Saturday, December 12, 2015

Single Side Band (SSB) Long Range Marine Radio

Blue Pearl was built with SSB in mind.

Or… at least one of the previous 3 owners made a serious attempt to make her a stand-out in the SSB shout-out world.  The radio - an Icom M600 - was grounded to the water tank with copper foil.  The water tank was coupled electrically with the boat’s bonding system and connected via copper foil to the engine and then to the Icom AT 120 tuner.  Along the way, the entire starboard locker was covered with copper mesh and that was integrated into the whole shebang.

When we bought the boat it didn’t work worth a damn so we got an electrician on board - who was also a amateur radio operator - to try to make it work, and he gave up.  Said the radio was a piece of junk.

So we bought a used Icom 710 which came with an AT 130 tuner and stuffed the whole thing in.  The same ham/electrician helped us install it and pronounced it operational… although I wasn’t all that convinced.  Certainly you could hear stuff but we weren’t sure about our ability to get our signal out there.

We’ve used it over the past 6 years but our ability to communicate clearly with folks off in the distance has been a challenge.  More often than not, we need a relay to talk to someone way out in SSB-land.

Over the years we have fought with corrosion.  The copper foil disintegrates and needs to be replaced regularly.  It runs through our bilge and the marine environment just eats up the copper. 

All of the experts have provided us with encouragement and advice.  We added a foil connection from the tuner to the rudder post for another connection to the salt water.  We have replaced the copper foil, added DC (direct current) blocks to discourage DC transfer along the foil but allow radio frequency… but we are always the weakest signal on all the maritime nets.

There is a simplistic alternative - the KISS-SSB counterpoise.  Instead of all the copper foil with DC blocks and connections to the boat’s bonding system, you just connect a wire to your antenna tuner and lay out this 10 foot assembly (like a garden hose) down in the underpants of the boat.  

That's it?

Hmmm, we'll see.
The experts who have worked with me view it as snake oil and a rip-off for dumbasses like me.  They can’t hide their contempt.

All of the folks I’ve met who actually have it installed swear by it.  But as far as boat stuff costs, this is relatively inexpensive - only $150. 

So we are giving it a go after Christmas.  Cover your ears, I expect to be the loudest voice on the Coconut Telegraph.  Or not… and then back to the drawing board.

I will report back!


***update January 7, 2015***
KISS counterpoise is genius!  Works like a hot damn and doesn't involve connecting all kinds of crap all kinds of places.  I'm chatting with folks in Tierra del Feugo like they were in the next room.  OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration but I'm certainly getting out there way better than before with all the copper.  Time to start ripping it all out and cleaning up the copper rust mess!