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HF Maritime Communications

(How to Find Activity?)
(How to Find Activity?)
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* [ Southbound 2 Net page by Herb Hilgenberg VE3LML] Famous for communicating with ships in the Caribbean and elsewhere with weather and other information
* [ Southbound 2 Net page by Herb Hilgenberg VE3LML] Famous for communicating with ships in the Caribbean and elsewhere with weather and other information
* [ WLO/KSB Schedules]
* [ NOAA Maritime Products] The place to begin to find schedules for SITOR and FAX stations from the US and elsewhere  
* [ NOAA Maritime Products] The place to begin to find schedules for SITOR and FAX stations from the US and elsewhere  

Revision as of 12:53, 26 February 2012


HF Maritime Communications

HF maritime communications can be found below 30 MHz. Here's a sample of what you can hear:

The HF Maritime Communications Receiver

A receiver for monitoring HF maritime communications must have the following features:

  • Coverage from 100 kHz to 30 MHz
  • Upper sideband (USB) and lower sideband (LSB) modes
  • Good stability (doesn't drift off frequency)
  • Good selectivity (able to seperate 2 stations that are close to one another in frequency)

Many receivers and portables marketed as shortwave or world band radios will satisfy these requirements. The majority of voice communications use USB, but LSB is certainly possible (foreign fishing fleets have been known to use LSB); therefore, whatever you select must have USB and LSB capabilities. The lower band limit of 100 kHz is typical of many HF radios, but many marine transmissions occur at 2 MHz and above. Other features such as memory channels and alpha tagging are desirable, but not necessary. See the Receiver Reviews article for several links on this important topic.

Propagation and Antennas

Your ability to receive HF maritime communications is affected by signal propagation conditions in the atmosphere. Many factors affect propagation, including sunspots, solar flares, and the time of day. Frequencies above 10 mhz or so are usable during the local daytime, while frequencies below 10 mhz will be usable at night. If you are a newcomer to this topic, reading a good primer would be a great benefit. Don't get discouraged about all the jargon; whole books and very technical scientific papers have been written on the subject; but it's unnecessary to have a degree to gain a basic understanding. To get you started, please see the Propagation Primer website by Geoffrey Noles AE4RV (requires Flash player).

Your station is only as good as the antenna you can use. The best antennas for receiving HF maritime comms is going to depend largely on what you can put up and what kind of receiver you are using. Generally, something that is relatively broadbanded - such as a random wire or inverted L - will be the best one to get you started. Our HF Antennas page has a number of possibilities, including some that are already assembled - all you need to do is supply the feedline and proper connectors.

If you live in an urban area, or are plagued with noise problems, consider utilizing a loop antenna. MW DXers have been utilizing loops for their directional capabilities almost since the beginning of the broadcast industy; they are useful for HF listening because they are less sensitive to certain kinds of electrical noise. If you're interested in this topic, please see our Loops page.

Another possibility is to use a Magnetic Longwire Balun(MLB) with a good grade of coax to feed an inverted L design. Plans exist on building baluns on the Shortwave SWL Antenna Yahoo group; or you can purchase the popular PAR EF-SWL antenna, which uses a similar principle. The HF Antennas article has information on these topics as well.

How to Find Activity?

The spectrum for HF maritime communications is very wide. Unlike VHF/UHF scanning, it's challenging to automatically scan a segment of the band because HF noise will always be present. So, here are some places to start searching;

  • Numerous ship-shore HF frequencies exist in the 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 18 and 22 Mhz bands. Some are simplex (ship and shore on the same frequency) while others are duplex (ship on one frequency, shore on another). See this website for a complete list
  • Well known website run by Marius Rensen with extensive HF and satellite FAX information
  • NOAA Maritime Products The place to begin to find schedules for SITOR and FAX stations from the US and elsewhere
  • Dockside Radio Interesting place to find HF frequencies, both ham and marine for various support nets
Digital and other modes

While many ships are now using encrypted digital signals for email and other traffic, there is still a great deal of traffic in the clear. This includes SITOR-B weather broadcasts, FAX (Fascimile weather charts), GMDSS alerts and more. Fortunately there are numerous software packages - some ham related, others not - that can decode some or all of these modes. The list shown below is not expected to be complete, but is representative of what is currently available. Where applicable, the link for the Yahoo support group for the software is also supplied;

Other Sources of Marine Related Activity

While some maritime stations are on a fixed schedule, others (such as fishing fleets) are much more difficult to detect due to their transient nature; thus, listening for maritime comms can be a game of patience. The more time passes, the harder it is to hear again. Mailing lists are one of the best ways to keep ahead of what is being heard, as traffic can be passed relatively quickly. The Utility DXers Forum is very active and is only one of many such lists; more are available on the Utility Monitoring page.

Magazine Logs

A few magazine publications have columns devoted to HF logs (including maritime stations) submitted by readers. This is a great way to discover to what other people are listening. These logs will often include multiple entries for the same frequency, which means that frequency has been active. However, keep in mind that, due to publishing constraints, there is often a 60 or 90 day lag between when the report is received and when it's actually published.

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