A single side band radio with a modem for email and weather downloads was one of the top items to get done before setting on my big trip. I had a satellite phone as backup but didn’t want to it for downloads because of the minute costs. Also good to have a second system.
The goodies arrived in the post:
ICOM M802 Marine HF SSB Radio
ICOM AT-140 Automatic Tuner
Pactor III Modem
KISS Grounding system
The first problem I had was where to put the main unit. I only had space for the controller and speaker next to the chart table and wanted the unit as far from the engine as possible (away from big metal objects which could cause interference. I decided to build an shelf in an existing cabinet to use the unused space at the top. However this cabinet was circular so had some fun with a jigsaw cutting the right shape 😉
The new shelf with the main unit mounting bracket bolted on.
I also added a couple of holes with grills for ventilation because the unit can get very hot with it is transmitting at full power.
I then bolted the shelf in place and wired in the main unit. Boom!
Probably the most complicated part of the wiring was terminating the RG8 coax wire. Most connectors were soldered but this was a hit and miss process and soldering was brittle. It could break with all the movement on the boat. I came across connectors that only needed crimping and were therefore more flexible.
First used a stripping tool to cut the braid, dialectric and center conductor to the right size for the connector.
The right sizes!
I then slid the crimp ferrule over the cable jacket
Inserted the cable into body of connector. Inner ferrule needed to slide under the braid
Made sure the braid butt against back of body and then slid the ferrule over the braid
Crimp the ferrule
And then crimped the center conducter
Another good crimp. Then cut the conductor to size. Easy as pie.
The next stop was to install the AT-140 antenna tuner at the stern of the boat. I attached the antenna wire to the backstay and use spaces to keep it off the non insulated section.
Grounding was the other complicated issue with the SSB installation. Many people install ground plates through the hull or copper plating etc, which was really involved. I decided to first try a simple solution to see if it worked: The KISS grounding system. I just connected it to the Tuner and then fixed it in a couple of places to the hull.
Once everything was installed I wanted to see if it worked. Amazingly it worked really well right off the bat. I was able to connect to the sailmail station in hawaii some 4000 miles away and send an email I was also able to download weather charts (see picture above). I was relieved!
The last part was building a little case to house the pactor modem near the chart table and computer. Job done!
Total cost: Around $4,000 mainly for the radio and modem.
Total project time: About 3 weeks after the items were delivered.
Update in 2012 after 13,000 miles of sailing.
No real issues at all, it worked great the whole way, apart from a couple of days when I use the satphone as backup. Not only did the SSB allow me to download weather and email for “free”, I also able to get onto the cruiser nets in the south pacific and keep in touch with our buddy boats. Not possible with the sat phone. All in an all, I an invaluable and reliable piece of kit. The KISS grounding proved itself as well, not need for elaborate and expensive thruhulls or copper plating.