Is an SSB/HF radio still a necessity?


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Daniel Coate
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Hi. Curious for thoughts from fellow OCC’ers…

I have a small (31’) bluewater boat and have sailed from home in Florida to Maine to the Caribbean and am planning on future voyages south and north, and hopefully a transatlantic attempt in the next year or so. I use IridiumGo and PredictWind and am quite happy with it’s stability and the weather, email, text messages, and voice I send and receive with it. I don’t have an SSB radio though. When I acquired the boat the PO had must have been planning to put one in, the boat has a dynaplate installed and insulators on the backstay.

In 2022 do others think an SSB is still a necessity? If I didn’t have the satellite comm, I would definitely say yes. However, I don’t feel like getting into the installation hassle, complexity and expense of a new SSB radio if I’m not going to use it. I’m not a chatty type so can’t see myself loving SSB nets.

Any thoughts appreciated. Thanks!

Dick
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Dan Coate - 24 Jan 2022
Hi. Curious for thoughts from fellow OCC’ers…

I have a small (31’) bluewater boat and have sailed from home in Florida to Maine to the Caribbean and am planning on future voyages south and north, and hopefully a transatlantic attempt in the next year or so. I use IridiumGo and PredictWind and am quite happy with it’s stability and the weather, email, text messages, and voice I send and receive with it. I don’t have an SSB radio though. When I acquired the boat the PO had must have been planning to put one in, the boat has a dynaplate installed and insulators on the backstay.

In 2022 do others think an SSB is still a necessity? If I didn’t have the satellite comm, I would definitely say yes. However, I don’t feel like getting into the installation hassle, complexity and expense of a new SSB radio if I’m not going to use it. I’m not a chatty type so can’t see myself loving SSB nets.

Any thoughts appreciated. Thanks!

Hi Dan,
In the following, I am only referring to marine SSB, not Ham/Amateur.
As someone who depended exclusively on SSB radio for email (contact with children and parents among others), weather (gribs, wxfaxes, and worked nets) for more than a decade, I am very sorry to take the position that SSB is not necessary.
On the western side of the pond (my info may be dated), it is very nice to have SSB to listen to and/or participate in the weather and routing given by Chris Parker (Chris can also send a daily personalized report via email which you can receive via sat-comm.) I also both enjoyed and gathered much interesting info listening to the various nets. Pretty quickly, I could not sail into an anchorage where Alchemy was not recognized and made to feel welcome.
There were also the offshore jumps: weather windows usually had a number of boats leaving at the same time. An example, 5 of us took the same wx window from Bermuda to the Azores. We were quickly spread out, but enjoyed a late afternoon chat. Mostly this was social and supportive, but occasionally there was important info: one skipper needed help trouble-shooting a system and it was good to know that the winds were much stronger (gale force) only 40 miles N of us and our very pleasant 20kn breezes.
On the east side of the pond, in my experience, there is little reason to have SSB and very few use it.
So, I would recommend SSB strongly as a way of knitting the boating community together and linking you up to the community: for its social aspects. I would also say that it can make a great hobby on board, that can also end up to be quite useful. If you go down the hobby road, consider getting your Ham license as this will open up far more opportunities.
Come back with questions/ comments, Dick (WCZ 7717, KC2HKW) Stevenson, s/v Alchemy


Roberto.Ritossa
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Hello,
depending on your preference for weather information, an intermediate option is a HF SSB receiver, cost 50-100 euro, installation is very simple. There is a lot of weather information available for reception both sides of the Atlantic, some are voice bulletins, then you have weatherfax from the US (New Orleans for Tropical and Boston for Northern Atl.), from the UK Northwood and the German DWD for the Eastern side.
The DWD also broadcasts a couple of very interesting RTTY products for the NE Atlantic + North Sea and also Mediterranean, they are a sort of "poor man's grib", forecasts to 3 or 5 days for a serie of given points
Example:
https://www.dwd.de/EN/ourservices/streckenseewetterberichten/streckenseewetterbericht.html

