Cruiseheimers and Doo-Dah but the hams are my first choice.

There is a huge emergency communications community within ham radio. There are all kinds of capabilities and communications infrastructure.

Two specific examples:

I was offshore on a boat with no e-mail. I checked in to the Waterway Radio Net every morning. A family member was in hospital. Janet sent an update to one of the regulars by e-mail every morning which was read to me over the net. Unfortunately I learned of John's death over the radio while well offshore but I had a great deal of support from the net.

On a different trip heading from Norfolk to the VI I was getting pretty badly beaten up by weather and had to turn back. Although I had e-mail I really wanted to tell Janet directly what was going on. I checked into the MMSN (I think - MMSN shares 14300 with Pacific Seafarers and the Intercon for 24/7/365 coverage) and had a phone patch arranged within two minutes.

I could have done most of my long-range communications by sat phone at greater expense and lower efficiency (more time). To my mind there is no substitute for HF radio, ham or marine, at sea.

If you have dependents ashore for whom you make medical decisions a sat phone with direct dial makes sense. If you have business interests that truly require instant access a sat phone makes sense. Otherwise HF radio is a better solution. In fact if you are a serious cruiser you should have HF radio and then consider whether supplemental sat phone is necessary. This is my opinion. YMMV.

73 es sail fast de dave KO4MI
 

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. The value of the cruiser net to me is finding out what the fish special is at the local restaurant when at anchor in a Bahamian or Caribbean harbor or the name of a good mechanic for a repair I need help with.

Ron
Ron,
Thats really the domain of the VHF radio nets, and the guide books.
The VHF nets are great in some areas, like the Bahamas and the Caribbean.... and patchy or non-existant in the more far flung or forign speaking places... :)

Re: Herb. Missed by only a few, unfortuanetly. Fewer and fewer using HF even in the US North Atlantic.

All the best :)


Mark
 

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I think HF/SSB/HAM whatever is undesirable on a long range cruising boat.

I would never have it, and council people against it.

Satellite phone is cheaper, more reliable, portable for a life raft.

HF/SSB/HAM radio nets for cruisers spread fear and loathing of a passage by its insistant emphasis on trying to find something wrong with the people or boats at sea and taking the fewest possible days for a passage.

Especially for new cruisers its imperative for enjoyment of sailing to shove the fear factor as far overboard as possible. Being at sea is safe, fun and exciting and passages should be an enjoyment not a thing to have the days counted off like in a jail cell. Further, happy sailors are safe sailors. Fear intoxicated panicked crew are dangerous.


Mark
Well, I'll have to respectfully disagree with that one... Reminds me a bit of Active Captain's assertion that a paper chart is the most dangerous thing you can have on a cruising boat :)

Like most everything else, HF radio is a tool, it's incumbent upon the end user to put it to good use, or not... So, I'd suggest that anyone who might be 'frightened', or 'intimidated' by what they might hear on a SSB net, should perhaps think twice about sailing offshore, in the first place... :)

I simply think the advantages of HF generally outweigh the downsides, assuming the cost will not impede a particular owner from properly equipping the boat with more important, or useful gear... Obviously, the combo of HF and Sat phone is the ultimate solution, but that could be out of reach financially for many...

Luv4sailing sums it up well for me, I find my SSB to be an extremely valuable tool... Even for a cruising ground as benign as the Bahamas, it can be worth it's weight in gold for keeping on top of the weather...

Another tool I really like, and believe it offers a decent bang for the buck for anyone venturing off the beaten path, is NAVTEX... I'm always a bit surprised that it's never become more popular on this side of the pond... This small Furuno paperless unit is pretty slick...

NAVTEX RECEIVER NX-300 | Products:Navtex | Marine Equipment For Recreational Boats | Business Fields & Product List | FURUNO's Product Site
 

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I just find it hard to think that the roughly $1,500 (or less) it would cost to buy a used SSB/Ham unit, a tuner, radials, backstay insulators and perhaps a ground plate would not make sense to a sailor casting off his/her dock lines.


