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Author Topic: Setting up for EMCOMM!  (Read 2448 times)
VA7POR
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« on: October 13, 2014, 08:04:18 PM »

So I recently passed my amateur radio license and part of the draw was to have practical experience with communications when all else fails.

Some background, I recently lived within the Philippines, and after experiencing two typhoons that left my community cut off from the outside world (no way to exit the village, no power, and spotty cell connection from the local providers to begin with) I've decided to not leave myself or my loved ones isolated again.  I do plan on returning back to that country in the near future, and after researching what information I can about their emergency amateur radio network (H.E.R.O.), have decided to gear my experiences and purchases to something best suited to that environment.  I have my basic with honours, which does entitle me to all band privileges within Canada, and I understand that this may not be reciprocated by PARA or the Philippines NTC when I am abroad.  I am in the process of joining a local EMCOMM club (VECTOR radio) which will get me hands-on experience on what kinds of procedures and best practices will help me get through a significant disaster. 

Currently I have an Icom V80 VHF HT as my only radio to get me on the local nets and used to basic skills a new amateur radio operator.  I'm looking for advice on what would be my best value for my next purchase.  I do have a few things to keep in mind:

1) Portability.  It not only needs to be something I can haul out when things go bad, but it has to be something I can fly on a plane with it checked in, so a base station is less than ideal.
2) Must have HF.  H.E.R.O. operates usually on 7.095, 7.119, and 7.151 MHz, with VHF access being 'less than reliable' during the initial days of relief efforts.
3) Cost.  I am not a doctor or a lawyer, so I don't have a large sum of money to drop into the hobby at this stage of the game.  I know a solid radio won't be cheap, but I'd like to keep my budget under $2000 for everything - radio, tuner, etc, if at all possible.

I am seriously looking at the FT-817ND as that seems to be a good one-size-fits-all for my needs, though I'm uncertain if 5W is enough.  Otherwise, I'm looking at the upgraded 857... I have had a few other radios suggested, but that seems to me to be a good starting point for comparison.  I fully expect to be running just a basic length of wire should things go south, since I doubt any decent antenna would survive a typhoon or serious storm if it was up already - so a little more power wouldn't be a bad thing, I'd think.

Are there any hidden pitfalls that I may not have considered at this point?  Is there a solid contender to the Yaesu radios at a similar price point or less? Are there other things I need to consider or keep in mind? 

I'm just getting started, obviously, so I'd like to have a rough plan in place so that I can fill things in as my experience and budget allows.

Thanks in advance!
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NA4IT
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« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2014, 05:12:41 AM »

Leave the 817 for backpacking, and use the 857. You'll need the power.

Get a switching power supply (lighter weight).

Some kind of decent dipole antenna. A 40/75 trap antenna works well.
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W9FIB
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« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2014, 05:52:29 AM »

Mabuhay! You are on the right track. The travel kit I built was a small hard side suitcase that I made my own foam inserts for holding the equipment.

I picked up a used Icom 706 for the radio. I also own an 897. Both are good radios and very versatile.

I have an MFJ 941E tuner. Compact but does a good job.

I built my own fan dipole that covers 40-10. I made it so it rolls up into a nice little bundle. And a quarter wave mag mount for 2 meters.

Throw in a couple coax patch cords, coax for the antenna, and some small diameter rope to hang the antenna between a couple of coco palms.

For power while in the Philippines, I bought a cheap Trycicle battery and a cheap float charger. But I would suggest a large battery from a Jeepney so you have lots of reserve power. My family there is in the outskirts of a large city and did not have power for almost 2 weeks from the typhoon in July.
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VA7POR
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« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2014, 07:23:33 PM »

Thanks both of you!

Leave the 817 for backpacking, and use the 857. You'll need the power.

Get a switching power supply (lighter weight).

Some kind of decent dipole antenna. A 40/75 trap antenna works well.
Thanks for the first two suggestions, would a 40/75 be able to travel easily or be something quick to put up?  It isn't something I plan on having around on a regular basis given my plans.


Mabuhay! You are on the right track. The travel kit I built was a small hard side suitcase that I made my own foam inserts for holding the equipment.

I picked up a used Icom 706 for the radio. I also own an 897. Both are good radios and very versatile.

I have an MFJ 941E tuner. Compact but does a good job.

