Radio Installation on Boat

Oliner67

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#1
Hello everyone,

Thank you in advance for reading. Have scrolled through the last 20 pages of the forum and not found anything quite specific to my issue, so I figured I'd give it a go here.

My situation is that I do the radio installations for a small boat rental company. We have 2 pontoon boats that are used for shuttling customers and moving equipment back and forth between our mainland site and an island about 1 km off shore.

We have marine VHF radios in both boats, but we operate a UHF system on the Low Power Industrial spectrum (450mHz), (programmed by a licensed radio retailer in our area with his licensed frequencies). Simplex operation, no repeater. We use the UHF system for communications between our office (point of sale), dock crew (who work on the mainland) and pontoon boats, due to marine VHF not being intended for land-based use (despite the half dozen businesses around us who do so illegally).

I'm looking for a solution to the problem of mounting radios on the pontoon boats (they are exposed to rain, waves, splashes, unruly workers, etc.).

Looking for any suggestions on how to mount radios on the boats in such a way that they won't get destroyed by the elements. So far, I have been using waterproof speaker/mics mounted on the steering console, connected to portables with battery eliminators (yes, with fuses) and external antennas. The portables keep getting destroyed by water entry through the antenna jack. (Vertex VX-160's, purchased used).

My next attempt was going to be to place the portables in waterproof electrical conduit boxes.

Anyone have any suggestions?

TL, DR: Any suggestions on mounting UHF radios on boats.
 

Oliner67

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#2
Just to add - the current configuration is with the portables tucked under the steering console with the other electronics (shielded from rain), with only the cable for the speaker/mic exposed to the elements, as it reaches up to the mounting point on the steering console.
 
Joined
Dec 22, 2013
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#3
Here are a couple suggestions. The first is a common item sold at marine stores for stereos, the disadvantage is that wet hands might be used on the controls or the lid left open. The second is for a call box designed for outdoor environment. The disadvantage of the call box is that while underway, it might be clumsy or hazardous to use unless positioned near the controls. Also the audio level might be a concern.

Weatherproof Stereo Box for DIN sized mobile radios: West Marine seems stingy on specs, they have several models, might be best to bring a radio to the store or buy the biggest box and buy a radio to fit.

https://www.westmarine.com/buy/west-marine--weatherproof-stereo-enclosure--9263005?recordNum=97

Weatherproof Low power call box:

Ritron Callboxes - Ritron Inc.

The other option as you said are plastic electrical boxes with the cables routed through gland nuts. If you can reduce the exposure to the microphone and speaker (get waterproof models) and a main power switch and power on light mounted to the front of the box you might get by. Route wires to the bottom of the box with a drip loop. Depending upon the seasonal conditions, you might need a vent/drain in the bottom of box to let humidity moisture out. There are ways (traps) to do this that won't let water in.
 
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WTVLCA01DS0
#4
Placing the radio in a waterproof enclosure is probably your best bet. The grey PVC junction boxes used outdoors for electrical work would be a good option.

Make sure it's big enough for the radio and associated cabling.
Since it sounds like you have one frequency(?), you shouldn't need access to any controls to make everything work. You can control power off a switch on the dashboard, or use an ignition switched circuit.

Route coax, power, speaker and mic out through conduit connectors that are designed to handle exposed wire. These will have a soft rubber bushing you route the cable through. When you tighten down the outer ring, it compresses the rubber and seals the pass through.

Since heat dissipation might be a problem, make sure the RF power output is turned down. For 1Km, you shouldn't need more than 1 or 2 watts with decent antennas.

Speakers can be purchased that are water resistant. Mounting them out of the way where they won't get rained on, splashed, etc. will help them last a long time. Even a marine stereo speaker should work just fine.

Most manufacturers usually have a microphone for there radios that are designed for outdoor type use. Motorcycle use, fire engine pump panel, etc. are all environments similar to yours, so this isn't something new. If the microphone has an RJ-45 type plug, you might be able to make a short extension using category 5 data network cabling with an RJ-45 plug on one end, for the radio, and an RJ-45 jack on the other, for the mic. Usually the pair of wires for the microphone need to be shielded separately, but for a short length, it might work just fine.

