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Author Topic: Handheld Ham Radios for Wilderness Use  (Read 3583 times)

Posts: 1

« on: July 25, 2003, 11:37:58 PM »

Below is a question posed on a website for wilderness canoeists, and two responses posted on that site.  (
I was hoping you HAM experts could offer some advice on this question.  Thanks.

The Question
Can anyone recommend a good handheld two way radio for emergency use. I sometimes canoe in remote areas in North Eastern Ont. and would like to take some kind of emergency radio with me.

I saw a RadioShack TRC-232 handheld CB radio on sale for $80.  Will this be of any use? As you can tell, I know nothing about radios.

Response #1
The best conventional solution for the most remote places is a satelite phone. But owning or renting them is quite costly.

The Radio Shack CB, like FRS, will be useless in true wilderness.

VHF/UHF may be usable if there are other parties in the general area also using them - like industry, aircraft etc.

I recently read an article about HAM radios (about commercial operations usurping their frequencies), which is a much-overlooked option. You can get handheld models now, and they have vast range on low power. It takes some preparation and a license to operate. Your
local HAM radio club probably would be glad to help out.

Response #2
You will not find a transceiver that will be of any real use to you other than a sat phone. Even the park employees (assuming you're paddling in a park) only
rely on higher-powered mobile units mounted in the truck/boat and even then they don't have full coverage unless someone has hidden solar-powered repeaters in the treetops (it's been done). The biggest problem with
wireless communications is that it relies on line-of-sight. In a valley? Behind a mountain or large hill? No sight. From space you can push radio
frequency around the world with ridiculously little power because nothing is between the transmitter and receiver (GPS, for instance). I was in Algonquin
a couple of years ago with a couple of police-grade radios programmed to MNR and OPC and never heard a thing. In fact, at 5 watts I could not talk to our
guys on St Andrew's Lake from about 2.5k up the portage trail to Tarn Lake.

If you can throw a rope around a branch to hang a food bag, you can hang a portable antenna. Using shortwave or single side band you will have the ability to get on ham frequencies and use a morse code key to make contact with someone out there. These ham guys are always there, always listening. Mind you, the guy
listening might be South Africa, but he could always make a phone call overseas and let your family know you're stuck on Lake XYZ or something. In an emergency, it will work unless you can't setup the radio due to injury or you don't know morse code


Posts: 10212


« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2003, 09:07:15 AM »

Well, the response is close, but no banana. If the person passes the correct elements which would allow him/her to use the HF (high frequency) bands, he/she could use the 40 or 80 meter bands. Although you might talk to South Africa, it is unlikely. What is likely is to contact someone a few hundred miles (or a lot closer typically) who could alert the correct agencies.

Alan, KØBG


Posts: 2198

« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2003, 01:35:11 AM »

Other than the satellite phone, most other radios will be of little use.  But it's just another example that when you go out into the wilderness, you carry sufficient survival gear to cover an emergency, rather than relying on a radio to get one out of trouble.  (Too many people go out in the wilderness unprepared, thinking "if I get into trouble, I can always use my cellphone."  This is a very foolish and dangerous attitude.)

Posts: 527

« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2003, 06:45:24 AM »

I really hate to burst someone's balloon but even a
SATPHONE is unusable in some areas, due to the path
requirements of "straight line" communications.
Amateur Radio comes the closest to being effective
anywhere because if one has HF/VHF/UHF equipment
and an all purpose antenna one can virtually talk
to someone from anywhere on the planet.
The exception is caves.
Amateur Radio equipment is much cheaper than
a SATPHONE and ,as I am continually discovering,
anyone can obtain the license.
73 - Tim

Posts: 1

« Reply #4 on: July 27, 2003, 01:44:49 PM »

'''recommend a good handheld two way radio'''

If he wants a handheld, this pretty much rules out most HF radios.

'''VHF/UHF may be usable if there are other parties in the general area also using them - like industry, aircraft etc'''

I don't know about Ontario, but in the US it had BETTER be a life threatening emergency before you go and invade some commercial, licensed frequency or other.  And you had BETTER not do it with an amateur radio, again unless it is LIFE THREATENING.

As far as I'm concerned, WA9SVD has pretty much got it correct.
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