HAM Radio Aboard Ships At Sea

Every few months I try to dive into a maritime related topic (e.g. shiphandling, icebreaking, ship finance, whatever) and learn as much possible. For the past few months the topic has been radio communications and this has lead me to test for my FCC Ham Radio License.

Thanks to new remote testing opportunities I passed the Technican and General parts of the test and have been issued the call sign K5HIP.

The Ham Radio Crash Course community online helped me through the process and has invited me to join their weekly podcast to discuss GMDSS and ship radio communications online (it will air live on June 13th)

Part of my homework is getting information about HAM radio operators working aboard ship.

So, if you are a HAM, please share your setup. Do you bring your own radio or use the ship’s equipment? What modes, frequencies, etc, do you use?

Also please share any information or stories you may have on operating as a HAM at sea.


P.S. Since everyone asks I’ll just say in advance that, I could not get the callsign g5hip because, as an american, the callsign has to start with an A, W, or K.


Here is the link to the podcast channel. You can subscribe and click on the bell icon to be notified when the episode goes live on June 13th: https://www.youtube.com/user/hoshnasi

Used to carry a Yaesu FT-101 for 10 and 15m phone and CW and an Icom 2300 for packet when on the APL Far East run. Ran a coax out my porthole up to a tuner and long-ish wire on the monkey island. Always coordinated with RO who was also a HAM and worked satellite digital modes.

Again, dating myself but mid ocean packet contact to US west coast stations via the packet repeater on MIR was a lot of fun. You could rarely get a MIR contact on shore because of the pileups but mid ocean was a piece of cake.



That’s really cool.

HAM radio now has a service similar to AIS which was developed by a US Naval Academy professor. It’s called APRS and you can send text messages and get things like weather reports. It’s mostly VHF but you can do it on HF too using a program called JS8.

The cool thing is that the international space station has an APRS repeater… but, I haven’t messed with any satellite comms yet.

It wasn’t THAT long ago, APRS was in common use among the 2m mobile crowd ages ago. There is also an interlink feature that provides coast to coast voice on VHF. Digital modes are really awesome now.

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Yeah, I’ve been on FT8 digital mode a lot. Funny thing is my wife has a gmdss and 2/m and when the gulf war started she was in Kuwait and we used gmdss a lot to communicate… but she doesn’t know anything about ham.

Last night I sat down and explained FT8 and APRS to her. She said “oh, now I get it, it’s like a very expensive version of Pokemon”. :man_facepalming:


This is the link to the APRS site giving worldwide information over on active on air APRS stations. You can click on a station and get information about frequencies and modes. Clicking on WX weather stations let you see local weather. Filling in an address, city or locator brings you there. In the box above you can fill in a station’s call sign and so find him.

If you install it in your car the family can see where your are, car’s speed and the direction of driving. Better switch it off if you are going to see a girl friend…


FWIW, APRS long predates AIS, and it’s format is quite a bit less efficient - but it had to fit within the rules of the day. I’m not sure that AIS format would be technically legal for hams even now.
Hartley W1OQ

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With the advent of satellite internet I assumed amateur radio at sea would lose its place. In remote locations and in disastor situations I can see Ham being still relevant. I still have a Heathkit DX20 in storage which dates me. Have a matching VFO for it too along with some spare tubes and an old straight key from Western Union I used. Fine tuning on a dial is a disappearing art.


Dont the HAM’s own a satellite?
My uncle in OZ was telling me a few years back NASA funded he launch and he was using it to upload messages and other could download?

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It certainly has been dying off but there is a huge spike in the number of new operators thanks to new digital modes, free training class on youtube, COVID19 opening up the eyes of the masses to the fragility of the system, and the fcc opening up online testing.

Yes, they are run by https://www.amsat.org/ plus the International Space Station has a repeater and a few decommissioned military satellites have been opened up to HAMs but I haven’t experimented with them yet.

Good to know. I might see if I can reactivate my long dormant license, if I can find it. Used to be if you didn’t pay to renew you lost it. Might be fun, I still have some old QSL cards in storage too which I doubt are used any more. Back in the day I couldn’t afford anything but a CW rig but now? It’s bound to be less expensive than sporting clays.


