Help with operating ICOM 802 SSB radio

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starke - 5/2/2019
T L Sparks CDRIcom IC – M802 Made Simple for Cruisers: Hand Book for Starting the DreamExcellent book. (On Amazon or Sparks web site)Best wishes,CharlesCharles L Starke MD FACPs/v Dawnpiper

Thank you, will order it. 
Wishing you fair winds

John MacDougall
John MacDougall
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Chris, et al,
Help with operating the Icom M-802 radio?

Well, the short answer is:
I think you'll find these videos show each button/knob's function, as well as what that function actually does....

This is the whole Playlist, where Charles Starke found my video that he posted the link to, earlier....


The long answer is....well, it is REALLY, if you (and/or others) are so inclined, have a look see.... :)

1) As a longtime OCC member, and an offshore sailor since the 1970's, I should probably check in to the OCC Forum more often....sorry about that. :(

As a longtime HF radio engineer / radio op (and installer --- having assisted in my first "marine SSB" install, in 1973), who has spent the last 50 years studying, and teaching, Radiowave Propagation and Antenna System Design (mostly on shore-side, but for on-board as well, both maritime and ham), and many aspects of modern radio well as spent many, many an hour in the real-world operating on-the-air, over the past 45 - 50 years, and have had more than a few friends / fellow sailors ask for my help understanding these things, so I decided years ago to try to help others that I'll never meet in person (using email, internet, and Youtube)....hence some of my rather long-winded and infamous postings on Cruiser's Forum and on the SSCA pages, as well as some helpful Youtube videos...

{Fyi, this all for free....I don't get anything from this, from anyone, no sponsors, no subscribers, etc....and I do not participate in any Youtube revenue streams, (no adverts), etc., nor do I market this info / educational material, nor do I attempt to get noticed, listed, "liked", etc., for these main reasons, you'll not find too many of my videos popping up to the top very much in Google searches, but they are there nonetheless, and have been for years (8 - 10 years on Youtube, and ~ 15 years elsewhere), have a look at the links to the Playlists I put together, etc....and enjoy!}

Also, be aware that while I use HF radio (marine and ham) at the dock all the time (and regularly receive and print-out WeFax charts, while still tied to the dock)....and of course I use HF radio on-shore (ham radio) all the time....almost all of the discussion here of HF ("SSB") radio and sat comm / sat phones is for when out cruising, when at anchor or offshore / at-sea, and/or in remote locales....especially when you are away from cellular/mobile (and/or Wi-Fi) service...

"Radio Nuts" like me, use the radio all the time, instead of a phone, computer, etc.....but, for most others it's not a "love", but rather a tool to use.....although, when actually learning and experiencing success in HF radio comms, some skeptical sailors find themselves falling in love with "radio".... :) No infrastructure, no fees, no restrictions, no "out-of-service", no "not enough bars of signal", etc., so it can a nice change-of-pace for some....but, for many sailors, this is just a discussion about another tool / system on-board, and they won't fall in love with radio....and, while I think that a shame, I understand. LOL No worries here....

2) In the world of radio communications we have an old adage: "If you can't hear 'em, you can't work 'em!" .....meaning successful HF comms is all about signal-to-noise ratio!

When it comes to improving the "signal", since the HF antenna system on most small boats is a compromise (that needs to operate from 1.6mhz thru 26mhz, and be effective / efficient for most HF maritime comms from 2mhz/4mhz - 12mhz, and/or 3.6mhz thru 14mhz for most ham radio HF comms), and in most situations on sailboats, the antenna is part of the rigging that holds the mast up, so its primary purpose is far from being part of a communications system, so the antenna is usually a compromise that is as good as we can make it, although attention should be paid to the antenna ground system, in order to improve your antenna system....

So now you see that, reducing the "noise" part is of great importance here, and while this used to be easy-peasy, now-a-days with the many RFI-generating devices on-board boats (both yours and others nearby), it can be a pain....but do-able, and necessary!

