Ah the mysteries of SSB!

I know what your thinking, whats he talking about, its really quite simple.


Well i’m no expert, but, as a youth I was an avid CB’er, transmitted very successfully around the world  on SSB,  built my own huge antenna, all be it illegally, got caught by the Home Office and was prosecuted. so my experience with transmitting and radio communications isn’t exactly zilch! but it is still a bewilderment to me.

Propagation, ground plane, background noise, squelch, sun spot activity, atmospherics, bounce and skip are all words that conjure up a nerdy type sitting in front of his or her radio set shouting call-signs and straining to hear a reply at all times of the day and night.

Well for the majority thats exactly what it is, don’t let anyone tell you different. That said its great when your travelling across vast oceans and need to keep in touch with other cruisers in the vicinity or sending short, picture free basic email back home, but as for trying to communicate from a mast ladened marina to your mate 250 miles down the coast forget it. But crazy as it seems speaking to someone a lot further away appears to be be somewhat easier, as long as the conditions are right, i’ve managed to speak to our friends travelling down the west coast of Spain and Portugal from Brighton as clear as a phone line, thats been in some cases over a thousand miles away, you just never can tell?

The Radio Setup We chose..

(to read this you really ought to have some interest in SSB)

When fitting a SSB from new in a marine situation there really is only one radio setup to choose, there are others, but in this field ICOM lead the way by miles.

They have two real options in the USA the Icom IC802 and in the UK the ICOM IC801e, they do a heavy duty for larger vessels which is basically a GDMSS version of a standard IC-801e, but quite a bit more expensive!

The IC-802 is dollar for pound cheaper, so it easy to think why not buy the cheaper US version? The three main reasons that the forums and the UK retailers give; is that US version isn’t legal here ( not sure how that matters if your cruising the Caribbean or doing the ARC), that it isn’t as marinised as the UK version (but its a marine radio isn’t it?) and finally, if you are fit it in the UK get the UK version cos if it goes wrong it only has to go down the road, whereas the US is a lot more complicated? They both work the same, the US version has a slightly higher output the choice is yours.

All that taken into consideration, we went for the IC801e, i have to say the remote box (which houses the actual transmitter does look a little better built, plus it came with a free antenna tuner, which is an extra with the IC-802 and the 801e comes with a telephone handset instead of a fist mic, which comes into its own when the engines running in the background.

IC 802

^ The IC-802 (US version)


^ The IC-801e (EU/UK version)

We ended up buying ours from Yachtcom in the end it seemed to obvious thing to do, considering i had just completed the long-range course there. Bob Smith is a great guy and what he doesn’t know about radio transmission and kit isn’t really worth knowing. He’s always ready to help and his no nonsense, straight to the point, down to earth way cuts though the normal chaff or radio waffle that normally comes from radio geeks.

I’ve put a link to his sites on the links page.

Antenna    (Updated Feb 2015)

(to read this you really ought to definitely have some interest in SSB)

rope antenna

We really didn’t want to go down the road of cutting one of our backstays to fit an insulated backstay antenna, nor did we want a huge 7M fibreglass whip antenna swishing about on the stern.

So we went for something called a rope antenna, developed by a clever gentleman called “Dr John Gregory” or just “Dr John” to his followers, who has simply replaced the centre core of some multi-braid rope with a length of copper braiding. it comes in three different lengths according to your mast height and the optimum wavelength that nearest suits that length, this is then simply hosted up your mast via a halyard type block at the top of your mast and the other fitted to your antenna tuner. there is some counterpoise to be fitted, but check your earthing first, you may not need it!

I’ve linked to Dr Johns Page in links

Since having had the rope antenna for just over two years, my radio trans and receive were slowly getting worse, when i checked the rope antenna, i found the internal copper core to be completely tarnished and in some areas rotten. Really disappointing!

After speaking to a Ham friend of mine he pointed me to DX Wire a German based company that sells a stainless steel wire wrapped in silver plated copper, that is coated in a ETFE similar to Teflon, its extremely durable an considering what i paid for the rope antenna cheap!

Ive simply removed the rope antenna and put the DX wire in its place. it works a treat!

Modem (21-02-16)

In preparation for long distance communication, we added a Pactor 4 Modem to our rig this weekend, there really is only one SSB modem company out there and thats SCS in Germany. These guys make what is the fastest SSB modem available and thats called a Pactor 4 or P4 Dragon. There are two models available one has a spectrum screen DR-7800 and the other DR7400 doesn’t. for most the 7400 is ideal the 7800 is for those of a more techy nature.

We bought ours through Bob at Sailcom as we did with our ICOM 801e, Bob is their main distributor for SCS in the UK and he supplies it with all the kit to simply plug and play. the softwares straight forward, so once you have signed up for a email address from Sailmail (approx. £170 per annum) you can then begin to send & receive emails from all over the world.


DR-7400 back DR-7400




  1. Hi Steve

    I read your article on the SSB antenna with interest as we are in the process of upgrading a boat in Greece to a live aboard and I will install the same SSB rig as you.Two questions.I assume you did not place the DX wire in the original antenna rope as I know some people do that?
    Can you also let me know how you fixed the top of the DX wire to the mast.
    I would appreciate any advice.

    1. Hi Arthur

      No you’re right I didn’t go through the pain of threading it back through the rope antenna, the DX wire is fine on its own it’s very tough and PVC coated.

      I used their egg insulators at each end

      Affixed one end too their rail nearest the ATU and the other I dived up the mast and fixed a small block and then a 4mm braid on braiding halyard and hauled up the DX wire till taught. It is excellent, well worth the investment. I can’t believe I fell for the rope antenna Rubbish, it grieves me to think what I paid for it!!

      If you need anything else give me a shout.


  2. Hi Steve, nice article about your SSB installation. When you replaced the Rope Antenna with the DX wire did you bring th DX wire directly to the antenna connector on the top of the tuner or did you still use the feeder wire and make the connection above deck?
    I’m just installing a new antenna system and have ordered everything from Dr John but after you article about the corrosion I’m already thinking ahead.
    Thanks in advance

  3. Hi Steve,

    You replied by PM on last posting, but I am really interested how you solved this. How did you make the end fittings, by a simple wire clamp or? Did you add a deck penetration connector etc. Can you post your solution here?

    1. Hi max,

      Yes I replied by mail last time because it was a bit long winded to post it on the blog.

      But in short youre there, I have a small block up the mast, which has a small 6mm braid running to it, I then used egg insulators ( which I threaded the dxwire ( through and made off with a stainless cable clamp ( at the deck end I used another egg insulator to a point on the arch via a length of braid, I’ve moved my antenna tuner outside under the radar arch, so I then connected the dxwire to the pos terminal on the Icom AT141 and the negative to the body of the radar arch (a great ground plane in itself) this mean that only the coax and control cable to the AT 141 go thru the deck. hope that helps, happy to send pictures if you get stuck. Steve

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