Sunday, December 14, 2014

Soviet era 121.5MHz AM transeiver and beacon R-855-UM

I got lucky in an e-bay auction (from this kind seller) and got this R-855-UM  Soviet Union pilot's emergency 121.5MHz transceiver and beacon for $5 + postage. It has an interesting folding whip antenna made of metal "beads" and a stainless steel wire which goes rigid when the wire is tensioned.

Specification here (in Russian).   You can see the battery box there as well. I don't have one but the instructions say to put it in your jacket if the temperature is below zero, so it is round and cuddly! Similar unit in "radio museum" here.

The operation is simple. Attach and extend the antenna. Top button is RX underneath that is TX and beneath that a slider to lock either or both buttons. Press both for beacon. The power is 0 on pin 3 and -9V on pin 5. Note that means the ground is positive and pin 3 is connected to the chassis. See this illustration of the Priboi-2C battery pack for the pin out.

Connected to a PP3 battery and a dummy antenna coupled to my Icom 706 (and shielded in aluminium foil for good measure) I can confirm it works on all modes.  It draws about 73mA in TX and 8.5mA in RX.   Next step is to make a modern waterproof battery box.

More photos

Showing the power connector and the tensioning mechanism for the antenna. The screw bottom left is to equalize pressure when there is an  altitude change (which makes the microphone work better).

To the right the receive button, left the slide to lock and in the middle the transmit button.
Thanks to Klaus-Peter dh4py for this photo showing the connections on the battery (female) connector. He says 9.4V.

The mechanism for the antenna. It works rather like a "push puppet" toy that stands up when the string through its bead limbs tension. In this case the tension is provided not by a string but by a kind of  highfield lever mechanism. Given the tradition of wooden toy making in Russia I wonder if that is where they got the idea.

Here is an approximate translation of the instructions on the unit: (from Google translate and some guess work)


Option C

Works with internal microtelephones [I think this means the microphone and headphones in a pilot's helmet]

1. Cock [ie tension with highfield mechanism] and connect antenna to the transceiver. Unlock button.

2. Connect the battery to the radio station itself.

3.RECEPTION: press "Receive" [ПРИЕМ that is the top button]
and listen. Noise in the phone indicates normal operation of the receiver.

4. Transmit  Press "ПРД" [that is the lower button] bring the microphone to his mouth and speak clearly

5 TON [tone, the 121.5 MHz alarm tone] (MAYDAY): press together Transmit and Receive

6. In continuous operation in one mode, press and lock buttons
[ie with the  ФИКСАТОР - LATCH]

Working with headsets

7. The radio, battery and headset connected through [adapter?]

Work in the "Komar-2M"  [I think this is an inflatable unit with an antenna see this article]

8. The radio and battery are connected through the umbilical cord. The headset connects to the halyard [not sure if that is the right word] directly or through an adapter. Adapter type determined by headset.

9 When operating in accordance with paragraph 7 and  8 transmission with the internal microphone

is impossible.  Inclusion on the “Receive” “Transmit" and "Tone" is produced by as in . 3, 4, 5.6. 


1. For normal operation buttons should be pressed all the way. In the intermediate positions and can be heard when switching additional tone.

2. If there is a  large change in temperature or pressure loosen [screw] for 3-5 seconds.

3. When the ambient temperature is below 0 degrees C place the battery under clothing. [to keep it warm!]

And my (possibly incorrect in places) transcription of the Russian

Вариант С
Работа с внутренним микротелефоном
1. Взведите и подсоедиите антенну к приемопередатчику.
Расфиксируйте кнопки.

2. Подключите батарею к радиостанции непосредственно.

3.ПРИЕМ: нажмите кнопку «ПРИЕМ» и слушайте. Шум в телефоне свидетельствует о нормальной работе приемника.

4. ПЕРЕДАЧА: нажмите кнопку «ПРД» поднесите микрофон ко рту и говорите четкою

5.ТОН (МАЯ К): нажмите вместе кнопки ПРИЕМ и ПРД
6. При длительной работе в одном режиме нажмите и зафиксируйте соответствующие кнопки
Работа со шлемоФоном

7. Радиостанция, батарея и шлемоФон соединяются
через переходной

Работа в системе "Комар-2М"

8. Радиостанция и батарея
через фал. Шлемофон подключается к разъему фала непосредственно или через переходник . Тип переходника определяется шлемофоном.

9. При работе согласно п. 7 и п. 8 передача с внутреннего микрофона

Включение на "ПРИЕМ" ""ПЕРЕДАЧУ" и "ТОН" производится по п. п. 3, 4 ,5,6.


1. Для нормальной работы кнопки должны
быть нажаты до упора. В промежуточных положениях
и при переключениях может прослушиваться дополнительный тон.

2.При большом перепаде температуры или давления отверните на 3-5 сек.
3.При окружающей температуре ниже 0 С батарею местите под одеждой

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

How to get MSF "radio controled" clocks on your boat to get time from GPS instead.

