What communications radio do you have?

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Inquisitor
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What communications radio do you have?

Post by Inquisitor » Wed Nov 18, 2020 3:27 am

I've done a search on the forum, but most hits are way old and electronics seem to antiquate quickly. I have a hand-held, but have never used it... and certainly never in earnest. In another thread Chinook highly recommended a fixed radio. I always thought it was important; but I just never have been ready for the big research undertaking.

What's the big deal you ask? That being... I know ONLY enough to make my head hurt with the prospect of starting down this path. If I go for the big expenditure of a radio, I'd want it to integrate into the BIG PICTURE. I think the radio can/should integrate with a chart plotter to show AIS information. Once you say that, then who has better chart data influences the radio decision. And radar... who has best radar influences the radio decision. Sonar, battery management, bilge water level, (does BOAT's ballast tank level integrate? :) ) All these and a bazillion other things I don't know also integrate into the chart plotter and thus influence the radio decision. So... what I'm assuming when I buy a radio... I'm really buying "INTO" some company's whole electronics nightmare. Whose nightmare do you have?

Bonus question... VHF vs Shortwave - need both? Are they just short range vs long range or is there something more?

As always, I appreciate your all's experience. Thanks.
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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Tomfoolery » Wed Nov 18, 2020 5:21 am

I have an old iCom fixed VHF with an antenna on top of the mast. I also have a spare radio that looks identical.

Then there's the high-end Standard Horizon hand-held VHF that's being safely stored on the bottom of Lake Ontario, where nobody can steal it.

And finally, the new floating hand-held VHF with led strobe, in case I decide to store another radio on the bottom of Lake Ontario for safe keeping.

I really miss that SH radio. <heavy sigh> :(

Remember that marine VHF signals are line-of-sight (short wavelength, being 155-161 MHz or thereabouts), so tx/rx distances are mostly dependent on height above ground/water. Putting it up on the top of the mast gives you the best range you're going to get. Hand-helds usually have at least two power settings (I think mine has three), so you can both save power and not step on other folks' communications when you don't need higher wattage. I seem to remember that 6W is the max for hand-helds. But no matter the wattage, which is limited by the FCC (25W for fixed, I think?), if the antenna is close to the surface, the signal isn't going to go very far.

Hand-helds are great for bridge/lock opening requests, or talking to other boaters near by, and they're just darned convenient. I never use my fixed radio. But if it hits the fan in a blow, I want that higher wattage with the antenna up as high as it can be, thank you very much.

Don't know anything about short-wave radio other than the wavelengths are much longer than the really short wavelength of marine VHF (11-120 meters vs 1.9 meters for marine VHF, I think). Long enough that you can skip the signal off the ionosphere, and get crazy distances out of them. Marine VHF is strictly line of sight, though the signals do 'bend' a little, so practical distances can be a little longer than theoretical straight-line distances.

And if putting an antenna on top of the mast, use a 3dB gain (short) antenna. Higher gain antennas have a flatter pattern, and while good for power boats that stay more or less level, they're not so good for sailboats that heel. Higher gain but closer to the water is probably not as good as lower gain but higher off the water, especially when heeled.

There are at least a few folks around here that really know this stuff, so I'll leave it there.
Tom
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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Russ » Wed Nov 18, 2020 7:05 am

I wouldn't overthink this too much.

Consider your needs and where you boat.
We sail on a mountain lake with mostly yahoos on wakeboats, pontoon boats, fishermen and a few actual sailboats.
I would bet NONE of those use AIS. We don't get fog so radar is not necessary. Now if I boated in Puget Sound, those tools might be handy.

I have a 25w VHF with mast antenna for range reasons as Tom pointed out. And a handheld for convenience (also as Tom pointed out). I can go all day and not hear a single hail. One marina monitors VHF ch16. If I got into trouble, my hope would be I could hail that marina and beg for help. We have no patrols or coast guard.
When I lived back east and sailed up through NY harbor to LI sound, the radio was so busy.

Unless you are going offshore blue water, short wave isn't for our class of boat.

Think about what your needs are and why. For me, the VHF is a safety thing. Also a cell phone. Having the ability to reach help.

The one piece of electronics that I find most useful is the chartploter. I can't get lost, it's a lake. But at sea level, it's hard to judge topagraphy. Plus, I have certain hazards marked on the plotter so I can be sure to avoid them.
--Russ

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Spector » Wed Nov 18, 2020 7:10 am

I have fixed and handheld as well. This would be my 'won the lottery' radio
https://www2.vespermarine.com/cortex
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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Be Free » Wed Nov 18, 2020 8:06 am

I have a fixed VHF connected to an antenna on the top of the mast. I also have one mounted on the cockpit rail I can use when the mast is not up (more on that later). I keep an inexpensive handheld in the cockpit. Later this year I will be installing a standalone AIS transceiver that will integrate with my chart plotter.