I built my own fan dipole that covers 40-10. I made it so it rolls up into a nice little bundle. And a quarter wave mag mount for 2 meters.

Throw in a couple coax patch cords, coax for the antenna, and some small diameter rope to hang the antenna between a couple of coco palms.

For power while in the Philippines, I bought a cheap Trycicle battery and a cheap float charger. But I would suggest a large battery from a Jeepney so you have lots of reserve power. My family there is in the outskirts of a large city and did not have power for almost 2 weeks from the typhoon in July.

Salamat po! Smiley
I've seen the 706, I'm just not sure if I can get my hands on one that's all - the 897 is basically the same as the 857, only with space for internal batteries. So if you're happy with that, then the 857 gets two votes for the win column especially since you're familiar with life there to begin with.  Any suggestion or need for a SWR/tuner if I go that route for a dipole.. or do you think I could source one out while there.  I plan on being around San Antonio bay on Palawan when I return (Brooke's Point to be more precise) so I'm not sure if I'll be able to find a club to use one.  My friend's family has a trike and getting my hands on a few batteries shouldn't be an issue while there, nor should a 220>12V transformer either. 

Yeah, I weathered out Yolanda last year so I recall how brutal they can get in some regions. Figured it would be best to have some sort of failsafe in place.
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W9FIB
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« Reply #4 on: October 15, 2014, 03:58:54 AM »

Palawan is a great place.

The 857 works good too. And with the internal battery, it can at least let you monitor and transmit in low power until you get the rest of the emergency power set up. Which makes sense.

I would have a low cost MFJ or similar brand tuner just in case you need to put up a random wire during an emergency.

Other then that, your right in there with a good set up.

Best wishes for you and your family.
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K7RBW
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« Reply #5 on: October 15, 2014, 05:53:19 AM »

I haven't visited Thailand (yet), but I've taken my 857 to Latin America a few times. I like how portable it is while being full-featured and having the option for 100-watts, if necessary. My station fits into a Pelican 1600 case, but I could pack it into a carry-on, if I had to. http://www.eham.net/articles/33101 shows my station from the last trip. My portable station consists of the FT-857, LDG Pro-II auto-tuner, Alinco switching power supply and the Signalink modem for PSK and digital work; although, in station in the article, I was using a PACTOR modem. For an antenna, the best, IMO, is the simplest: a wire dipole cut to the length you need. In Honduras, I used a G5RV-jr., which is also small and worked well (with a tuner).

What might be nice in a SHTF scenario, where there's no power for a while, would be a solar panel or some other sort of generator to help keep you on the air. For those scenarios, both the 857 and the larger 897 have a jumper that puts the radio in semi-QRP mode to lower the current draw (and power out) so you don't kill the battery as fast--allowing a small solar-panel array to keep up with the radio.
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VA7POR
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2014, 01:06:47 AM »

So the FT-857 has won the votes, so I'm putting aside my holiday savings this year for that major purchase.  With any luck I'll come across one used but I'm not going to count on it at this time.

So my shopping list for now is:
FT-857
LDG Z-11 Pro-II tuner
MFJ-4230MV 30A power supply (this may be swapped out for a 220V power supply in the near future, so not entirely necessary)
LDG FT Meter (since I hear the stock display is terrible on the 857)

I might spring for the ATAS-25 if I don't do the handmade dipole route. Is there anything else that I should be looking to add to my shopping list or is that enough to handle the majority of my needs?
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W6RMK
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« Reply #7 on: October 17, 2014, 05:41:08 PM »

I agree with the "don't use a 5 Watt rig" like the FT-817.  You want that 50-100 W, especially with improvised or temporary antennas.

I'm more a fan of auto-tuners that can sit at the feedpoint of the antenna, whether it's a inverted V in the trees or a improvised vertical with one radial (the same dipole as in the trees, with one wire up and one wire out). You can also cobble together a big loop for lower bands.

You're already going to have to haul the weight of the coax up, and hauling up another kilo for the tuner isn't a big deal.  for ultimate in light weight, short duration, you could use something like the "no-box" SGC-239 (under $200) in a plastic bag.

I've not done it, but it seems that you could figure out how to send the tuner power up the coax, as well. (well, there's off the shelf DC over coax solutions from lots of places like MFJ)
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KG4RUL
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2014, 11:22:01 AM »

So the FT-857 has won the votes, so I'm putting aside my holiday savings this year for that major purchase.  With any luck I'll come across one used but I'm not going to count on it at this time.

