OH8STN: Portable Power and Field Communications

Julian, OH8STN, has another good post up about using portable power during field operations and a couple of radios with versatile power options – Portable Power and Field Communications.

Hello Operators.

This is just a short post about the relationship between field communications, and portable power. Ham radio manufacturers would have us believe our goal is to go out and operate a couple of hours at a time, then recharge our batteries back at home. This may be true sometimes, but it’s not always true.

Ham radio manufacturers don’t recognize the importance of a decent operating run time from internal batteries, or the ability to recharge those batteries, without grid power. For example Elecraft offers one of the most amazing portable radios on the market, the kx2. Did you know it’s impossible to recharge the kx2 in the field without the Elecraft proprietary smart charger, connected to AC mains? This means if you’re off grid without additional batteries, or the ability to plug in a smart charger, you’ll have to use an external battery anyway. Despite how awesome the radio is, having to use that external battery diminishes its lightweight field utility of the radio.

The Yaesu ft-818 is another example. Its internal AA battery pack can power the radio for about an hour or two. Unlike the Elecraft kx2, the ft-818 can be recharged in the field from any DC power source 9 to 15 volts, (AWESOME). It’s Achilles heel is that it takes 8 to 10 hours to recharge its internal battery pack. What the heck is the point of having 2 hours runtime, and 8 to 10 hours recharge time? It’s freaking ridiculous! This means in practice, we need to use an external battery pack anyway.

Some operators have offered alternatives to these problems.

  • Carrying additional battery packs.
  • Using an inverter to power the smart charger.
  • Ration the radios usage so batteries last longer.

All of these ideas come from operators without a solid understanding of communications off grid. Off-grid communications requires us to be grid and energy independent. So when manufacturers tell us the only way to recharge the internal battery of their radio, is using their proprietary AC powered smart charger, we should tell them to go lay an egg. We should also tell manufacturers who have an 8 to 10 hour charge time on a relatively small internal battery, to do a little bit more engineering.

From where I’m standing, it looks like popular ham radio manufacturers have become complacent. We have become such Fanboys, that we continuously make excuses for why these functionalities are not built into their radios. Why don’t we demand amateur radio manufacturers create radios, which are grid independent!? Why do we still accept double AA packs inside our rigs, when a lithium ion or lithium iron phosphate pack are a fraction of the physical size, weight, and offer much higher capacity!? These ultra energy dense packs are standard in everyones mobile phones, tablets and laptops, so why not ham radio!? Why should I buy an Elecraft smart charger, when it’s simply a 3s lithium ion battery pack inside the radio!?

Most of the battery research and projects done on the channel, are in response to ham radio manufacturers not stepping up to offer viable solutions for the off-grid operator. Certainly Elecraft gives us low current draw, but what good is that when your battery is dead, and there’s no way to recharge it?

Although much of the research going into off-grid portable power on the channel, has been done for off-grid and field communications, some of the previous and upcoming projects, exists purely because ham radio manufacturers don’t understand our needs.

Yesterday I tried a new radio for the first time. It’s only the second time I’ve seen this functionality in a commercial radio. The functionalities are

  • Powering the radio from external power supply while
  • Simultaneously recharging the internal battery pack in a reasonable amount of time.

The two radios I’ve seen with this capability are the Icom IC-705, and the Xiegu X5105…(continues)

Click here to read the entire article at OH8STN.

Off Grid Ham: Small Solar Can Give Big Results

Chris Warren at Off Grid Ham has another good article up on small solar arrays for power, Small Solar Can Give Big Results…If You Play It Right.