Now, with that adage in mind, please take note that the three most important criteria for success in HF Communications on-board are:

a) Far and above all, the Number 1 thing is reducing your on-board "radio noise" (RFI)

b) Tied for second place are:

b) --- learning and understanding radiowave propagation...(just like learning sail trim, navigation, weather forecasting, anchoring skill, head maintenance, diesel repair, etc., are important to voyaging / cruising....improving your knowledge and expertise in basic radiowave propagation is an extremely important part of successful HF radio operations.....understand this is long-range radio comms, without high-tech infrastructure, i.e. this is not like using a smart phone!)

b) --- improving your antenna system (and antenna ground system)...and making sure your radio is powered correctly (directly from the main battery bank, thru a dedicated breaker/fuse, not thru a distribution panel / breaker panel)....see details in linked postings, etc...

Those sailors who have installed, or are considering, an HF comm system (i.e. "marine SSB" or ham), that are unwilling to do these above tasks, are highly prone to poor results....and, unfortunately if the folks selling, and/or installing, this equipment are ignorant of these facts above (or worse are just too lazy to do anything about them), then the unfortunate sailor is left hanging, and usually these are the ones who say/write things like "SSB is old school....doesn't really work anymore." and/or "all you'll ever hear is static" and/or "a sat phone is much better", etc. etc....although, the facts don't support any of those statements (HF Comms, both SSB Voice and DSC, etc. are part of the GMDSS, and used daily....HF-DSC calls are almost constant these days, and there is a much higher use of HF-digital comms/PACTOR now than just 10 years ago.....and, if you look at the videos you'll see the lack of static and the ease-of-comms), this doesn't stop the falsehoods from spreading.....{heck, remember another old saying: "a lie will make it around the world, before the truth gets its boots on"....well, in the world of HF comms, this is sadly a truism...}

Please allow me to make a few observations here....and (as opposed to the mostly facts that I'm trying to project), allow me to type a quick opinion here:

---- few would buy a sailboat from someone who knew little about sailing.

---- few would buy sails from someone that knew little about sails/sailmaking.

---- few would buy an outboard motor from someone who knew little about outboards.

---- few would buy a diesel engine, or a computer, or a refrigeration unit, etc. etc.....from those who knew little about them...


BUT....(opinion alert)

---- But, it seems that many sailors buy HF radios ("marine SSB") from those who know little about HF Communications? One reason is that, those that sell/install most "consumer-grade" marine electronics have no clue about HF Radio at all (although many of those same retailers/installers erroneously think they do....they might know how-to program the radio, but nothing about how HF communications work!)....and those in the maritime world that do know, are either:

a) usually in the "commercial communications business" (selling, installing, certifying GMDSS systems)

b) small, specialty shops (like Dockside Radio, here in Florida, but sells/ships worldwide....)


So, in addition to the 3 basic criteria, above, for success in HF comms on-board, another one is this: buy and/or have it installed by someone that REALLY understands this stuff, OR INSTALL IT YOURSELF (and learn about ridding your boat of RFI-producing devices, or simply disconnect 'em when using the radio; learn about radiowave propagation; optimize your antenna system / antenna ground system)....

If I had a few dollars for every so-called "professionally installed" HF system on a cruising boat, that I've either seen myself or heard on-the-air, that are truly crap....well, I could probably repaint my Awl-Grip, buy new sails, and spend a couple years out sailing in grand style....seriously, I just cannot stress enough the importance of those 3 criteria above, along with not taking some "professional's" word for things! (and, of course, make sure the radio/tuner/antenna....the entire perfectly, right there at the dock, before you sail away / before you pay the final amount for any install work/labor....please don't believe the BS that "it will work fine, away from the just doesn't work at the dock", cuz that is BS...)

End of opinion / rant ~~~~~~~~

Now, I'm sure the cynics out there are saying: "isn't this guy exactly the kind of 'expert' he's saying not to listen to?".....or maybe they're thinking: "who the heck does he think he is, I get my advice from real people that I know"

And, yes, I understand the do you take advice from someone you don't know, especially if they are implying that other advice is wrong, without even knowing what you may have been told?

