Technology: Ham Radio Afloat

From the Editor, WB7NXC: It would be easy to dismiss ham radio in a world filled with cell phones and the Internet. But for a boater, even those living frugally in a shantyboat, houseboat or other floating home, ham radio can be entertainment, communication with family and friends, and assistance during a crisis. A ham radio license is easier to get than ever, now that the morse code requirement is gone.  There are radios for local communications, the UHF and VHF handhelds or mobile rigs… HF long range radios … APRS tracking radios that send out reports showing where you are, without cost…. and many digital modes.   You can spend $60 for a complete ham station in a tin can with antenna, buy relatively complete and modern used stations for $300 to $600, or spend as much money as the average American earns in a year, should your heart desire it.   Wikipedia article on maritime mobile radio.

Ham it up on the water

Equip your boat for amateur radio

It’s hardly surprising that many boaters are hams and many hams are boaters—both activities attract those interested in expanding their skills and overcoming challenges.

Starting gradually: the handheld station

Equipping a boat for ham radio need not involve major effort or expenditure. With your amateur VHF handheld transceiver, you can check in with the local repeater group or keep in touch with other ham boaters. Ham channels will likely be less crowded than marine ship-to-ship channels—a real plus.

Most of today’s VHF handhelds can monitor marine channels and NOAA weather alerts. With two marine receivers, you can monitor for calls on your usual ship channel while leaving your VHF marine transceiver set to Channel 16, the calling and distress channel.

Moving aboard

It’s no great leap to install a mobile-sized amateur VHF transceiver next to your VHF marine radio. Both mount and hook up the same way. Plus, it’s harder to lose over the side.

The marine frequencies (156–162 megahertz) are close enough to the 2-meter ham band (144–148 MHz) that I can use my sailboat’s mast-mounted marine antenna for both, toggling between the two bands with a small coaxial switch.

The mismatched antenna and transmission line cost me some power, but thanks to the added height and resulting long line-of-sight distance, I don’t notice the loss. Boaters with lower antenna mounts may do better with a wideband antenna designed to cover the range.

MF through UHF marine mobile stations

Arguably, a mobile transceiver that operates in MF through VHF or UHF ranges can be installed as easily as a VHF/UHF mobile radio and doesn’t cost much more. Figure 1 shows my all-band radio mounted beside the marine VHF set.

What kind of radio for your craft?

With Windfall, a 25-foot diesel auxiliary sloop, I wanted to use a single radio for both HF and 2-meter operation. In addition, I wanted to operate from the cabin below as well as from the cockpit while under way. That led me to a transceiver with a removable control panel that could be placed in either location.

Marine HF SSB systems

Vessels that travel outside the line-of-sight coverage of marine VHF FM radios often use marine HF single side band radios for ship-to-coast station and ship-to-ship service. Note that HF marine SSB radio users must have an FCC ship station license and a commercial operator’s license or restricted radio operator’s permit in addition to an FCC amateur license of the appropriate class. While there is no prohibition against using marine radio gear in the U.S. amateur bands, you should check with the appropriate agency if you’re outside the country.

Not all marine HF SSB radios can operate on the HF amateur bands. Before you make a purchase, check with manufacturers to see which models can be used on the amateur bands and how well they perform both roles.

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Originally posted 2015-03-06 07:58:47.

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