Call now! Operators are waiting! small solar power

You’ve probably seen the campy ads hawking small solar power systems and “solar generators”. These ads make some remarkable claims and the manufacturers are deliberately vague on the technical specifications of these products. They further fuzz up the facts with unrealistic depictions of hypothetical situations. small solar power

I especially get a chuckle from the TV commercial showing happy, cheerful kids playing a board game in a large, well-lit house during a power outage and raging storm outside. The entire house is powered by, we’re supposed to believe, the advertised product which is a small battery pack weighing almost nothing and fits under the bed. Are small solar power systems worthwhile, or are they junk? As anyone with at least one functioning brain cell should suspect, the truth lies somewhere in the middle grey area.

Pictures are better than words. small solar power

This video was recently posted to the Off Grid Ham YouTube channel. It’s just over three minutes long and demonstrates the power of small scale solar.

Small scale solar has been addressed on this blog before, and my advice is still the same. If you are looking to take amateur radio off grid with solar, your best option is a purpose built home brew system made from components that you personally selected for your application. Furthermore, a DIY system is almost always less expensive. If you don’t care about cost and just want a plug-and-play “solar generator,” then by all means go drop several hundred dollars for a glorified battery in a box (you’ll lay out another few hundred on a matching panel to charge it). To be fair, it’s a very cool looking box but in the end you’re only paying for looks so in that regard you’re getting your money’s worth. small solar power

I’m not knocking the functionality of these products. They actually do work very well if used within reasonable expectations. I’m sour on them because of their breathtaking price tags and marketing that vastly oversells their capabilities. The ads are targeted to non-technical people who will not bother or know to ask the right questions. The technically-savvy people who know what to look for will have a hard time finding even basic specifications such as amp-hour ratings on batteries. The information is usually dumbed down with generic statements like, “runs a laptop for twelve hours!” small solar power

The bottom line: They work, if you keep it real.

small solar power

Off Grid Ham original photo ©2017

The bottom line is that small solar power systems do work, up to a point. Forget about powering your house through a storm with anything that will fit under a bed, unless there is physics-defying alien technology out there I haven’t heard of yet. But if you need to run a QRP radio, charge up your handhelds, and have some juice leftover for other needs, a little 50-150 watt solar setup paired with a modest battery should suit the job just fine. And you don’t need to plop down six hundred-plus dollars to do it.

In the video a continuous 50 watt load is easily supported by the small system. It gets better: The system in the video is overbuilt for a 50 watt load. I used it for demonstration purposes, but you could get by with much less…(continues)

Click here to read the entire article at Off Grid Ham.

New AmRRON Videos

The American Redoubt Radio Operators Network (AmRRON) is a network of Preppers, Patriots and Redoubters who have volunteered to keep each other connected when other means of communications are unavailable or unreliable. It was originally formed to server only the Pacific NW states comprising the “American Redoubt” but has since spread across the nation and into Canada. Around 2014 they also merged with The American Preppers Radio Network. They have recently released several videos to explain a bit what they are but more what they are doing currently and planning to do in the future.

You don’t have to be an amateur radio operator to be a member or participant and membership is free. The communication plans include non-licensed radio services as well as amateur radio.

Off Grid Ham: Sudden Interest in Radio

Amateur Radio – ready for emergency deployment

Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham talks about the recent surge of Sudden Interest in Radio Syndrome (SIRS) cases in If You Missed The Train, Don’t Worry. There Will Be Another.

There’s a buzz about radio, and it’s not on the radio.

The amateur radio social media pages and web forums are suddenly buzzing with activity. Mostly it’s from people who are not hams but want to become one. This anecdotal evidence is supported by a notable increase in web traffic to offgridham.com in the last three weeks or so. The search terms suggest that most of these visitors are directly looking for information about off grid communications. Surprise! That’s what we do here, exclusively. So if you’re interested in off grid amateur radio you’ve landed on the best web page on this or any globe. covid-19

Saying the quiet part out loud. covid-19

covid-19

Public domain image.

