Call Search
     

New to Ham Radio?
My Profile

Community
Articles
Forums
News
Reviews
Friends Remembered
Strays
Survey Question

Operating
Contesting
DX Cluster Spots
Propagation

Resources
Calendar
Classifieds
Ham Exams
Ham Links
List Archives
News Articles
Product Reviews
QSL Managers

Site Info
eHam Help (FAQ)
Support the site
The eHam Team
Advertising Info
Vision Statement
About eHam.net

   Home   Help Search  
Pages: [1] 2 Next   Go Down
  Print  
Author Topic: seeking advice on emergency radio for international travel  (Read 7356 times)
GAIAGEEK
Member

Posts: 2




Ignore
« on: June 25, 2011, 07:49:29 AM »

As someone who is frequently abroad and a definitely gadget-geek, I recently started thinking about the possible benefits of having a small shortwave radio with me to stay informed in the case of large scales emergencies in which the power grid and internet may not be working.

Initially I was just wondering if I could find a good but very small shortwave radio to be able to tune in to English news broadcasts from overseas. This led me to shortwave radios that receive SSB, which led me to the possibility of using a small HT, namely one of Yaesu's such as the VX-3R, which led me to the VX-8R, the possibility of APRS and internet messaging and... and yes, I I'm in over my head for someone whose only experience with HAM radio is staring in awe at my grandfather's setup as a young child and wondering what all knobs and switch did.

I am a very tech savvy person. I know I could get a basic HAM license if it was necessary. I've come here to seek input from you far wiser folk on whether this will really be of any benefit given what I'm actually looking for, if there's even a good solution at all.

My theoretical situation where I would need this radio is:

- I'm in an overseas country (could be western Europe, could be southeast Asia)
- a major catastrophe occurs either regionally or globally
- no internet / no phones
- no power (radio must run on AA or AAA batteries, which I can charge via my solar charger)
- no satellites (ruling out SPOT or similar devices)
- traveling light (radio should ideally be under 5 ounces / 140 grams, but I would consider up to 8 ounces / 225 grams)
- wanting to be aware of what's happening in the bigger picture so I know what my options are (i.e. stay put vs. get out)

My questions:

1.  Can the smallest of SW radios (ETON Mini GM400 / Grundig M400, Degen DE15) pull in a listenable English news broadcast if I'm on an island of the coast of Thailand? I recognize it depends on the device, the antenna and other factors. I'm asking for a best guess.

2. In such a situation, is there any real benefit of being able to receive SSB? I'm assuming this would be local chatter about what's going on. While I may not speak the local language, I could be with people who do and can translate.

3. Would having an HT such as the Yaesu VX-3R provide better SW reception than the smallest shortwave radios?

4. Would being able to transmit with an HT in such a situation be of significant use (vs. just being able to listen)? I assume that while my transmission radius would be short, if I could I could get a message out to someone locally they might be able to pass the message on regionally or internationally? This assuming that the disaster is more localized.

5. Is it safe to assume that APRS is not going to be available in remote locations outside the developed world? If it were available, this would definitely be one feature I could use in non-emergency situations, as I have been in places where there was no internet and just wanted to send an "I'm OK" message. Even if it were an option, I'm not sure it would be worth both the money and the carry weight for me to get a Yaesu VX-8R just for this.

Any input is greatly appreciated. No need to answer all the numbered questions if you just have something to say about one of them.

Thanks,

GaiaGeek



Logged
K7RBW
Member

Posts: 398




Ignore
« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2011, 09:05:44 AM »

If you've lost satellite comms, there probably won't be too many people left to talk to, so in that scenario, I'd be thinking food, water, and shelter long before shortwave communications. That's a pretty extreme condition so I don't know that I'd do anything special for it (I'd cross it off the list, if it were me).

If you just want to receive stations, an all-band receiver would be cheaper and better than a VHF HT that also receives SW stations. While an external antenna will help both radios, it's not necessary for the SW receiver, but it IS necessary for the HT. The problem is that international SW stations are getting fewer and farther between. Having a receiver that can pick up local stations as well is probably a good idea. You'll want to know what's going on around before you want to know what's happening back home.

