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Old 02-16-2017, 06:46 PM   #1
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Ham Radio, APRS, etc... LONG

I blame SHASHA III.

Vic mentioned in a thread about SPOT and Delorme Inreach that he was going to install a Dual band Ham radio with internal gps and integrated TNC (Terminal Node Controller?). He explained that with that equipment he can update his position for others to follow on the the aprs.fi website and it has the capability to send and receive text messages from outside the Ham network.

I didn't (and don't) understand any of that. However, I have been using a SPOT on the boat. While the SPOT is a nifty tool, the $150/yr subscription is annoying and it will do little but provide location information and contact emergency services in case of an emergency. I thought I would try and figure out what Vic was talking about.

So, since I know nothing about amateur radio (other than it is a bunch of old guys who were geeks before "geeks" was even a thing) I tried to do a little checking. This is what I think I have learned so far. I would love it if those of you who actually know this stuff, and help me in my understanding.

Dual Band: In this case I believe this means VHF and UHF. Here is where terminology confuses me but another way to think of this band range is the 2M and 70CM bands. Not sure if these radios will transmit and receive on the marine VHF bands even though the receivers cover the 156-157MHz frequencies.

GPS: yeah, even I know what is. Like AIS, the radio will take positional information from its gps and include that information in the packets that the radio sends out.

APRS: Automatic Packet Reporting System. This is where my head starts to hurt. As near as I can tell, the APRS radios simply send out data packets which contain a whole host of possible digital information. This can be gps positions, weather, object icons, and text information. These packets are sent out on 144.390 MHz in the US and Canada.

TNC: I really have no idea what this is other than I think it translates the packet received by the receiver to a format that can be read by a computer. In this way it can be output to a computer display. The reverse would be true as well, convert digital data into a format that the radio can send as packet.

Not sure if I understand all the pieces but the thing that intrigues me is that a couple manufacturers, such as Kenwood, have put all those pieces together in a single unit.

I am not exactly sure how APRS works, but here is my very simplified understanding, again please help me get this right. An APRS radio will send out a data packet on the 144.390 MHz frequency. This data packet isn't directed at any receiving station but just broadcast generally. This packet is picked up by other APRS radio stations that are setup as repeaters. These stations add their own call sign to the packet and rebroadcast it. There is a limit to the number of times a packet will be broadcast and this is determined by coding contained within the packet that direction that behavior but that is all beyond me.

Eventually, the packet will be picked by a station that is an internet gateway. These stations take the data from the packet and send it off to APRS servers that aggregate and disseminate all this information to other servers around the world.

So how does that help me on a boat?

Vessel Tracking: A APRS capable radio could send out a packet with my call sign, vessel name and information, as well as position and heading. This works much like AIS does. The packet is repeated until it is added to the information on the servers. Friends and family can then see where I am by simply looking on the website. This is much like SPOT does for me now but without an annual fee.

Messaging: Here is where it gets really cool. I am often out of cell range. It is possible to create a text or email message addressed to a cell phone and that gets included in a packet. That text is broadcast with the packet and sent to the internet gateway. There are servers that magically send those messages as emails or as an email text message to the persons cell carrier. This would be a huge boon to my wife and I as we still like to be able to keep with touch with family and me with work.

So, what have I got wrong?
What have I gotten right?
What are the practical problems or advantages to doing something like this?
How easy/difficult is it to install a ham radio on a boat that already has two VHF radios, GPS antenna, radar, and two VHF antennas?
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Old 02-16-2017, 06:56 PM   #2
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So, since I know nothing about amateur radio (other than it is a bunch of old guys who were geeks before "geeks" was even a thing)
Um, a bit more to it than that.

AF4WM (ham call)
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Old 02-16-2017, 07:30 PM   #3
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Um, a bit more to it than that.

AF4WM (ham call)
At least I got your attention John.

Beyond the features that would make a SPOT superfluous, I am definitely intrigued by the other things that a Ham radio could offer on the boat. It may be in part due to some of the similarities between the Ham network and the old FidoNet BBS network that I was involved in back in the 80's and 90's.

I would also much rather donate some money to volunteers that are keeping the Ham network running than to pay a subscription fee to SPOT or Delorme.
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Old 02-16-2017, 07:49 PM   #4
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We've been using Ham/SSB for weather, email, position reports and talking since the late 90's. Hobo today has a Pactor III USB modem/ICOM 802. Lena's the ham (KC7YWW) or communications officer. For us it's an easy way to stay in touch with with friends, family and other cruisers. It's not cheap when starting from scratch though. When we started, sat phones, Spot, etc. weren't around so ham was pretty much the only option for off shore communications. It's matured and has improved with technology as have other options. Here are a couple of links to help explain better what it's all about.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winlink

https://sailmail.com/wp-content/uplo...2/smprimer.htm
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Old 02-16-2017, 08:14 PM   #5
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Thanks Larry. I will check those out.

