An icom M802 package can be had for less that $3k… but the installation may run up anywhere up to $5k hence the OP’s ~$8k cost and request for alternatives. The bulk of cost (for pretty much anything in a boat) is always in installation…not the cost of electronics, as boats have unique issues regarding their ground.
As a sailor, when faced with a budgetary issue of installing a marine SSB radio system, IMO the answer is most definitely not “get a ham radio and your license”…the answer is most definitely “get a good SSB portable with an external antenna input”.
To get valuable weather resources such as Chris Parker (www.mwxc.com), weatherfax and eavesdop on atlantic nets, a quality portable SSB receiver is all that is required, provided that some sort of external antenna is used.
In my case, in the Bahamas, a 25ft length of wire semi permanently rigged to the flag halyard presented a strong and clear enough signal to reliably get the morning weather, and any weatherfax data I needed (along with the laptop).
My radio back then was the Satellit 800, and this year that behemoth will be replaced with a Tecsun PL-880… such a setup is ALL that is required.
Thank you for your input, Ian! It’s been seven years since we originally posted that article about HF receivers and transceivers on boats and yachts. I’m curious if any other readers might have suggestions they would care to share. What has works for you? Please comment!
“I have all three of the portables mentioned, the Sony SW7600GR, the Sangean 909X, and the Tecsun PL-660. The latter is currently my portable of choice. Having just read this post re radios afloat I took the time to suck down a fax from Charleville, Queensland.
Frank’s Tecsun PL-660 and Macbook Pro decoding a weather fax with Cocoa Modem 2.0 (Click to enlarge)
This was with the Tecsun 660 attached directly to a (near) horizontal longwire at my home QTH, inserted directly into a Macbook Pro running CocoaModem 2.0 via the headphone socket on the Tecsun.
I have had similar results with the Sony and the Sangean
To all intents the result is as good as with my other radios ( K5000 etc.).
Screenshot of the weather fax image (Click to enlarge)
However if I was starting from scratch afloat I would get an Icom IC-718. Only $689.95 from Universal Radio. You may choose to simply use it as a receiver or as a Ham TX/RX. However it can also be ‘opened up’ with a simple diode snip to transmit on all the marine bands. Not strictly legal [nor is the IC-718 designed for those bands] but there are a lot of ‘opened’ 718s out there and in an emergency you can transmit a mayday on anything…. even a couple of jam tins and string although you may need a fair old length of string….
If you wish to transmit on your IC-718 you will need a tuner. I have an LDG IT-100 on mine.
Hooking up a consumer receiver to a marine antenna….? Simply make up a pigtail with a 3.5mm jack at one end and a BNC or SO -259 at the other.
Non-marine radios afloat…. ? I had an IC-735 aboard from Cyprus (1992) until Patagonia (2007). Since 2007 I have had an IC-706Mk2G afloat…. no problem with either one.”
SWLing Post reader, Bob, recently emailed the following question:
“My wife and I live on a boat and plan to go to the Bahamas this season. We cannot afford to install a SSB radio – costs $7K to $8K. But we need to be able to hear the weather reports and forecasts
So we are thinking of just getting a SW radio receiver.
A friend has purchased a Grundig satellite 750 but it does not seem to have the range, and he has not been successful connecting an antenna.
I think I need a SW radio I can connect to an antenna. I am thinking of a CommRadio CR-1 ?
What do you think?”
Thanks for your question, Bob. I’m going to give you a few suggestions, then open this one up to your fellow SWLing Post readers, as I suspect there may be some with experience setting up and using an HF receiver on the water.
Important: As Bryan commented, just after I posted this review, readers should note that none of the receivers/transceivers I offer here are designed for maritime use, thus they lack features like GMDSS, DSC and DGPS and have no extra protection from the corrosion of salt water on their circuit boards.
The CommRadio CR-1
For my part, as an inlander, I think you’re on the right track with the CommRadio CR-1 or CR-1a. Not only will it cover the entire HF spectrum (for HF weather fax, RTTY and many ship-to-shore communications), but it also covers VHF (64 – 260 MHz) and UHF (437 – 512 MHz) frequencies. The CR-1 is also a very stable receiver and covers all of the modes you’ll need (upper side-band, lower side-band, AM and FM).
