SSB Ground Plane

Home or s/v Stella Blue Home or instruments or Projects

January 2009 -

I'm sure I'll get a few emails telling me that I've done this completely wrong and it will never work. After reading and listening for years, I'm convinced that the SSB ground plane, or counterpoise, is a topic where every expert has a different opinion, and every expert is convinced that he or she has the correct and only answer.

Anyway, during the 2008 haul out, we had to pull the rig
to access the keel bolts and drop the keel.

So, as long as the rig was out,
we added backstay insulators.

I don't plan to buy and install SSB today.
A year ago, it was part of the plan, but as of January 2009
I'm getting very frugal. VHF will work down the California coast
and in Mexico, and if decide I need it, I'll add SSB.

Actually, I'm hoping that I'll meet someone who has a late model unit and doesn't need it any more. Perhaps someone who bought one and is finished cruising, and is coming back to the states. Who knows?

Anyway, as long as the rig was out,
adding the insulators didn't cost much.
Sven's Yard was very kind to me on that haul.

I slapped fiberglass and epoxy over everything.

The hull was clean,
and I didn't sand down through the paint.

This paint is
Interlux Bilgekote, and is about six years old.I figured it was scuffed up enough.

The fiberglass isn't structural, so I wanted a good seal but wasn't worried about a super strong
physical bond.

I won't paint over it,
so that if, for some reason, the copper corrodes,
I'll be able to see it
through the glass.


I also had to pull up most of the main cabin sole to remove the rig wiring,
and to access some
of the keel bolts.

So, as long as the sole was out, I took it home to renew the finish.

So, it was a good time to give the inside of the hull a good cleaning.

Once I'd gone that far,
it seemed only reasonable to fiberglass copper tape all over the bottom of the hull.

Having the tape run along these edges will raise the main cabin sole a tiny bit, but that shouldn't be a problem.

I'm going to stick thin neoprene foam tape over all the supports anyway, so that when the sole goes back down it won't creak.

After the epoxy cured, I went back and sanded everything down a bit,
to remove any sharp edges.

There are a few bubbles, and a few places where the tape isn't perfectly against the hull.

That's what I get for doing fiberglass at night, without a bright light.

So, I'll just go back and fill the mistakes with a thick epoxy putty and call it done.

There are about eight different spots for soldering connections, although I won't use them all.

This one is right above the aft keel bolt, so that I can tie the keel into the ground plane
if I feel like it.

I believe that the best way to do that is with a flexible
copper mesh tape

Continuing the run,
it goes down and
is again tie-wrapped directly over
the aft end
of the bilge.
There are
no oil stains here,
so it must be
safe and dry.

These red paper squares are just stuck on there
with the silicone paste. The silicone paste
will never get hard, and I can fiberglass over it.

When the time comes, I can take my Handy Dremel Tool and sand off the fiberglass over the paper, clean it up,
and solder connections directly to the tape.

After setting it into place, I ran a roller over it to press it flat against the hull, and remove any air gaps against the uneven hull surface.

I used a fiberglass roller, because it was handy. A solid roller might have been better, but this works.

Without some protection, the copper tape will corrode and potentially induce galvanic problems with other metal parts in the boat.

So I'm going to completely seal it with fiberglass and epoxy.

This is just thin 6 oz fabric, and four inch tape.

I bought 36 yards of two inch copper tape from McMaster-Carr.

It was a mistake to get the stuff with
non-conductive adhesive, since it made turning corners a lot harder.
However, since I bought it, I used it.

I bought it because I wanted to be able to control electrical currents,
and didn't want to worry about a
smear of conductive adhesive.

Well, if one seals it up well with fiberglass, that won't matter.

They also carry tape with an electrically conductive adhesive, and it would have made it much easier to install, as I could have used smaller pieces of tape and
just stuck them together.


I went wild,
and ran the tape all over the place.

There's another attachment point at the forward keel bolt, in case it's easier to use than the aft bolt

It certainly would be drier.

I'll never connect them both, since that might create a ground loop within the counterpoise.

I don't know if that matters, but my guess is that it would create a 'gremlin.'


At some point, of course, I'm going to have to tie the ground plane sections together into one unit, and bring it up
to the Nav Station.

However, that can wait.

In the meantime, I want the copper completely sealed.

I took some dielectric silicone grease, and smeared it over one side of
little paper squares.
cut from a Netflix return envelope.
Netflix was once a good customer of mine, and for a few years treated me with
respect and consideration.
Professional Salesmen appreciate that.

It runs all the way forward, and covers
most of the hull under the
main cabin, aft cabin, and galley.

I could have made it neater,
and added even more, but I wanted to have lots of room around the edges and
between the strips, so that epoxy would have a
good wide seal around the edges.
Besides, it's not like anyone will ever see it.
And, I'm big into "get it done" mode.
I don't have time to get fussy. I have a lot to do if I'm ever going to get out of here.


Some folks say that each section of the ground plane should have a separate run
back to the SSB head unit.

Other folks say that it doesn't matter.

I'll figure it out later, but added enough connection points to do it either way.