So, to be blunt....of course, I'm not saying I'm right and everyone else is wrong, that would be awfully, what I am saying is:

---- there is a dearth of actual factual info out there about HF comms on-board smaller boats (not large ships)

---- as the market is small, and the knowledge / expertise needed is vast, the "cost" of having an HF comms expert on staff is prohibitive for most marine electronics companies

---- unfortunately the internet spreads false (albeit, mostly well intentioned) info, far and wide

---- follow the simple rules-of-thumb that I and others (Sailmail, etc.) have been sharing for decades

---- take on faith (just believe) that there is a plethora of devices that spew RFI these days, where just 10 - 15 years ago there weren't nearly as many {heck, COSPAS-SARSAT, INMARSAT, and Iridium, have all been working with governments worldwide to try to get them to enforce their product certification standards, so that they can maintain their current [weakened] link budgets, rather than be reduced into the noise....imagine the future where EPIRB's get bigger, so that they'd have enough power to be heard by the satellites over the man-made radio noises that all of our consumer devices spew out? Not something that COSPAS-SARSAT, etc. is looking forward to!}

---- And, if the results in the videos aren't enough....have a look at not just the videos and read the on-point postings that I make, but also take a look at my "radio bio" on, well as look at my boat, and my systems and their capability (they might not be 2020/2021 new, but they are "modern" and functional, both independently and linked/connected).....but, please know that I still sail with the adage of "I'm on my own"....and I need to keep the sea water on the outside, keep the mast up and sails trimmed, keep the boat pointing/heading in the right direction, and keep myself and crew well fed/hydrated....and anything extra (electronics, comms, etc.) is luxury.... :) :) :)

3) Please have a look at these video Playlists, where the videos have been arranged in a logical order, to better assist layperson sailors, or novice radio operators, in understanding many aspects of HF radio...[both "ham", and "marine SSB" (which for the past 20 some years is actually: "MF/HF-DSC-SSB-FSK-Radiotelephone", but that's a rather large mouthful of acronyms and nomenclature to swallow for the average sailor, so most just still use the old "SSB" description to delineate it from "ham" radio)]....yes, some of the individual videos appear in multiple Playlists, so there is some duplication...just skip the ones you've already seen...

Maritime HF Comms (HF-SSB, etc.)

HF-DSC Comms (an oft misunderstood part of the GMDSS, that has been with us for over 20 years now....and something that is of paramount importance if wishing to call another vessel [1000's and 1000's of merchant vessels plying the oceans daily that are required to monitor HF-DSC 24/7 and have HF-SSB radios at the ready, but not monitoring SSB Voice], and/or hundreds of coast stations, etc. well as provide a secondary source (after an EPIRB) of Distress signaling, etc.)

Icom M-802 Instruction Videos (takes you step-by-step thru all the buttons / knobs, as well as all the SSB and DSC functions of the radio....also useful for owners of other radios, as many functions are the same)

Offshore Weather (offshore reception, etc. focused primarily on WeFax and ocean passages)

Offshore Sailing (just for fun, no real "radio info in these")

With the exception of a 25+ year old "GMDSS explanation video" (which I added some corrections to in the video description), all of these videos were recorded by me alone (with a standard-definition camcorder), with just my own extemporaneous narration and just the radio and my fingers....

FYI...3 things that set these videos apart from almost all others online (and far apart from any "classes" / "courses" you may desire to attend):
a) They are all done LIVE, as-it-happens, in the real-world, on-board a real offshore cruising boat (that I have personally sailed across the Atlantic, etc., a few times)....with no script/director, just the radio, my fingers, and my extemporaneous "simulations", nothing done "in a lab" nor "on a test bench", but again out in the real-world, just like everyone else uses their radios!
b) They are FREE for you to use and share with others, and I have no problem if you wish to download 'em and store 'em on your own computer to watch while on-board / at-sea / away from internet connection (just please don't use them to teach your own classes, nor try "sell" them)....nobody is trying to sell you anything, nor influence you to buy or subscribe to anything!!! (I make a living in professional communications --- radio comms, sat comm, internet, sailing and my "ham radio" and "marine SSB" I do for fun and safety, not for money!!)
c) They are scrupulously designed and edited (albeit a bit roughly) to provide just the facts, with little to no "opinion", and as little bias as possible....[FYI, as I have made a good living in communications / sat comm, etc. I do love all of it....and, in addition to also having an Iridium 9555 sat phone, my brother and I were "alpha" and "beta" testers for Iridium back in the late "90', I'm not "anti-sat-comm" at all.....but am very "pro HF-Radio"....and, I cannot imagine anyone not equipping with modern HF radio for offshore, perhaps some "pro-radio" bias may be seen upfront, but I do try to make it "just the facts"...]

