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Marine Communications. Safety at Sea Seminar. Your Host – A.J. ‘Doc’ Holub. Licensed Radio Officer, U.S. Merchant Marine (ret) Commercial Radiotelegraph Operator License Commercial Radiotelephone Operator License GMDSS Operator/Maintainer License Amateur Radio License, Extra Class

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marine communications

Marine Communications

Safety at Sea Seminar

your host a j doc holub
Your Host – A.J. ‘Doc’ Holub

Licensed Radio Officer, U.S.

Merchant Marine (ret)

Commercial Radiotelegraph

Operator License

Commercial Radiotelephone

Operator License

GMDSS Operator/Maintainer License

Amateur Radio License, Extra Class

Instructor, Marine Electrical Systems, Sailing

Academy, Orange Coast College

what types of communications
What Types of Communications?
  • Emergency
  • Personal
  • Business
isaf required equipment
ISAF Required Equipment

VHF radio

VHF hand held

SSB transceiver or satellite phone

suggestions before you depart
Suggestions Before You Depart

Locate communications equipment

Find out how to activate

Determine if there is a communications protocol

Be prepared for an emergency

if you have iridium satellite phone
If You Have Iridium Satellite Phone

Iridium does not have Operator Assistance.

Before departing, program into your Iridium critical

telephone numbers: Coast Guard station at point of

departure; Coast Guard in any intermediate points;

Coast Guard at destination point; medical assistance

numbers if you have assistance contracts; other

medical emergency numbers you might require.

a few other words before we start
A Few Other Words Before We Start

On February 1, 1999 all merchant vessels worldwide

were required to have GMDSS (Global Marine

Distress Safety System) installed aboard. This system

Automatically monitors VHF DSC (Digital Selective

Calling) channel 70 plus high frequency DSC channels.

Many private vessels also have installed at least VHF

DSC equipped radios. This is important in case of


gmdss continued
GMDSS Continued:
  • You must register your vessel and receive a free MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identifier) number.
  • Register on-line at Boat US or FCC.
  • Follow setup instructions for your DSC VHF.
  • More information later in this presentation.
let s talk emergencies
Let’s Talk Emergencies


Life, limb or ship in imminent danger.


Houston, I’ve got a problem.


Anyone around me, I’m going to do something.

communications options
Communications Options

VHF….. Close by

SSB/HAM….. World wide (maybe)

SATELLITE….. World wide, instant

o k we have a medical emergency
O.K., We Have a Medical Emergency
  • It’s 0300 and there is a medical emergency on board.
  • If in race, and doctor close by, try VHF.
  • Otherwise, Iridium or other satellite telephone.
  • Be able to describe the problem.
  • Follow their advice.
ship emergency imminent disaster
Ship Emergency – Imminent Disaster
  • If you think there is help nearby, initiate VHF DSC call (press the red button). It should wake up the watch at the other end. Standby on Channel 16.
  • If no reply, pick up microphone and call Mayday on Channel 16.
  • If still no reply, use Iridium or use EPIRB.
how do you broadcast a vhf mayday
How Do You Broadcast a VHF Mayday?

Set your vhf radio to Channel 16.

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”

“This is the sailing vessel Morning Light, Morning Light, Morning Light”

“Any vessel, please answer channel one-six”

(Listen for answer, repeat if necessary – but not too long)

(Watch your adrenalin!)

when if you receive an answer
When/If You Receive an Answer

“Vessel Name” (answering vessel)

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday”

“This is the sailing vessel Morning Light, Morning Light, Morning Light”

“We are taking on water and we’re unable to stop it.”

“We are located at 24 degrees 15 point 45 minutes north, 151 degrees 56 point 80 minutes west.”

“Morning Light is a 52 foot sailboat with a tan deck and blue hull.”

“There are 15 persons on board. We have an EPIRB and three life rafts.”