Let’s not be coy. This interest in off grid amateur radio is being driven by the Covid-19 virus calamity consuming the world. While most people are not outright giving it as a reason why they are interested in off grid radio, they are dropping enough hints that it isn’t hard to figure it out. c

The funny thing is, the corona virus is not a calamity in the traditional sense. The grid is still solid. The electricity is on, the plumbing works, and the internet is up. The roads are free for travel and the stores are (mostly) open and (somewhat) well stocked. No one is being burned or flooded out of their homes. Society is still functioning, albeit with a six foot space cushion between every living human. covid-19covid-19

So why do so many people suddenly want to jump into radio? There’s not too many ways it can aid in Covid-19 response efforts, so it’s not about “emergency communications”. Or is it? I think the real motive is not about a disease. Rather, the disease is giving a lot of people a reality check about being prepared. Maybe they’re thinking about what might happen if all the people who make the grid work suddenly fall sick themselves. Maybe they’re thinking ahead to what else can happen where amateur radio really will be a valuable resource.

I’m just speculating and have no firm proof of any of this, but it’s hard not to see an association between current events and the sharp upturn of interest in amateur radio.

What now?

If you weren’t prepared before Covid-19 upended the world, you’re not going to make up for it now. I have some shocking news for all the hoarders filling their basements with toilet paper: You’e panicking and reacting, not preparing. The truly prepared already had a stock of toilet paper before Covid-19 came to town. The good news is that it’s not too late to prepare for the next calamity…and you know there will be another one, someday, somewhere.

Passing a simple test and buying a $35.00 handheld radio off Amazon to stash in a cabinet “just in case” is not going to make you prepared either. Amateur radio has a low barrier to entry but the learning curve is fairly steep once you’re in the door. If you do make the step into ham radio, it’s going to require some effort and practice. It’s not a “set it and forget it” avocation, at least not if you want to be any good at it. Many if not most of the people who become amateurs solely for emergency preparedness purposes will not touch a radio until an emergency actually happens. Then, and only then, will they realize that being prepared is not about collecting stuff.

Skills vs. stuff.  Covid-19

Theres is good news: Learning about ham radio is fun. Amateur radio is after all a hobby that just happens to have a practical secondary application as an emergency communications service. You’ll be a better person and be better prepared if you don’t let the latter overshadow the former. Being prepared is about having skills and having a plan. Regular readers of this website know I beat the hell out of the importance of having a plan. They also know the operator with a lot of skill but very little equipment is better off than a wannabe with a roomful of the latest & best gear. Making the most of what you have and using skills as a force multiplier is the heart & soul of what Off Grid Ham is all about.

Welcome.

If you recently found this website as a curious outsider, welcome. I hope you’ll stick around for the long haul and enrich yourself with amateur radio. If you’re a long time amateur or a regular reader, I hope you’ll refer newcomers to offgridham.com and help them find a reason to take amateur radio seriously.

We are in the midst of a disaster. It’s too late to plan for what’s already happened. If you weren’t prepared, learn from experience. The next disaster is 100% going to happen so ready yourself now. Only a fool waits for the the house to start burning before they go shopping for a fire extinguisher. I believe the strength and spirit of America will pull us through but hope has never solved any problem. As a famous radio host once quipped, hope is just disappointment delayed. Start learning skills and come up with a plan right now.

OH8STN: Emergency Communications for Groups

Julian, OH8STN, has a new video out about ham radio emergency communications for Groups.

Hello Operators.
Todays topic emergency communications, ham radio is a little different than normally seen on the channel. Today we are discussing ham radio emergency communications for groups and small communities while bugging in shtf. The bugging in shtf part, is the self quarantine many of us are experiencing around the world the past few weeks. it’s obvious too many of us now bugging in is very different from the bugging out we may have expected and prepared for. Because of this, groups and communities wishing to learn ham radio emergency group communications, may be interested to learn this approach, and these emergency communications tools.