English Ch. East (50.30N 0.60W) WT: 10 C
Day    hour    wind direction in 10m    wind force 10m    gusts 10m    sig. wave height    weather
    UTC    compass rose    Beaufort    Beaufort    m    text
We    12    W-NW    2-3         0.5    
We    18    W    3-4         0.5    
Th    00    W    4         1    
Th    06    W    5         1.5    
Th    12    W    5         1.5    RAIN
Th    18    W-NW    4         1.5    
Fr    00    NW-N    3-4         1    
Fr    06    NW-N    2-3         0.5    
Fr    12    SW-W    2-3         0.5    
Fr    18    SW    4         1    
Sa    00    W    4-5         1    

I notice the formatting is lost, have a look at the above internet address to see how they appear. There is a German language and an English language product: they are NOT the same, one goes to 3 days the other to 5 days; both broadcast twice a day.
All of these can be decoded very easily: a small receiver, a long wire as antenna (no grounding required), some software like Seatty, JVComm32 or the likes.
It's up to you to see what type of weather product you feel comfortable with. Personally I have the three, SatPhone, HF receiver and Ham transceiver with email capability; the sat phone is in the grab bag, I take it out for the occasional call home, for specific data email I use the transceiver (very seldom for voice), though the products I prefer are weatherfaxes, there can be several a day, sometimes I just leave the receiver on and it records them all.
 
regards
roberto

Dick
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Roberto.Ritossa - 26 Jan 2022
Hello,
depending on your preference for weather information, an intermediate option is a HF SSB receiver, cost 50-100 euro, installation is very simple. There is a lot of weather information available for reception both sides of the Atlantic, some are voice bulletins, then you have weatherfax from the US (New Orleans for Tropical and Boston for Northern Atl.), from the UK Northwood and the German DWD for the Eastern side.
The DWD also broadcasts a couple of very interesting RTTY products for the NE Atlantic + North Sea and also Mediterranean, they are a sort of "poor man's grib", forecasts to 3 or 5 days for a serie of given points
Example:
https://www.dwd.de/EN/ourservices/streckenseewetterberichten/streckenseewetterbericht.html

English Ch. East (50.30N 0.60W) WT: 10 C
Day    hour    wind direction in 10m    wind force 10m    gusts 10m    sig. wave height    weather
    UTC    compass rose    Beaufort    Beaufort    m    text
We    12    W-NW    2-3         0.5    
We    18    W    3-4         0.5    
Th    00    W    4         1    
Th    06    W    5         1.5    
Th    12    W    5         1.5    RAIN
Th    18    W-NW    4         1.5    
Fr    00    NW-N    3-4         1    
Fr    06    NW-N    2-3         0.5    
Fr    12    SW-W    2-3         0.5    
Fr    18    SW    4         1    
Sa    00    W    4-5         1    

I notice the formatting is lost, have a look at the above internet address to see how they appear. There is a German language and an English language product: they are NOT the same, one goes to 3 days the other to 5 days; both broadcast twice a day.
All of these can be decoded very easily: a small receiver, a long wire as antenna (no grounding required), some software like Seatty, JVComm32 or the likes.
It's up to you to see what type of weather product you feel comfortable with. Personally I have the three, SatPhone, HF receiver and Ham transceiver with email capability; the sat phone is in the grab bag, I take it out for the occasional call home, for specific data email I use the transceiver (very seldom for voice), though the products I prefer are weatherfaxes, there can be several a day, sometimes I just leave the receiver on and it records them all.
 
regards
roberto
Hi Roberto,
A very nice contribution.
I see you are a Ham as you operate a Ham transceiver. Do you use Winlink?
Other nice aspects of a HF receiver alone is that you can listen in on wx reports such as Chris Parkers in the Bahamas/Carib/US east coast as well as the nets and those broadcasts such as the BBC and VoiceAmerica puts out.
For wxfx and RTTY one has to cobble together a connection to a computer: not usually a big challenge, but you are looking at power usage for longish periods for each which might not be great on passage.
WXFXs are always of interest, but take some skill to interpret for some: wind & wave are pretty easy but surface analysis and forecasts take practice.
We used RTTY when I was coordinator of the MedNet for a couple of seasons. It was easy to download and interpret, but I found of limited usefulness compared to gribs and one needed to download a lot of data to extract the nuggets that were truly useful to your cruising plans. I consider gribs to be foundational (for onboard forecasting and routing) and generally pretty easy to access on a boat.
More local sailing is best (in my mind) served by internet sources of wx augmented by a bigger picture and longer time span that small scale gribs can give you.
So, one of my first considerations is to be able to access gribs while on passage and when coastal cruising. A HF receiver is limited in this respect as it is unable to request a grib. Your sat devices, if properly set-up should be able to do so. And, for sure, your Ham transceiver can access gribs through Winlink as that is what I did for decades.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy



