Operating the Satellites While on a Cruise

Allen Mattis N5AFV,  Houston, TX

One of my favorite activities is operating on the amateur radio satellites while I am on a cruise.  I have operated for a total of 94 days from 11 different vessels, and operated on 4 different satellites.  During that time I operated 298 satellite passes, made 1633 contacts, and activated 146 Maidenhead grid squares. While visiting various ports of call, I also operated from 19 different DXCC entities outside of the continental United States.  Almost all of the contacts I have hade while on cruises were made with an Icom W32A HT and a telescoping AL800 antenna.  On one cruise I used an Arrow antenna for some of the passes I could operate from the veranda of our stateroom. 

Grid squares activated by N5AFV during Caribbean cruises


DXCC entities activated on amateur radio satellites by N5AFV while visiting Caribbean ports of call on cruises


Grid squares activated by N5AFV on Hawaii cruise


European grid squares activated by N5AFV


Articles by N5AFV about Operating Satellites While on Cruises

After my first cruise, I decided to write an article about operating on the amateur radio satellites while on a cruise ship.  The article was published in Worldradio, April 2002, and reprinted in the May/June 2003 issue of The AMSAT Journal (Volume 26, No. 3). It is a good summary of how I prepared for the cruise, and some of the problems I encountered while operating. 

Worldradio & AMSAT Journal Article: Prior planning - key to a successful DX cruise

I operated satellites on additional cruises, and before long a number of amateur radio operators began to ask me for advice about how to prepare for and operate the FM LEO satellites on cruises they were planning to take.  In response to these requests, I prepared and submitted a paper for the 2005 AMSAT Space Symposium that was scheduled to be held in Lafayette, LA October 7-9, 2005.  Due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the Symposium had to be cancelled; however, the paper was published by AMSAT in the Proceedings of the AMSAT-NA 23rd Space Symposium.

AMSAT-NA 23rd Space Symposium Article: Satellites and Cruising – A Winning Combination

On a cruise in December 2005, I operated from six ports of call as well as from the ship at sea.  This was my first effort to operate in as many ports of call as possible during a cruise, and the amateur radio highlight of the cruise was making the first amateur radio satellite contacts from Dominica.

AMSAT Journal Article : Caribbean Cruise Satellite Operation a Success

On a cruise in October-November 2006, I sailed from Los Angeles to Hawaii and back to Los Angeles.  During this cruise I participated along with Andy MacAllister W5ACM in making the first amateur radio ship-to-ship satellite contact from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. 

AMSAT Journal Article :  Pacific Ocean to Gulf of Mexico Ship-to-Ship Satellite Contact



Allen, G / N5AFV, operating from the Ocean Princess, October, 2001

(Photo by KE4RQZ)


LA / N5AFV operating from the balcony of his stateroom near Key West, January 2004

(Photo by XYL of N5AFV)

It is a good practice for amateur radio operators to avoid transmitting near anything that looks like a VHF antenna on a cruise ship. Since few of today’s ship's officers have in-depth knowledge of radio, even minor interference to the ship's radios would likely bring the shipboard amateur radio operation to a halt.  It is also important that an environment is not created where other amateur radio operators would have difficulty obtaining permission to operate on cruise ships in the future.



Two of the half dozen or so antennae on one cruise ship that looked as if they might be for VHF bands.

(Photos by N5AFV)


After my first cruise in 2001, I wrote an article about how to prepare for operating on a cruise. During preparation for a later cruise, I disregarded one of the major points I made in that article. I had hoped to operate from the balcony of our stateroom with an arrow antenna. Since my old arrow antenna was pretty well worn out after three years of heavy use, I ordered a new arrow antenna from AES several weeks before our cruise. When I received the new arrow antenna, I installed the duplexer I had used with my old arrow into the handle of the new antenna, but did not test it. That was a big mistake. When I got onboard the ship and assembled the arrow, I found that I could hear the satellites, but not get into them. The duplexer was not working on the 2m side. Mr. Murphy dealt me a serious blow. Fortunately my backup antenna, the Premier (Pryme) AL800 telescoping antenna, performed quite well. When you are going on a DXpedition test all equipmment before you leave. Make sure everything is in working condition. Learn from my mistake.


The arrow antenna with the faulty duplexer on the balcony of our stateroom. With this antenna I could hear the satellites, but not get into them.

(Photo by N5AFV)

E-mail - [email protected]

Created: February 18, 2006 by Allen F. Mattis
Last Updated: October 11, 2009