SSB or HAM Radio Qualification... Please help.


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Rod Halling
Rod Halling
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Hi All,

My wife and I are off (with a little luck and a following wind blowing away some Covid) on a three year possible circumnavigation and need certification to use our SSB radio. The courses that we have found on the web seem to be very long and involved - usually for ship's radio operators it seems. Does anyone know of a course that will allow us to use our SSB that is less than 2 weeks long? I am sure that I heard somewhere of a 2-day course, but can't find it anywhere...

Wishing you all a better year...!

Rod
bwallace
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Hi Rob,
I am not sure where you are based, but if UK,  Try Bob Smith, at Yachtcom in Southampton. Email office@yachtcom.co.uk
I did his  SSB course about 15 years ago, I think it was over 3 days including the exam. Lots of preparation beforehand makes the exam reasonably straightforward. 

For  distance cruising an SSB is a great companion and helps you to share your problems and joys with other yachts in your vicinity etc. Besides the obvious weather and safety factors.

So give Bob a call and stay safe

Over!
Brian
S/V Darramy 


Dick
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bwallace - 25 Jan 2021
Hi Rob,
I am not sure where you are based, but if UK,  Try Bob Smith, at Yachtcom in Southampton. Email office@yachtcom.co.uk
I did his  SSB course about 15 years ago, I think it was over 3 days including the exam. Lots of preparation beforehand makes the exam reasonably straightforward. 

For  distance cruising an SSB is a great companion and helps you to share your problems and joys with other yachts in your vicinity etc. Besides the obvious weather and safety factors.

So give Bob a call and stay safe

Over!
Brian
S/V Darramy 


Hi Rod,
Here is hoping your plans come to pass. They sound great!
I take it you are UK based as this would not be an issue for a US based operator.
I believe the following to be true, but please verify.
For marine SSB use in the US there is no formal training, but there is a license application. This makes sense as the marine SSB radios are designed to preclude the kinds of activities that are illegal (or frowned upon) and that formal training teaches you to avoid. (This is mostly done by having discrete channels that “force” you to stay on frequency.)
I was sailing-based in the UK and Europe for many years and found it bewildering how little SSB radio usage there was. This was after having come from a world where marine SSB usage was an everyday activity and instrumental in the sharing of information, weather, and staying in touch with friends and in making new friends.
Then I learned of the hoops (expense, time etc.) the UK made one go through to get a marine SSB cert. and it made sense. A better system could hardly be devised to ensure that cruisers would not adopt marine SSB. And to no end, as marine SSB is hard to abuse.
Amateur radio (ham) is another story. There the training makes more sense (now that Morse code proficiency is no longer required) and the equipment, being potentially far more powerful, flexible and sophisticated is open to abuse: inadvertent or otherwise.
Both marine and ham SSB are likely to be very appreciated in a myriad of ways in a cn so please do not get discouraged. Friends have waited till the Carib to get licensed and buy equipment (St. Martin is duty free). I would hope (and expect) that once out of UK waters, UK rules for marine SSB use would not apply.
BTW, what SSB do you have and is it installed with antenna coupler/tuner etc.?
My best, Dick Stevenson, KC2HKW, WCZ7717, s/v Alchemy


Roger Harris
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I agree with the observation that SSB use is much more common in US-flagged yachts than those of Great Britain or the EU. Perhaps some of that difference is indeed attributable to regulatory hassles. However, I wonder if it’s not a cultural thing, too. I’m reminded of the indomitable Bob Shepton’s comments in “Addicted to Adventure” (2014):

“[A]ll these American boats seemed to want to keep in touch with each other via the Ham radio network. Part of this radio traffic comprised of a general injunction to report one’s position and course, the wind direction, wind strength and numerous other details, daily, to some controller on land.

“I could not help wondering what had happened to the peace and solitude of ocean sailing, and the mantra ‘On mountains and sea/If ye canna look after yourself/There you should not be,’ came to mind. I did not see why someone miles away on land should tell me what the weather was like where I was and direct which way I should go, however well meaning and well informed they might be. An over-reaction, perhaps, but I had just come from giving the weather lecture to soldiers in Bavaria, which I usually concluded by saying, ‘Study the clouds, watch the barometer, and spoil yourself by learning to read a synoptic chart, and you will know the weather.’ The contrast was glaring.”

