Using a 2m ham radio on marine VHF. A warning.

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Owen Morgan:
Hi Lon

You wrote (> ):

> I have to disagree with much of your logic. If a
> person can afford to buy a boat and cruise, but
> can't afford the proper communications gear - main
> AND backup - then that person has no business on the
> seas and should stay on shore!.

It's always amusing to hear from people with no ocean cruising experience what is necessary equipment for an ocean cruising yacht. I know people who have cruised for decades crossing every ocean on the planet with NO ELECTRICITY onboard. The only radio onboard was a battery operated shortwave receiver. These are some of the most respected and most experienced ocean cruisers I know of. Lin and Larry Pardey are amongst this number. (Google will find you lots of information on them).

Start with

In all my years of cruising I have not come across a single yacht that had a backup fixed mount VHF radio. Nor have I ever come across a single yacht that had a backup marine SSB. That is the reality. However, I haven't visited many multimillion dollar megayachts.

I have come across many who have marine SSB radios opened for ham frequencies. This is perfectly legal if the operator is a ham and the vessel is not required by law to have SSB. I have come across many who have a ham HF radio which has been opened for marine frequencies. Not many yachts have a 2 meter ham radio, but most of those who do have it enabled for marine VHF as a matter of course.

Opening a ham radio for marine frequencies may or may not be legal depending on the nationality of the vessel, or rather the nationality of the ham licence. Using a ham radio to transmit on marine frequencies is of course always illegal except in an emergency and I believe this is true of all countries.

The reality of the situation is that a backup radio in storage would probably not survive in the marine environment until the day it might be needed and it might well take too long to get it wired up. If it was already installed, the same emergency that brought down the main unit may well kill the backup as well. Even with a backup marine VHF, you could be in the situation that your 2 meter handheld is your only surviving radio capable of transmitting on the marine VHF band.

A lightning strike does not distinguish between main and backup equipment. In fact, it does not even distinguish between equipment that is connected or not connected. A friend of mine had a lightining strike on his yacht and reported that some of the equipment that was connected and powered up survived whilst some of the equipment in storage was fried.

Radios in daily use survive the marine environment thanks to being switched on and used on a daily basis. That warms up the radio and dispels the moisture. When I am onboard the boat, my VHF radio is never switched off and the HF radio is used daily for SW broadcast listening on the days I'm not playing ham radio.

The cost of installing a new marine SSB set on a yacht is somewhere in the region of 2500 US dollars. That does not include the salary for the installer if you can't do it yourself. When you add the need for more battery capacity, more capacity to charge those batteries and the costs of getting a licence to operate the marine SSB, we are approaching more than double that figure. In the USA, you can get a marine SSB licence practically by collecting box tops. In Norway and many other countries it's a 2000 dollar course covering several weeks (and even in Norway the course doesn't teach you how to use a HF radio...)

I know people who have happily and safely crossed oceans on boats that didn't cost them 5000 US dollars. These people could never afford to have a marine SSB, let alone a backup for the marine SSB. They made it safely because they were well prepared and experienced sailors and navigators who knew the limitations of their boat and themselves. I cruised for many years before I could afford HF radio. Crossing an ocean on a small yacht is in fact much safer than driving your car to work every day. There is no legal requirement that a private yacht should have any kind of radio transmitter. Most have at least VHF. A relatively large minority have HF.

I reckon around 30-40 percent of ocean cruising yachts have HF transmit capability, either ham or marine SSB. I am talking about the yachts actually out there crossing oceans, not the ones sitting in a marina looking pretty. Most of them have their radio opened so it can transmit on both services. Most of them know where they are not supposed to transmit except in an emergency. If they don't know, they soon learn that nobody will talk to an unlicenced station on ham frequencies.

In all my years of cruising, I have only come across one single yacht that had both a marine SSB and a hf ham radio. That is my own present yacht. I have both an ICOM IC-718 and an ICOM IC-M700. I was given the M700 as a wreck and repaired it. At the moment I have lent the M700 to another yacht (they are licenced hams) because the skipper's wife took a swim with their new FT-857, so like most people I have no backup HF radio onboard.