73
Julian oh8stn

 

Communications Academy, Seattle, Apr. 24-26, 2020 – Cancelled

UPDATE from Communication Academy 2020:

*** URGENT NOTICE ***

WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT DUE TO THE RECENT COVID-19 OUTBREAK,
AND UPON ADVICE FROM THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPT. OF HEALTH,

THE 2020 COMMUNICATIONS ACADEMY WILL OFFICIALLY BE CANCELLED.

WE ARE TAKING THIS PRECAUTION TO PROTECT THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF ALL OUR ATTENDEES

THOSE OF YOU THAT HAVE PREREGISTERED ALREADY WILL AUTOMATICALLY RECIEVE A FULL REFUND

 

The 2020 Communications Academy will be held on April 24-26, 2020 at South Seattle College.

The theme for 2020 is “If Cascadia rises, will we fall?!” This will be a theme for three years, leading up to the Cascadia Rising 2022 National Level Exercise.

The Communications Academy delivers education, resources and training opportunities focused on interoperability across the communications spectrum. The Communications Academy this year is three days of training and information on various aspects of emergency communications.  Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES©); Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS); EOC Support Teams; Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES), Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary, REACT, CERT and anyone interested in emergency communications are encouraged to attend.

Location:

South Seattle College

6000 16th Avenue S.W., Seattle WA 98106 in the Olympic Building (OLY) and Jerry Brockey Student Center, at the south end of the campus.

Free parking is available south of the buildings.

Schedules:

Friday, April 24 (masters level classes)

Saturday, April 25

Sunday, April 26

2020 Registration Fees:

Rates: 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day
Early Bird Rate (Feb 23 to Mar 29) $36.00 $64.00 $95.00
Normal Rate (Mar 30 to Apr 19) $45.00 $80.00 $119.00
Register at Door (After Apr 19) $55.00 $100.00 N/A*
*Friday Masters Classes Pre-Register Only


Discounts available for:
Early Registration beginning:
Military personnel (active or reserve)
Students (age 18 years or under)
Late registration at the conference is higher but very limited so don’t delay!

A buffet luncheon with a variety of sandwiches, salads, deserts, and beverages is included with your registration.

 

Amateur Radio Technician License Class, 2/22 & 3/7

An amateur radio technician license exam preparation class will be held in the boardroom of the Benton REA, Prosser building at 402 7th St (entrance at the rear of the building). The class will take two full days to present and will be held on the Saturdays of Feb. 22nd, 2020 and March 7th, 2020 from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm each Saturday. There is no fee for taking the class. While we do not currently plan to hold a test session on the last day of class, there is an exam session being held by the Tri-Cities Amateur Radio Club on March 15th at the Boy Scouts office on 8478 W Gage Blvd, in Kennewick at 1:45 pm.

If you have questions about the class, you can send email to lyvarc@gmail.com.

ABC Australia: Amateur Radio Skills Prove Useful During Bushfire Emergencies

From ABC Australia, this article details how amateur radio operators have provided communications in areas where the local communication infrastructure has been damaged by fires.

Amateur radio enthusiasts have proved themselves useful during the recent bushfires after traditional telecommunication channels broke down.

Amateur radio, also known as ham radio, is a skill and international hobby whereby enthusiasts use specific radio frequencies to communicate with each other.

In Australia, users must complete an exam to obtain a license through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

It was volunteers with these skills who were called in to assist during the recent New South Wales bushfires.

Neil Fallshaw is vice-president of WICEN NSW Communications, a group of volunteers with amateur radio licenses who can help in emergency situations.

He said about 30 members provided a temporary radio system in the Bega, Cobargo, Narooma, and Bermagui areas after some of the local radio infrastructure was damaged or had lost power.

A man sits at a desk operating a radio
Photo: Neil Fallshaw says radio operators were able to step in when mobile phones went down. (Supplied: Neil Fallshaw)

“We deployed one of our radio repeaters on the mountains. We put a radio repeater system on that mountain to cover a portion of the south coast,” Mr Fallshaw said.