Ron

s/v Lucia
Wauquiez Pretorian 35
 

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I just find it hard to think that the roughly $1,500 (or less) it would cost to buy a used SSB/Ham unit, a tuner, radials, backstay insulators and perhaps a ground plate would not make sense to a sailor casting off his/her dock lines.
As I have said in the past, it's great that each get to make our own decisions! :)

I would say that a HAM radio aboard falls into the same category as having an engine (MUCH MORE $$$$) aboard. Is it required? Of course not, as the Pardeys have proven. Is it good to have aboard, you bet it is. :D

Just my feeling.

Greg
 

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I think HF/SSB/HAM whatever is undesirable on a long range cruising boat.

I would never have it, and council people against it.

Satellite phone is cheaper, more reliable, portable for a life raft.

HF/SSB/HAM radio nets for cruisers spread fear and loathing of a passage by its insistant emphasis on trying to find something wrong with the people or boats at sea and taking the fewest possible days for a passage.

Especially for new cruisers its imperative for enjoyment of sailing to shove the fear factor as far overboard as possible. Being at sea is safe, fun and exciting and passages should be an enjoyment not a thing to have the days counted off like in a jail cell. Further, happy sailors are safe sailors. Fear intoxicated panicked crew are dangerous.
I'm with on portability - the other factors not so much.

You must listen to different nets than I do. When I check in to the ham nets net control is always excited to have some offshore (as opposed to coastal) and bend over backwards to make sure they do what they can to help. Mostly I'm just thanking them for being there. *grin*
 

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I think HF/SSB/HAM whatever is undesirable on a long range cruising boat.

I would never have it, and council people against it.

Satellite phone is cheaper, more reliable, portable for a life raft.

HF/SSB/HAM radio nets for cruisers spread fear and loathing of a passage by its insistant emphasis on trying to find something wrong with the people or boats at sea and taking the fewest possible days for a passage.

Especially for new cruisers its imperative for enjoyment of sailing to shove the fear factor as far overboard as possible. Being at sea is safe, fun and exciting and passages should be an enjoyment not a thing to have the days counted off like in a jail cell. Further, happy sailors are safe sailors. Fear intoxicated panicked crew are dangerous.


Mark
Ham Radio Provides Reliable Link for Solo-Circumnavigating Grandmother


This link does not agrees with what you have posted, I am not saying you are wrong but to recommend against this proven form of communication when offshore does not seem logical. If someone had it or could afford it I say take it with. I can also state from personal experience that Sat phone are not very reliable. In my situation, the phone always powered up, but often I could not get connected and when I did it was often very choppy to the point where a two way conversation could not take place. Other times it was like I was in the next room...so to me is seems as if Sat phones maybe less reliable than a Marine or Amateur setup. At least with HF transmissions there is a good chance someone somewhere will here you.

I believe The Bounty was able to make contact through Winlink(HF Email) for their rescue(they had Sat phone onboard...didnt work).....and many many people still monitor 14.300Mhz MMSN. In the case of the bounty on this night nor did 14.300 MMSN but Winlink did!

this link is from electrician on bounty: Robin Walbridge, KD4OHZ, Missing at Sea after Sinking of Tall Ship Bounty

here is a small bit of it but the last sentence sums it up.
"The vessel left Connecticut on Thursday, October 25 with a crew of 11 men and five women, ranging in age from 20-66. After being treated at a hospital in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Faunt arrived back home in California on Wednesday, October 31. “I’m looking for a new boat to sail and a DXpedition to go on,” Faunt told the ARRL. “Ham radio got me into my position on the Bounty, and ham radio got me out alive!”
 

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Back before the internet, sat and cell phones, ham radio was indeed close to a necessity, if one had family who appreciated frequent contact. Phone patches and weather (such as it was before satellites) were available at times.
The biggest drawback to HF radio of any kind is they use considerably more power (like 10 times) than your vhf radio. Antenna systems are also a problem, unless you are using a wire tuner, which adds considerably to the cost of an installation. Insulating a stay as an antenna, or purchasing and installing a multi-band antenna adds more cost.
Of course, one can build several dipole antennas to suit often used frequencies for mere pennies, but it's always a pain to put them up, especially at sea, when you want to get on the radio.
I'm not at all impressed with the more modern SSB marine transceivers I've seen these days and I'd love to find an unblocked old ham radio to replace the Icom we have, but a necessary item on board a cruising boat today; I think not.
 
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