SSB Radio and SSB Nets

John Franklin
John Franklin
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Below is an account of a recent rescue of s/v Nivana Now in the Pacific which was organised by SSB radio and the Pacific Seafarer 's Net. There is no doubt in my mind that if this boat did not have SSB, or only had a SatPhone it is unlikely they would have been rescued.

Account submitted by Dick Giddings of the popular USA Cruiseheimers Net.

Subject: Loss of S/V NIRVANA NOW and rescue at sea by S/V CONTINUUM

This is a sad account of the loss of the S/V NIRVANA NOW.

I believe it is also an example of a a well coordinated rescue using SSB/ham radio. Please note the lack of a SSB radio hindered the efforts of a second responding vessel, S/Y ATHOS OF LONDON. This account further supports the position of many experienced mariners, that a Sat phone alone, is not a suitable substitute for a SSB/ham radio aboard a well founded vessel.

Bravo Zulu to the crew of the S/V CONTINUUM, Ham Radio Operator Fred Moore, W3ZU, of Inverness, Fl, the Pacific Seafearer’s Net (14.300), and the U.S. Coast Guard RCC Alemeda for a job well done!

Glenn Tuttle - Moderator
Cruisers Network Online
M/V Tothill
Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas

The following article courtesy of

End Events of S/Y NIRVANA NOW

On the 8th of April Nirvana Now sank to the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean at latitude 07 54 ' S, longitude 119 11 ' W in a section of ocean farther from land than anywhere else on earth due to damages from the heavy seas we had experienced for over a week.
After contacting the S/Y CONTINUUM through the Seafarer 's ham radio network Bob and Mona sailed hard to weather for almost two days to our rescue as we floated disabled. Due to their efforts and skill we were able to transfer safely to S/Y CONTINUUM be carried to The French Marquesas as the boat that brought us so much joy for the eighteen years we owned her settled beneath the waves.

We are now in Tahiti and expect to be in Canada by the end of May.

The details

6 th April
I noticed that sea growth on bottom of the boat was slowing us down. We removed the barnacles at the water line.
Three coats of Mission Bay bottom paint were applied as to the manufacturer 's directions in November 2015 while at Shelter Bay Marina in Colon Panama.
Afternoon of 6 th: I noticed that the forestay was loose. It is attached to the bow of the boat and the top of the mast to support the mast. Inspection showed that the deck where the forestay attaches had started to part from the hull. We attributed this to the state of the sea over the last three days which had been a 2-3 meter swell at a period of 3-5 seconds.
We rolled in the jib sail mounted on the forestay to reduce strain on the stay and kept the main sail up with three reefs. We helped support the forestay with a spinnaker halyard and a spare jib halyard attached to the port and starboard forward mooring cleats.
We steered a course of 265 degrees which was a downwind course, and our rhumb line course to our destination Nuku Hiva, to reduce the strain on the forestay.
We noticed water accumulating in the bilge requiring to be pumped out several times.

0300 UTC: I checked into the Seafarer 's Net on 14.300 Mhz and explained the situation as critical. I arranged with their assistance to have the S/Y CONTINUUM to change course and meet us to lend assistance if required.

0350 UTC: I called in on 14.300 Mhz and talked to W3ZU Fred to ensure that we were doing all we could be as far as requesting assistance. He told us he would monitor the frequency for a while to check on our progress.

0410: A large wave came up behind us and slammed the rudder over breaking the steering quadrant and separated from the hull the internal structure of the boat where the steering cable pulleys attach on the starboard side. We contacted W3ZU Fred and asked him to relay a May Day message to the Coast Guard that our situation had deteriorated and that we needed assistance. We then set up the emergency tiller system so we could maintain the boat in a heaved to arrangement to maintain stability.
US Coast Gard Group 11 responded and we informed them of our damages, that the barnacles were reducing our progress and that the bilge pump was keeping up to the ingress of water from the damaged deck.
We also informed them that S/Y CONTINUUM had changed course to meet us. They were going to see if there was another ship in the area that they could ask to assist and we arranged to send regular position reports to them through W3ZU Fred, which we did throughout the night.

7 th April

Pre-dawn: A large wave struck the rudder and broke the emergency steering linkages and the rudder started to swing free to it 's stops pounding the hull of the boat.

Sun rise: After day light we lowered the main sail we were still using to stabilize us in the three meter swell and laid out the sea anchor from the bow and there by kept the bow to windward and the rudder out of the main flow of the swells.
We contacted S/Y CONTINUUM as arranged, explained the deterioration of our situation and agreed to meet every two hours on 6.209 Mhz as they progressed towards us.
We were not able to Contact W3ZU Fred as arranged due to poor radio propagation and the S/Y BLUE PELICAN agreed to relay the message of our deteriorating state and that the bilge pump was keeping up with the ingress of approximately one foot of water per hour, through the damaged deck and also in the area of the rudder support which had started to leak due to the force of the rudder striking the hull.

Throughout the day 2 - 3 meter waves continued to slam the rudder into the bottom of the boat as the rudder stops were damaged. We rigged a line from the midship mooring cleats then aft around the rudder to reduce the movement of the rudder and the damage it was imparting on the hull.
With our situation critical but stabilized we continued to pump the bilges every hour to keep ahead of the ingress of water from the damaged bow and the deteriorating condition of the rudder mountings. We maintained radio contact routines with S/Y CONTINUUM, W3ZU Fred and the Seafarer 's Net and waited for the arrival of S/Y CONTINUUM.
We were informed by the Seafarer 's Net that the S/Y ATHOS OF LONDON had been diverted by RCC Alameda1and was on a course to our location but would arrive after S/Y CONTINUUM.
The US Coast Guard contacted us on 6.290 Mhz and informed us that S/Y The Athos of London was diverted to us and would arrive the next day. They also wanted to confirm that we would accept help from S/Y CONTINUUM and that we would scuttle the sinking S/Y NIRVANA NOW to reduce the time it would be a hazard to navigation. Unfortunately ATHOS did not have an SSB radio on board so we were unable to communicate with her until they were within sight, after we boarded CONTINUUM, and then by using the VHF radio which we both had.