He said that radio system assisted the NSW Volunteer Rescue Association and Bega Valley Shire Council staff to communicate from bushfire-affected towns like Bermagui and Cobargo.

“They normally use just mobile phones, but the mobile phones in the area were down because of fire damage,” Mr Fallshaw said.

Members of WICEN NSW also provided support operating regular radios at fire control centres in towns like Glen Innes, Port Macquarie, and Kempsey.

“They needed people who would be able to operate the radios in a communications environment which can get pretty hectic,” Mr Fallshaw said…

Tony Falla, an amateur radio user in central Victoria, said ham radio skills could be particularly useful when there were significant power outages.

For example, like that on the NSW south coast on New Year’s Eve when mobile coverage, the national broadband network, and the local ABC radio transmitter all dropped out.

“What I think amateur radio people have going for them is their ability to contact people outside the threatened area when there’s no contact inside the threatened area and pass on messages of a health and welfare nature,” Mr Falla said…

Mr Falla believes amateur radio skills could become more useful with the increased likelihood of extreme weather events leading to power outages.

“Amateur radio is considered old fashioned; why would you want a radio when you’ve got the internet?” he said.

“We have proved this year that the situations in place right now aren’t adequate in the extreme.”

Three people on the phone in a call centre.
Photo: WICEN operators also help with answering calls at the RFS headquarters in Sydney. (Supplied: Neil Fallshaw)

Mr Morley said there were some within emergency services in Victoria who were unaware of the skills amateur radio enthusiasts could provide.

“You have a lot of different staff coming in during emergencies, and while some people know what WICEN can do, probably many don’t,” he said.

Mr Gibson said the small size of WICEN NSW limited their ability to assist, but the work they had been doing was excellent.

“Since November 9, the WICEN group has completed 2,900 hours of radio communications, and that was only done by 30 members,” Mr Gibson said.

“WICEN, as a communications network, you won’t get any better.”

Off Grid Ham: You’re a Ham Radio Beginner. Now What?

Chris at Off Grid Ham has a nice article posted about all of the different things you can do as an amateur radio operator, geared toward those who are new to the hobby. We’ll be holding a two-Saturday technician license class in the next couple of months (probably toward the end of February) if you are interested in studying for your license. While our local club is focused on emergency/disaster communication, we do experiment with what modes are best for that purpose. We have running packet and AREDN (Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network) networks. We work on off grid power for some of our stations. Several members are running HF digital stations and many do HF voice for regional communications. So even a specialty like “disaster communications” can include a lot of areas of fun.

HAM RADIO BEGINNER

Courtesy of FOX Broadcasting

This article is primarily for those who recently got their radio license, but I hope the old timers will hang around. The goal is to provide direction to the ham radio beginner and give more experienced operators some insight they can use to help others ease into the hobby.

You’ve taken the first step into a “club” with a rich history of technical innovation, community service, and personal growth. You’re going to meet some great people, and to be completely honest, some not so great people too. Like any avocation, what you get out of ham radio depends on your motivation and attitude. If your head and your heart are in the right place, the rest will work itself out.

The breadth and depth of amateur radio can be intimidating.

Ham radio has a low barrier to entry but the learning curve is quite steep once you’re in the door. Don’t be put off by that. As a ham radio beginner, it’s important to understand that no matter how long you do this, you’ll never truly know everything.

Amateur radio is a very wide and deep field with many subspecialties. Among them are DXing, contesting, disaster/emergency services, fox hunting, data modes, moon bounce, SKYWARN, satellites, antenna design, QRP operating, and of course my personal favorite, off grid power. There are many more. The diversity is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because there truly is something for everyone. It’s a curse because there are so many choices a ham radio beginner may feel a little overwhelmed.

Your first action should be to define what direction you want to go. For some people, this is the easy part. They may have wanted their license for a specific purpose, such as to work with an emergency response group. If you knew what you wanted to do with ham radio before you even got your ticket, then you can skip this step.