My thought is that while it does look very expensive, it would be about equal to 5 years of SPOT subscriptions. The more time I get to spend on the boat, the more utility I will get from it as well.

Edit: I just read those links. Two very interesting systems.

One of the things that I am thinking is that if I was to get a system such as Vic is putting on SHASA, I wouln't have access to the HF bands and therefore no SSB. For my intended use, I don't think that would be a problem. However, down the road I may end up wishing for the HF capability and then also expand a license to General.
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Old 02-16-2017, 08:19 PM   #6
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You may find these helpful. I did.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf 2011-No-Nonsense-General-Class-License-Study-Guide.pdf (407.5 KB, 33 views)
File Type: pdf 2007GeneralStudyGuide.pdf (287.3 KB, 27 views)
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Old 02-16-2017, 08:25 PM   #7
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You may find these helpful. I did.
Thanks! I know there is SO much that I just don't know. Those looks like great resources.

If I do go this route, I only need a Technician's license. A couple days ago on a whim I took three online Technician practice tests to see what they were like. I barely passed once and barely failed twice. That was with absolutely no information (what is a QSR for example?). I am confident that I could easily pass the Technicians test by reading through the ARRL License manual.
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Old 02-16-2017, 08:33 PM   #8
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Dave, Ham, HF, (high frequency), and single side band are b synonymous. If you have a ham license you can send e-mail with a pactor modem to Ham ground stations. If you dont have a Ham license you can subscribe to sail mail. 18 months in tbe Caribbean, i never failed to connect,. During the day. Night is typically difficult for HF.

I am a retired army signal officer With considerable ssb experience. I have never seen a radio capable of both HF and VHF. That is not to say it couldn't be done, but I can imagine it would be a pretty complicated set-up given the different antenna requirements, not to mention antenna matching units.

I would stick to a single purpose radio. The Icom 802 had proven itself to be among three best.

Btw, i have a Pactor modem for sale.

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Old 02-16-2017, 08:37 PM   #9
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Thanks! I know there is SO much that I just don't know. Those looks like great resources.

If I do go this route, I only need a Technician's license. A couple days ago on a whim I took three online Technician practice tests to see what they were like. I barely passed once and barely failed twice. That was with absolutely no information (what is a QSR for example?). I am confident that I could easily pass the Technicians test by reading through the ARRL License manual.
When I took my Tech they "strongly" encouraged me to sit for the general that evening. I declined because I hadn't even taken a peek at the material.

I "assume" it's close enough that if you did fairly well on the tech you could also pass the general.
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Old 02-16-2017, 09:56 PM   #10
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When I took my Tech they "strongly" encouraged me to sit for the general that evening. I declined because I hadn't even taken a peek at the material.

I "assume" it's close enough that if you did fairly well on the tech you could also pass the general.
Back in the old days the Technician and General licensing used the same tests. The difference was in the Morse code requirement. Technician was 5 words per minute and General was 13 WPM. I had a Technician license (W6YLP) but never did enough code work to get the General.

I believe a lot of this stuff has changed in the 60 or so years since I got my ticket.
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Old 02-16-2017, 10:16 PM   #11
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...

I am a retired army signal officer With considerable ssb experience. I have never seen a radio capable of both HF and VHF. That is not to say it couldn't be done, but I can imagine it would be a pretty complicated set-up given the different antenna requirements, not to mention antenna matching units.

...

Gordon
HF/VHF/UHF amateur radio transceivers are actually very common. They have at least two antenna connections so that you can connect both HF and VHF/UHF antennas at the same time. I have the FT-817ND by Yaesu - all modes on all bands from 160m to 70cm.

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Old 02-16-2017, 11:25 PM   #12
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What about some of the more mundane, practical aspects, an antenna for example?

I have two VHF radio antennas on the boat now. I have two VHF marine radios and I believe that each has their own antenna, with possibly my AIS receiver sharing one of them. The two antennas are mounted at least 8' apart on either side of the flybridge. I would need another antenna for a dual band VHF/UHF radio. Where should it be place so as not to interfere with those already there?
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Old 02-17-2017, 08:11 AM   #13
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If you have a ham license you can send e-mail with a pactor modem to Ham ground stations.
Don't even need a Pactor modem. You can now use Winmor (free software), and your computer substitutes for the very expensive Pactor. Winmor is slightly slower, and slightly less robust, than using a Pactor, but I have been using it for a while now and it is completely adequate. It allows sending e-mails by HF, when far beyond the range of wifi or cell towers.

