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Towards the year 2000, maritime satellite communications using the INMARSAT system will employ a second and third generation of satellites and new ship earth stations (SES). The new SES standards will use very small antennas with gains between 0 and 15 dBi. At the lower end of SES there will be no antenna stabilization. The communication channel for such small stations is described by a model including multipath fading, Doppler shift, and noise. The results of an extensive measurement program were used to determine the parameters of the channel model, which depend on antenna type and elevation angle. Analytical calculations as well as synthetic and stored channel hardware simulations have been used to determine the performance of several modulation schemes. A complete data link using PSK modems with AFC/Costas loop, interleaving, and FEC codecs at 1.2 kbits/s was built up around a hardware maritime channel simulator, to study the performance of data transmission on the small SES maritime channel. Theoretical and measured results are given for interleaved Viterbi decoding with channel state information and Reed-Solomon codes. The measurements show that with interleaved FEC schemes, the required for a BER 10-5is in the range of 9-15 dB and the effects of multipath fading are almost compensated for.