While the "end-of-the-world" scenario you paint (no phone, no internet, no sat comm, etc.) is perhaps romantic, there are far more common and less catastrophic (although still disastrous) situations that can happen while abroad. Things like ferry boats sinking, tidal waves (e.g. Thailand, Japan), earthquakes (Japan, Chile, Haiti), volcanoes (Iceland), etc. That will mess things up locally but not take out the entire planet's infrastructure. I'd study those to see what came in handy the most for the locals (drinking water) and what didn't help at all.

Which brings up another consideration: whatever you have, if you want to count on it, it should be small, lightweight, and waterproof because you'll want to have it on you at all times. It would suck to have all your supplies in the hotel, but then be cut off from them while out touring the city (or have your hotel be washed away with the tidal wave.
Logged
LA9XSA
Member

Posts: 376




Ignore
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2011, 09:22:06 AM »

I've chosen to not interpret it as an "Armageddon" scenario, but as a local disaster happening on the island or the nearby mainland while you're there visiting, and you need to find out what's going on and if you need to stay or leave.

First, the VX-8R will not receive SSB. It will receive shortwave AM broadcasts, but remember that you need to attach a suitable antenna to it. There are other HT's out there which will do SSB.

Secondly, in my view your main needs will be to
a) Get news about the situation
b) Get in touch with local assets for rescue

For a, don't overlook FM reception - locals may be able to help translate for you, and messages may be translated in English - especially in areas where they have international visitors - while a good receiver for shortwave AM and SSB would also be good. Remember the antenna yeah.

For b, first consider cell phone. Battery backups on base stations may keep them up even for local communication even if power and networks are down. It might be good to have 2M and 70cm amateur radio, if the country you're going to is active on amateur radio. Remember - most emergency communications are local. A high powered HF station is not something you'd want to drag around, but if you're the only person on the island, then perhaps it's something you'll need - and you'll need other elaborate preparations. No point transmitting if nobody's there to listen and respond.

Some countries have public service (fire, police) and Red Cross communications above the 2M amateur band, and the marine VHF frequencies would also be in the HT's coverage, so if you emergency-freeband your radio you could potentially call for life-saving emergency aid on those frequencies. Never do it unless it's truly necessary, of course.

1: The M400 has too limited band coverage. The DE15 looks better, though it's not single sideband capable. Seeing as the BBC shortwave out of Thailand can be heard in the US, I suppose it should be quite possible to get it in Thailand itself.
Edit: See Thailand and Singapore BBC frequencies here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/schedules/frequencies/aspac.htm

2: There are some SSB broadcasts, such as the US armed forces radio broadcast out of Guam and Diego Garcia. Otherwise, you can listen to hams on SSB, and also marine SSB. Most other broadcasts are AM. If you can listen to SSB with a good antenna, you might be able to hear hams from the US and Europe.

3: Don't know

4: It might, if there are amateurs, public service radio users or maritime users who can hear you. Check the band plans for the country you're going to.

5: APRS will work without the internet, but of course only in the local area. Still, if you want to get an APRS message out of the area and into the rest of the world, you may digipeat it via the International Space Station, or another APRS digipeater in orbit. That sort of violates the "no sattelites" condition, but I'm choosing to intrepret that as "I'm in a steep valley without satellite coverage".
Edit: If you get in touch with a ham who has HF communications, (s)he might be able to pass messages across the world for you.
Edit 2: APRS can also be carried by HF, so you might look into that.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2011, 09:42:03 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
HS0ZIB
Member

Posts: 425




Ignore
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2011, 04:55:45 PM »

As someone who lives right in the middle of a tsunami zone (Phuket, Thailand) and experienced the aftermath, I can probably add some valid comments, (not in any particular order of relevance):

- forget about bringing a transceiver with you - most countries in south-east Asia forbid the import (even temporary) of amateur transceivers (including HTs), without some lengthy paperwork process, (perhaps months...)

- forget APRS; many countries in this region do not have sufficient (or any) stations to enable reliable communication

- forget SSB; most radio amateurs in this region are locals, and operate purely on 2 metres, because they simply do not have enough funds to purchase HF equipment

Forget buying local CB equipment when in country.  I have found that unless you speak the local language, you will be ignored

- do not assume that the locals and local police/emergency services speak English, even in tourist areas (a surprising fact is that the vast majority of Thais, including most police, speak little English, even in touristy Phuket.  It is up to volunteers like myself to translate in emergency situations.  Hospital staff tend to have better English language skills).