And, here you'll find page after page of reference material, almost all of it backed-up with factual / official sources and links...

Marine SSB Systems / Stuff (general info, as well as how-to better use/operate, troubleshoot/install)

Marine SSB, proper installation tips/techniques

GMDSS, HF-DSC, and how-to better use the GMDSS for offshore/cruising sailors

ERIRB's, Distress Signaling, how to improve your odds of rescue in remote locales / open-ocean

FYI, if like most cruising sailors / voyagers, you generally sail within a few hundred miles of these white dots and white tracks in this video.....
Which are the worldwide positions/tracks of only some of the worlds SOLAS-grade vessels, over a 6 day period....(and if you're mostly beyond USCG helo range / beyond the "coastal lifeboat" reach of even many first world nations)....please remember that in a Distress situation that while activating an EPIRB is the first step, next or concurrently sending out a MF/HF-DSC Distress Alert is a great way of assuring two things:

1- You have a confirmation Distress Alert sent, that enforces the EPIRB alert, and almost certainly will trigger a response (even if the area you are in, has little to no SAR assets)....

2- You have alerted all SOLAS-grade vessels in range of your MF/HF-DSC signal (which would be within a few hundred miles, day-or-night, using 2187.5khz, and 8414.5khz DSC, day-n-night, and usually even much farther away)....and, it is these vessels that are the most likely rescue vessels / assets that will be the ones assisting/rescuing you!! {if you read the above thread and most especially the links therein, you'll see that even in the best-case-scenario it takes hours to find, contact, and vector, vessels in your area towards you....and, this can mean a vessel might be steaming along at 20+kts away from you, during those precious hours....}

And, even in non-Distress situations, when at you require clean water, food, diesel fuel, medical assistance, etc.....or, maybe even just a good weather report, in order to find some good wind? If you're lucky and pass within sight of a large merchant vessel, you may be able to raise them on VHF (DSC or ch. 16 / 13), but what if you're unlucky enough to be farther than a few miles away,, you've got MF/HF-DSC, and you can send out an "All Ship's" "Urgency" (or "Safety") DSC Call, and if you do it on 2187.5khz, or another freq such as 4207khz, which might only be received by vessels within a few hundred, you've now got the assistance you needed...

Again, I'm not sure how/why sailors are steered away from equipping with a MF/HF-DSC-FSK-SSB Radio.....but, it just seems like a bad choice for those heading offshore / across oceans, etc...

4) As for the commonly asked questions:

a) "do I need an 'SSB' if I have a sat phone?"

b) "which is better, 'SSB' or sat phone?" (which should actually be "PACTOR Modem" vs. a "sat phone"....but that's another discussion...although, personally I believe a pactor modem to be more useful/reliable than a sat phone, but if you've already got a sat phone, or are for sure equipping with one, a pactor modem is unnecessary....)

The truthful, definitive (actual real-world and engineering-based) answers to those questions rarely seems to satisfy some, please have a look at the basic answers here, and the very brief explanations here (and read the above discussion threads, and watch/listen to the videos), and you'll see what the straight scoop really is....

The basic/brief answers:

a) You don't actually "need" either.....many folks have safely and comfortably sailed the world without either, for many years / decades....

And, understand that these are two totally different systems, that do two completely different things, in two very different ways.....they are not competition with each other, but rather compliment each other...

--- A "marine SSB" (now-a-days a MF/HF-DSC-FSK-SSB Radiotelephone) is a "broadcast" device, i.e. your signal goes out to many / everyone within range (as your signal goes out to everyone at once, you do not need to call anyone in particular, but you can, of course, direct your call / alert, etc. to one person / one vessel / one coast station, or a group, or a network, etc. if your choose....or just let it go to everyone at once)

--- A "marine SSB" (as a "broadcast" device) allows you to communicate to a lot of folks....whether other vessels or coast stations, whether on "Cruising Nets", "weather nets", etc. or directly with a few coast stations (or on personal schedules)...

