HF/SSB radio services
cruising, racing, rally, marine tourism, yacht delivery and charter in the Pacific and
Indian Oceans, and SE Asia.
HF/SSB radio remains the practical and cost-effective
for medium to long distance (15nm to 5000nm) marine communications, for
cruising, races, rallies, marine tourism, yacht delivery,
yacht charter, ferries and other small-craft (eg: fishing
trawlers, tuges, barges etc).
the official maritime distress and emergency
communications service - for small and large vessels -
throughout the Pacific & Indian Oceans, and SE Asia. It
remains compulsory equipment on large vessels;
commercial, government, tourism, ferries and recreational.
Modern - DSC capable - HF/SSB radios provide the only common
communication service which links together recreational, commercial,
government, man-of-war, maritime security, search & rescue and marine tourism vessels
over medium to long distances. They also provide the common
communication service linking all types of vessels with MRCCs.
Yachting Australia - which creates the yacht racing
Special Regulations suited to this bigger, emptier side
of the world, beyond the range of the amazing, immediate response,
24/7 search and rescue resources available only in the high
population density areas of Europe/UK and some parts of
North America - recently (December
2012) released their new Special Regulations to apply from
1st July 2013 to 31 June 2017. This re-confirmed the
importance of a modern DSC capable HF/SSB radio (NOT a
satellite phone) for event management, general boat-to-boat
racing or cruising, in sail or engine powered yachts.
this link to see/download a copy of the latest YA
By using a modern, marine HF/SSB radio with DSC, recreational small craft can:
Initiate contact with any similarly equipped nearby vessel and
distant MRCCs in the the well established maritime safety communications network
already operating for commercial vessels since 2001.
quick, nearby support, advice or assistance from other cruisers, race
or rally participants, and cruise-in-company groups.
Cruising and racing yacht crews have a substantial depth
of knowledge, skills and resourcefulness which can be
of benefit to each other via the radio.
Play their reciprocal
role as a
valuable and accessible search and rescue asset; to assist
other mariners - commercial, tourism, government or recreational - in
the maritime safety and mutual self-help network.
Conveniently maintain a 24/7 DSC watch for Individual, Group
and Distress calls using the DSC radio's scan and silent speaker
features. The radio does the work of monitoring for
calls on multiple frequencies, without the noisy speaker of a regular HF/SSB
radio and without needing to wait for a daily sked to
ask fellow rally or race participants for advice or
only disturbs the on-board environment when a DSC call -
or Distress - is received.
Since 2001, HF/SSB radio manufacturers around the world have
experienced a big increase in
sales. This has occurred despite the availability of sophisticated
shore and satellite based voice, data and internet systems.
Because the functional limitations, excessive cost and
fragile nature of the sophisticated terrestrial and
satellite based systems have become apparent;
especially during natural and man-made disaster events.
the two main Australian manufacturers of commercial/military HF/SSB radios - Barrett and Codan
- have grown many times over. And ICOM (Japan), created it's first commercial HF/SSB radio,
and expanded it's range of marine HF/SSB radios in recent
years to include a HF/SSB radio with DSC - the M802(DSC) and M801(E) -
which are now the minimum standard for new recreational
small-craft radio installations in Europe, the UK, USA and
Why has HF/SSB
become more widely used and effective despite the development of other
apparently more sophisticated communication services:
Because - in the marine
area - the implementation of GMDSS for ships over 300 tonnes
freed busy HF/SSB marine radio frequencies of heavy users,
so hundreds of marine frequencies became available for use by yachts and
other small-craft for their general communication needs. Large vessels - such as cruise
ships, military and cargo vessels - were required to install expensive
- high power - satellite communications
equipment. Their high volume traffic - especially telephone interconnect
- shifted from their traditional heavy use of HF/SSB radio frequencies to the
satellite carrier they were compelled to use. Great news for recreational
and commercial small-craft
with an effective marine HF/SSB radio.