I decided on a standalone AIS because I wanted the best AIS processing at the lowest price. I did not need another screen to display AIS targets (the ones on the radios are a joke compared to what the chart plotter can display. I wanted a transceiver because our 26' fiberglass boats don't return much on radar. I want to see and to be seen when I'm offshore. If you are primarily on inland lakes and rivers this may not be as useful.

The handheld in the cockpit is easier to hear when I'm underway. I sail single handed 90% of the time so I can't leave the helm to use the radio in the cabin (at least not until I get the autopilot installed 8) ). I use it mostly to monitor channel 16 (required in the US if you have VHF) and to communicate with bridges.

The VHF in the cabin is primarily a safety device. It has the power and the range to communicate much farther than the handheld. That brings us back to the point made in an earlier post about VHF being line of sight.

The antenna mounted on the cockpit rail has a maximum range of about 3.1 miles. It does not matter if the radio is using the 5W or the 25W power setting, it is only going to reach to the horizon and that is 3.1 miles at that height. How far you can communicate with someone over the horizon is a function of how high their antenna is. All you can add to the equation is your 3.1 miles if you are mounted on the rail.

The same radio using the antenna mounted on the top of the mast will reach 8.4 miles. That extra 5+ miles could be the difference of being heard (or hearing) when you are offshore. The extra power of a fixed (vs handheld) radio will help you be understood at greater distances.

My recommendation would be:
  • Inland lakes and rivers, distance to shore in any direction <5 miles, light to moderate traffic - handheld VHF and/or rail mounted antenna with fixed VHF.
  • Inland or offshore >5 miles to shore in any direction, light to moderate traffic - fixed VHF with mast mounted antenna. Handheld recommended (redundancy). AIS optional.
  • Inland or offshore, >5 miles to shore in any direction, moderate to heavy traffic and/or reduced visibility (ex: fog or night) - Fixed VHF with mast mounted antenna, handheld (redundancy), AIS highly recommended.
Unless you are planning to go well offshore (50 miles+) and plan to spend a lot of money on radios and licensing shortwave communication would be overkill.

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by NiceAft » Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:15 am

I don't sail offshore, but I do sail on a busy commercial river (Delaware), and hopefully will do a trip to the Chesapeake this summer, so AIS is important to me.

This is the radio I have.
Image

My antenna is mounted on top of my mast arch.

AIS information shows on my chart plotter.

Image

I also have two hand held floating VHF radios. I actually get more use from them when not on the boat. When we are on a cruise ship (not for a while), we use them as walkie talkies. Not legal use, but we use a channel not used by the ship.
Image
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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Inquisitor » Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:32 am

Russ wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 7:05 am
I wouldn't overthink this too much.

Consider your needs and where you boat.
Oh I agree... I was mainly on lakes where yahoos are common. I eventually got a Standard Horizons HX850S because I started doing costal stuff and did group sails. Now that I'm going to be in more shipping lanes, ICW and maybe off-shore to Bahamas some day, I think AIS and a fixed radio is justified.

But I want it to work with the chart plotter instead of having relying on 1" screen. Being tied to computers all my career, the eyes are just not what they use to. :cry:
Odysseus, expert on the Siren's call

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Inquisitor » Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:41 am

Be Free wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 8:06 am
... I decided on a standalone AIS because I wanted the best AIS processing at the lowest price.
Besides A and B, I didn't know there was different processing options. What do I need to be looking for?

And I just assumed that if a radio already has the GPS and DSC (my decade old Standard Horizons hand unit has those) that adding AIS logic was relatively trivial vs having to repeat that GPS, and radio gear in a stand-alone AIS transceiver. As long as the radio interfaces with the bigger screen chart plotter... what features would I be giving up?
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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Inquisitor » Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:43 am

NiceAft wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:15 am
This is the radio I have.
Image

AIS information shows on my chart plotter.
Image

Ok?... You have Standard Horizions radio and Garmin chart plotter. Is there something special about those two or do all radios with AIS capability work with all chart plotters. I've heard a little about NMEA communications, but I assumed that companies try to lock you in to their product line by making features that only work when of the same manufacturer. And if so... what am I looking for that says a radio, AIS, radar, sonar of one brand or another will all show up as desired on any other brand of chart plotter? If it is simply being NMEA compliant then I can buy a better (or save money) on each based on my needs.
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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Chinook » Wed Nov 18, 2020 1:39 pm

To add to the discussion, when heading out to the Bahamas or down to the Sea of Cortez, receiving weather information becomes a challenge. You quickly get beyond the range of weather information via VHF weather channel reception. Local am/fm radio weather reports are limited to unavailable, and of no use in Mexico unless you're fluent in Spanish. The solution which worked for us was to buy a portable single side band receiver. Cruiser net broadcasts for pleasure boat cruisers are aimed at both areas. You need to know the broadcast frequencies used, as well as the time of day when they go out. Tuning the appropriate station in was tricky, but once I got the hang of it, I could nearly always receive helpful and timely weather information. This problem doesn't exist when cruising Canadian waters, since Canada broadcasts weather information via VHF weather channels, similar to the US. Main difference is that, being a bilingual country, you sometimes have to wait through the French language portion of the broadcast.

