Ham Versus SSB for the Sailor

Posted by at 06:10AM - Comments: (10)

The licensing requirements for getting a a general class ticket to operate a ham radio are much easier than they were years ago.

Both the marine radio and ham radio services use the same type of modulation, called single sideband. So when a fellow sailor says they have a “single sideband” on board, you need to ask, marine, ham, or both? At some point, any cruiser getting ready to make the jump into high-frequency radio communication will want to ask himself the same question.

Marine single sideband lets you communicate to the Coast Guard, high seas telephone service, email through sail mail, and talk with other sailors who have marine SSB on board. No ham license needed.

Your ship needs a marine SSB call sign, called a station license, which is good for 10 years and also includes your International Mobile Maritime Service Identity number. You will also need to obtain an operator’s permit, called the Restricted Operator Permit, a lifetime license to use an SSB marine radio aboard. The cost for both is around $200, paid to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

There is no FCC testing required for these marine SSB licenses.

Your marine SSB will receive weather fax, shortwave broadcasts, marine weather nets, and tune in to ham radio broadcasts.

In an emergency, if you can’t raise the Coast Guard, and you are in immediate danger of sinking, or need immediate medical help, radio rules allow you to use any frequency to obtain a life-or-death contact. Ham operators will help any station with a MAYDAY call, and ham frequency 14.300 MHz is where Maritime hams listen .

If you have no interest in tuning around to see what you can pick up from nature’s ionospheric skywaves, and only want a long-range signal that can get weather and help in an emergency, you don’t need to take a ham radio test and become a licensed amateur radio operator. You can chat with fellow sailors on long-range SSB ship-to-ship channels, with no ham ticket needed.

However, if, as a kid, enjoyed tuning in short wave broadcasts, or as a mariner, you like to monitor the fun banter of hams talking about cruising spots around the globe, then consider obtaining the general class ham radio license.

The prerequisite technician class exam (Element 2) is 35 questions, multiple choice. Boy Scouts pass the test as part of their radio merit badge—easy stuff. No more Morse code tests, although Morse code is still a popular method of ham operators communicating over the ham bands. Spend a week with a practice booklet, and you will be ready to take the test in front of three volunteer accredited ham examiners .

Once you pass the technician exam, bone up on general class material. This is another straightforward 35-question test, multiple choice answers, again with no Morse code test required. It will take you about a month of study. You could take both exams in one sitting.

The General Class ticket is the license you need for operating a long-range ham radio, and working the many weather nets, cruising nets, 14.300 MHz maritime mobile nets, free email, digital messaging, and even sending color photos over the ham airwaves without paying a dime.

All single-sideband radio equipment can offer 3-30 MHz marine and ham radio capabilities, without any internal modifications. On marine bands, it is a categorized by the FCC as a marine radio (Part 80). On ham bands, this same radio will operate as a ham radio, without internal modifications.

When communicating on marine channels, you use your ship’s call letters, and on ham channels, you use your ham radio personal call letters. The ham license, good for 10 years, and is free after you pass the two tests. The test fee is $15.

Most long-range sailors first start out on marine SSB, and monitor the ham traffic nets for valuable local and distant marine weather forecasts. If the ham service sounds intriguing, they move forward and study for the general class ham radio license.

It is, of course, very important to know which channels to tune in for help when you have an emergency far out at sea. The Coast Guard continues to offer long range SSB weather broadcasts and monitors SSB channels (watch-schedules vary by location). You will also want to know where to make a ship-to-shore phone call over marine SSB. Station WLO is a powerful signal all over the world.

For more on radio licensing, marine writer Gordon West, a longtime expert in the field, offers links and more at his website: gordonwestradioschool.com.

Comments (10)

Yes, there are many differences between "ham" and "marine" radio communications, but similarities too!
And, although the brief article above is well written (not by me!), there might be some of my fellow sailors that wish for more info/clarifications, as well as some that would like to "see" it all work....if so, have a look here at these pages and at these free videos.

EDIT:
Opps...Apparently PS doesn't allow me to post links to direct you to further info..

Sorry, about that...
But, if you go to Cruiser's Forum, then go to the Marine Electronics page, and look at the first few "stickies", you'll see these two...
"Marine SSB Stuff (how-to better use / proeprly-install SSB, & troubleshoot RFI, etc.)"
"DSC (Digital Selective Calling) Explanation"


I made these YouTube videos without any fancy production, nor a script, so forgive any abrupt edits or repetitions... :)
But, they are all designed for layperson sailors, and all done in the real-world, on-board a real ocean-crossing offshore sailboat (in port), and show LIVE, real use of all the features, and explanations of how it all works...no "simulations"... :)

EDIT:
PS doesn't allow me to post links to direct you to further info..
Sorry, about that...
But, if you go YouTube an look at my playlists, you will find these specific playlists...
that's
youtube dot com slash user slash captainjohn49 slash playlists

Maritime HF Communications (overall)

Maritime HF-DSC Communications

Weather Info/Forecast sources when offshore (or in remote locales)

Icom M-802 Instruction Videos

VHF-DSC

Fyi...the photo at the top of this article is that of my sister sitting at my Nav Station using the HF radio....She isn't a "tech" person, and I taught her how to use the Icom M-802 to get weather info/forecasts, call the USCG, call WLO and place a ship-to-shore call, etc. and even how to use the HF-DSC functions....it took no more than an hour, and honestly probably could've done it in 15 minutes....and much of what I taught her is there in the videos...so, enjoy!