Because the availability of DSC
capable HF/SSB radios for small-craft made a vast improvement to their
ability to conveniently maintain a 24/7
watch for calls from each other and to successfully make
There is no longer any need for yachts in rallies, races or
cruise-in-company groups to limit their communication
to once daily skeds, because the DSC capable marine
radio's speaker is silent while scanning for calls. The
noisy HF/SSB radio speaker of non DSC HF/SSB radios has been
the key reason for turning it off, or turning down the
volume, and implementing skeds; thereby eliminating the
possibility of immediate communication to access quick
response mutual support, advice or information between skeds.
The modern marine DSC capable HF/SSB radio - with a muted
speaker during standby mode - is designed to constantly scan
the calling/distress frequencies 24/7, without disturbing the crew,
sunset or relaxing anchorage. When it receives a call, it
goes into an alert state, ringing like a phone, to inform
the crew. It also sends a response signal to the calling
radio; so the caller knows they have contacted the desired
Modern DSC capable HF/SSB radios scan for three types of DSC
calls. Individual - a DSC call to the yacht's
specific MMSI ID. Group - a DSC call to a group MMSI
ID. This group could be all the yachts in a rally, race or
cruise-in-company group. Or all the members of a particular
yacht club. Or all yachts cruising in a particular region. The radio can be setup as a member of multiple
groups and scan for DSC calls for all those groups.
Distress - a DSC call to all nearby vessels and distant MRCCs in order
to obtain a quick response from any nearby vessel or
regional MRCC. One simple button press alerts all nearby vessels
and MRCCs; without needing to know if they are present nor
their satphone number.
Because the DSC feature vastly improved initiating contact
with other nearby vessels - recreational, commercial or
and distant MRCCs, in an emergency
Commercial vessel crews and MRCC radio staff do not like the
noise of a non DSC radio speaker either. Most MRCCs and
large vessels quickly adopted the DSC option, to make their
operating environment quieter, and to improve reliability of
reception of emergency DSC calls. By using a modern DSC equipped marine HF/SSB radio,
cruising, racing, charter and rally yachts can tap into the exiting
resources of the marine search and rescue network operating
for large commercial vessels.
In the Pacific and Indian Oceans, around most of Australia's
coast and in SE Asia, it is important to heed the advice of
regional MRCCs, such as NZ, Australia and Hong Kong when
they advise they do not have lots of S&R resources and need
to rely on nearby vessels. MRCC Australia makes this clear
in a number of website statements:
"In the event of an
emergency, communication should first be attempted with
others close by using radios"
"Even once a (EPIRB) position is obtained, response times
then depend on the time for a search and rescue (SAR) unit,
such as a helicopter, aircraft or ground party for the
readied and transit to the search area. The more remote the
location of the distress incident, the longer the response
time. In all instances, be prepared to survive."
satellites and satellite-compatible distress
beacons have significantly improved the
effectiveness of SAR operations, the system is
NOT a substitute for carrying appropriate marine
or aviation radio."
"Depending on the
circumstances, your initial distress alert
should still be made by radio if possible. You
should activate your distress beacon only if
contact cannot be made by any other means or
when told to do so by a rescue authority."
Because the distances are great and the EPIRB
battery could expire before an official response
S&R vessel/plane can reach the location.
every yacht can also become a useful and contactable
resource in the modern maritime safety network, to help
other yachts and all other mariners.
A DSC equipped HF/SSB radio does the work of monitoring for distress calls, quietly, without disturbing the beautiful
anchorage or ocean sunset. If a distress alarm is received -
either from another nearby vessel or an MRCC - the radio tells you.
There is no longer any need for the yacht - or commercial
vessel - crew to listen to
the noise of an open distress frequency 24/7 for MAYDAY or
Maintaining every modern DSC capable marine HF/SSB radio in
constant watch mode, 24/7, greatly improves the chance of
any mariner finding nearby advice, assistance, a tow or
spare part; so a problem does not become a disaster.
Titanic sank in calm seas when small-craft could have saved
hundreds of lives. The modern day Titanic equivalent can
immediately contact all nearby recreational and commercial
small-craft with one DSC Distress call if all have their
similar radios on standby, 24/7.