Congratulations on your accomplishment ! :slightly_smiling_face:

And thanks for posting the info about the crash course.

I’ve always been on the other side of the HAM club as an avid short wave listener. But I’m
with several HAM club friends wanting me to get my license, get a rig, and learn to use the club’s repeater so we can all be closer in touch.

Where I live we have a large antique radio museum Antique Radio Museum Monthly meetings of TARA (Tri-State Amateur Radio Association meets there once a month) But there are several other clubs where our three states of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia all meet. It’s great for attending all of the clubs summer “field days” :heart:

I have several portables, but one of mine is a Radio Shack (built by Sangean) which has a built in audio cassette recorder/player. Sometimes what I’ve heard on shortwave from various international sources is something I want to replay for friends to hear.



Thanks Joe but to tell you the truth is it’s not difficult for anyone who has passed a USCG test.

Basically all you have to do is download the “HamStudy” app then select “read the test questions” and the all important “hide the distractors” option. Then find an exam location near you or find an online testing center on the > HamStudy website. It’s easy.

I wish I had done it years ago for one dumb reason. I often had to carry two radios Aboard ship, a vhf for external comms and a uhf for external.

Well any dual receive, dual band ham radio can do both at the same time! You just have to find one that can be “mars moded” to transmit on marine channels. For my radio I just had to pull one circuit with a pair of tweezers.

The model I have is a Yaesu FT-3d. Yaesu is Standard Horizon’s HAM brand. Icom also makes great radios.

Technically you buy these radios without a HAM license (most Filipino officers I’ve work with carry these radios) but you can get in serious trouble if you don’t know the rules about in what countries and when you can use a mars modded radio on the vhf bands (e.g. not in US Waters).


Yeah, they are getting cheap and with the new digital modes you can go far with low power. I’ve made digital FT8 calls from Massachusetts to Hungary and Russia with the portable 5 watt rig I got used on ebay for $300 and have reached Australia with the $2500 hundred watt rig I got used on QRZ for $750.

And you can connect into repeaters around. The world with a $100 internet hotspot and a $25 vhf Boaefeng radio.

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I don’t bring a HAM with me to work, my seabag is heavy enough as it is. I do use it at home when I’m out exploring in my truck since I’m usually out by myself. I haven’t had to use it for help, but I have used APRS for meeting up with friends out in the woods. I run a Kenwood D710 in the truck.

Scanning is a good point.

You don’t need a license to receive. A good long range ssb receiver costs a few hundred bucks but I suggest anyone listening get a $25 Boefang and start by listening to local traffic… you inly need a liscense if you want to transmit.

And if you are aboard ship you can do this all for free… all it takes is the Captains permission and reading your gmdss equipment manual a few times over to figure out how to manually dial into channels.

I have a TS450 connected to an SGC-230 tuner and the backstay is my antenna. I have it connected to the computer for all the digital modes. I don’t like FT8, but I do use PSK31 and JS8CALL a lot. Both are conversation modes, not just a ping and ack. I can send SITOR/AMTOR if I want to, but so far I have just it to receive NAVTEX.
I have a 2 meter rig as well. I used to use APRS a lot, but the tracker died and I haven’t got around to fixing it. My AIS does about the same for having my boat show up on a website.

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Again, I’m a Radio listener. I had a scanner for awhile but around my part of the world I wasn’t getting much that interested me with it.

For my AM/FM DXing I’ve used a GE Super Radio…(earlier version 1990’s black case) so I can pick up various programming I want to listen to. It does a good job for me and I run an old Lafayette YAGI antenna with it.(from the early 70’s I bought at a swap meet)

Several of my “old” friends (passed away now) who were retired Station Engineers tweeked some of my stuff to teach and explain some things to me. One of them found a couple solder joints he wanted to retouch a bit. The BW and AFC switches both worked after that. .

Living in the Ohio Valley next to the river leaves me aiming at echo’s for some of my reception. Now days, so many stations are on the internet which has solved a lot of reception problems. Time was, I’d drive the car up to the top of a high hill and tune in to listen. (and swat mosquitoes or brave the cold)

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