Introduction to HF Radio For Bluewater Sailing Yachts
Updated 27 February 2022, version 1.1
Long Range Communication
The most interesting feature of HF radio (also known as SSB) is its ability to communicate voice and data over very long distances using "sky waves."
HF radio does not need satellites, Internet, or any other man made technology for it to work. Just your ship radio station and that of the station you are communicating with.
Your HF radio transmissions travel upwards to the Ionosphere and then refract back down to earth at the receiving location. The reception path is simply the reverse. Over longer distances, signals often need to hop by reflecting off the ocean.
Voice communications are typically with other recreational vessels, and maritime coast stations. HF radio has a role in both routine and emergency communications.
When connected to a Pactor Modem, an HF radio can send and receive email through Internet gateways located at various shore stations around the world.
An HF radio can be used to listen to weather forecasts broadcast by coast stations, and WeatherFax broadcasts which provide weather maps for the area you are transiting.
HF Radio Nets
When you transmit on your HF radio, every other yacht within radio range can hear what you are saying. Likewise you can hear them. An HF Radio Network, or "Net" for short is a "chat group" on the radio!
Most satellite voice services do not offer this capability, instead they are a phone call between two stations.
Radio Nets can be used to share information, help each other, and make new friends. People new to ocean cruising often tell me how important the HF Radio Nets were in their learning process, and in forming new friendships.
HF Radio Is Free To Use
Unlike satellite based services, HF radio has no ongoing costs. There is a modest to high upfront cost (depending on your requirements), a small cost to certify your crew as operators, and after that you can communicate to your hearts content without paying a cent to anybody.
Do I Need HF Radio?
If any of the following statements are true, you need an HF radio fitted to your vessel;
- I want HF radio to be my primary mode of voice communication with other vessels and coast stations.
- I want to be able to make a distress call that is heard by coast stations and commercial shipping as well as activate an EPIRB when in distress.
- I want to file daily position reports via HF radio to a coast station whilst on passage.
- I want to participate in HF radio nets, talking to other recreational vessels whilst on passage and when cruising.
- I want to be able to send email via HF radio rather than via a satellite connected device.
- I want to be able to listen to high seas weather broadcasts, and/or receive WeatherFax transmissions from coast stations whilst on passage.
- Authorities in the country my vessel is registered require me to carry an HF radio.
- I want a backup for my satellite telephone.
- I do not intend carrying a satellite phone, or satellite connected device that is capable of making voice calls to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Next read "Marine HF Radios For Bluewater Sailing Yachts"