Because some smart
German radio electronics engineers developed technologies to make
email available efficiently and cheaply via HF/SSB radio.
HF/SSB radio email is far more efficient and convenient than traditional weather fax or NAVTEX,
or listening to voice broadcast weather at a fixed time. And
far cheaper than satphone email options.
Official METAREA forecasts,
along with GRIB weather charts (a graphic
display with isobars, wind speed/direction arrows, colour
shading for wave height, shadow for rain areas), coastal
weather forecasts and weather warning emails can now be
requested/received via HF/SSB radio email. There is no need to sit
beside the radio at
voice or weather fax broadcast times. Small-craft can collect the
information using their their existing HF/SSB radio when on-board routines permit, and
reliably receive far
more detailed and useful information.
The same on-board HF/SSB radio and email
equipment is also used to order spare parts, arrange shore stops,
book a marina berth, take school
or university courses, book shore excursions, monitor a
shore email address, send position reports and keep in touch with friends or
family, the office or local officials. While relaxing at beautiful, secluded anchorages
or crossing empty oceans.
And for yachts without DSC in their existing marine HF/SSB radio,
email can be used to
initiate contact with most MRCCs, to
get them to open their radio mutes and make voice contact on
the official marine distress frequencies. See the
pages of this website for details.
Because modern marine HF/SSB radios
- and radio email - utilise well established technologies, to provide truly low-cost marine
communications. It's the most cost-effective
communications option for small-craft. There is no need to pay (via high connection time fees)
for the high cost and high risk of satellite
communications technology development, the cost of space
shuttles or the salaries of leading edge rocket scientists,
astronauts, and communication engineers which such technologies require.
radio works without intermediate satellites, communications
towers, electricity, cables etc. It provides no-cost voice communications between
vessels, and between vessels and shore stations. The
DSC (Digital Select Calling) feature makes 24/7 monitoring
of Distress and General calling frequencies easy. And it
makes getting a response to Distress or Group or
Individual calls far more reliable.
radios now incorporate digital technology and other
developments to increase their effectiveness, lower
on-board power requirements and make them simpler to
operate. They do not have the complexity of dials and
functions found on a HAM radio. These developments have helped
marine HF/SSB radio retain
its position as the optimum efficiency, effective and low-cost communication medium for
medium to long range voice and email (ie:
7. Because HF/SSB
radio still works
when all the gee-whiz stuff falls over, often
because of something as simple as a broken phone or electricity cable
or lack of electricity to any of the multiple network
components required to keep the system functioning. A number of notable
events in the last fifteen years have highlighted how the amazing
terrestrial and satellite networks we've become dependent
upon are so fragile, complex,
easily damaged and slow to repair. For example:
The Twin Towers and New Orleans
local communication services broken, overwhelmed and in disarray, for
weeks, exactly when reliable and plentiful
communications is important to manage the problem and
co-ordinate response resources. As a consequence, the USA
established a public access HF/SSB radio email
service - using a similar hardware/software integration as SailMail
- to help provide reliable communications at such times.
chose not to use satellite options for this critical
Iridium satellite collision with space debris in 2008 knocked
out one satellite and left Iridium users - particularly
those near the equator where Iridium satellites are most
widely spaced - with a reduced service availability and
reliability. Land and marine users of the Iridium
system in equatorial areas experienced a significant decline in
number of tsunamis in Asia have destroyed
coastlines and with it, the existing communication
infrastructures, with their dependence on
electricity supply along with sophisticated cable,
mobile phone and satellite
communication pathways. SailMail and BBRemail users
on yachts and commercial vessels became important
communication relay points during these incidents,
because their HF/SSB radio based email and voice
communication systems still worked, despite the local
damage to sophisticated land-based communications
systems and their satellite links.
fires that killed hundreds of people in Victoria
(Australia) in 2010 precipitated a loss of electrical
power to hilltop towers that provided sophisticated SMS, FM
radio, mobile phone, police, ambulance and
fire brigade trunked radio communication networks.