My boat has two nice shiny brass clocks with quartz movements. They are a pain to adjust as they are screwed on the wall and the easiest thing is to keep them on GMT but even then they need correcting. They just have cheap quartz movements and I thought of replacing them with radio controlled clocks that use the MSF time signal (which used to be called the Rugby atomic clock signal). The thing is that would only work a certain distance off shore. There are transmitters in Germany, USA and Japan, with different frequencies and protocols but not world wide. On the other hand we have an accurate time signal from GPS.

The MSF clock mechanisms are really cheap so there is a good reason to stick to that and I was wondering about feeding a time signal from the GPS.  Something that is a nice idea I wont get round too!

I have just found that someone has already done it!  Unusual electronics have a small device called a Chronoverter that converts time procols. In particular it can take NMEA data from a GPS and convert it to MSF - digital as well as the modulated carrier wave that can be coupled in to the antenna of a clock. Nice thing about this is you do not need to modify the clock. Hopefully just shield it from the real signal. As the clock has a brass case I am half way there I hope.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

EPSON XP-212 printer scanner on Navigatrix

I bought an EPSON XP-212 printer scanner. The idea was to use it on the boat with an inverter, maybe handy for printing out weather forecasts and maps and perhaps scanning and printing pages from pilot books.

It cost me £50 from  a shop in Macclesfield (

Initial test is with the computer at home with an identical version of Navigatrix linux.

First of all the instructions that come with it are almost completely useless and the CD that comes with it is basically a link to the web site! Good job I had a go at doing this at home.

To get the printer to connect to my home wireless access point seemed impossible using just wifi, although the EPSON web site had a mac application that connected (after a long wait) to the printer and then told it the password for my home access point (interestingly I have more than one access point and it did not give me a choice).

Once configured it appeared as a network printer when I did Preferences>Printer Configuration.

This worked fine and I printed a test page.

I could not however get it to scan over wifi so I plugged in the USB. I then tried Office>Scan documents but it could not find a scanner.

I then installed xsane as alternative scanner. Same problem.

Then I went to download EPSON drivers.


(actually you need to install the data one first)

from the EPSON website.

Simple Scan and Xsane still didnt work. However if I tried

sudo xsane

(which gives you a warning that you must be insane to run sane as root)  worked ok.

Its clearly a problem with permissions.

Possible solution is here on an Ubuntu forum

I tried the groups and permissions thing and that didnt work so I tried the more dangerous (well it is a single user system!) approach of adding this to

# usb scanner
SUBSYSTEM=="usb", ENV{DEVTYPE}=="usb_device", MODE:="0666"

Both scanning programs now work. Over USB connection at least .

I am planning on installing a Netgear wireless router (it has a 12v supply) aboard Tui. This should enable me to use the printer wirelessly from other devices aboard... but that is another story.

Friday, August 22, 2014

PACTOR + Navigatrix + WInlink. Just works

How do you send position reports, emails and get weather GRIB files when out at sea beyone phone range. There are two options a satellite phone, with high call charges, or a PACTOR modem and HF radio. Tui already has an ICOM M710 SSB radio so what I needed was a PACTOR. I bought mine second hand from the extremely helpful Paul Richards at Radio Exchange in Australia. It shipped with excellent comprehensive instructions and the right leads for my M710. As Tui is still in Denmark and I am at home I wanted to get it up and running  here first and get some experience.

So I connected it to my ICOM 706 ham radio. I also have a computer at home with the same software as the boat computer, the special cruising edition of Linux Navigatrix

The main problem was getting the right cable as it is different from the M710 a 13 pin DIN to 8 (or 5) pin DIN. I had the 13 and bought a 5 from Maplin, but with my 3rd best soldering iron, the poor quality of the plug and my poor soldering skills I destroyed it. I thought Maplin might sell a ready made 5pin DIN lead I could use.
Going in to Maplin asking for DIN plugs I felt like the guy in the not-the nine o' clock news sketch with the man buying the gramophone. "A DIN plug granddad, we only have HDMI cables these days"

So I went down the road to a famous guitar shop Johnny Roadhouse. I remembered musician's MIDI leads have 5 pin DIN plugs and musicians like really nice cables as their music obviously deserves to travel through superior cables and gold plated plugs. Result. Cut the cable and soldered a 13pin DIN plug.

I have to say the nice thing was it all just worked. Using Winlink I was able to send an email to myself and to retrieve a GRIB file. As a radio ham I can use Winlink (which is free but donations encouraged) but the alternative (as a a licensed marine radio operator) is to use SailMail (which is a not-for profit but you have to join $250/y).

I really like Navigatrix. It has exactly the software you need for sailing, all set up so it mainly just works out of the box and has an excellent support community (including special provision for supporting people at sea emailing over their PACTOR). One could of course install all the programs on any Linux distribution but you would spend several days getting it all to work and you would have to know what you are doing.