In an emergency, I would use the 718 on the marine SSB bands, not the M700. The 718 is a better radio, has better audio and a better receiver and it has much lower power consumption than any marine SSB radio I have come across. Unlike the M700 it also has the option to reduce transmit power. When the chips are down, every last milliamphour in my ship's batteries is important.

I bought the IC-718 because it's simple enough that I will not get lost in menus in an emergency and simple enough that I can teach someone who is not a radio operator how to get out a mayday in an emergency if I'm incapacitated or simply unable to leave the helm.

> It's people like that that the Coast Guard, various
> navies and the Maritime Mobile Service Net have to
> help bail out of trouble.

You are wrong. The people who are most often getting into trouble in the real world are those who armed with a bigger bank account than brain go out with very little experience and buy a bigger boat than they can handle on the mistaken assumption that a badly handled big boat is safer than a well handled small boat.

These boats usually have every "safety" gadget known to man, but miss the most important part of all, an experienced crew who started out coastal sailing in a cheap and simple boat and moved up as they litteraly learnt the ropes. The best sailors are those who sailed a dinghy when they were children.

The most common mayday call of all from sailing yachts is due to engine failure. In my book, engine failure on a sailboat is not and has never been a mayday situation except in very special circumstances. (A dragging anchor in a rising gale on a lee shore or a strong tide with no wind COULD put an engineless yacht into a mayday situation.)

I would be embarrased to call mayday with engine trouble on a sailboat. I make it a rule never to motor into a situation I can't sail out of. These maydays are usually called by inexperienced crews in large expensive, well equipped yachts. Not only are they unable to sail the boat out of trouble, but the complicated systems of a large yacht combined with inexperienced crew make it very difficult to troubleshoot out there at sea. I make it a rule that if I can't fix it myself, it has no place on my yacht. I happen to know a little about fixing radios.

I have called Mayday only once in my life, and hope never to have to do it again.

On May 30th 2006 (7 months ago) I was on passage across the Atlantic from the Cape Verde islands to Barbados on my old yacht, the Naomi J. At around 2200z, my yacht was run down by a Singaporean bulk carrier. My mast was broken and all the planks on the starboard side of the stem were sprung from below the waterline up to the deck. With the broken mast, my marine VHF antenna was in the water, but thankfully, the ship heard my Mayday on my handheld marine VHF.

While the ship I collided with, the MV Asian Excelsior was headed back to rescue me from my sinking yacht, I called Herb Hilgenberg on the Southbound II coastal radio station in Halifax on 12359kHz USB and informed him of the situation. Since there was already help coming, I used pan pan, rather than mayday. Herb phoned RCC Norfolk who in turn contacted the ship via Inmarsat. I kept Herb updated periodically for the next two hours until I was rescued, but towards the end my signal was starting to get distorted because the bilge pump was running down my batteries. (440 Amp hours worth.)

If the ship had not responded to my call on VHF, the ability to transmit on a marine SSB frequency using a ham HF radio might have been my best bet at saving my life. True, I might have found a ham to talk to somewhere, but I knew Herb was on frequency and he is a trained operator who is experienced in dealing with emergencies. When your vessel is sinking under you there is no take the lid off your radio to start snipping diodes, so I was glad my transceiver was able to transmit out of band.

The reason I lost my yacht, home of 14 years and everything I owned was not lack of equipment or lack of experience. I lost her because the crew on the bulk carrier were not keeping a proper lookout and because sometimes accidents just happen. The shipping line has been made to pay for my loss.

Let's get back to what this all started with. Someone used an ICOM IC-207 2m/70cm radio on the marine VHF band. This is the reality. It sometimes happens, but we all agree that using a ham radio to transmit out of band is illegal unless in an emergency. I do not condone it.

