Tag Archives: Maritime Radio

Ian’s portable setup for SSB and maritime weather monitoring

Photo by Jonathan Smith

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ian, who shared the following response to our post regarding the best shortwave receiver for you boat or yacht:

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!

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KPH Article on TechCrunch and Bay Area Backroads

Cypress tree avenue towards KPH. Photo by Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Van Hoy, who writes:

“The Last Radio Station,” an article about maritime radio station, KPH, is up on TechCrunch ( https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/18/the-last-radio-station/ ).

KPH is silent on maritime frequencies, but through the hard work of volunteers continues operation 24/7 with a 3-30MHz KiwiSDR receiver (http://198.40.45.23:8073/) and various activities throughout the year. Full information on all things KPH can be found the excellent Maritime Radio Historical Society Website (http://www.radiomarine.org/).

Finally an excellent “Bay Area Backroads” episode about KPH is available on Youtube:

Can you copy the CW message at the end of the show?

Please comment if you can copy the CW message!

Thanks to much for sharing this, Dan!

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Coast Guard considers dropping radio-based NAVTEX system

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tracy Wood, who shares the following article from Alaska Public Media:

For decades, the Coast Guard’s NAVTEX towers have broadcast from Cape Cod to Kodiak Island. The global system broadcasts weather and safety information to boats large and small.

The International Maritime Organization developed the NAVTEX system decades ago as a means to get weather and urgent information to ships on the water. It’s low-tech. Receivers spit out basic telex-type messages onto paper or on a screen.

“The most common thing that you would see is a weather message, but you will also get public safety information messages,” said Derrick Croinex, the Coast Guard chief of spectrum management and telecommunications.

“We need to replace it because the infrastructure is old and it’s failing,” Croinex said.

But before the federal government commits to an expensive upgrade, Croinex said it wants to gauge how vital the service really is.

Right now, the International Maritime Organization is working on upgrading the text-only NAVTEX system to something called NAVDAT. The new system will include images and graphics. And when that system is ready, larger vessels will be required to upgrade to it.

But not if the Coast Guard phases out these radio-based systems completely.

“Our view is, it may be better and more reliable for people to actually switch to satellite,” Croinex said.

But some mariners are urging the Coast Guard to keep the free, low-tech service rather than switch over to subscription-based satellites.[…]

Click here to read the full article at Alaska Public Media.

As Tracy also noted, NAVTEX is great because with a simple soundcard, SSB radio and text decoder you can grab the service reliably.

Thanks for sharing, Tracy!

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Classic portables onboard a 1919 Great Lakes tugboat

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Phil Ewing, who writes:

I know you’re always on the lookout for trips and visits so I thought of you when we were up in Wisconsin last week. There’s a maritime museum up in Sturgeon Bay, on the peninsula, that includes a 100 year-old tug. You can go aboard and climb all up and down…and they’ve got some great radios in the crew cabins as part of the displays of what life was like back when the ship was working.

There were a number of standard but interesting normal transistors but what really caught my eye were the Hallicrafters World Wave in the pilothouse and a fantastic pair of Trans-Oceanics in the cabins of the chief engineer and the captain.

The purpose of the visit really isn’t the radios — it’s about the working life of the Great Lakes and an old ship — so discovering them was a fantastic lagniappe.

[T]he appeal of shortwave in these circumstances is clear: Imagine you’re in the middle of Lake Superior towing a barge full of logs to be pulped, or some other unglamorous but essential Great Lakes cargo — maybe a barge full of big rocks to build a breakwater in, say, Sheboygan — and you come off watch in the middle of the night. Life on a ship can be deadly monotonous and deeply lonely but then picture yourself tuning in to the international band on your luxurious Zenith set … not bad since the iPad won’t be invented for another 40 or so years.

These pix also depict the engine order telegraph, which the captain in the pilothouse used to signal commands to the engine room. There was one for each of the two main engines, and duplicates in the pilothouse.

The captain moves the handle so that it indicates the speed he wants (e.g., Ahead Full) and the bottom needle on the telegraph in the engine room moves, ringing a bell. This is why an engineer might report he was ready to sail by saying he was standing by to “answer bells.” The engineers would select the speed on the engines and then move their own handle on their own telegraph to correspond with the captain’s order, signaling to the pilothouse they’d completed the instruction.

