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SSB/Amateur on NT's/coastal cruisers

Updated: Apr 17, 2023



Clock Work, my 42, had an Icom m710 HF phone/CW/SSB radio in the upper panel of the pilot house when I bought it. A quick search provided no confirmation the previous owner had been licensed though I could have missed it. I did acquire (cut a check) the related license at the outset. That license has no associated exam, which I find puzzling given the amateur service privileges for essentially the same bands absolutely entails testing to at least one of the two upper licensing levels - General, or Amateur Extra, which requires more than a pulse. I can’t see how that radio is a useful option for most NT's for reasons I'll indicate below. Beyond that, I also believe the probability is significant that the next owner is both unlikely to actually need this, and also unlikely (or unable without amateur operating experience) to put the hours in to become useful with it or just get to the point where they can enjoy it.


Consequently, as I am building up my own amateur inventory and defining what that gear set’s mission will be, one possible option I'm considering is removing my M710 from Clock Work and repurposing it to the mobile/portable end of my fixed/mobile/portable inventory. To work through to a hopefully intelligent decision I’d like to pose some questions to check my understanding. So here goes..


Do any NT owners here have a HF/SSB rig on their boat? If so...

  • Did you add it or was it there when you bought the boat?

  • What role does it serve on your boat... Fun (e.g. amateur use)? Operational? In case of emergency? Or never use it (i.e. came with the boat)?

  • If operational or emergency, how does it serve you beyond what your VHF or cell do?

That does it for my questions regarding whether removing it from Clock Work makes sense for the boat and the next owner. There will certainly be technical questions I’ll need to explore given that the radio seems to have some quirks about using it effectively in an emergency, amateur role.


I’ve composed some bullet points to fill in where my thinking is today… my assumptions/position as to how an HF/SSB works in a typical NT could easily be off the mark, and if so I'd love to discover that quickly. Of course, if someone wants to add in some way to the possibilities, please do share. I would sincerely appreciate it. I'm not committed either way to any given decision yet but I'm serious. As I am assuming this is a low-interest topic for the population at large, I’ll spare the list put those points up on my site here: https://www.clockwork-usa.com/post/ssb-amateur-on-nt-s-coastal-cruisers


Thank you for any thoughts you may have,

Miguel



Background


To produce actionable and useful decision feedback, an advisor needs at least some amount of context. The following is my take at a quick summary of where my thinking is so far. In no particular order..

  • People add things, sometimes expensive things, to everything... their boats, cars, motorcycles, houses, cell phones, clothing, bodies, tractors, rifles and much more. One can sort the motivation behind such decisions into either mostly aesthetic or mostly/realistically functional. There’s no wrong answers and the pursuit of happiness is noble. The act of adding something only because it “looks cool” is not entirely foreign to me. As for the question at hand, I want to check my assumption that the need for an SSB/HF rig is uncommon for most 42’s.

  • Nordic Tugs aren't Nordhavns, so I'll never try to get from Newport to The Azores in my 42 for obvious reasons involving at least design intent/execution of the platform. I can imagine a possible use-case along coastal Canada or AK may exist if there is a need there for greater-than-VHF/cell reach, but I can't think of a place in the usual US coastal cruising territory where an NT would required an HF/SSB when their VHF/cell didn’t pack the reach.

  • HF frequency space is expansive. There are different rules (uses/band plans) for what you can do and how you can access (modes) each little bit of each band.

The physics (reality) for when/how signals propagate through those regions and how they are affected by (insert not-small list) is significant. Life does appear slightly simplified for the marine side as the active frequencies are channelized but the ITU can't alter physics by mere proclaimation. Perhaps I’m being (unreasonably) stubborn in looking at this exclusively through the lens of a licensed amateur and high-hours EE, but I can't easily imagine any of the operators of NT-style coastal cruiser MV's that I know personally.. all great guys.. carving off a large and regular slice of their life to become/remain proficient users of this space.

  • Among coastal cruise only boats in my marina, the times I’ve looked I have not seen any others with HF antennas. I have one good friend there who does have an amateur station on his ~60' sailboat that I think includes an M710, but that boat frequently operates well beyond the coast, and his experience in amateur predates his boat ownership.

  • "As you train, so shall you fight" is not just about fighting -- I firmly hold that regular focused realistic practice is the only way to achieve proficiency at something. Particularly something that might be a critical skill in an emergency, and so the path from owning a 150W SSB radio to being actually useful, especially under duress, would generally be low-probability. I've owned the boat for 9 years and would rate my probability of success with a cheap signaling mirror during an emergency as substantially better than my never-ever-need-to-use-it HF/SSB and its massive range of bands/modes from which to select. Ditto non-emergencies.

  • Got my Amateur Extra license in the Fall. Not in any kind of quest for an appliance to facilitate conversation but to see if I could get all 3 tickets in one seating with 4.5 weeks of prep. It was hopefully a way to get my brain turned back on and a means to be potentially useful to my family during an emergency. I'm becoming interested in antenna design, the physics of propagation, and how to exploit those to my benefit. In the near term, I plan on finally getting to and beyond a solid 5wpm on CW. Topped out at just over 4 when I was going for my radio merit badge in the early 70's... that failure I might attribute to a (wonderful) excess of other distractions/passions... hockey, off-road motorcycling, chess, photography, and astronomy/telescope-making. I see a usage model for this radio being a vehicle-portable HF, high-power set to supplement the compact QRP mobile HF/UHF/VHF. The repurposed m710 would be a box.. a module/option... that would come out based upon need or opportunity, and not a daily driver...just used enough to at least maintain the skill.

  • Of course, I would not leave an opening in the overhead console in the pilot house... it'd be done right. Full machine shop in my basement with decades of saddle time. In fact, if I were going to have kept the boat, the plan was to replace/reorg the layouts of the upper and lower panels at operator's position in the pilot house to a more usable layout including the HF. About it’s current mounting position, I very much dislike it.. partly because it’s inconvenient (2 broken backs/2 broken necks make looking up a PITA) and partly because I don’t care for having such a dense, heavy item mounted up high.




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