SSB Radios


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Stephen Foot
Stephen Foot
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We are in the early stages of planning a trip across the Pacific in 2019 and I think I ought to install an SSB radio in addition to the satellite phone we currently have on board. Our sailing tends to be very unsophisticated in terms of electronics: in many ways I would almost rather turn the whole lot off and get on with the real task in hand…

The boat is currently in Croatia and we are planning to winter this year in Sicily and I was going to get the yard to install it. If at all possible, I want to avoid putting any more holes in the hull. We currently have rod rigging (which is quite old) and a split backstay, but shows no sign of wear and so I am reluctant to replace it. We are just replacing the batteries on board and that will give us something like 500Ah and an alternator that throws out 130A – so that ought to be plenty of power.

I have heard all sorts of stories about what radio to buy (Is it true that ones bought in US have more channels?) and how to install. I wondered if someone might might be able to point me in the right direction – may be just about the ups and downs of SSB. and what I should and should not do!

I hope that there are members of the club who can help a raw novice in this field. many thanks

Stephen Foot
Water Music
Bill Balme
Bill Balme
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Hi Stephen,

Installing an SSB isn 't difficult, but getting it to work well can be downright impossible at times! The installation itself is relatively straightforward - but you 'll need an antenna solution and a ground plane solution...
The most common antenna solution would be your backstay - so if you don 't have isolators at top and bottom of the backstay, you 'd need to have them installed. I 'm guessing this could be expensive and something that should be done by a rigging expert. An alternative would be a long whip antenna, but I 'm not sure how well these work for SSB...
Everything else is in my opinion best done by yourself - because it 's YOU that 's going to have to fine tune the details in order to get best reception and transmission. The good news is that it 's relatively simple - but best to follow the instructions!
The Ground plane (counterpoise) solution used to require a load of copper foil and copper mesh all over the boat - not easy - but these days there 's a good (not perfect) solution - a KISS counterpoise which is extremely easy to install.
Most new SSB 's are Icom 801/802 - as far as I know they are the same - but I guess it 's possible that the UK version may come with fewer pre-programmed stations - but you should be able to program them all...
Once installed, the difficulties start - trying to improve upon the reception. You need to identify and isolate all the electrical noise generators in the boat... this can take time and patience!
Good luck with the installation!
Bill

Bill Balme
s/v Toodle-oo!

bwallace
bwallace
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Hi, I agree with what Bill has said, but would like to add from my experience. As an SSB user for over 10 years. It is a great bit of kit, and extremely useful on long ocean passages. Three weeks crossing an ocean. A radio net is wonderful company each morning find out what fellow cruisers are up to, what weather those ahead are getting, besides a social chat after all safety stuff has been gone through.
In regard to types of radio, I bought the Icom 802 in 2006. At that time you could not get an 802 which was UK type approved. Although the 802 had been about In the US for a whIle, so that is what I bought. Only the 702 was UK a Type approved, but the 802 seemed and was far more user friendly.
As a net controller for various nets in the Pacific, it became obvious during that 5 years that the vessels that generally had the best radios, i.e could pick up distant signals where many could not, where the vessels using the UK type approved 802. I know much is down to installation, but these are observations made by myself as a SSB user.
With this experience, and had they been around when I bought my 802 and having this experience now, It would be worth paying the extra for a UK type approved SSB.
Go for a good ground plate, and use a 100mm copper strip, keep the run to the tuner as short as possible. Can be a sod to install, but the results are well worth it. I know nothing about the Kiss, so can 't comment on that.
We also may be in Sicily this next winter.
Fair winds
Brian s/v Darramy
Victor.Bom (Past OCC Member)
Victor.Bom
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Hi Stephen,
I agree fully with the comments already published. Only a few remarks:
I have an ICOM 801, the only mf/hf device apporved in the Netherlands. I am very happy with it. The story goes that it is equal to the 802 on the outside but that internally it is totally different, the 801 being the better device in terms of corrosion etc. There is a marked price difference in favor of the 802 though.
There is a lot of information on the internet about installation of mf/hf trancievers. Very usefull.
In addition to the radio and antenna you need also an antenna tuner. There are tuners that must be tuned manually, but an automatic one is much to be preferred.
If you want to send/receive Emails, weather forecasts (gribs), weather fax charts etc. you will want a modem. Pactor modems are very wide spread. It can be done using the sound chart of your PC, but I have no experience with that method, it seems a bit cumbersome.

Success,
Victor
Daria Blackwell
Daria Blackwell
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Here is the information on the KISS-SSB Ground / Counterpoise. http://www.kiss-ssb.com/ It sounds very good indeed. Thanks for the heads up, Bill.

Vice Commodore, OCC 
Simon Currin
Simon Currin
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We have a 19 year old icom m-710 which we haven’t used for ten years. Having now exited European waters we switched it on and it is receiving fine. The power supply is good but when we press the PTT button on the fist microphone nothing happens. I’m not sure if this is a problem with the mic or with the set and wondered if there is anyone able advise? Do fist mics fail? If it’s a set problem is there anything simple I can check?
Simon
Dick
Dick
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Hi Simon,
The M-710 is a fine SSB, almost bulletproof, but, of course, without the bells and whistles of modern technology, all of which, at my last review, I felt I could do without: hence, I still use my 710.
10 years is a long time, so a few hours spent checking and cleaning every connection and making sure of all continuity and ensuring no shorts will be well worth the effort. It takes very little to interfere with SSB operation.
How do you know you are not TXing? Were you trying it on the hard?
First, chk to see you should see if the 710 is set to TX on high power. If so, you should see a significant voltage drop when the PTT button is depressed on any reasonably sized cruising battery bank.
If not, the mic is likely still good and I would move next to the tuner cable. If you hear a click of the tuner (what tuner do you have) when you change frequencies (say 12 megs to an 8 meg channel) when you depress the PTT button, that is a good sign.
There is a start. I will think on more.
Good luck, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Hasbun
Hasbun
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On our 24v boat, full power transmission is evidenced by about an 8A draw. Should be more, but it is what it is.

Dick's advice regarding using power consumption as an indicator of transmission activity is true and tried, but look at this little anecdote: we have two battery monitoring systems. One old and original to the boat, and one the latest and greatest from Mastervolt. Very fancy. Well, the Mastervolt is nearly useless to determine SSB transmission consumption, because instead of giving an instant reading to the second, it seems to report a trend of power consumption over the past five seconds or so. So only the old and "obsolete" power meter is good for checking the radio.

The microphone on our M-710 was found to be broken in 2014. The little wire at the base of the microphone wore off, like a cheap microphone. Which it is! I think the replacement was only $25 or so. It's been fine since.

Cheers,
Dick
Dick
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Good advice, Hasbun,
Many battery monitoring systems are not up to the task of reading battery v with enough accuracy and, as you clarify, without averaging. I guess I was thinking of a good digital VOM for this job (and for the continuity/shorts inspections), although keying the mic with an analog meter should make it jump.
My best, Dick
Dick
Dick
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BTW Hasbun,
I would guess that 8a is about right for a 24v system as the max power draw for the M-710 is about 150 watts (as I believe all marine SSBs must have for max TX).
My best, Dick
GO

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