Working Hard in Boot Key Harbor: SSB Installation

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No Ka Oi has an additional radio aboard. After months of research and weighing of options, we took the plunge and invested in a single side band marine radio (SSB).

Our main reasons for even considering adding more weight to our already sinking water line was to receive accurate and timely weather, as well as safety and personal communications abilities, when we are out of the country and do not have accessible wifi or oh one service.

The Captain started the research by polling other cruisers and killing our cellular data plan. Our friend Addison on S/V Three Penny Opera, started out his recommendations with this insight.

“The answer to what is the best way to get weather info in areas of weak or no cell coverage is a little tricky because it all depends on your budget, where you are cruising and how long you plan to cruise.”
Taking his advice and the ideas from other cruisers, the options we considered included:

SSB receiver only: Grundig Yacht Boy or a Sony World Traveller
SSB HF/MF radio with a Pactor modem
Satellite phone
Satellite appliances: Iridium Go, Delorme Inreach or Globalstar Spot Messenger
Doing nothing at all and relying on cell phone reception, VHF, word of mouth or wifi connections, because we did not have this item in our budget.

We finally decided an SSB was the best option for us. One comment from Addision kept coming back into our conversations, “There is a lot to be said for dead reliable technology, even if it is over 100 years old.” We highly considered just getting the receiver, but we didn’t feel it was a good investment in the long run because we knew eventually we would need to communicate out and also add email capabilities in the future.

We purchased:
Icom M802, transceiver, and an AT-140 automatic antenna tuner
GAM split lead back stay antenna
KISS counterpoise
DSC antenna emergency receiving antenna
2 – 35 foot LMR 400 coax antenna cables
Misc screws, brackets and wire ties

We didn’t get the Pactor modem at this time for budget reasons and our adventure for the remainder of this year will regularly have is in places we can get wifi. We also heard there might be some options to hook our PC directly to the SSB if we purchase certain software, so we will be checking into that option.

The parts trickled in. The SSB remote and the transceiver were on back order, but rather than wait for everything and have one big install, the Captain worked in stages.

The GAM antenna arrived first and the Captain had it in place on the back stay in 30 to 40 minutes. He snapped it onto the stay and slid it up into place. The wifi antenna had to be removed and ended up just a bit lower after the GAM was in place, but seems to be working fine. This was an easy install and we didn’t have to cut the stay to add ? like some antenna options require.

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Next, he installed the DSC antenna he picked up for $15 from a friend who had never installed it on his boat. Finding a place on our already full transom and a trip to Home Depot for a couple of SS screws and nuts, was the hardest part of this install. This is the one component we hope is never actually used.

The automatic antenna tuner was not on back order, so the GPS store shipped that ahead of the other pieces. This was installed in the inside of the transom in our rear locker.

A few days later, we received notification that the antenna coax arrived. While I went ashore to retrieve them, the Captain emptied lockers so he could crawl into the bilge to run them from the tuner box to the navigation station. When we opened the box, we had one white wire and one black. They should have been the same. Upon inspection, the white wire’s package was labeled LMR 400, but the imprint on the cable was SI 400. So much for Amazon orders! We contacted the manufacture, MDI Digital, and they shipped us two new cables, with a discount. They were on a truck within an hour. We returned our Amazon order, and put the boat back together until the correct cables arrived. Installation of cables was finally completed, with the Captain being a Houdini.image

Finally the SSB and transceiver arrived and the final connections were made. Nice job Captain.

Pepe is a true ships cat, maybe a former plant operator in one of his nine lives. He performed all necessary walk downs and hung all the clearances.image

Now to test it out!

Success! We tested our reception early the next morning by listening to a Chris Parker broadcast. We could hear anyone he was talking to who was Northeast of the radio towers to the East of us in the harbor, those towers cause all kinds of issues.

The Captain applied for the necessary FCC licenses online and we received them in a few days. After programming our MMI numbers into the radio, we were good to transmit. We had clear conversations with two different vessels in the harbor, and we feel comfortable that we have added a layer of safety to our adventure.

If you have information on the SSB email options without using a Pactor modem, I’d love to hear about it.

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