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Old 12-17-2006, 11:55 PM   #1
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Default SSB or alternatives

Hi. I'm a relative novice having a sailing cat built and intend to sail this from France to Thailand. The advice I am getting on comms is confusing as far as SSB goes: some say that it is essential, as the only way to talk to other boats on passage, others that it's only for 'radio hams' -and I have neither time nor inclination to learn to become one - and that the Iridium system I will have in for satphone and email will be sufficient. So, which view is right? and with SSB sets like ICOM costing something like 10 times as much as VHF, surely ther must be a cheaper, easier, more idiot-proof (it will need to be for me!) system that yachties can/do use to chat en passage?

Advice welcome as always......

barry
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Old 12-18-2006, 02:37 AM   #2
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Among those items on our boat that I consider the best value for the money, most used, most missed if it wasn't there, I vote for our SSB radio.

Using the SSB radio one can:

1. Receive weather faxes on your computer.

2. Receive spoken weather reports.

3. Receive email

4. Speak with a great many of the other boats on the sea that are far beyond VHF range. We were waiting for friends to sail from Vanuatu to Fiji one year and kept in regular radio contact with them. Good thing because three times they left for Fiji and each time they were driven back into Vanuatu by the weather. We finally had to cancel their wedding plans for Fiji because they just couldn't make it. Good and cheap way for us all to communicate about something as important as a wedding, and to know they were all right, just weathered in.

5. Listen to news and music even in the middle of the ocean, far from any satellite radio or land-based FM stations.

and if you do get your HAM license, you can:

6. Place phone calls from your boat at no cost (through a link with a land-based HAM operator).

7. Join in on the various maritime mobile nets that track boats on their passages with a regular check-in time once or twice a day - if you miss your check-in they can alert other boats in the area to keep a lookout for you, and/or alert the authorities.

The initial cost of an SSB radio is not that much different from buying an iridium phone, I understand. But you aren't charged for minutes to use the radio once it's installed.

You do not need a HAM license to operate on the SSB frequencies, though most countries do require you to obtain a ship station radio license (not much different from VHF requirements in the US).

An SSB radio is a lot easier to use than a GPS, chart plotter, or most anything else mechanical/electronic you will put onto your boat.
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Old 12-18-2006, 05:03 AM   #3
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About cost: You don't need an ICOM. Kenwood and Yaesu are also suitable. These are easily obtained used for much less then an ICOM, and some models have much more capable features. BEFORE you even consider a ssb you need a pactor modem and this will determine what units and models of ssb you can use.

http://www.scs-ptc.com/download/InstallationGuide.pdf

Look under installation.

Even the pactor's have different means of connection to your computer; usb, or serial, and that again determines how you can connect to the ssb. Many new laptops don't have a serial connection anymore.

Add antenna tuners, grounding, and antenna's; things start to get complex to someone new to this. If you aren't really knowledgeable about this I highly recommend you visit the local ham club and get help or get a communications professional to help you. DON'T buy a single piece of equipment, pactor, ssb, antenna tuner, etc. until you have the whole system planned, including what laptop to use. It will save you from buying an ssb that you can't interface to. It's not that difficult to do but you do need to understand what equipment you'll need, what will work and how it will interface. JMO
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Old 12-18-2006, 08:11 AM   #4
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VHF radio is only reliable for communication up to about 25km (of course, you can get more, but that is the exception, not the rule, and often you will get less). SSB (or HF) radio is good for hundreds, or even thousands of km communication. You can also use your HF radio to send & recieve e-mails (with a suitable pactor modem).

People have sailed around the world without SSB, but, on balance, I would say it is worth having.
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Old 12-18-2006, 07:51 PM   #5
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Barry, a couple of additional thoughts.

It's very normal when in N Europe to hear that SSB is not terribly important on a cruising boat. (We've been cruising there for 4 years and would hear this all the time). The reason is that most folks there don't cruise as far afield as you plan to, and so they can rely on mobile (cell)-based systems easily and inexpensively. In truth, there is very little SSB voice traffic in N Europe and the Med, altho' all of us with SSBs are benefitting in many other ways as the previous posts have listed. But for you, an SSB is going to be very useful once you leave the coastline. From Madeira outwards, you'll find SSB is the defacto comm tool; most boats will have it and it will expand your ability to communicate - with boats and shore stations - when otherwise you'd have no such capability.

Second, sat-based comms and SSB comms may seem to be fairly similar but they are as alike as cheese and chalk. They meet mostly different needs. For reliability and ease of use, nothing beats a satcomm system. They have roughly the same initial cost impact as a good Marine SSB (about twice the cost of a good Ham SS and keep hitting the budget when used. The overlap between the two systems is that they both do email and can both obtain weather info. The satcomm system will have a much shallower learning curve for you. It won't be nearly the useful cruising tool that a SSB would be.

Jack
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Old 12-19-2006, 04:45 AM   #6
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Barry,

Understand the conumdrum as I've cruised summer months for a few years around the Med and got by fine with Thuraya satphone, VHF, and GPRS/G3 card when close to shore or wi-fi when marina based.

Planning to go further afield, I also considered replacing the Thuraya with Irridium but after comparing transmission costs, plus factoring in added comms facilities with SSB - I've now invested in an ICOM 802 plus modem.

Sorry but the kits not fitted yet so I can't tell you how much it might be better than what we had. But if you can wait a year I could give you a direct comparison!

Cheers

JOHN
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