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by NiceAft » Wed Nov 18, 2020 4:38 pm

Inquisitor wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:43 am
NiceAft wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 10:15 am
This is the radio I have.
Image

AIS information shows on my chart plotter.
Image

Ok?... You have Standard Horizions radio and Garmin chart plotter. Is there something special about those two or do all radios with AIS capability work with all chart plotters. I've heard a little about NMEA communications, but I assumed that companies try to lock you in to their product line by making features that only work when of the same manufacturer. And if so... what am I looking for that says a radio, AIS, radar, sonar of one brand or another will all show up as desired on any other brand of chart plotter? If it is simply being NMEA compliant then I can buy a better (or save money) on each based on my needs.
Both of my units are at least four years old. Any information given may not be applicable to newer units.

Contact the manufactures and do your due diligence. In today’s world, technology is advancing at lightning speed, but you already know that.
Ray ~~_/)~~

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Highlander » Wed Nov 18, 2020 5:13 pm

Well lots of good advise on here I must say :)
I have raymarine auto pilot , MFD gps & radar , em-trak ais "B" newer version almost equal to "A" comercial , two VHF hand held radio,s stored onboard Sorry Tom :P , one VHF base station

Image

Image

AIS on left , next marine cell ph booster ant. , next top secret :wink: , next search light , next wind inst., next TV Ant. next VHF Ant. , below radar


Image

AIS




Image
AIS with GPS


Image

Image

Image

Image

a lot of people get by with a lot less just depends on ur sailing area & schedule & $$$ , remember what ever u buy will b obsolete in 6-10 yrs sadly , won,t b long & u,ll b able all this in one unit but then if it breaks down , who wants all their eggs in one basket :?

hope this helps u out :)

J 8)

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Be Free » Wed Nov 18, 2020 7:16 pm

Inquisitor wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:41 am
Besides A and B, I didn't know there was different processing options. What do I need to be looking for?

And I just assumed that if a radio already has the GPS and DSC (my decade old Standard Horizons hand unit has those) that adding AIS logic was relatively trivial vs having to repeat that GPS, and radio gear in a stand-alone AIS transceiver. As long as the radio interfaces with the bigger screen chart plotter... what features would I be giving up?
It was no so much giving up features as paying a premium for less value. The radio with a small screen and an AIS receiver costs almost as much as a good AIS transceiver. I already have an MFD with a much larger screen in the cockpit and the NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 networks to interface the AIS with it.

I'm not aware of any way to add AIS logic to an existing radio other than installing an additional receiver or transceiver. I'm not sure what you mean by that. :?

If you have or are considering a combination VHF and AIS transceiver (not receive only) and if you plan to interface it with a bigger screen chart plotter you will not be sacrificing any features that I can think of. I'm also not aware of any radio that meets that description under $1000. If you don't already have a compatible NMEA network on your boat you should expect to pay a few hundred dollars more installing it yourself.

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Be Free » Wed Nov 18, 2020 7:34 pm

Inquisitor wrote:
Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:43 am
Ok?... You have Standard Horizions radio and Garmin chart plotter. Is there something special about those two or do all radios with AIS capability work with all chart plotters. I've heard a little about NMEA communications, but I assumed that companies try to lock you in to their product line by making features that only work when of the same manufacturer. And if so... what am I looking for that says a radio, AIS, radar, sonar of one brand or another will all show up as desired on any other brand of chart plotter? If it is simply being NMEA compliant then I can buy a better (or save money) on each based on my needs.
The Garmin 700 series chart plotter can communicate with the AIS using either version of the NMEA standard. The older NMEA 0183 is a serial protocol similar (but not identical) to the old serial protocols that your PC used to use. The newer, faster, easier, and more expensive version, NMEA 2000 is a variation of the CANBUS protocol that your car uses. The cable looks a lot like Ethernet but it is most decidedly different. Neither version is vendor specific (being a standard) but both standards allow for proprietary extensions to be added to it. Generally, if the device says it is NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000 compatible it will be able to communicate with another device making the same claim.

Most AIS equipped devices can also use one or both of these NMEA versions. There are some that use a proprietary protocol and some that will not communicate at all except through their own screens. If you have a choice, use NMEA 2000. It costs a little more to get started with it but it will be much less work in the long run.

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Re: What communications radio do you have?

Post by Be Free » Wed Nov 18, 2020 7:41 pm

I'm feeling good about my choices. I have the same chart plotter as Nice Aft and had already decided on the same AIS as Highlander :) .

Tom, I'm afraid I have to admit I still have my handheld as well, but I did put a much more expensive cell phone on the bottom of the St. Johns river when I leaned over to open my ballast valve. :cry:

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