The engines are the white things pictured behind the telegraph and on which was stamped the brass plate also photographed here. The diesel engines were made by the Electro Motive Division of GM and replaced this ship’s original steam propulsion system. EMD is most famous for its pioneering and legendary freight locomotives, which led the way in “dieselization” after WWII in converting many railroads from their romantic but much less efficient and much dirtier steam power. But the company also made marine diesel engines as evidenced here and these served this ship for another three decades or so — just think about that. There also are still EMD GP30 locomotives from the 1960s still in service in some places in the U.S., according to what I read in this month’s Trains magazine.


Fascinating, Phil––what terrific vintage kit! Thanks for sharing those wonderful photos and descriptions with us. 

Yes, I can imagine SWLing would have been a vital entertainment outlet for those on working ships in the Great Lakes. No doubt they had access to a number of strong mediumwave stations on the coast, as well. What a way to while away the off-hours.

Click here to follow @PhilEwing on Twitter.

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Atlas Obscura features KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station

Cypress tree avenue towards KPH. Photo by Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia Commons

(Source: Atlas Obscura via Eric McFadden)

One of the most stunning sights of the Bay Area is the historic KPH Radio Station, also known as Marine Coast Station KPH. To reach the station, you must first pass through a clerestory tunnel of cypress trees near the Point Reyes National Seashore.[…]

KPH began providing Morse Code telegram service to ships at sea in the early 20th century, broadcasting from the Palace Hotel in San Francisco (where the station gets its PH call sign). The 1906 earthquake forced the station to move until it was eventually acquired by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and found its home in Marin County. The Receiving Station is a classic white Art Deco structure built in 1920. The transmitters themselves, in nearby Bolinas, are a similar style.

At the time, there were dozens of stations like KPH around the United States, though KPH was one of the biggest, sometimes referred to as “the wireless giant of the Pacific.” When the station fell into disuse, land contractors were set to demolish it, including its antennas, to build condominiums. But Globe Wireless acquired the site in 1997 and it was left untouched.[…]

Read the full article at Atlas Obscura.

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“Night of Nights” Returns Tonight!

Chief Operator Richard Dillman at Position 1 (Source: Maritime Radio Historical Society)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Brian Smith (W9IND), who writes:

The cast may be smaller than in previous years, but the “Night of Nights” nostalgia show will go on. At 8:01 p.m. Eastern Time today (0001 UTC July 13), two maritime CW stations operated by the Maritime Radio Historical Society will begin transmitting Morse code on shortwave and medium wave bands, while the Society’s amateur radio station will be active on four ham bands.

Venerable KPH will reappear tonight in the company of KFS and ham station K6KPH, all transmitting from a century-old Marconi site at Bolinas, California. They’ll be directed from a 1930 RCA station at 17400 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes National Seashore. Several previous participants will be absent this year, including ship-to-shore powerhouse WLO of Mobile, Alabama, and a quartet of Coast Guard stations.

The annual July 12 event commemorates the date in 1999 when commercial Morse code operations ceased in the United States. One year later, “Night of Nights” debuted in a defiant declaration that maritime CW stations would not go gentle into that good night.

Typically, the two 5 kw coast stations transmit “code wheels” (repeating messages), personal messages, and tributes to long-gone maritime stations and operators, remaining on the air till at least 0700 UTC. And K6KPH will not only be heard, but contacted by fellow amateur radio stations. A list of KPH, KFS and K6KPH frequencies can be found at www.radiomarine.org, including those used by ships. Reception reports go to P.O. Box 392, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.

The public is welcome to observe today’s event and tour the facility at Point Reyes. Doors open at 3 p.m. local (Pacific) time, and Morse aficionados are invited to operate K6KPH. Whisper the words “true believer” for a peek at the Treasure Room!

https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/events_nightofnights.htm

For a comprehensive list of frequencies please click here.

Many thanks for the notice, Brian! We’ll tune in!

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After 71 years, WLO operators go off the air

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Zach, who notes that WLO have announced that as of 04:59 UTC on July 1, 2018, “there there will no longer be 24/7 operators on duty at the Mobile, AL stations.”

Here’s a screenshot from their announcement on Facebook:
The end of an era indeed. Thanks for the tip, Zach.

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