As for antennas, this will depend on where you are going to mount it. There are many manufacturers that make UHF antennas that use the standard 1" x 18 marine mount threads.

No matter what you do, figure there will be some extra maintenance involved.

I'm looking at building a similar setup for my son's off road buggy. No room to mount a full radio under the dash, so it's going to need to be remote'd. I've got a small Pelican case that I'll mount the UHF radio into. I'll extend the mic to the dash board, install an external speaker and use an ignition switched power circuit to control the radio power.
 
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#6
Somewhere, I think here on RR, are a couple of pictures of a CDM1250 remote mounted with the head in a plastic industrial box with a clear lid & snap latches, and the mic cord coming out thru a cable gland, all in a railroad locomotive.
 
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Messages
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#7
I wonder ...

... We have 2 pontoon boats that are used for shuttling customers and moving equipment back and forth between our mainland site and an island about 1 km off shore ...
We use the UHF system for communications between our office (point of sale), dock crew (who work on the mainland) and pontoon boats, due to marine VHF not being intended for land-based use (despite the half dozen businesses around us who do so illegally)
At the risk of sounding like a RR Lawyer, or a Troll, I gotta say ...

This sounds to me like all your activity here is marine related. The office is communicating with boats on the water. The dock is communicating with boats on the water. I'm definitely aware of several marinas that pretty much do the same thing you are talking about exclusively on marine channels. Are you sure it's illegal for you to use one of the marine channels designated for ship to shore comms?
 
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#8
Kenwood tk890 series radios have weatherproof heads. Could be an option to look into that radio remotely mounted.


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WTVLCA01DS0
#9
At the risk of sounding like a RR Lawyer, or a Troll, I gotta say ...

This sounds to me like all your activity here is marine related. The office is communicating with boats on the water. The dock is communicating with boats on the water. I'm definitely aware of several marinas that pretty much do the same thing you are talking about exclusively on marine channels. Are you sure it's illegal for you to use one of the marine channels designated for ship to shore comms?
The OP is in Canada, so I'm not sure what the exact rules are.
I do know that in the USA, having a base station on land does require a fixed shore based license.

And, I'll agree, most do ignore this. There's a guy local to me that runs a diving service. He's got a marine VHF antenna mounted on the side of his truck and uses it from all over town. Done on on the low down, no one is going to notice. Not that I'm suggesting ignoring the rules.
 
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Dec 22, 2013
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2,733
#10
The OP is in Canada, so I'm not sure what the exact rules are.
I do know that in the USA, having a base station on land does require a fixed shore based license.

And, I'll agree, most do ignore this. There's a guy local to me that runs a diving service. He's got a marine VHF antenna mounted on the side of his truck and uses it from all over town. Done on on the low down, no one is going to notice. Not that I'm suggesting ignoring the rules.
He probably has the UHF channel so that competitors aren't listening in constantly and stealing clientele.

That being said, he is also using frequencies belonging to a retail radio dealer, so 1) The dealer should probably be fixing this for him or 2) If he is buying radios outside the dealer, how does that affect the license agreement? Does the DOC allow this licensing/operating agreement?

And finally it is Canada Eh! so who is to say!
 
Joined
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756
#11
Great advice has been given above.

I worked for about a decade for a company that used Motorola CDM-1250's, Vertex VX-3200/4200, Icom IC F-1020/2020, and now XPR4550 Trbo mobiles on vessels for pretty much the same use you describe. Some were mounted under the steering console, with glands for the mics and antenna penetrations. Others were mounted in boxes, those smoke tint front panel boxes work well. Others were left mounted exposed under the house roof, which rusted the metal cases, but took several years to do so.

For 1km range, we also had handheld Vertex Standard and Icom water resistant radios that allowed for commercial LMR frequencies and marine VHF use in the same radio. Vertex HX-370 was one model used. These radios can take some water spray, are handheld, and operate on VHF marine frequencies yet allow for the addition of some commercial VHF channels. You mentioned UHF use, so you would need another radio, or a VHF licence, but may be easier for your purpose.
 
