2M Ham Radios
Ahoy Club members;
One of our “snowbird” members has suggested the use of 2m ham radio net to aid communication while cruising; particularly in remote areas. I understand such systems are relatively inexpensive and very effective. So, do any Club members have 2m ham sets aboard their vessel? Anyone interested in knowing more about such systems—please continue reading.
Specific to 2m / 70cm VHF-UHF ham rigs, these are quite nice because they do not require elaborate installation, are inexpensive, provide ‘anytime’ ability to talk (versus HF rigs a.k.a. marine single side band radio).
2m band is the same band currently used by marine VHF-FM but the ham rig cannot be a second VHF radio (unfortunately the ham rig will not broadcast on the marine band frequencies, but will receive) . There is also the potential (I am yet to confirm this) of sending and receiving very short text only E-mails with the aid of a laptop computer – free specialised software is required. Maritime nets are common and offer both safety (e.g. typically the net control will take your position and if you’ve not checked-in for a specified period of time, with your prior directive, will call the USCG / CCG) and a means of contact beyond cellular service. The limitation of 2m / 70cm is the signal, like marine VHF, line of sight. This means, if you are in Princess Louisa Inlet you’re in a black-out zone. Similarly, if you are behind a cliff and the antenna you are seeking is not ‘visible’ you’re blacked out. But if you are across the Georgia Strait from Vancover Island’s east coast, without cellular service, you typically have radio contact via the Island Trunk System – one needs only dial up the frequency of the nearest repeater (explained later) and broadcast a call. Note: No commerce can be conducted on ham bands, except in emergency.
The license for 2m /70cm is a Technician Class. Lessons are available on-line and tests are typically given at local ham radio clubs.
In PT area you are within range of the Island Trunk System. This is a series of repeaters that appear to cover the entire eastern side of Vancouver Island (think of a repeater as a cell site that relays radio signals amongst operators over long distances) . This enables a boater to set-up a schedule to call another boater who is miles away, OR if there is a 2m ham operator in PT, the boater could set-up a schedule with him. We purchased our rig and antenna from www.gigaparts.com. The radio is a Yaseau FT7900 and antenna is a Comet SBB-7, coax is RG-8 (the fat stuff). Aboard the installation is simple: 10 ga wire shorter than 5 feet from the power and dry area since these radios are not water proof. Currently the radio is at home and at 20 watts output through the 4.4dB gain antenna, we reach the Catalina Island repeater that is some 50 miles from our home. There are two factors involved herein: the high gain antenna on the radio, the high gain antenna and amplifier of the repeater. In boating despite having a high gain antenna, the inability of the maritime radios to amplify signals as well as the ‘line of sight’ from boat to boat requirement precludes a 50 mile transmission between boaters.
If you’re noodling the idea, you might want to download the Yaseau manual from their web site and read it over. The rig is a bit touchy in that each button has multiple functions activated by the length of time that button is depressed, but this rig appeared to be, at the time, the best value.
Now if you are considering real distance and regular need for communications both voice and short text E-mail, as well as weather fax, do consider a General Class license so you can legally operate a HF rig. We carry an Icom 713 HF rig and send and receive E-mail and weather fax daily, even in the far reaches of wherever (on Hawaii trips – in my youth – we all called home every other evening on the HF rig). If you get to the stage of considering marine SSB, do look into the ham version that can be converted to transmit on SSB – but one would call on SSB only in case of emergency (or outside of the USA where laws regarding use of ham rigs on SSB frequencies are more accommodating – read: folks in other countries don’t have as much money to piddle away on specialized radio gear).
Well, I trust this gives you a few new ideas to enhance your boating.
Cheers from soggy SoCal,