SSB Communication

"A really useful thing on a cruising boat but it takes determination to pull off." Tina Burke, SV Merlin.

General Advice
  • Every cruising vessel should carry at least a good quality SSB receiver to get weather forecasts.
  • Install, learn to use, and become familiar with your SSB before departure for the Bahamas.
  • Develop a list of SSB frequencies that you will want to listen to and learn to tune your SSB to these.
  • If you plan to cruise more than one season or if you are a social person who likes to stay in touch with the many new friends you will meet along the way, an SSB transceiver is a must - even limited to the marine SSB bands if you are without a ham radio license.

General Usage
  • Safety and emergency message traffic has priority at all times on all bands.
  • Cruisers can transmit on marine SSB bands without a ham radio license.
  • In an emergency, cruisers can transmit on ham radio bands without a ham license.
  • Take the time to learn how to tune your SSB to specific frequencies instead of just being limited to the pre-set bands on your transceiver.
  • Develop a set of alternate frequencies to use for transmission with other vessels.
  • Develop a list of the channels on your transceiver with its characteristics: frequency, mode, and Simplex/Duplex.

SSB Receivers
  • Portable multi-band receivers cost < $200 and are adequate for receiving SSB weather and listening to various SSB nets.
  • Make provision to connect the portable receiver to a good antenna. A 30' wire run up the mast or backstay is often adequate.

Some SSB Basics
  • Most SSB radios have access to both marine and ham radio frequency bands.
  • Cruisers should be familiar with the marine SSB bands as they do not require a ham radio license to transmit.
  • Most SSB radios have several modes of operation: upper sideband (USB), lower side band (LSB), FSK, CW, etc.
  • Marine SSB transmissions all use USB.
  • SSB frequency bands for voice communications are either Simplex (send and receive on the same frequency) or Duplex (send and receive on different frequencies).
  • Learn how to determine the mode your radio is using and how to change it as needed.
  • All marine-only SSBs and many dual marine/ham SSBs have pre-set channels where the frequency and mode are fixed.
  • Marine SSB transceivers usually cost more because they are channelized and certified for marine SSB usage; frequency, mode, type are pre-set for each channel

SSB Radio Nets
  • There are many SSB radio nets of use to cruisers in both the marine and ham radio bands.
  • Waterways Net: 7268 KHz; LSB; Simplex; Ham SSB; at 0730.
  • Cruisheimers Net: 6227 KHz; USB; Simplex; Marine SSB; at 0830. [Note: Cruiseheimer's is on 6516 KHz; USB for the winter months.]

Licensing for SSB Usage
  • A vessel should have a ship's station license for its SSB and VHF radios.
  • A ham radio license is required for transmission on non-marine SSB frequencies.
  • A Bahamian reciprocal license should be obtained. This is straightforward but it requires several months so start the process before leaving the US. Reciprocal licenses will use your basic ham call sign with "/C6A" appended.

SSB for Weather
  • One of the most important uses of SSB is to be able to access weather reports - particularly when your vessel is away from major land settlements.
  • An SSB transceiver makes receiving weather advice easy but many cruising vessels have spent one or more seasons cruising the Bahamas while using only a portable SSB receiver along with a good external antenna or a connection to a backstay.
  • There are many excellent sources of weather available for the Bahamas. See Weather.
  • SSBs equipped with a data modem give access to GRIB weather data wherever your vessel may be.

Weather Sources on SSB
  • Waterway Net; weather broadcast at 0745; 7268 KHz LSB Simplex (A General FCC license in required to transmit on this frequency);
  • BASRA; weather broadcast at 0720; 4003 Khz

SSB for eMail
  • SSB provides access to email wherever your vessel may be.
  • A data modem, connectivity to a computer, associated software, and a relationship with a ground station net is required.
  • One of the most effective systems at this time is the Pactor modem and data compression system.
  • AirMail is a ground station net operated by hams worldwide and requires at least a General license. No commercial business can be conducted on this net.
  • Sailmail is a commercial pay-for-service ground station net that can be used on marine SSB bands without a ham license. Commercial business can be conducted on this net.
  • This is a complex issue and there are many sources of good information available on the internet.

SSB Communication Protocol / Etiquette & eMail / Data
  • As a general rule DO NOT USE SSB data transmission in an anchorage during the daily time periods when other cruisers are listening to key SSB weather broadcasts (like those from Chris Parker / Marine Weather, etc.).
  • SSB data (eMail) transmissions can spill over onto adjacent frequencies as periodic static noise signal that can drown out voice communication.
  • When you are going to send or receive data (your SSB transmits a "handshake" to receive data packets), recognize that you could be a source of interference to vessels using SSB in the surrounding area.
  • Be aware of what SSB radio nets may be operating near the frequency you intend to use for data and avoid those times and frequencies that are likely to experience interference from you.
  • Note: Because of the digital signal processing technology used in data transmission, it usually not necessary to broadcast on high power. Experienced hams find that medium or even low power works better than high power.

Ham Radio License
  • A ham radio license is a worthwhile investment for a cruiser because it opens up many opportunities for keeping in touch with other cruisers.
  • License stages are: Tech, General, Extra; with Tech being the most basic. A General license is the most useful for cruisers as it gives you access to more ham frequency bands.
  • One of the easiest places to get a license for cruisers is the annual SSCA Gam in Melbourn FL in the fall where there are classes followed by an exam session.
  • Another good opportunity is at George Town every year where volunteer examiners conduct FCC ham radio license exams. There you will have access to expertise to help study for the exams and there is something particularly charming about taking the exam on a picnic table located on a sandy beach with palm trees and your boat anchored nearby.

SSB Antennas & Grounding
  • Installation of SSB antennas and ground (counterpoise) systems is as much an art as a science but both are critical to good SSB performance.
  • If you are not confident with electronics and electronics installation, expert assistance is a must.
  • If your SSB performance is challenged, the problem is most likely with one of these systems.

Useful Links

Updated: 18 Jan 12