(Note: apart from damage to electrical cables and
distribution systems, bush-fire brigades normally have
the electricity switched off to avoid electrocution
problems with falling power lines etc.) Management of the
fire fighting and emergency response system stopped. The
planned centralised co-ordination of emergency services
response did not exist, because the control room in
Melbourne had no communication with the resources on the
ground. Residents who'd been advised to expect
evacuation warnings via their mobile phone and FM radio
systems did not get any warnings. It took eight days -
when emergency response operations should be at their
peak - to get minimal communications working again;
despite the close proximity to Melbourne, with ample spare
parts and competent technicians. The Country Fire
Authority in Victoria is now fitting HF/SSB radios and
Pactor Controllers - for email and SMS and position
reporting - to
vehicles and rural fire stations. A satellite based
system was an alternate option, but was not chosen; the
broadcast feature of HF/SSB radio is vital to quickly
and simultaneously update all fire-fighters. The
lack of dependence on intermediate equipment makes the
communications reliable; regardless of the functionality
of other services.
Unlike satellite and
terrestrial communication systems:
1. HF/SSB radio does not require
large power supplies (eg: on warships, cruise ships, cargo
ships, or at telephone exchanges, hilltop communication
towers, earth satellite comms stations etc), high vantage
points (eg: a satellite in space, the top of a tall
building, or a mountaintop tower) or a complex network of underground
or suspended cables to function. A 12v car battery
- charged by either solar panels, a boat or car alternator, or a
portable generator - is sufficient electricity.
2. HF/SSB radio can communicate over mountains and across oceans without
satellites or other complex and easily damaged or disabled relay systems.
3. HF/SSB radio does not require a dedicated communication link
- eg: via an unbroken piece of wire or multiple satellite
links - to talk
or pass data. Just a HF/SSB radio at each end of the
4. HF/SSB radio does not require
large parabolic antennas with
tracking and aiming technology and electric motors, to
operate reliably and at fast speeds. For HF/SSB radio, a wire suspended from a tree, the backstay
of a yacht or a whip antenna is sufficient. Insulated
lifelines or a length of 12v wiring can function as an
4. HF/SSB radio allows each
user to communicate directly to another user, without the
need for interlinking cables, satellites, exchanges, network switching
equipment, satellite earth stations and large amounts of electricity, to keep them
functioning. And without the associated call charges. It's for these reasons that:
Military vehicles, planes, and infantry still use HF/SSB radio, even though they
also have the money for other highly sophisticated - but
fragile - systems.
Commercial ships - small and large - are still required to fit HF/SSB
radios, even though they are also required to fit
satellite communication systems.
Marine emergency/distress voice communication is still based
on HF/SSB radio, not satellite communications.
Shore based natural disaster communications systems and
aid agencies have
been re-discovering the significant operational
advantages and capability of modern HF/SSB radio
systems. Emergency communications without cost is a significant
5. HF/SSB radio
has a broadcast function which allows one speaker to be heard by
many listeners. Normal
satellite and terrestrial communications technology is
designed around individual calls and private conversations between
each pair of communicators; so fees can be charged. The
free-to-air broadcast feature of HF/SSB radio has major
benefits for marine communications and safe yacht operations. For
Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) can broadcast
to request all
vessels in the vicinity that can go to the aid of a
vessel in a particular location to respond. They do not
need to know the location of the potential rescue
vessels beforehand, to select them for a direct phone or
satellite call. Anyone in the area can listen to the
broadcast HF/SSB message and
respond if they are nearby and able to assist.
MRCC can broadcast instructions to the assigned rescue vessel, and the
stricken vessel's crew can hear it too; without the MRCC
needing to separately call the yacht or other vessel (eg: on a mobile or
MRCC does not have to call one-by-one - using individual
vessel satellite phone numbers - to ask the same
questions, give instructions or update all the vessels,
planes, helicopters, police launches, navy ships,
fishing trawlers and yachts in the vicinity of the
incident. All can hear the MRCC's information and
yachts in a race or organised rally can listen to
instructions from the event organisers simultaneously.