Best wishes, Roger


Dick
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Roger Harris - 29 Jan 2021
I agree with the observation that SSB use is much more common in US-flagged yachts than those of Great Britain or the EU. Perhaps some of that difference is indeed attributable to regulatory hassles. However, I wonder if it’s not a cultural thing, too. I’m reminded of the indomitable Bob Shepton’s comments in “Addicted to Adventure” (2014):“[A]ll these American boats seemed to want to keep in touch with each other via the Ham radio network. Part of this radio traffic comprised of a general injunction to report one’s position and course, the wind direction, wind strength and numerous other details, daily, to some controller on land.“I could not help wondering what had happened to the peace and solitude of ocean sailing, and the mantra ‘On mountains and sea/If ye canna look after yourself/There you should not be,’ came to mind. I did not see why someone miles away on land should tell me what the weather was like where I was and direct which way I should go, however well meaning and well informed they might be. An over-reaction, perhaps, but I had just come from giving the weather lecture to soldiers in Bavaria, which I usually concluded by saying, ‘Study the clouds, watch the barometer, and spoil yourself by learning to read a synoptic chart, and you will know the weather.’ The contrast was glaring.”Best wishes, Roger

Hi Roger,
The difference in SSB usage may indeed be attributable to cultural differences. That said, there were a number of UK sailors in my years based in the UK who wished the process easier and at least one who just waited till he got to the Carib.
And there all sorts of reasonable ways to go out cruising: some are, for sure, like the author you quote, who believe that you should look after yourself, be on your own, and not be in contact with others, or not be out there. He comes quite close, to my mind, of espousing that there is a “right” way to go out cruising: his way.
Even the title of the comments you quote, “Addicted to Adventure” which points to a certain headset. I, for one, do not search for adventure in my cruising. I have loved ones with me and I am responsible for their safety and for the safety of my vessel. I am far more in line with Roald Amundsen who said: “Adventure is just bad planning”. If I can enhance the safety of my wife and son on a 6-day passage to Bermuda from NY by talking with Southbound II, Herb Hilgenberg, in his basement in Toronto on Marine SSB, I will certainly take advantage of his years of experience in weather forecasting and routing while recognizing that this in no way relieves me of any responsibility. (His many contributions to safe sailing on the North Atlantic won him a justly deserved award from the OCC.)
And there is many a very competent and experienced skipper who feel that good seamanship includes hiring a weather/routing advisor. The skipper should be already well versed and experienced in reading the weather in the way your quoted author describes, but it could be argued, the skipper would be remiss in not collecting data from sources available if it enhances the safety of vessel and crew. Again, collecting outside information in no way relieves him/her of responsibility for the vessel but might be supported as good seamanship and in no way deserving of being mocked.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Roger Harris
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Hello Dick,

100% agree that there are many different styles of cruising, and no ‘correct’ way.

As you feel safer having an SSB, by all means do. Or if you just like the social aspects of cruising nets. No skipper should feel it necessary to justify their decision to use, or eschew, SSB communications ... certainly not to me, anyway!

My previous post was not intended to deter Rod from becoming licensed or using his SSB. Other than the cost of purchase and installation headaches, I see no real downside to having an SSB (and apparently his is already fitted, so he doesn’t have to worry about those issues).

Best wishes, Roger

P.S. I don’t know if you have yet had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but he is excellent company and in no way dogmatic.
Dick
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Roger Harris - 30 Jan 2021
Hello Dick,100% agree that there are many different styles of cruising, and no ‘correct’ way.As you feel safer having an SSB, by all means do. Or if you just like the social aspects of cruising nets. No skipper should feel it necessary to justify their decision to use, or eschew, SSB communications ... certainly not to me, anyway!My previous post was not intended to deter Rod from becoming licensed or using his SSB. Other than the cost of purchase and installation headaches, I see no real downside to having an SSB (and apparently his is already fitted, so he doesn’t have to worry about those issues).Best wishes, RogerP.S. I don’t know if you have yet had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but he is excellent company and in no way dogmatic.