8 th April

1500 UTC S/Y CONTINUUM arrived, we launched our dingy from the deck and managed to mount the out board engine on it in the swells which had increased to 3-4 metes. We loaded the dingy with our documents and a few personal belongings and transferred to the S/Y CONTINUUM successfully due to their seamanship skills and bravery in the rough seas.
We left NIRVANA NOW sinking at position 07 54 ' S, 119 11 ' W.

ATHOS OF LONDON arrived about two hours later and offered to assist in any way they may. They informed RCC Alameda1 that we were safe aboard S/Y CONTINUUM, and of the state of S/Y NIRVANA NOW. It was decided for us to remain on, and progress with, S/Y CONTINUUM as opposed to risking another transfer at sea to join the ATHOS.

20th April
We checked in to the Marquesas and gave a statement to the Gendarmarie of the sinking and rescue.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the efforts of RCC Alameda1 and their radio watch keepers for their unreplaceable efforts.
Bob and Mona Jankowski on the S/Y CONTINUUM willingly endured great hardship as they motor-sailed 40 hours into strong winds and large seas while standing watches of two hours on/two hours off to enable them to reach us before we sank. The two hour watch routine made possible the radio contact schedule of every two hours which kept them informed of our position as we drifted disabled. It was a great moral booster to us to be to talk to our saviors on a regular basis.
I would like to impress upon all that it was the communications allowed us through the SSB radio giving us access to the land based ham networks and other boats that saved our lives. With the popularity and attributes of satellite phones increasing I think it is still prudent for all persons voyaging off shore to be skilled in the use of the SSB radio.
We will miss the boat that gave us so much joy for 18 years.

Randoll N Ortiz, owner/Captain, S/Y NIRVANA NOW
Allan Riches
Allan Riches
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Regretfully, I believe a lot of people have been lead down the satphone track because:

1. MRCC Falmouth does not have a HF/SSB radio, so their only possible response to anyone asking for a recommendation about long distance comms to use when beyond VHF range is satphone.

2. The standard ISAF Special Regulations do not mention a HF/SSB radio, presumably because they are based on racing in waters around the UK and Europe where VHF and MF coverage (only) is available, and where centralized, professional, quick response S&R services are also available 24/7. And because MRCC Falmouth does not have a HF/SSB radio.

3. Satphone call charges create a lot of money for advertising and marketing.

The outcome of the two incidents - SY Chiki Rafiki and SY Nirvana Now - seem to highlight the importance of locating nearby assistance from other mariners when cruising or on passage beyond the range of coastal VHF and S&R services. The broadcast feature of HF/SSB radio creates the opportunity to establish communications with any nearby vessels - known and unknown.

This is what MRCC Australia - which operates via some high power and effective HF/SSB radio stations - has been saying for many years on their successive websites (my comments in brackets):

"The basic concept of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is that search and rescue authorities ashore, as well as shipping in the immediate vicinity of a ship in distress, will be rapidly alerted to a distress incident so they can assist in a coordinated search and rescue operation with the minimum of delay." (Marine radio broadcasts it 's DSC and voice information to all other similar radios. Therefore, everyone – nearby boats and distance MRCCs - can be quickly notified with just one simple alarm call. And, because the DSC capable radio also sends the exact location - using the vessel 's on-board GPS data connected to the radio - a search to find the vessel is not required. Simply go to the exact GPS location to find the vessel and people needing help.)

"While satellites and satellite-compatible distress beacons have significantly improved the effectiveness of SAR operations, the system is NOT a substitute for carrying appropriate marine or aviation radio." (Because the DSC capable marine radio can immediately alert all known or unknown vessels nearby with one simple DSC alarm call. In comparison, satphone requires multiple voice calls, knowing which vessels are nearby, and knowing their satphone numbers.)

"Depending on the circumstances, your initial distress alert should still be made by radio if possible.. You should activate your distress beacon only if contact cannot be made by any other means or when told to do so by a rescue authority." (Because distances are great, and the time needed to get an official S&R response on-site might be beyond the battery life of the EPIRB.)

"Distress beacons should only be used when there is a threat of grave and imminent danger. In the event of an emergency, communication should first be attempted with others close by using radios, phones and other signalling devices." (Because nearby help from another mariner will likely be much faster. Save the EPIRB battery for use when in the life-raft, not while still aboard a functional but disabled yacht.)

Yachting Australia 's Special Regulations for racing (and recommended for cruising) acknowledge the realities of limited S&R capabilities on this side of the world. They require a HF/SSB radio for Category 2 and Category 1 events, and any events beyond constant coastal VHF service comms.

Royal Hong Kong YC does something similar; yachts can only enter their events operating beyond coastal VHF service range if they have a functional DSC capable HF/SSB radio; which must be turned on 24/7 during the event to provide immediate contact and prompt assistance.

The experience and subsequent practices adopted on this side of the world - where VHF coastal services and effective S&R services are very limited or non-existent - should provide a useful model to inform communication equipment selection for similar operating situations.
Bill Attwood
Bill Attwood
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I have read on various websites, and now here, that coast radio stations, and MRCC 's do not have SSB radio. I believe that it is a SOLAS requirement that all ships of the relevant size etc must carry a DSC enabled SSB radio, and the same goes for MRCC 's. These radios must maintain a continuous automatic watch on 2182 kHz, the distress and calling frequency. In my view this trumps all arguments that Satphones are an acceptable substitute.

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