--- Most "marine SSB" also allow easy access and operation on the HF ham radio bands (assuming you are personally licensed for ham radio, 'cuz the "marine radio operators license" is not the same as the "ham radio license")....and some modern "marine SSB's", like the Icom M-802 are seamless / easy-peasy to use, and work very very well, on the ham bands....

--- A MF/HF-DSC-FSK-SSB Radiotelephone is part of the GMDSS, and as such is an easy and reliable means of two-way signaling other vessels and shore stations worldwide (via MF/HF-DSC), as well as an easy and reliable way of two-way communicating with other vessels and shore stations worldwide (via MF/HF-SSB, mostly after first signaling via DSC)

--- In addition to being part of the GMDSS (and hence a requirement for all vessels over 300 tons, and/or making int'l voyages/communications) Coast Guards and Maritime Authorities (US, Australia, NZ, etc.) also recommend HF-DSC-SSB gear on-board all private yachts sailing offshore and/or making ocean passages....and recommend use of HF-DSC for all initial signaling/contact {and fyi, Australia is planning on doing away with their HF Voice radio-watchstanding, which would leave only the USCG and Taupo Radio in NZ, as the last of the coast station hold-outs that still maintain a Voice Radio Watch....the rest of the 80+ HF Coast Stations and the 450+ MF Coast Stations, worldwide, maintain only a DSC Watch, and then use SSB Voice, etc. once initial contact/signaling is done via DSC....which is also the way all the 1000's and 1000's of SOLAS vessels maintain a MF/HF Radio Watch....and, of course this has been the case for all GMDSS signatory nations and all SOLAS vessels, for > 20 years now (required since Feb 1st, 1999)}


FYI, the talk of the demise of the GMDSS has gone on for years....and, while the GMDSS is certainly "a horse, designed by committee", and could use some's definitely not going anywhere....(new INMARSAT FB and Iridium Certus recently getting GMDSS certification, and the continuation of WeFax broadcasts worldwide [not technically a part of the GMDSS, but still used by a majority of ships at sea], as well as MSI SITOR broadcasts, complimenting the INMARSAT-C broadcasts, etc. etc....all point to "updates" of the GMDSS, not the demise of it...) So, I'm hesitant to ad links to pages that talk of such things....but...

--- A "marine SSB" is also a great way (easy-peasy and inexpensive) to receive HF WeFax (Weather Facsimile Charts and images) worldwide....and, for those unaware these are still considered the "gold standard" of offshore/hi-seas weather forecasts, as they are drawn by real humans, experienced maritime meteorologists (using the latest in satellite data, ship reports, buoy data, balloon data, etc., multiple computer models, etc., historical well as the forecasters' personal experience / expertise with maritime weather systems).....this is in contrast to GRIB charts, which are simply raw computer model data (and unfortunately many sailors that do use GRIB's, use only one computer model)...

{Although, I use a separate / dedicated WeFax unit (a Furuno FAX-408, and before that an Alden MarineFaxIV, and in the 1970's an older Alden MarineFax unit for years), use of free software (JVComm32, GetFax, etc.) on your laptop, tablet, etc. and a simple wire connecting the headphone or speaker output of your "marine SSB" to the computer, gives you quick and easy HF WeFax Charts....see videos for details of this...}

Fyi, the last survey results from the IMO/ WMO/Jcomm (World Meteorological Organization / Joint Technical Commission for Oceanographic and Marine Meteorology) that I have, are from 2017, and even then we see that the majority of merchant vessels use NAVTEX as their primary MSI / Weather Information and forecast source, with HF-Radio and INMARSAT-C being next on the list (understandable, as the majority are making coastal or short international passages, rather than ocean crossings).....but when we look deeper, and look at those making ocean passages, etc. we see INMARSAT-C and HF-Radio (WeFax and SITOR) being the primary means of MSI / Weather Information when offshore!!! (and a surprising high number of comments on the poor reliability of "satellite internet"....) And, remember that these are larger vessels (most SOLAS-grade) plying the oceans, they have the $$$$ and the regulations (GMDSS), to ensure good quality comms and weather info / Marine Safety Information (MSI), why do small boat sailors wish to try something less-suited to the application (like a handheld sat phone, or a small portable satellite data unit like a "GO")?? I'm not 100% certain, but my guess is that they are "sold" the high-tech gizmos and "apps" by many marine electronics dealers who seek to exploit the mass consumer market of modern "smart phone users", rather than actually try to recommend the devices / services that would best suit that particular sailors application/desires (of course giving consideration to costs and the abilities of the sailor to properly use the equipment/services)...