(Yeah, I know, you're trying to sell your Pactor. Sorry if I made that a little harder.)

As to APRS, yes dhays, you pretty much got it right. When either my wife or I travel by car without the other, we run it in the car. For instance, last year I went to a conference in Atlanta. Drove their from Tampa. My wife was able to get a "warm and fuzzy" anytime she wanted to by checking the website and seeing where the car was.

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Old 02-17-2017, 08:48 AM   #14
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However, I have been using a SPOT on the boat. While the SPOT is a nifty tool, the $150/yr subscription is annoying and it will do little but provide location information and contact emergency services in case of an emergency.

Some contrarian analysis...

When you're out of cell range, are you also out of VHF range to likely shore stations or USCG facilities?

You have a DSC-capable VHF connected to a GPS for location info?

Do you have an AIS transmitter?

If no, yes, and yes respectively...

What would be the consequence of dropping SPOT and doing nothing else?

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Old 02-17-2017, 09:38 AM   #15
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Some contrarian analysis...

What would be the consequence of dropping SPOT and doing nothing else?

-Chris
Great questions Chris.
Quote:
When you're out of cell range, are you also out of VHF range to likely shore stations or USCG facilities?
No. Marine VHF coverage is much better in the Puget Sound and BC areas than Cell service.

Quote:
You have a DSC-capable VHF connected to a GPS for location info?
Yes. This is a great emergency tool. So far I have not found the DSC all that useful for ship to ship communication since it seems as if most of the folks that have it, don't know how to use it.

Quote:
Do you have an AIS transmitter?
No. Receive only. I have considered adding an AIS transceiver but have not done it yet. It would obviously give me the tracking ability, but not add any communication ability. It would increase safety in certain waters under certain conditions however.

As I mentioned initially my interest is primarily for communication with family. We would like them to know where we are and to be able to reliably communicate with them. With our first grandchild on the way, my wife really doesn't want to be out of touch.

SPOT gives location information but no two-way communication. Delorme Inreach would do both but at a huge cost. Marine SSB would give communication via email and provide long-range radio communication but no location tracking.

This is what sparked my interest in the VHF/UHF ham radio utilizing APRS. I am not all that interested in a roll-your-own solution, unlike most of the Ham community. The other advantage (if I understand it correctly) is that the APRS capable units with built-in gps and TNC can send and receive text messages even without a computer. While not as convenient as a keyboard, the mic can be used to compose text. Even so, it would be easy to connect a laptop to use with it.
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Old 02-17-2017, 10:43 AM   #16
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As to APRS, yes dhays, you pretty much got it right. When either my wife or I travel by car without the other, we run it in the car. For instance, last year I went to a conference in Atlanta. Drove their from Tampa. My wife was able to get a "warm and fuzzy" anytime she wanted to by checking the website and seeing where the car was.

W0DLM
One of the things that I am not sure of is how well the APRS system would work in some of the more isolated areas of BC around Desolation Sound. Since it would be the 2M band I don't know if other APRS receivers on other boats would act similarly to a home station APRS and retransmit a packet in the hope that it would reach a digipeater.
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Old 02-17-2017, 12:14 PM   #17
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I'm an old HAM operator.. with the satellite prices coming down and personal beacon localizer widely available and with affordable prices, HAM stuff onboard are more and more not necessary.
I still operating PACTOR4 and other different digital system just for experimentation. Install a PACTOR installation is very expensive and APRS system is not necessary in a boat.
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Old 02-17-2017, 12:17 PM   #18
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I'm an old HAM operator.. with the satellite prices coming down and personal beacon localizer widely available and with affordable prices, HAM stuff onboard are more and more not necessary.
I still operating PACTOR4 and other different digital system just for experimentation. Install a PACTOR installation is very expensive and APRS system is not necessary in a boat.
Thanks, I appreciate the perspective. It helps as I try to learn about this.
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Old 02-17-2017, 03:31 PM   #19
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As I mentioned initially my interest is primarily for communication with family. We would like them to know where we are and to be able to reliably communicate with them. With our first grandchild on the way, my wife really doesn't want to be out of touch.

Ah.



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Old 02-17-2017, 03:47 PM   #20
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...As I mentioned initially my interest is primarily for communication with family. We would like them to know where we are and to be able to reliably communicate with them. With our first grandchild on the way, my wife really doesn't want to be out of touch...
Dave: You're in the same situation as several of our friends. They went with sat phones. It sounds like it's easier, more user friendly, cheaper and better connectivity plus able to do everything that your looking for and some extras.

Side Note: The coconut telegraph does not give Globalstar good reviews.
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