Asked & Answered: Which HF SSB antenna. whip or wire?

Question: I am a ham operator and am looking at ways of installing my rig on my boat. I have a ketch with a fairly short rig, so my wire lengths are all marginal. Plus with all that wire nearby, there is bound to be some interference. The recent article on single-sideband installations (Setting up single sideband, Issue 123, July/Aug. 2002), mentioned the possibility of using a 23-foot fiberglass whip. I wondered if you could tell me how they stack up against using rigging wire. I know the builder of my boat, an Amel 38, installed a whip on the mizzen of his boat because it shows in the original brochure. If the whip gives reasonable performance versus the wire, can you offer an opinion on how much overlap to the mast would be acceptable, and how far should the whip be stood off the mast?

J. Keith StoreyToronto, Ontario

Answer: A whip antenna is almost never as good as a proper backstay or shroud-wire antenna (provided the wire setup is of the correct length). However, whip antennas do work. I just completed a voyage aboard a 30-foot trawler from Chesapeake Bay to Bermuda. My yard rigged this vessel with an SSB, tuner and 23-foot whip, and I was able to make regular comms stateside.

I have never rigged a whip on the mast, however. They are invariably installed on the aft deck, using the aft rail as some support. Most whip manufacturers state that the bottom 4 to 5 feet of the whip require support. In the case of the little trawler, it was installed in the cockpit and the cabin top became the 5 feet of support. Also, installing it parallel to the mast would create some problems in radiating the signal evenly, especially since the mast is grounded (or should be).

Some manufacturers offer a shorter 17-foot loaded whip, and this may be an option; however, I have never installed these and therefore have no firsthand experience with them. If you have room on the aft deck, and there’s no way you can come up with enough wire to make a 23-foot insulated rigging wire antenna, then go with the whip.

There’s one other alternative; some ham catalogs offer a manually tapped or tuned whip called an Outbacker (, and it is available in tapped marine SSB frequencies. A colleague of mine used one for continuous comms while making a transit from the Canaries to Barbados. This antenna is quite short, 6 feet or so, and is designed to be installed on a grounded rail section. The only drawback to these is the necessity for manually tuning it. Each time you change bands (it’s designed for ham bands, but they are pretty much parallel to marine SSB bands), you must go out on deck and move a wire tap plug.

Steve C. D’AntonioContributing Editor

By Ocean Navigator