Hi Roger,
There exists a very wide range of sailors in the OCC: from among the most skilled and experienced in the world, to those who have yet to do their first ocean passage and are planning their outing.
I am far from among the first group, but in my responding to Forum questions and comments, very much have the second group in mind.
I do not know the audience that the author you quoted had in mind when he wrote his words, so his comments may have been perfectly matched to his audience and I have absolutely no problem with him saying them.
I do know those quotes found their way into a posting where the audience now reading them includes those who may have little passage experience as yet. I am not sure about dogmatic, you bring that up. But I am clear that a budding off-shore passage-maker (after reading the quotes) might feel vulnerable to ridicule if he/she wished to “keep in touch” with other boats or report actual conditions when talking with a weather person on SSB or sat-phone. Further, I have been reading synoptic charts and watching clouds and the barometer for decades and am very clear that a meteorologist will glean important-to-passage forecast data that I do not. That does not mean I use outside sources on every passage, quite the contrary, but I would not wish a budding passage-maker to shy from doing so because he might be perceived as not going it alone and be subject to a comparison where “The contrast was glaring”.
Again, the audience and context of the author might have made these comments completely anodyne, but to the OCC audience, I would wish to have a skipper, new to it or experienced, feel free to access supportive information and activities without worrying that he/she was abrogating the lost days when “peace and solitude of ocean sailing” prevailed or that elusive and often unrealistic ideal not doing something if “you canna look after yourself”.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. I can’t leave alone the, to my experience, incorrect assertion that weather forecasters and routers “direct which way to go”. (Some skippers may choose to experience them that way and may treat their suggestions as gospel, but that is more on the skipper than the router.) In my early years, I benefitted greatly and learned a great deal from weather people and routers such as Herb Hilgenberg and Chris Parker. Neither would tell any skipper what to do or where to go. Herb might (and did) say that if you do such-and-such you will have a hard time and would counsel against certain skipper suggestions: but it was always clear that the skipper decided. And then there was a time when Herb told me (rather abruptly I thought) a few days out of the Azores that my barometer was off. Calibrating it when arriving ashore proved he was correct.

Dick
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Roger Harris - 30 Jan 2021
Hello Dick,100% agree that there are many different styles of cruising, and no ‘correct’ way.As you feel safer having an SSB, by all means do. Or if you just like the social aspects of cruising nets. No skipper should feel it necessary to justify their decision to use, or eschew, SSB communications ... certainly not to me, anyway!My previous post was not intended to deter Rod from becoming licensed or using his SSB. Other than the cost of purchase and installation headaches, I see no real downside to having an SSB (and apparently his is already fitted, so he doesn’t have to worry about those issues).Best wishes, RogerP.S. I don’t know if you have yet had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but he is excellent company and in no way dogmatic.

Hi Roger,
You mention SSB in the context of “safety” and I thought I would kick off that to say:
With respect to safety alone: I would probably suggest, in most parts of the world and in a contest between SSB and a sat-phone, a sat-phone. Money seems no longer to be the deciding factor. 20-30 years ago, SSB was the easy choice I made (sat-com was far too much $$) for safety concerns and later appreciated its other benefits. That, I feel, is no longer the case. A sat-phone just provides pretty much instantaneous comm anywhere at any time and is useable (with a small amount of instruction) by any crew. On most boats, there is usually only one experienced SSB user and emergency comm using SSB is complicated and not always possible. (When in Greenland, with effort, I could not use SSB comm, either marine or ham, but the sat-phone was reliable for both voice and data.)
SSB was always a possibility for emergency comm and, although easy to find examples of its use in that way, generally was not that effective or the first choice: VHF and EPIRBs took precedence. But marine SSB comes into its own as way to connect a vessel and its crew to the recreational boating community through the nets that are common in, for example, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the US east coast. I would also venture a guess that the majority of the boats (and the area is huge as is the number of boats) rely on Chris Parker’s SSB wx reports to get their weather: it certainly was the case for me and I would think even more so now.
I also received my email, gribs, wxfx’s for decades over SSB, as a ham this was for free. This can be done, for an ongoing price, more easily by sat-phone and will be the route many reasonable mariners take.
Random thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dick
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Dick - 30 Jan 2021
Roger Harris - 30 Jan 2021
Hello Dick,100% agree that there are many different styles of cruising, and no ‘correct’ way.As you feel safer having an SSB, by all means do. Or if you just like the social aspects of cruising nets. No skipper should feel it necessary to justify their decision to use, or eschew, SSB communications ... certainly not to me, anyway!My previous post was not intended to deter Rod from becoming licensed or using his SSB. Other than the cost of purchase and installation headaches, I see no real downside to having an SSB (and apparently his is already fitted, so he doesn’t have to worry about those issues).Best wishes, RogerP.S. I don’t know if you have yet had the pleasure of meeting Bob, but he is excellent company and in no way dogmatic.