BTW, please take note that all of the above uses / features of an HF radio ("marine SSB") are free of charge, worldwide!!! And, requires No expensive modems, nor specialty accessories at all!! No subscriptions, no fees, etc...

And while some will say that the equipment cost is high, it's usually about $3000 all-in, for new, state-of-the-art MF/HF-DSC-FSK-SSB Radiotelephone and remote tuner, and all cables/connectors/wires/antennas, etc....and sometimes less.....and, if buying a used M-802/AT-140, this cost is half or less.....those spouting off about $5k USD, are usually including the cost of the unnecessary $1800 - $2000 PACTOR modem, which would only be needed if you required easy-peasy business emails, or needed slightly faster low-speed data/email connection (4.8kb to 9.6kb), and did not have any sat comm gear... :)

--- A "sat phone" is a "point-to-point" device, i.e. you talk to one person, one-on-one (and you must know their phone number to call them / connect with them).....(a portable / handheld sat data device[such as IridiumGO], is the same....except that you need their email address, or phone number, to connect with them...)

--- If you have a external antenna for the sat phone and a way to connect it to your computer (a data kit), or a portable sat comm device (IridiumGO) you can get some very very slow-speed data service (2.4kb) to send/rec emails and some small attachments....and some use this to conduct some business and/or receive emails with GRIB chart data attached....but...but, unfortunately many fail to use them to receive WeFax charts (synoptic charts), so they end up spending money to get questionable (usually inferior) weather forecasts..... {fyi, yes raw computer model data is getting better, and short-term GRIB forecasts out 3 days is usually "okay"....but longer-term forecasts are notoriously, spending $$$$ to get inferior weather info just seems odd to me....but, again, this is usually due to the fact that few have actually explained things [about HF Radio, RFI, WeFax, GRIB's, etc.] to many sailors.....but, in any case....}

b) A Marine "SSB" (Marine MF/HF-DSC-SSB Radiotelephone) is better than a handheld sat phone (or portable sat comm data device) in most heavy-weather situations! Anyone that has ever tried to use a handheld sat phone (I have) or IridiumGO, etc. when bouncing around in a heavy sea, etc. knows quite quickly that a fixed-mount comm system is MUCH better/easier and much more reliable....(take note that you can also attain this ease/reliability if equipped with a fixed-mount professional maritime sat comm terminal....but that costs in the $5000 USD range, uses more electrical power and takes up valuable space on-board, below deck and, if you have the budget for it, have the space and electrical power, a fixed satcom terminal is also okay in heavy weather)

Of course, making a phone call is the toughest this implies a seamless two-way communications link (like you'd get via HF Radio)....and, if you're doing it from an open space (an open cockpit or deck), then an Iridium handheld sat phone DOES work.....or, if you have an external antenna you can also make a call from below decks....

Now, if just sending a email, this is an easier application for inexpensive sat comm (handheld sat phone w/ data kit...or an IridiumGO), and while the speed is very slow, they do work well...

As you see....a "sat phone" or a "GO" is a point-to-point device.....and, if you need to make business calls (or send/rec business emails) when offshore and/or in remote locales, then a sat phone is a good choice....(especially since the loss of WLO/Shipcom radio, and the reduction in services from Australian HF Voice network, and I think the recent reduction of service of Brunei Bay Radio???)

Although, I suspect that the original poster has long since found the info / training he desired, I hope this helps many of you here. :)

Fair winds.

John, KA4WJA

s/v Annie Laurie, WDB6927

MMSI# 366933110

P.S. I also put together a VHF-DSC Playlist, which just has one of my videos as an intro, and then a few mariner training videos showing VHF-DSC in use in the, for those that might desire some basic VHF-DSC info / training, here ya' go...



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