For everyone else, some decisions will need to be made. Be open to all the options, even ones that don’t seem to grab your interest…

If you have not figured it out yet, your license is a departure, not a destination. To get anything at all out the hobby, you’ll have to invest some effort into learning much more than what you had to know to pass a test. The best way to do this is to partner up with a more experienced operator who shares your interests, or join a club.

Both of these options can be problematic for the ham radio beginner. It might be hard to find someone who has the time and desire to give one-on-one help. Clubs are a hit-and-miss affair. Some are very well run and go far out of their way to help newcomers. Others are very clique-ish and don’t want their group invaded.

Many clubs themselves specialize. Some do community service projects or emergency/disaster comms. Others focus on contests. One club in my area spends almost all their time planning and running a swap meet. Another is just a bunch of guys who hang out on a repeater and exists as club in name only. If your local club is not into what you are looking to do as a ham, then there’s going to be a disconnect. This of course doesn’t mean you can’t join or won’t fit in, it just means you may not get what you were hoping for…

Click here to read the entire article at Off Grid Ham.

OH8STN: Raspberry Pi Field Computer – Off Grid Communications

Julian, OH8STN, has added another video to his Off Grid Communications series. This one is on the Raspberry Pi field computer he has been working on for a while.

The video starts off with an overview of my raspberry pi field computer, the QRP GoKit used in the field test, and some of the reaities of field communications when off grid. The video then moves on to discuss the reality of off grid field communications, and why we need to be smarter operators, with smarter yet easy to maintain gear.

OH8STN: Ultimate Raspberry Pi Build for Amateur Radio

Julian, call sign OH8STN, posted a new video last week about Ultimate Raspberry Pi Build. He uses the AmRRON Raspberry Pi scripts for part of the process and praises their work. Julian is using the Raspberry Pi with his radio to build a very light and portable radio communication system that could be used for emergency response operations or just for fun, portable operation.

Hello Operators.
Each of us has a different idea about what the ultimate raspberry pi build would be or look like. For my station, reducing the cable mess, replacing a large audio interface with a low-cost usb audio codec, and creating a lightweight, energy-efficient configuration for ham radio data mode operations. Also important was getting my raspberry pi to work off os 12 volts, just like my Yaesu FT-818 and Yaesu FT-891. In this video, we will go through all the hardware, hardware mods, hats, and software used to make this station the ultimate rasberry pi build for ham radio data modes in the field.

73, Julian #oh8stn

Off Grid Ham: Survival Skills – When It’s No Longer a Hobby

Chris Warren at Off Grid Ham has a nice article up for amateur radio licensees, talking about whether you know it or not when a disaster strikes you may become the person everyone around expects to communicate with the outside world. So it might be a good idea to do some planning even if preparedness “isn’t your thing.”

Survival Skills: When It’s No Longer a Hobby

Like it or not, you may become “that guy” (or girl).

Amateur radio means different things to different people. Some like to tinker and experiment. Others are into DX or contests, or maybe community service projects. No matter what your motivations are, amateur radio serves a secondary usefulness that goes far beyond just being a hobby or avocation. Threatening weather, fires, floods, civil unrest, large scale accidents, and a long list of other calamities can and do occur. No area of the world is truly safe from everything. The day may come when your pastimes are valuable survival skills. Are you ready to be the one others can count on when SHTF? You may get the job even if you don’t want it.

It’s not crazy doomsday paranoia.

You’ve probably heard all the stereotypes about survivalists and preppers. While it’s true a small but highly visible minority of survivalists have unconventional and even bizarre ideas, the survivalists’ root theme is perfectly reasonable and rational: Major disruptions in society can and do occur and it’s wise to have survival skills and supplies that will help you deal with the situation.

Do you have a fire extinguisher and smoke detectors in your house? Why do you have these things when statistically you’ll live your entire life and and never need them? Are you some kind of paranoid weirdo?

