What We Have Here Is A (desire to prevent) A Failure To Communicate

I have noticed that many cruisers are as tilt-nosed as to the sanctity of their communications choices as the people around here are to their choice of dogs and horses.

It’s really unhelpful to someone trying to make a choice.  I think it’s because communication sits on a teeter-totter. At one end it is a social phenomenon, at the other a useful technology, and today social seems to trump useful every time. So far, I have found it impossible to get knowledgeable people to give me an answer on communications technology that doesn’t include rhapsodizing about the social benefits while offering either a glancing blow on utility… or diving into ubergeekdom for a swim through the wonders of counterpoises, auto tuners, propagation, etc. (I learned long ago when three successive technical miracles are required to get something to work, there are two too many.)

Yes, I know there are lots of folks out there with HF radios — 50+% with SSB and 25-% with Ham if one can believe SSCA stats (having the equipment doesn’t necessarily imply usage).  But each time I ask “why” the answer comes back in terms of “its like being on a party-line,” “you can keep track of what your friends are doing,”  “The nets are so much fun,” “weather…” “emergency assistance…” And I can’t make any of those  answers add up to a reason to buy an complex, cranky, corrosion-sensitive, power-hogging technology for nearly $3000 (PACTOR for e-mail included but shore server subscription not).

My response to those is, “bad, why, for whom, there are better ways, and emergency assistance via SSB is playing Three Card Monte for a pig in a poke.”

Yes, I know, there are droves of anecdotes proving me wrong on this, but there are no statistics to support those telling the stories.¹

I would love to be able to put gyro-stabilized broadband on the boat — internet, telephony, and live global weather, etc but it makes no more sense than the watermaker did.

I can imagine being quite happy with an SSB receiver (or two) for weather information and a satellite phone (now that competition has raised its wonderful head) and maybe a “SPOT” for keeping the family ashore calm. [Although the cost benefit of SPOT vs SMS on a satphone pretty much only derives from not having to remember to send the SMS.]

If I had an SSB transceiver, I’d want to have a Satphone too.  If I had an SSB I’d probably still use something like SPOT anyway.  If I had an SSB, I imagine I’d spend a lot of time trying to get it to work the way the mfg promised it would. And yet when one talks with people who have SSB it’s almost a cult -like experience — or misery loves company. When someone you are talking to closes an email with “73” you know you are in the hands of an enthusiast.

Then I get the, “OH, but you’ll need SSB to call the Coast Guard.”  Funny, around here the very nearly first thing the Coast Guard asks for is a phone number.

The remote medical services I have researched prefer satphone — either analog, or IP.

And then there are the gripes we have heard from folks about SSB/Ham groundwave interference in anchorages when someone has a marathon chat session while other cruisers are trying to download email.

Is there a good, non-socially based reason for having a radio system like SSB and HAM if you view a radio as a tool and not a plaything, and if you value privacy and tranquility?

¹This is the same inferential problem as “more people who take statins and/or baby aspirin have heart attacks.” There is a correlation between the two, but it is confounded by the presence of another or “lurking” variable.

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