- A small, all-band shortwave receiver, such as the compact Sony or Eton models, is very useful to receive English language news broadcasts.  I use such a radio when I travel into remote areas of Lao PDR

- A cellphone is probably the most useful communications device available, but after the 2004 tsunami, the initial and only communications available was via the (very few) HF amateurs in the area.

Simon




Logged
HS0ZIB
Member

Posts: 425




Ignore
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2011, 05:03:32 PM »

As some additional information/example of a real-life scenario, some months ago there was very bad flooding in the hills/mountains about Krabi (south Thailand). where I also own a guesthouse. Many villages were completely swept away and many lives were lost.

- Cellphone communication was cut off due to damage to the cellphone towers
- Volunteers were unable to communicate reliably with each other, due to the hilly terrain and use of low-power, CB (245 MHz) HTs
- Emergency workers using 150-174 MHz HTs were unable to communicate with volunteers, since there was no cross-band equipment and the worker's HTs are not allowed to include 245 MHz coverage
- No internet of course, (no-one has any satellite phones or satellite modems...)
- Of course, absolutely no HF equipment...

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

Simon
Logged
LA9XSA
Member

Posts: 376




Ignore
« Reply #5 on: June 27, 2011, 11:04:13 AM »

For a, don't overlook FM reception
One more thing: BBC World Service is re-broadcast on FM some places, so if the shortwave is noisy, you might try that.
Logged
W6RMK
Member

Posts: 657




Ignore
« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2011, 07:23:09 AM »

Iridium or Globalstar phone. Not too expensive to rent, you're not going to be chitchatting, so the airtime fees aren't punitive.

Yes, I know you didn't want satellite, but realistically speaking, that *is* your best option in dire circumstances.

Now, if you just want a rationalization to do something fun for your hobby... something like a FT-817 with internal battery might be fun to play with.  It's "all in one" so you don't have the 17 cables and associated ratsnest.. Maybe hook it up with a PSK31 app on your iPhone.
Logged
LA9XSA
Member

Posts: 376




Ignore
« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2011, 11:51:36 AM »

I've just ordered myself an FT-817ND, but note that it's QRP (5 watts or less), and not what I'd call an emergency radio. It's not waterproof like many HTs, and QRP isn't an advantage in an emergency. While it's a good all-band all-mode backpack transceiver, it doesn't have much receive-coverage on VHF/UHF outside the amateur bands. A scanner or a SSB/CW capable HT would be better if you only intend to receive HF, VHF and UHF.

For all-mode backpack HF transmission, the application that the 817 is good for, also look at the Elecraft KX3, which will be coming out late this year. It has more modern circuits, an easier user interface, and less current drain.

If AC power always will be available where you intend to operate, such as in hotel rooms or bungalows, then a small 100W radio and well filtered switch-mode power supply might be a better choice than the 817. You could say the 817 and KX3 are good backpack radios, while other radios would be good rolling suitcase radios. You could even turn your trip into a DXpedition of sorts.

Sure, we're now talking more about hobby radios rather than emergency radios, but it's by regular use of the equipment that you learn how to use it in an emergency. After the Indian Ocean tsunami, it was actually DXpeditions which were the first point of contact with some of the islands.

- Emergency workers using 150-174 MHz HTs were unable to communicate with volunteers, since there was no cross-band equipment and the worker's HTs are not allowed to include 245 MHz coverage
Well, there may not often be a need to communicate with each individual rescue worker, but each rescue worker team leader should have outside comms available. It doesn't have to be in the same radio, but they could simply have both their work radio and a CB radio.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2011, 04:36:05 PM by LA9XSA » Logged
W6RMK
Member

Posts: 657




Ignore
« Reply #8 on: June 28, 2011, 08:51:41 PM »

I was thinking that 5W on PSK31 with a wire up in a tree would be a pretty darn effective communications strategy.  There's almost always someone monitoring the PSK31 subbands, too.
Logged
W5LZ
Member

Posts: 477




Ignore
« Reply #9 on: June 30, 2011, 10:54:52 PM »

As already said but not paid much attention to, you better think about licensing before any long trips with almost any "two-way" radio.  Different countries have different requirements about transmitters so it's almost a "forget about it" thingy without a lot or pre-planning.
 - 'Doc
Logged
K7RBW
Member

Posts: 398




Ignore
« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2011, 06:49:18 AM »

If you do decide to carry a transmitter, I would suggest:

1) getting an EXTRA class license in the US. Different countries have different license classes and if yours doesn't transfer directly, you could end up getting a lower-privilege license which invariably means VHF only. With an EXTRA class license, you're more likely to get a local license with HF privileges.