“This is the sailing vessel Morning Light, standing by on Channel one-six.”

if you acknowledge a mayday call
If You Acknowledge a Mayday Call
  • Listen carefully to see if other vessels answer. Do not cause interference. If no other vessel answers:
  • Acknowledge that you are prepared to render assistance.
  • If unable to render assistance, be prepared to relay information to other vessels or appropriate authorities.
  • Relay this information to the Mayday calling vessel.
  • You temporarily are in charge of the situation until you are able to pass it off to another vessel or authority.
  • You may be the relay vessel until assistance arrives.
satellite gmdss procedure
Satellite GMDSS Procedure
  • If you have not received an answer on your VHF calls:
  • If you are equipped with a satellite GMDSS certified system (Inmarsat C), activate the red button.
  • Stand by for answer.
if no gmdss response
If No GMDSS Response
  • GMDSS satellite system is worldwide but it could be possible that you do not receive a response because your own equipment is inoperative.
  • If you have an Iridium telephone, call preprogrammed emergency numbers (USCG, etc)
  • Activate your 406 mhz EPIRB, hopefully equipped with GPS.
  • Wait patiently.
routine personal communications
Routine Personal Communications
  • We’ve been out for a week and I want to let my family know our location and condition.
  • I want to check in with the daily ham radio network and give location, weather and condition.
  • I just want to yack with other sailors.
  • I want to check in to a ship-to-ship network.
business communications
Business Communications
  • We need some replacement parts when we get ashore.
  • Something has broken down and I have to speak with a shore side technician.
  • Be aware of restrictions on business communications.
before we talk equipment
Before We Talk Equipment…

In case you are in charge of communications or

equipping a vessel, there are some questions:

qualifying questions
Qualifying Questions
  • How far do you want to communicate?
  • With whom?
  • How often will you use it?
  • How important is the message?
  • How much skill is reasonable to expect of the operator?
how far do you want to communicate
How Far Do You Want to Communicate?
  • Effective transmission distances range from line of sight to worldwide.
  • What is propagation?
  • Communicating with more powerful devices may interfere with other communications.
  • High power equipment will affect battery life.
what kind of communications
What Kind of Communications?
  • Voice
  • Data (e-mail)
  • Fax
  • Internet Access
  • Emergency
portable or fixed mounted
Portable or Fixed Mounted?
  • Portables:
    • Independent from ship’s systems
    • Convenient
  • Fixed mounted units:

May have better antenna installations

Higher power

with whom do you want to communicate
With Whom Do You Want to Communicate?
  • Coast Guard or other rescue agencies
  • Other vessels
    • Recreational
    • Commercial
  • Telephone network
  • Internet
    • E-mail
    • Web Browsing
  • Land stations (bridge tenders, YCs)
how often will you use it
How often Will You Use It?
  • Will impact total cost of operation

Battery sizes, generators, fuel

  • Monthly charges
  • Familiarity, ease of operation
how much skill is reasonable to expect of the operator
How Much Skill is Reasonable to Expect of the Operator?
  • Ham, in particular, is difficult for non-Hams to operate (and illegal)
  • SSBs have a lesser but still challenging operating system.
  • Other systems are as familiar as a portable phone
now let s communicate
Now Let’s Communicate
  • VHF
  • Single Side Band (a misnomer)
  • Ham Radio
  • Email (commercial – ham)
  • Portable Satellite (Iridium)
  • Fixed Satellite (Inmarsat C - M)
a word about licensing
A Word About Licensing
  • VHF U.S. coastwise, no license.
  • VHF foreign – ship/operator license (ROP).
  • SSB worldwide – ship/operator license (MROP).
  • Ham – U.S. license and permission if foreign.
  • Satellite – no license but contract.

Contact for information and forms

Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit

Marine Radio Operator Permit (OCC classes)

Ship Radio Station License

handheld vhf
Handheld VHF

Range: 3 miles (another boat) to 20 miles (CG tower)

Cost: $100 to $300

Best Uses: Cockpit safety, ship to dinghy, small boats (inflatables, kayaks)

Limitations: Some uses are illegal but handy, short range, few channels

fixed mount vhf
Fixed Mount VHF

Range: 20-60 miles (1.2 x sqrt H in feet)

Cost: $100 to $500

Best Uses: General boat to boat communications

Coast Guard; most cost-effective safety item on board if within range

Probably Digital Selective Calling

Limitations: Marine only, line of sight range

isaf special regs for vhf
ISAF Special Regs for VHF
  • Radio shall have 25W output
  • Masthead antenna
  • No more than 40% power loss due to cable
    • <50’ RG-8X
    • 50-90’ RG-8U
    • 90-140’ 9913F
    • 140-230’ LMR600
  • Handheld VHF in addition to fixed mount
vhf antenna considerations
VHF Antenna Considerations
  • Antenna height largely controls transmit range
  • Higher gain antennas can focus signal to increase punch or power
  • Boats which roll require a wider transmission angle to avoid “clipping”
  • Use the largest lead-in wire (coax) that can be used
    • ORC Regulations
  • Use coax connectors for all terminations
vhf antenna considerations40
VHF Antenna Considerations