Hi Roger,
You mention SSB in the context of “safety” and I thought I would kick off that to say:
With respect to safety alone: I would probably suggest, in most parts of the world and in a contest between SSB and a sat-phone, a sat-phone. Money seems no longer to be the deciding factor. 20-30 years ago, SSB was the easy choice I made (sat-com was far too much $$) for safety concerns and later appreciated its other benefits. That, I feel, is no longer the case. A sat-phone just provides pretty much instantaneous comm anywhere at any time and is useable (with a small amount of instruction) by any crew. On most boats, there is usually only one experienced SSB user and emergency comm using SSB is complicated and not always possible. (When in Greenland, with effort, I could not use SSB comm, either marine or ham, but the sat-phone was reliable for both voice and data.)
SSB was always a possibility for emergency comm and, although easy to find examples of its use in that way, generally was not that effective or the first choice: VHF and EPIRBs took precedence. But marine SSB comes into its own as way to connect a vessel and its crew to the recreational boating community through the nets that are common in, for example, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the US east coast. I would also venture a guess that the majority of the boats (and the area is huge as is the number of boats) rely on Chris Parker’s SSB wx reports to get their weather: it certainly was the case for me and I would think even more so now.
I also received my email, gribs, wxfx’s for decades over SSB, as a ham this was for free. This can be done, for an ongoing price, more easily by sat-phone and will be the route many reasonable mariners take.
Random thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Hi all,
Perhaps of interest, at least with respect to my thoughts on what makes for a successful passage is my article "Key Attitudes in Passage-Making" which can be found in the Forum. Dick
Rod Halling
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Hi Roger & Dick,

Your thoughts are very much appreciated - thank you! Jane and I have found a 4-day course put on for the Oyster World Rally that would work for us, but it involves being away from home & children) for 4 nights which is no easy task in these COVID ridden times! Thankfully, there is also a local company in Plymouth that is running the full "professional mariner" version which is 2 weeks and very comprehensive - https://westernmaritimetraining.co.uk/course-calendar/gmdss-goc-general-operators-certificate-4/ 

This is the General Operator's Certificate. It is expensive (£1,300) but currently not paused due to COVID...

We have an ICOM SSB installed, but with no working ground plate or aerial, although we have an insulated backstay that we could use. Do you have any recommendations for installing a ground plate system?

As far as satcomms are concerned, we currently have 2 old but working Iridium phones and are looking at an Inmarsat Fleet One device. Not sure if we will have the loot left for this, as the refit has hoovered up rather a lot of loot!

I have always been of the "old school", being of the attitude that if you are out there, you should be able to "self-rescue" in pretty much all circumstances (last boat was aluminium for that reason, Magic Dragon is Kevlar reinforced with watertight bulkhead for the same reason). Having three young children aboard tends to moderate that mindset, so safety and comms gear is a little higher up the priority list that it used to be. Each to their own - I feel no pressure from either the Health & Safety brigade, or "look after yourself" mob! I do try to listen to good advice from salty seadogs like you guys, so thank you again.

All the best to you and your loved ones in these strange times,

Rod   


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