If you’re space conscious, fortunately the CR-1 has a very small footprint; you could mount it nearly anywhere. The CR-1 also has a built-in battery pack and can run/charge on an array of DC voltages (6-18 VDC).
You may also wish to consider the Alinco DX-R8T (see our review) or the Icom R-75. The Alinco has a detachable face plate, thus may also be easily accommodated. The Icom R-75 is a great receiver for your application, as well, but is larger than the CR-1 and does not have a detachable face plate option.
Again, I think you’re on the right track with the CommRadio CR-1.
Another option to consider…general coverage ham transceiver
The Kenwood TS-480SAT is full-featured, small, and has a detachable face plate.
It’s a simple process–even elementary kids do it–and the license no longer requires a knowledge of Morse code (CW), (although I am a devotee of code and would suggest pursuing a knowledge of this at a future date).
Moreover, the testing material will make for an excellent primer on radio communications, so if something goes wrong in the middle of the ocean, you’ll be better prepared to diagnose and fix it.
The Yaesu FT-857D
Additionally, in case of an emergency, a ham radio transceiver would provide yet another means of calling SOS to a community that is well-versed in handling emergency communications.
Ham radio transceivers also offer excellent stability and the modes you’ll need to decode any voice or digital mode.
Keeping in mind that you’ll need a transceiver 1) in the same price range as the CR-1, 2) that is compact or has a detachable face plate, 3) has a general coverage receiver, and 4) is rated for 100 watts of output power, I would suggest the following:
The Alinco DX-SR8T
The Alinco DX-SR8T. While not a small radio, this rig has a detachable face plate (with optional extension cord), a sensitive receiver and is a great value at $520 new. I favorably reviewed the receiver-only version of this radio two years ago. I’ve heard that the receiver in the DX-R8T is identical to the one in the DX-SR8T. I would purchase this from Universal Radio or Ham Radio Outlet.
The Elecraft KX2
The Elecraft KX3 or Elecraft KX2 are two of my favorite general coverage transceivers–I own both. They can both be powered from a modest 12 VDC source and/or internal batteries. Both are limited to QRP (12 or 15W) transmit power, but an external portable 100W amp can be added. Both are exceptional radios in terms of performance.
The Kenwood TS-480SAT. Also worth considering, this transceiver has an excellent receiver with better filters and a smaller footprint than the Alinco DX-SR8T. Though it costs nearly twice as much as the Alinco, it’s on sale until 11/30/13 for $974 from Universal Radio.
The Yaesu FT-857D. This is probably the most compact among the transceiver options listed above. The FT-857D has been on the market for many years and has proven itself a capable mobile transceiver. The detachable face plate could easily be mounted anywhere you wish. The Yaesu FT-857D can be purchased at Universal radio or Ham Radio Outlet.
The Icom IC-7000 is an excellent choice for maritime operation. It’s possible to find a used one at a good value.
Of course, you will need a good HF antenna for any of these options to work, even the CommRadio CR-1; a radio, after all, is only as good as its antenna. The type of antenna you can use will be limited by your ability to mount it on on your boat: some are limited-space wire antennas, others are whip antennas. Make sure the antenna will resonate on the frequencies important for your maritime travels.
Fortunately, most of the retailers listed above have experience in this capacity.
If I were on a boat, I would also carry a portable shortwave radio as a backup. Some to consider are the Tecsun PL-660, Tecsun PL-880, Sony ICF-SW7600GR or the Sangean 909X. All of these have SSB mode and good sensitivity, selectivity and stability, although the Sangean ATS-909X requires an external antenna for optimal sensitivity.
There are also a few compact travel radios worth considering as well, although sensitivity generally isn’t as good as the larger, full-featured portables mentioned above. I would consider the CountyComm GP-SSB, Digitech AR-1780, or the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB as a nice spare radio to tuck away on board.
Hope this helps, Bob! Happy sailing!
SWLing Post readers: if you have experience in maritime HF operation, we welcome your comments and suggestions…