Stable boats may be able to use a narrow-beam high-gain antenna

Boats which heel or roll may be better off with a wide-beam low-gain antenna

a word about digital selective calling
A Word About Digital Selective Calling
  • New safety requirement
  • Free registration
  • Unique vessel identifier
  • Part of GMDSS (Global Marine Distress Safety System)
  • Currently supplied on fixed VHF and some other communications equipment
  • Not yet monitored by Coast Guard

Range: Worldwide

Cost: $1500-$2500 plus $1.49 per minute plus $20 per month Also rental

Best Uses: Portable voice communications where there is no cellular, or where phone calls are expensive

Limitations: Hard to know if they can afford to replace LEO satellites

2400 baud for data, 9600 with compression

ssb ham combined transceiver
SSB/Ham Combined Transceiver

Range: Worldwide

Cost: $2,000-$3,000 plus installation

Best Uses: Long distance ship to ship voice communications, Coast Guard, and E-mail

Rugged, marinized designs

Limitations: Learning curve, complicated installation, time sensitive

High current draw on Xmit

ham ssb differences
Ham/SSB Differences
  • SSB (commercial) radios are “channelized”

Channel 802, 1206, etc by turn of knob

Specific channels set aside for specific uses.

Ship-to-ship; ship-to-shore

  • Ham radio has continuous coverage in specified bands.
  • Used to require two separate radios.
  • Newer equipment (Icom 710) combines.
hf antenna considerations
HF Antenna Considerations
  • Two general types
    • 23’ fiberglass whip antennas
    • Insulated wire antennas
  • Requires an antenna tuner to match frequency to wire length
  • Requires a “counterpoise” in contact with water or coupled to water
e mail via ssb or ham
E-mail via SSB or Ham
  • Requires a radio, laptop, and TNC (Terminal Node Controller, $650)
  • Slow transmission rates
  • Several non-profit services (Sailmail and WinLink)
  • Commercial WLO Radio (
  • 10 minute per day limit (Sailmail)
  • Very inexpensive compared to other options
  • HAM transmissions limited by non-commercial rules
block diagram of ssb e mail
Block Diagram of SSB E-mail




SSB Radio

Antenna Tuner



standard c inmarsat c
Standard C/Inmarsat C

Range: Worldwide

Cost: $2,500 plus $0.25 for 32 characters

Best Uses: Reliable messages worldwide

Emergency position reporting

Free text weather 4X per day for free

Small antenna, relatively simple installation

Limitations: Expensive if brevity is not your forte

inmarsat mini m55
Inmarsat Mini-M

Range: Nearly worldwide

Cost: $3,000 (non-stabilized to $6,000 stabilized)

$2.50 per minute

Best Usages: Reliable voice, fax and data


Limitations: Expensive

  • 406 MHz Beacons
    • Category 1 (hydrostatic release)
    • Category 2 (manual release)
    • PLB
    • 121.5 not monitored after 1 Feb 2009
  • Unique encoding for each unit
  • Register it with NOAA (it’s free!)
  • World wide coverage
  • Available with GPS signal transmission potential
  • Waterproof, reliable, buoyant, rugged
gmdss global marine distress safety system
GMDSSGlobal Marine Distress & Safety System
  • Evolved from 1979 meeting of IMO (International Maritime Organization)
  • Satellite- and terrestrial radio-based
  • Changed from ship-to-ship to ship-to-shore
    • Uses Rescue Coordination Centers
    • End of Morse Code
    • Enables automatic transmissions
    • Reduces need to monitor emergency frequencies
  • Applies to ships over 300 gross tons
  • Cost me my job….
additional notes
Additional Notes
  • National Distress Response System (NDRS)
    • VHF based system, coastal and 30 miles out.
    • Digitally based system plus voice
    • Direction finding ability by Coast Guard using multiple towers or GPS input
    • Automated broadcasts
    • Up to six emergency channels
    • RCCs connected to NDRS
    • Completion by end of 2007 or 2008 (hopefully)
the end
The End
  • Thank you for your attention
  • This presentation available at