So my shopping list for now is:
FT-857
LDG Z-11 Pro-II tuner
MFJ-4230MV 30A power supply (this may be swapped out for a 220V power supply in the near future, so not entirely necessary)
LDG FT Meter (since I hear the stock display is terrible on the 857)

I might spring for the ATAS-25 if I don't do the handmade dipole route. Is there anything else that I should be looking to add to my shopping list or is that enough to handle the majority of my needs?


The FT857 is a good radio but the menu system can be difficult to use.
I would get the LDG YT-100 tuner instead.
An alternate power supply is the MFJ-4125P (110/220 VAC capable).
The metering on the FT857 is not that bad so, save the weight and expense of the LDG FT meter.
The ATAS-25 needs a radial system to work properly, is not very efficient and does not cover 75/80M.

Something I have in my kit is a soldering iron that runs off a 12V car battery.
A roll-up dual-band J-Pole is a good thing to have.
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K7RBW
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« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2014, 09:41:01 PM »

So the FT-857 has won the votes, so I'm putting aside my holiday savings this year for that major purchase.  With any luck I'll come across one used but I'm not going to count on it at this time.

So my shopping list for now is:
FT-857
LDG Z-11 Pro-II tuner
MFJ-4230MV 30A power supply (this may be swapped out for a 220V power supply in the near future, so not entirely necessary)
LDG FT Meter (since I hear the stock display is terrible on the 857)

I might spring for the ATAS-25 if I don't do the handmade dipole route. Is there anything else that I should be looking to add to my shopping list or is that enough to handle the majority of my needs?


The FT857 is a good radio but the menu system can be difficult to use.
I would get the LDG YT-100 tuner instead.
An alternate power supply is the MFJ-4125P (110/220 VAC capable).
The metering on the FT857 is not that bad so, save the weight and expense of the LDG FT meter.
The ATAS-25 needs a radial system to work properly, is not very efficient and does not cover 75/80M.

Something I have in my kit is a soldering iron that runs off a 12V car battery.
A roll-up dual-band J-Pole is a good thing to have.

Having used the FT-857 for the past 5 years, it's not that the menus are complicated, it's just that you need to go to a menu to change almost anything except the band, mode, or frequency. It has 3 programmable buttons that do something like 30 functions and then many menu items to adjust other parameters. That being the case, if you're just operating voice, you can tune and talk all day without touching the menus. Likewise, if you're doing digital, you can do that all day, without touching the menus--after you've got it set up. Switching modes or filter band pass freqs, or changing the output power, microphone sensitivity, etc. sends you to the menus. More annoying than difficult, IMO, but with such a small panel, there aren't a lot of options. A small price to pay for an otherwise great radio. I've since bought an IC-7200, which is much larger and heavier, but much easier to operate.

I have to agree that the meter is probably not worth the weight and space. What's it going to do for you that your ears won't do? WRT power out & SWR, the LCD is tiny, but works well (I have to use reading glasses, but that's not just for when using the radio).

Likewise, the ATAS-25 is probably going to be more disappointment than success. If you have a tuner (and a balun), throw a long wire up in a tree and let the tuner figure it out. A friend of mine does that and is operating in much less time than I am while I'm setting up my more complicated antennas (dipoles, vertical whips, and what not). I'd bet you'll have better success with the random wire and tuner, and for much less money, than the time, trouble, and money, the ATAS-25 will cost you.
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VA7POR
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« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2014, 10:59:34 PM »

Good points and thanks again.

I don't care about 80m so much at this point, as the frequency I need to be active on is 40m anyways - though it's good to have  options in mind.  That's a few hundred off the budget (and I'm assuming dollar store speaker wire would be great to use for a basic antenna) and keeps me relatively flexible nonetheless.
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W5AGK
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« Reply #11 on: Today at 02:42:06 PM »

I too vote for the 857 and the YT-100 tuner.  You might also consider building an EARCH matchbox for a 40 meter end fed antenna.  Antenna will be 64 to 66 ft in length.  Easy to do and plans are available on the internet.  You can throw the antenna up into a tree or other object and be on the air quickly.

Just my two cents worth.

George   W5AGK
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