Do you see where I’m going with this? Being prepared for things that are very unlikely to happen does not make one a prophesying crackpot. To some degree everyone is a survivalist/prepper; at what point being prudently prepared becomes kooky is a matter of either naiveté or cynicism, depending on your perspective.

Amateur radio and survival skills.

survival skills
Hurricane Harvey. Photo courtesy of conservativetribune.com

The maxim that amateur radio works when everything else fails may be a cliché, but it’s not inaccurate. The average off grid amateur already has most of the required equipment. The only missing piece is coming up with a plan to apply those survival skills in an actual SHTF situation. Reviewing a few basic concepts offers focus:

Click here to read the entire article at Off Grid Ham

Off Grid Ham: Go Boxes

Dan Passaro’s shack in a can.

In this article, Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham spends a little bit of time talking about ham radio go boxes. For ham radio enthusiasts, the radio go box is mostly commonly used when responding as an emergency communications volunteer or for fun, portable radio communications while camping or hiking. But the go box holds a place for preppers, too, even if you aren’t an amateur radio licensee. Even if your plan for emergencies is to “bug in” (stay put at home) there are disasters which may force you out of your home, and you will want some kind of portable communications ready to go – whether that is ham radio, FRS, GMRS, MURS, CB or just a kit for keeping your cell phone charged up.

Go Box Zen 2.0

I didn’t realize it’s been over three years since the last time Off Grid Ham specifically addressed go boxes. If the internet discussions and on air chatter are any indicator, it’s a very popular way to operate. It’s way past time to revisit the humble ham radio go box and come up with some fresh ideas.

In the last three years I’ve noticed an uptick in ham radio go box deployment. There are even entire social media pages dedicated solely to go boxes (or bags or whatever your thing is). I think there are several reasons why. Many operators live under homeowners’ association rules that severely limit having a fixed antenna. Theses operators may have no choice but to hit the road. Others want something they can take camping, for SHTF purposes, or EMCOMM. The various special event stations from parks and other significant places may be driving the trend too. There’s also new equipment manufacturers offering low cost gear. This opened possibilities to people who could not otherwise afford a dedicated go box.

As before, this is not going to be a step-by-step how to on building a ham radio go box. There are too many variables and too many individual choices for me to come up with a plan that works for everyone. Instead, we’ll go over some concepts to consider and questions you’ll need to answer before you begin.

Defining priorities.

What is the Number One priority for your ham radio go box? It it portability? DX-capability? Data modes? Keeping the cost down? Before you can construct a go box, you have to decide what trait is the most important. From there you can work in secondary needs. As with everything, there will be compromises, and some things are mutually exclusive.

The main reason ham radio go boxes do not live up to expectations is because they were not built to expectations in the first place. Or possibly, what you thought was a Number One priority turned out to be not such an urgent issue after all. Years ago my first go box was a huge fail because my Number One priority, cost savings, meant giving up so many other smaller things that they made the cost savings not worth it.

ham radio go box
The main parts of my new & improved, much lighter ham radio go box. Left is a 27 watt folding solar panel. Top is a DC power box which includes a 13 amp-hour lithium battery and the charge controller. Right is a random wire antenna. Not shown: Alpha Antenna FMJ.

I used an old Yaesu FT-757 GX II radio. I also dug up an inverter, a solar controller, an FT-2900 2-meter radio, a 100 watt solar panel, and some various plugs and connectors. All of this stuff I already had. I built a nice wood box to mount everything in. My out of pocket cost for the entire project was less than $100.00, and most of that was for a 35 amp hour SLA battery. It looked impressive. I felt like a boss!

Well guess what? I achieved my goal of keeping the cost down, but my ham radio go box was so clunky and heavy that I didn’t care. Between the battery, the wood box, and all the other stuff, I could barely move that beast by myself. There wasn’t much “go” in that go box, unless I invested in a forklift too. I thought saving money was my Number One priority but I gave up too many other attributes to make it worthwhile.