The final on that radio blew and it was quite possibly caused by the out of band use. I repaired the radio and to my surprise found that this model has a final amplifier IC purpose-designed for the 2 meter ham band. I am now in possession of that radio and it is installed on my yacht. When I was in Trinidad, I used it with the Echolink repeater there. It is still able to transmit on marine VHF frequencies, but I don't do so because I have a fully functional marine VHF.

If I ever have an emergency where my marine VHF is unserviceable. I will use the IC-207 on the marine VHF band, but I will reduce power to reduce the risk of blowing the final. That emergency could for instance involve losing the mainmast with the marine VHF antenna on it. In an emergency, it would be quicker to switch on, and use the 207 which has it's own antenna on the mizzen masthead than to start reconnecting antennas or bring a backup marine VHF (if I had one) out of storage.

I have lived the REAL WORLD of ocean cruising for the past 15 years. My experience on this subject comes from that real world, not from a ham shack on land somewhere miles away from the sea. In an emergency you are allowed to use any means available to call for help. It's too late to modify your radio when you're in an emergency. Every transmitter on a yacht should be made capable before the event of transmitting anywhere it might be useful in an emergency. That is valid even if there are backups to the marine radios onboard.

I think I've said all I have to say on this subject.


Yacht Magic
Prickly Bay

Tom Rowinski:
Maybe I've missed something in this thread, but....

If you have a proper marine-band VHF radio installed, and modified the Icom as a last-resort, emergency-only back-up radio, then what was the nature of the emergency (and what casued the primary marine radio to fail during that emergency) which brought about the need to transmit on the marine band with the Icom and blowing it's final?

Inquiring minds want to know!

73, de Tom, KA1MDA

Owen Morgan:

Tom, KA1MDA wrote (> ):

Maybe I've missed something in this thread, but....

> what was the nature of the emergency (and what
> casued the primary marine radio to fail during that
> emergency) which brought about the need to transmit
> on the marine band with the Icom and blowing it's
> final?

I didn't own the radio at the time, but as far as I understand, the marine VHF died from water ingress (a deck leak) and the owner decided to use the ICOM as a backup until he could buy a replacement.

In other words, in this case there was no emergency, and he was wrong to use a modified ham radio on the marine band, but I can understand why he did so in Venezuela where he would be hard pressed to find a replacement for the marine VHF.

After all, we need to remember why laws were passed. I have no reason to believe the ICOM 207 ever caused any harmful interference when operated on the marine VHF band. It only did harm to itself. Actually, I'm still not 100% sure the out of band use was the reason it died. Apparently, the SC-1091 chip has a history of failure due to cracks in the ceramic PCB material.

73 de LA7QZ/MM
Yacht Magic
Prickly Bay

Larry J. Rolewic:
If you have to rely on a modified Amateur Radio as backup in a true emergency, who the heck cares if the final eventually blows up, as long as it works long enough to save your life?
    But if you're using the modded rig as your regular VHF Marine rig, and the final dies it's your own fault.

Owen Morgan:

WA9SVD wrote (> ):

> If you have to rely on a modified Amateur Radio as
> backup in a true emergency, who the heck cares if
> the final eventually blows up, as long as it works
> long enough to save your life?

The point of my original post was to warn people to check BEFORE the emergency what components are used in their radio and what their frequency ratings are so that they will know whether there is a risk of the final blowing DURING the emergency. In the IC-207, it appears the final IC is purpose built for the 2 meter band. Many (probably most) other 2 meter radios can handle it just fine.

My recommendation was to use reduced power if possible to avoid blowing the final. In an emergency, the radio is likely to have higher dutycycle than at any other time, so that might just be when it breaks. I'd prefer the radio to last until I'm sipping a cup of tea somewhere warm and safe.

> But if you're using the modded rig as your regular
> VHF Marine rig, and the final dies it's your own
> fault.



Owen (Safely sipping a cup of tea on my boat at anchor in sunny Grenada)

Yacht Magic
Prickly Bay


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