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#12
Hello everyone,

(snip)

My next attempt was going to be to place the portables in waterproof electrical conduit boxes.

Anyone have any suggestions?

TL, DR: Any suggestions on mounting UHF radios on boats.
Some final thoughts if you put the portable radios inside a weatherproof electrical box (a good idea), you have to consider how you turn on and off power to the now inaccessible radio.

For some radios it is simple, if the volume knob is set on, the radio will power on with battery voltage applied. But a lot of new radios have soft power switches which means either an internal modification or a mechanical means to press the power switch without causing a water intrusion. So choose wisely the radio.

Also you will need a battery eliminator of some sort because most modern radios run on 9 volts or lower. So this battery eliminator must also be switched off to save the starter battery, must filter out alternator noise as well. If you choose to run the radio and its own battery from a "charger", will the charger keep up with the battery drain, and will it start in charging mode reliably?
 
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#13
I'd actually look at mobiles. What comes to mind is something like the Simoco SDM610. Basic HHCH that's somewhat weather resistant but uses a standard RJ45 connector. The RF brick can be housed in a waterproof enclosure and weatherproof boots can be used to pass the control cable, speaker/power lines through.

Of course, there are may different ways to accomplish that using other manufacturers radios.
 

Oliner67

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#14
Here are a couple suggestions. The first is a common item sold at marine stores for stereos, the disadvantage is that wet hands might be used on the controls or the lid left open. The second is for a call box designed for outdoor environment. The disadvantage of the call box is that while underway, it might be clumsy or hazardous to use unless positioned near the controls. Also the audio level might be a concern.

Weatherproof Stereo Box for DIN sized mobile radios: West Marine seems stingy on specs, they have several models, might be best to bring a radio to the store or buy the biggest box and buy a radio to fit.

https://www.westmarine.com/buy/west-marine--weatherproof-stereo-enclosure--9263005?recordNum=97

Weatherproof Low power call box:

Ritron Callboxes - Ritron Inc.

The other option as you said are plastic electrical boxes with the cables routed through gland nuts. If you can reduce the exposure to the microphone and speaker (get waterproof models) and a main power switch and power on light mounted to the front of the box you might get by. Route wires to the bottom of the box with a drip loop. Depending upon the seasonal conditions, you might need a vent/drain in the bottom of box to let humidity moisture out. There are ways (traps) to do this that won't let water in.
Thank you very much for taking the time to reply. Unfortunately as far as I know, West Marine pulled its brick and mortar stores out of Canada, but I will look for retailers with those enclosures.
 

Oliner67

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#15
Placing the radio in a waterproof enclosure is probably your best bet. The grey PVC junction boxes used outdoors for electrical work would be a good option.

Make sure it's big enough for the radio and associated cabling.
Since it sounds like you have one frequency(?), you shouldn't need access to any controls to make everything work. You can control power off a switch on the dashboard, or use an ignition switched circuit.

Route coax, power, speaker and mic out through conduit connectors that are designed to handle exposed wire. These will have a soft rubber bushing you route the cable through. When you tighten down the outer ring, it compresses the rubber and seals the pass through.

Since heat dissipation might be a problem, make sure the RF power output is turned down. For 1Km, you shouldn't need more than 1 or 2 watts with decent antennas.

Speakers can be purchased that are water resistant. Mounting them out of the way where they won't get rained on, splashed, etc. will help them last a long time. Even a marine stereo speaker should work just fine.

Most manufacturers usually have a microphone for there radios that are designed for outdoor type use. Motorcycle use, fire engine pump panel, etc. are all environments similar to yours, so this isn't something new. If the microphone has an RJ-45 type plug, you might be able to make a short extension using category 5 data network cabling with an RJ-45 plug on one end, for the radio, and an RJ-45 jack on the other, for the mic. Usually the pair of wires for the microphone need to be shielded separately, but for a short length, it might work just fine.

As for antennas, this will depend on where you are going to mount it. There are many manufacturers that make UHF antennas that use the standard 1" x 18 marine mount threads.

No matter what you do, figure there will be some extra maintenance involved.