Its worth mentioning that if you are in the UK the first place to try for yacht HF/MF communications and Pactors is Bob Smith at Yachtcom/Sailcom. He could have sent me the right cable by return if he did not happen to be away sailing at the time, he will also sell you PACTORs and ICOM radios with excellent support. In this case it just happened I got a good deal on a second hand one from Radio Exchange. He also teaches the Long Range Certificate, and doing his course is the least traumatic way of passing your Long Range Certificate. Having done this and my full l amateur radio license the LRC is much easier and less work. If you love sailing but don't really like electronics and radios the LRC with Bob, buying the kit from Bob and getting him to set it up is the least painful route. Then use SailMail. If you love electronics and techy stuff and can just about solder on a good day (like me) the ham radio route is better as you end up with a better idea how to fix things yourself when they go wrong.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Matsutec HP-33A 4.3" marine GPS AIS transponder

I bought Huaygang Tech in Hong Kong for £270 + import duty. It still seems a bargain as it is a 50 channel GPS and a class B AIS transponder. There is a video of it being opened on You Tube, and you can see the specs on Huaygang's Alibaba site . Obviously I did not buy it on Alibaba - I ordered it directly and paid by PayPal. Excellent

I tested it at home and the set up was quite simple. The MMSI number went in and was saved (without any "are you sure" type of message). The GPS fixed the position of my house within about 1m, and that was with the antenna on the window ledge so it did not see many satellites. It was giving out short bursts on the AIS VHF channel every few minutes, as I could see on my Ham radio, but my attempt to decode them with ShipPlotter failed. I am not sure why but these type of things can be a bit tricky to set up. The Tx Rx indicators on the AIS display did not change so I am not sure what they do. They were small grey circles and I expect they should flash in colour. I then took the unit to Conwy Marina for testing aboard Tui. I plugged the PL259 from the main mast antenna in the HP-33 A, and used an emergency antenna on my Standard Horizon MX2100 VHF and AIS receiver. As expected I did not show up on the MX2100 display as the same MMSI is programmed in so it knows it is me. I then put my AIS Man Over Board SART in test mode and that shows up nicely on the unit. It comes up in red even though it says it is a test.
  I then tried to see if Tui showed up on Marine Traffic web site, but she did not. Actually the Wifi and 3G signal were both very poor in the marina so this was difficult. There were no other AIS transponders within range of either my HP-33A or MX2100, although Marine Traffic showed some ships further out to sea. Actually the Marine Traffic web site says it does not have coverage in Conwy.

I ran in to the crew of a 39 foot sloop Testa Rossa also berthed in Conwy, and asked them if I showed up on their AIS. It turns out that I did.

It is strange that the beam says 7ft. The set up menu of the HP-33A indicates the distance of the GPS antenna from the port or starboard side of the boat, but it assumes it is a ship with parallel sides. Interestingly Testa Rossa does show up on Marine Traffic in Conwy Marina. They could also see the ships further out on AIS. I presume this is a combination of Testa Rossa having a taller mast (I presume they are using a splitter and their main mast antenna) as she is a sloop rather than a ketch, and being further away from land so maybe having a clearer view.Note the position is correct down to the correct berth in the marina.

So far it the unit is pretty impressive. The next step is a permanent installation including connection the NMEA output. Also I am intrigued by the method of uploading and downloading waypoints and tracks. Instead of using proprietary software it just spits ASCII files down a serial port. I think I quite like that approach as it is very flexible but we will see how we get on with that. I am planning to put a whip antenna on the mizzen mast, that way it serves as a back up antenna for the VHF as well.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Alibaba and the Identity Theives

I tried to buy something on a Chinese web site called (well AliExpress). This web sites tries to get suppliers in China to be able to sell directly to world wide buyers. Not everything there is a scam, and if it is too good to be true it probably is. I tried to pay by credit card and it seemed to go through. Then I got this

Dear William
Thank you for shopping on AliExpress ! Unfortunately, your payment could not be verified and Order No. XXXXXXXX has been closed for security reasons.Please be assured that the payment for this order was not deducted by AliExpress.
To avoid order cancellation, please follow the below steps to submit a claim:
1.Sign in to AliExpress
2.Go to My Orders and locate this order
3.Click “View Details”
4.Click “Want to Claim”
5.Submit the following documents:
 •A copy of your personal ID or passport if you used a personal card for the transaction or a copy of your business  registration if you used a business card
 •A copy of both sides of the card used
 •A copy of the bank statement for the card used

Well the only reason I can think tht anyone would want a copy of your passport and credit card is for identity theft.  So no Ali Baba and the  40 Identity Theives. No way I am falling for that!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

A company called Ardent Credit Services in Liverpool emailed me with quite an elaborate and convincing phishing scam claiming to be collecting a debt to Vodafone. They followed it up with a very convincing letter. As Vodafone confirm I do not owe them any money, and they are sure they have not passed my details in to a debt collection agency, its a pretty bold scam.   I am not sure where they have got my details from but I wonder if this fraud is widespread? 

I have reported the attempted fraud to the Police on their very helpful web site and I would encourage readers to do the same.

A copy of the letter reproduced below. I wonder if the bank account at HSBC (402908 93891100) does belong to Ardent or if the scammers are actually nothing to do with Ardent and have set up that account as part of the scam?  I wonder if Ardent really does have an Andy Stanton (who signs using a strange font)?

More info about scams claiming to be vodafone here

Anyone else have a similar scam directed at them?