very day in my business I answer the same question: Do I really need a High Frequency (HF) Single Sideband (SSB) radio for long-range cruising? Why not just
use a satellite phone? Why do most long-range cruisers use a 100-year-old radio
technology? Isn’t HF radio obsolete?
The answer is yes—you do indeed need this cost-effective, reliable and amazingly versatile method of long-range communication on your
Unlike marine Very High Frequency (VHF) Frequency Modulation (FM) radio, which
uses a short-range, line-of-sight signal, the reason HF radio works so well for long-distance cruising is that it uses the phenomenon of skywave or ‘skip’ propagation. This refers
to the characteristics of electromagnetic radiation we call radio waves when they are
transmitted at an angle from one point to another. These waves then reflect or refract
back to earth from layers of ionized atoms in the atmosphere. This skip effect allows long-range transmission beyond the horizon and even globally. While propagation can be
affected by various atmospheric conditions, HF radio remains a consistently reliable performer in a surprising variety of conditions.
Cruising is a community. HF radio connects you to this community in the form of
cruising nets, huge wireless ‘party lines’ that allow you to share news and information.
Many cruisers develop lifelong friendships based on ‘keeping in touch’ over HF radio.
This ‘one to many’ communications method means that you can connect to the even
larger worldwide amateur or ‘ham’ radio community in emergencies—a very important
advantage in remote locations. HF radios can also be used to make calls to telephones
anywhere in the world. This technique involves contacting a commercial shore service
provider for a fee. Many ham operators provide this service for free to licensed hams.
The most popular reason for the proliferation of HF radio is digital communications.
This refers to the ability to send and receive digital data through a wireless email service
provider, such as low-cost SailMail, or the free ham service, Winlink. This capability is
based on the SCS Pactor radio modem. A sender creates an email in a software program
called AirMail. This digital data is converted to analog by the modem, then transmitted
by the HF radio to a shore station. This station receives the analog data, a modem converts it to digital and sends it to the email address anywhere in the world. Thousands of
cruisers, racers, commercial and military users have made HF radio email a reliable standard for over 14 years.
A great way to enhance your HF radio knowledge and access restricted
frequencies in your HF radio is to obtain a ham license. This consists of
studying a pool of questions on subjects such as propagation, antennas,
radio frequency (RF) safety, and the radio regulations of the government
granting the license. Licenses are recognized in most countries. In the
US, a General Class license is required to access Winlink for worldwide
free email service. No commercial messages are allowed on ham bands.
BY STEVEN BOWDEN
Do I really need a HF
Former cruisers Steven Bowden
and Pamela House created Sea
Tech Systems 15 years ago to serve
as a sales representative for the
become a dealer for a variety of
marine electronics hardware and
software. Bowden posted this
article on SeaTech’s website
several months ago. We wanted to
reprint it because it raised an
interesting question—and we’d
like to hear from NMEA members.
Do you encourage customers
to have an SSB?
Although SSB transceivers are not as widely used as they were years ago,
manufacturers such as Furuno and Icom still produce them for a loyal clientele.