I'm looking at building a similar setup for my son's off road buggy. No room to mount a full radio under the dash, so it's going to need to be remote'd. I've got a small Pelican case that I'll mount the UHF radio into. I'll extend the mic to the dash board, install an external speaker and use an ignition switched power circuit to control the radio power.
Thank you for taking the time to reply.

We only need the 1 channel on the boats most of the time, and it's a sacrifice we'd be willing to make (having access to only the 1 channel) if we could keep the radios dry.

I've got a couple of RJ45 jacks on the way for a different project, could use one for this if needed.

We're using NMO mount antennas on the roof of the pontoon boat covering. Not the greatest ground, but it's what we have so far until I figure something better out. Let me tell you, finding the adapters for the mini-UHF antenna cable end to the various SMA radio antenna connectors was a feat I deserved a raise for. Selection in Canada is not what it is south of the border.

Yeah, I was thinking stand-alone switch on the dash console (easy enough to add).

Thanks again for the reply.
 

Oliner67

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#16
If portable coverage is good enough you could always go with something like a standard hx407. It's marine grade and uhf and programmable. Welcome to StandardHorizon.com
Thanks for taking the time to reply.

We're going to try and go with fixed mount antennas if we can. The issue is that, with no repeater, hitting our handhelds at our dock (which is not much above lake water elevation) can be difficult when the pontoons are out on the water. I get daily complaints from staff. Personally, I think it is mostly user error. It's amazing how difficult the concept of, push the button (the correct button), wait a second, and then talk, can be to some people. Always seems to work when I'm out, but hey.

What I have been wondering is whether the HX407 would hold up with an external antenna (and potential water ingress through the antenna jack). And, most importantly, if the warranty would cover it.

Thanks again!
 

Oliner67

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#18
At the risk of sounding like a RR Lawyer, or a Troll, I gotta say ...

This sounds to me like all your activity here is marine related. The office is communicating with boats on the water. The dock is communicating with boats on the water. I'm definitely aware of several marinas that pretty much do the same thing you are talking about exclusively on marine channels. Are you sure it's illegal for you to use one of the marine channels designated for ship to shore comms?
We're in Canada, and you need a license for ship to shore communication. You are also required to have anyone using the marine radios trained with a Marine VHF operator's license (not just the station owner). We are a bit of a revolving door when it comes to the seasonal employment of our dock staff (mostly teenagers looking for summer jobs), and licensing could be an issue.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that the wavelength of UHF lends itself better to the short antennas found on portables than the wavelength of the marine VHF spectrum?

Thanks for taking the time to reply.
 

Oliner67

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Toronto, Canada
#19
The OP is in Canada, so I'm not sure what the exact rules are.
I do know that in the USA, having a base station on land does require a fixed shore based license.

And, I'll agree, most do ignore this. There's a guy local to me that runs a diving service. He's got a marine VHF antenna mounted on the side of his truck and uses it from all over town. Done on on the low down, no one is going to notice. Not that I'm suggesting ignoring the rules.
Thanks for the reply.

We have all kinds of illegal users around here both on marine VHF and the UHF spectrum. The marine VHF ones scare me the most, as many seem to not have any idea of the rules of operating these radios. Particularly on Saturdays and Sundays, when the weekend boaters come out. The number of times that the Coast Guard has come on the air to tell sailing regattas to change from channel 16 to a working channel is frustrating. I've heard them over the air a few times when they had to dispatch police boats to go get them off the frequency. Other times, boaters will leave the VHF radio with the volume turned on, and speak on a channel over other traffic without first listening for clear air.
 

Oliner67

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#20
He probably has the UHF channel so that competitors aren't listening in constantly and stealing clientele.

That being said, he is also using frequencies belonging to a retail radio dealer, so 1) The dealer should probably be fixing this for him or 2) If he is buying radios outside the dealer, how does that affect the license agreement? Does the DOC allow this licensing/operating agreement?

And finally it is Canada Eh! so who is to say!
We're in the process of changing over our fleet of radios, from a mix of a bunch of old HT750's and VX-160's, to either the waterproof Hyteras mentioned above or that new Motorola portable that's out (SL300's, I believe are the model). Currently dealer has us set up with frequencies on the Canadian low power industrial spectrum.
 
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