Roberto.Ritossa
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Hello Dick,
yes Winlink is my main email system on board, via Airmail for the Satellite phone, and Vara (after many years with Winmor) for the radio. 
Odd view I know but I do not like gribs that much, I tend to keep them for areas where there are no other options, or for example to supplement the absence of t+24 forecast chart from the US for the Eastern north Atlantic. Oh, current data with Rtofs :)
I use email mainly for text bulletins, weather charts that are not sent via fax (like say jet stream) or those that could not be received because of bad propagation. Position reports of course.

Among the equipment for weather related comms, an interesting instrument I came across recently is the WIBE (from Wetterinfobox, a German company): it is a standalone receiver which can be configured to automatically receive a daily personal schedule of weatherfax (UK, US, Germany, Canada, etc), RTTY, Navtex, synop etc. Power draw is minimal it can be left ON 24/7, it will receive and save all scheduled documents, one can then turn on the PC and look at them whenever one wants; just tried it a few times, hopefully it will allow to avoid waking up at 0600 for the early morning charts  :)
regards
r.

Dick
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Roberto.Ritossa - 29 Jan 2022
Hello Dick,
yes Winlink is my main email system on board, via Airmail for the Satellite phone, and Vara (after many years with Winmor) for the radio. 
Odd view I know but I do not like gribs that much, I tend to keep them for areas where there are no other options, or for example to supplement the absence of t+24 forecast chart from the US for the Eastern north Atlantic. Oh, current data with Rtofs :)
I use email mainly for text bulletins, weather charts that are not sent via fax (like say jet stream) or those that could not be received because of bad propagation. Position reports of course.

Among the equipment for weather related comms, an interesting instrument I came across recently is the WIBE (from Wetterinfobox, a German company): it is a standalone receiver which can be configured to automatically receive a daily personal schedule of weatherfax (UK, US, Germany, Canada, etc), RTTY, Navtex, synop etc. Power draw is minimal it can be left ON 24/7, it will receive and save all scheduled documents, one can then turn on the PC and look at them whenever one wants; just tried it a few times, hopefully it will allow to avoid waking up at 0600 for the early morning charts  :)
regards
r.

Hi Roberto,
I appreciate the sound of experience and much research. Thanks for the fill.
My best, Dick
Daniel Coate
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Hi. Thanks everyone for the informative replies. I’ve reviewed all and decided to bite the hull et and install an iCom M803. I’ll “passage” more comfortably knowing I have a long range communications backup. Thanks again.
Dick
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Dan Coate - 5 Feb 2022
Hi. Thanks everyone for the informative replies. I’ve reviewed all and decided to bite the hull et and install an iCom M803. I’ll “passage” more comfortably knowing I have a long range communications backup. Thanks again.

Hi Dan,
Sounds like aa plan. It has been very nice for us on passage to set up a sked with other vessels: it punctuates the day. And do not get too crazed about installation. It is not rocket science no matter what some pundits say. The ICOM 803 is a quality piece of kit and you will find lots of cruisers with the unit who will help you up the learning curve.
My best, Dick

Eric Zon
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SSB Course available July 2022

I have bought a boat with a SSB radio and have decided to learn more about it. I am going to follow the course with R.T training kimholt@btinternet.com from July 6-9th at the IOW. Unfortunately Kim so far has only me as a candidate so would be nice to find some more candidates. He has promised me the course will go ahead. More info as well on www.marineradio.co.uk/gmdss-long-range
Daniel Coate
Daniel Coate
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Eric Zon - 7 Jun 2022
SSB Course available July 2022

I have bought a boat with a SSB radio and have decided to learn more about it. I am going to follow the course with R.T training kimholt@btinternet.com from July 6-9th at the IOW. Unfortunately Kim so far has only me as a candidate so would be nice to find some more candidates. He has promised me the course will go ahead. More info as well on www.marineradio.co.uk/gmdss-long-range



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