That was my lesson in not only defining priorities, but also considering what else I have to give up to attain that priority. I inadvertently buried the cost savings under all the other problems. I used that go box only once or twice, then dismantled it.

What comes next?

After admitting defeat in my first attempt at a ham radio go box, I reexamined my priorities…

Click here to continue reading at Off Grid Ham.

Related:

OH8STN: Grid Down Comms

Instructables: KE0OJE’s Ham Radio Go Box

Instructables: Radio Go Box (Ham, MURS, GMRS, FRS)

HARC Net: Amateur Radio Go Kit (pdf)

 

OH8STN: Grid Down Communications for Preparedness

Amateur radio enthusiast, blogger and vlogger OH8STN (Julian) has posted a video on Introduction to Grid Down Communications for Preparedness. As he says, planning for a grid down scenario covers around 99% of the scenarios that a person may face (earthquake, pandemic, civil unrest, etc.) Julian covers a lot of useful information in the video, not just for amateur radio operators but anyone trying to prepare to communicate in such a scenario.

Here is the first video of the series:

Related:

Suggested Radio Equipment for Community Safety – but there is no “one size fits all” communications solution as pointed out in OH8STN’s video above. Julian’s video discusses some of the assumed background information of this article in more detail. This article discusses the equipment that is working for the LVA.

ARRL: Hurricane Watch Net Keeping Eye on Tropical Storm Barry

From the Amateur Radio Relay League:

Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said the net is “keeping a very close eye” on Tropical Storm Barry, which could develop into a Category 1 hurricane. The HWN has announced no plans to activate, however, and remains at Alert Level 2 — monitoring mode.

At 2100 UTC, the storm’s center was 90 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi and some 175 miles southeast of Morgan City, Louisiana. The storm is generating maximum sustained winds of 40 MPH with higher gusts and is moving to the west at 5 MPH.

“Although hurricane watches and warnings are now in effect, the National Hurricane Center states that Barry could become a hurricane prior to landfall,” Graves noted. “Even if Barry does not reach Category 1 hurricane status, wind gusts to hurricane force are possible in the warning area. Regardless, if Barry becomes a hurricane or not, this system is looking to be a major rainmaker.”

Forecasters concur that the storm will continue to intensify until making landfall. A danger exists of life-threatening storm surge along the coast of southern and southeastern Louisiana. The storm’s slow movement will result in an extended period of heavy rainfall and the threat of flooding along the central Gulf Coast and inland through the lower Mississippi Valley through the weekend into early next week, forecasters said.

 

Here is the standard HWN activation plan:

When activated, you will find us on 14.325 MHz (USB) by day and 7.268 MHz (LSB) by night. If propagation dictates, daytime operations will be conducted on both frequencies simultaneously. Why do we state these frequencies without a plus or minus amount? Because those who are operating using marine radios have to program in the frequencies – marine radios do not have a VFO or RIT. Furthermore, these two frequencies come preprogrammed into many marine radios. Many non-hams listen in via shortwave radio and know this is where to find us when we are activated…

NOTE: During any Net activation, operations on 7.268.00 MHz will suspend @ 7:30 AM ET to allow the “Waterway Radio and Cruising Club Net – WRCC” (aka, the Waterway Net) to conduct their daily morning Net. If required, due to poor daytime propagation on 14.325.00 MHz, operations on 7.268.00 MHz may be required at the conclusion of the Water Way Net, generally around 8:30 AM ET.

Whenever the Hurricane Watch Net is not active, you can hear the latest information on 14.300.00 MHz.

As a special note to those who monitor when the net is active, we ask that you please honor our request for you remain quiet unless specifically called upon for assistance.

NatGeo: New Orleans Braces for Major Flooding from Tropical Storm Barry Continue reading “ARRL: Hurricane Watch Net Keeping Eye on Tropical Storm Barry”