And they can all hear position reports, questions from
other yachts, answers etc simultaneously; saving a lot
of time and repetition.
cruising yacht can participate in, or just listen to, a
morning sked between yachts when weather information,
updates about marina capacity/prices, anchorage details,
the latest immigration/customs procedures and more, are
broadcast and discussed.
yacht in unfamiliar territory can ask for advise - such
as waypoints into an anchorage, or fuel availability -
by broadcasting a question during a sked time. All listening yachts can hear the question and respond if
they have the answers.
Groups of yachts exploring a region or crossing an ocean can setup their own
DSC Group Call IDs to facilitate a quick response to
urgent questions, and self-help skeds to swap information, provide advice and
monitor each other's position and security on a routine
modern marine HF/SSB radio with DSC allows each vessel crew to play their role as a responsible mariner
in the Maritime Safety Network.
Many recreational vessel operators expect rescue services and mariners in
other vessels to come to their assistance if they need help.
But they often forget this willingness to help others is a
maritime tradition/obligation that works to save lives
because everyone plays
their part, including recreational yachts and other small-craft.
Any yacht or small-craft might be nearby and able to assist a fishing
vessel, another yacht, or even a commercial vessel - and its
crew or passengers - in a life-threatening situation.
But for the vessel/people in distress or the MRCC to make
contact - to advise of the problem - all vessels need a functional HF/SSB radio
DSC - switched on and monitoring for calls, 24/7.
Being accessible only by mobile or satellite phone ignores the
responsibility to contribute to the marine community, and to
the maritime safety network which helps protect all
mariners - recreational or commercial. Because other vessels and MRCCs will not know
if you are in the area, will not know your cell-phone or satellite
phone number and/or may not have the
equipment or money to call you. The DSC capable HF/SSB
marine radio addresses these communication difficulties.
Emergency communications at sea is not just about getting help from
others, it's also about making yourself accessible so you
can provide help to others in need. A modern marine HF/SSB radio
with DSC make this possible.
Nevertheless, all systems have their limitations, and the
prudent mariner will take this into consideration. For
example, it's not practical to take the yacht's HF/SSB radio
(nor a high power satellite system's parabolic antenna and computer
controlled tracking/aiming mechanism) into a liferaft .
practical combination that addresses Distress and General
communication requirements, enables every vessel -
recreational or commercial or government - to play their
reciprocal role in the maritime safety network, provides free inter-boat
communication, allows everyone to alert nearby commercial or
recreational vessels for their advise/assistance, minimises regular communication costs, and
works for most small-craft is:
1. An on-board
marine HF/SSB radio used as the principle
communications device, with voice and email functions. Because it works
well in that role, and because it's far cheaper to operate -
for voice and email - than any satellite based option.
function, because DSC allows every vessel to reliably
initiate contact with most MRCCS,
and with nearby yachts or commercial vessels to access
quick, nearby, advice and/or assistance. It also enables
each vessel to be easily contacted by MRCCs and/or
other vessels in distress. If buying a new HF (SSB) radio,
be sure to get one with DSC.
radio email function, so you can manage your cruising
life, maintain contact with people ashore, access important
weather and safety related information, receive
accurate updates direct from race or rally organisers,
contact shore based officials, send
position reports and
initiate contact with
an MRCC; if you do not have DSC functionality in your radio.
of a Pactor Controller and SailMail subscription
is a relatively minor addition (cheaper than a new sail) for an extremely substantial
gain that will easily pay for itself with operational savings
within the first year of use. SailMail and/or BBRemail (for
commercial vessels in our BBR service area) via the HF/SSB radio is much cheaper to
operate than a satellite based email option; including SailMail via a satellite
hand held satellite phone carried as a battery powered
backup to the HF/SSB radio for voice and email because:
can be used to
phone an MRCC to
in a distress situation if your HF/SSB radio does
not yet have DSC alert functionality. Once the MRCC is
alerted, switch to the HF/SSB radio for managing the
situation, and simultaneously communicating with ships, aircraft etc
which the MRCC
assigns to assist you.
can be taken into the liferaft (with lots of spare
batteries) to maintain limited communication with most MRCC's.