Fair winds..

John
s/v Annie Laurie

Posted by: ka4wja | March 30, 2017 4:21 PM    Report this comment

Yes, there are many differences between "ham" and "marine" radio communications, but similarities too!
And, although the brief article above is well written (not by me!), there might be some of my fellow sailors that wish for more info/clarifications, as well as some that would like to "see" it all work....if so, have a look here at these pages and at these free videos.

EDIT:
Apparently PS doesn't allow me to post links to direct you to further info..
No links allowed... :(
Sorry, about that...
But, if you go to Cruiser's Forum, then go to the Marine Electronics page, and look at the first few "stickies", you'll see these two...
"Marine SSB Stuff (how-to better use / proeprly-install SSB, & troubleshoot RFI, etc.)"
"DSC (Digital Selective Calling) Explanation"


I made these YouTube videos without any fancy production, nor a script, so forgive any abrupt edits or repetitions... :)
But, they are all designed for layperson sailors, and all done in the real-world, on-board a real ocean-crossing offshore sailboat (in port), and show LIVE, real use of all the features, and explanations of how it all works...no "simulations"... :)

EDIT:
PS doesn't allow me to post links to direct you to further info..
Sorry, about that...
But, if you go YouTube an look at my playlists, you will find these specific playlists...
that's
youtube dot com slash user slash captainjohn49 slash playlists

Maritime HF Communications (overall)

Maritime HF-DSC Communications

Weather Info/Forecast sources when offshore (or in remote locales)

Icom M-802 Instruction Videos

VHF-DSC

Fyi...the photo at the top of this article is that of my sister sitting at my Nav Station using the HF radio....She isn't a "tech" person, and I taught her how to use the Icom M-802 to get weather info/forecasts, call the USCG, call WLO and place a ship-to-shore call, etc. and even how to use the HF-DSC functions....it took no more than an hour, and honestly probably could've done it in 15 minutes....and much of what I taught her is there in the videos...so, enjoy!

Fair winds..

John
s/v Annie Laurie

Posted by: ka4wja | March 30, 2017 4:19 PM    Report this comment

One point I found essential with respect to offshore cruising was an absolute requirement to make use of the various formal and informal communication nets. Some of these are well known such as the Caribbean Safety and Security Net. There are others emanating from many places around the world such as New Zealand and South East Asia. Informal nets usually involve yachts sharing the same passage and serve as a safety and information mutual support link. To participate in any of these, an SSB is needed. Both Maritime Mobile and HAM frequencies are available on most makes. The SSB of course is the ONLY communication device allowing multi-party exchanges on the 3-30 MHz marine and ham radio frequencies. A Sat Phone is a great addition to a yacht's communication suite but it is limited to one on one or to a limited conference call. An SSB remains the essential offshore communication device.

Posted by: ARGONAUTA I | March 30, 2017 11:53 AM    Report this comment

Three points
1. Marine Radios may be opened up to allow monitoring of Amateur frequencies and if licensed, transmission on Amateur frequencies.
2. A Radio Telephone Operators License (GROL) does not allow operation on Amateur frequencies, however it is legal for you to repair and test after the radio is repaired. This would also apply to other services. To operate on Amateur frequencies, other than some frequencies in the 29MHz you will need a General Class license. To operate on Marine Frequencies you must have a Ship Station License even if you have a GROL.
3. As far as the "Yip Yap on VHF radio" if pleasure boaters would learn to use, the simple to use, DSC calling function as per the guidance from the ITU, channel 16 would be quiet except for emergencies. It is also possible to set up group calling including Worldwide Group numbers to allow contacting multiple vessels with one call. DSC calling is also available on Marine HF SSB. HF SSB is slightly more complicated than the very simple VHF calling as a result of the broad range of frequencies used in HF, but still the most effective way to obtain a connection with another vessel.

Posted by: Made Simple for Cruisers | March 30, 2017 11:47 AM    Report this comment

It should be added that Amateur radio offers digital (text) communications of many types including e-mail if you have the right equipment.

Posted by: Glenn Geist N4HO | March 30, 2017 10:44 AM    Report this comment

No it does not, although in a life or death emergency, it's any port - or any frequency - in a storm.

Posted by: Glenn Geist N4HO | March 30, 2017 10:41 AM    Report this comment

Never. I can barely tolerate the yip-yap babbling I have to endure while monitoring my obligatory marine VHF radio. But I did buy a nice Sony SW receiver a few years ago so that I could monitor weather reports...it was too complicated and difficult to tune. It sits unused in my bag. I'll stick with my SatPhone thank you, it is simple, it works, and I talk to whom I want to talk to. That is modern communication.

Posted by: Waterman | March 30, 2017 8:46 AM    Report this comment

@bentone23, no the FCC general radiotelephone license does not grant you privileges in the amateur radio (ham radio) frequencies. To operate on the ham radio frequencies, you need a specific ham radio license.

Posted by: bplipschitz | March 30, 2017 8:30 AM    Report this comment

Almost all info I see regarding ssb licenses are US based. Do you have any info about license requirements in Canada and other countries?

Posted by: sailing Jack | March 30, 2017 8:16 AM    Report this comment

I just passed my FCC Radio telephone operators license class. Does this entitle me to operate on ham frequencies? What else can I do with it?

Posted by: bentone23 | March 29, 2017 5:43 PM    Report this comment

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