A hand-held VHF marine radio (with spare batteries)
should also go into the liferaft;
for short-range (ie: in-vew) communication with search aircraft, nearby rescue ships
can work as a substitute carrier for email and voice if
the vessel's main batteries or electrical system or HF/SSB radio
are damaged. It can substitute for some functions of the HF/SSB
radio at a much higher operating cost.
Some satellite phones can be connected to the same
on-board notebook running the SailMail -on-board HF/SSB
radio email -software to utilise the existing address
book and email store to send/receive emails. With the
additional benefit of SailMail's smart compression and
message management to speed transmissions, reduce
connection time and therefore save money compared to the
standard email comms provided by the satphone
can be used to make (expensive) calls for
family and business.
satellite communicator that provides a compact, low-cost,
solar panel re-chargable - two-way text message and position
reporting - alternative.
compact, water resistant and lower cost to operate than
a regular satphone.
Limited to text messages only, but sufficient for most
urgent family or work related comms.
Functions as a backup to the HF/SSB radio if the
vessel's power supply or HF/SSB radio is damaged.
models have a built-in GPS and can function as a regular
position reporting device.
convenient to take into a life-raft with the DSC
capable VHF marine radio.
Works on land too, as emergency comms and position
reporting when taking tours ashore, or for wilderness
hiking, skiing, canoeing, rafting etc.
you are buying a new or replacement HF/SSB radio for your
yacht or other small-craft:
a reliable marine radio with DSC and email capability.
For example, the ICOM M802(DSC) or ICOM M801(E).
In the long-run, this is far cheaper - compared to alternative satellite
based options - for cruising/racing/rally/boating/charter communications.
links you into the official Maritime Distress communications
network, with all it's advantages for you and your fellow
Remember that the latest Special Regulations - for
racing yachts and recommended for cruising yachts -
published by Yachting Australia for the communication
and search and rescue realities of this bigger, emptier
side of the world, requires all new and replacement HF/SSB
radios to be DSC equipped, and recommends a satphone as
an optional item. It does not require a satphone and
does not permit a satphone to be
carried as a substitute for a HF/SSB radio with DSC.
Use this link to
see/download a copy of the latest YA Special Regulations
(July 2013 to June 2017).
Use the same purchase philosophy
most of us would normally aim to apply when
buying a new PC or notebook; get the latest technology
so it stays relevant and functional for as long as
possible, and gives efficient access to the best
available modern services. Therefore, buy the type
approved marine HF/SSB radio with DSC.
advice from people who have spent a lifetime using
marine HF/SSB radio and providing marine search and
rescue services. For example, see
Their advice is based on real experience and
cleaning up the problems created without the official,
recommended and required, - by Marine Authorities,
Communication authorities, and Yachting Australia -
communications service for maritime Distress and General
communications; HF/SSB marine radio with DSC.
further information - and practical evidence of the
importance of modern, marine HF/SSB radio with DSC for
Distress and General communications - please use the below links
to documents regarding the importance of DSC equipped HF/SSB
for yacht charter, cruising, racing and rallies, along with
techniques for easy installation, and the amended General
scan frequency strategy to extend/improve yacht-to-yacht DSC
calling for daily convenience, information, skeds and 24/7
HF/SSB radio with DSC - For cruising,
racing and rallies
HF/SSB radio with DSC - A comms
strategy for race, rally or cruising
HF/SSB radio with DSC - Easy
HF/SSB radio with DSC - Functions
Terry Spark's upgraded DSC
Terry Sparks's schematic of upgraded
SIYC Newsletter - scroll down to read
what can happen without a functional DSC capable radio
Yachting Australia's Special
Regulations - for racing & cruising
updated: 22 November 2014
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