2) plan ahead (about 2-3 months). That's how long it's taken me to get licenses to operate in other countries. It also cost some money each time.

3) carry a small transmitter (e.g. FT-817 or FT-857 sized) so you're less likely to be questioned at customs. If you are questioned, have both your [original] US and local license ready to show. I pack copies with the gear for those inspections that happen when I'm not with my luggage.

4) Pack the mike separately -- so your radio looks less like a transmitter and more like a fancy receiver. Less likely to raise questions.

5) Be ready to have it confiscated (or quarantined). It's the worst-case scenario but some places are really paranoid and don't take chances. If that happens, you'll probably (hopefully) be able to get it back on your way out, as long as you exit through the same office that you entered. Don't expect them to mail it (or don't expect your gear to survive if they do).

But it's hard to generalize about this because each country's policies are different and can change on a moment's notice and each agent's behavior is different (e.g. is their boss watching? did they just get yelled at for being too soft? did they have a bad day at home, etc.)
Logged
LA9XSA
Member

Posts: 376




Ignore
« Reply #11 on: July 01, 2011, 11:32:50 AM »

Each country's telecom authority and/or radio amateur league usually has more information about operating in the country and importing equipment. If you're going to be living in Thailand intermittently, they actually do have a licensing agreement with the USA and some other countries - but they're not CEPT members. As for the radio, in Thailand it looks like the least hassle will be to buy yourself a radio locally, or at least import one of the radios which are already type approved by the authorities. It appears that you need to get an import permit, and a few days after importing the radio, you have to show the radio to the telecom authority so they can check that it doesn't operate outside amateur bands.
It's a bit of bureaucracy, but if you've bought a house there, are working there, or have family there, it might very well be worth it, for the years of operating that you could do.
In some countries, they won't accept a foreign license, meaning that you need to take their license test. Some people do that. I've seen Scandinavian and UK hams get themselves call signs in pretty exotic and oppressive countries.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2011, 11:36:45 AM by LA9XSA » Logged
GAIAGEEK
Member

Posts: 2




Ignore
« Reply #12 on: July 04, 2011, 12:29:23 PM »

Thanks to everyone for the excellent input. From reading these posts I've decided that a transmitter wouldn't be worth the possible hassles at customs when traveling, and that I'd be better off with an all-band receiver. The ones I'm looking at are:

Degen DE15 Ultra-thin AM/FM Shortwave DSP Radio

Eton (Grundig) Mini GM400 Super Compact AM/FM Shortwave Radio

Eton (Grundig) G6 "Buzz Aldrin Edition" AM/FM, Aircraft band and Shortwave Radio

Of those three, the G6 looks like the best receiver for the size and it does receive SSB, though it's still over twice the size and weight of the other two. (Dimensions 4.92 x 3.00 x 1.14 inches, Weight 7.3 oz. This is a big drawback given how light I travel, and the fact that whatever I get will only be of use to me if it's actually with me. The comments from HS0ZIB about SSB being of little use in the kinds of places I travel makes this even less worth the extra weight.

LA9XSA suggested the Degen DE-15 over the Eton / Grundig M400 because it had better band coverage, however, given the poor reviews on Amazon and the higher price ($60 vs. $30 or less for the M400) I'm more inclined to go with the M400 at the moment. Really, when it comes down to it, as long as the radio can pick up an English broadcast, I think it will do.

If anyone knows of any other very small all-band receivers they can recommend I'd love to hear about them. Note that by "very small" I mean one that works on 2xAA batteries or preferably 2xAAA or 3xAAA. Anything needing 4xAA batteries is just too big for my needs.

And one last thing: am I correct in thinking that a good length of small-gauge wire will improve reception if I wrap one end around the antenna and run the other end up to the ceiling or out the window?
Logged
N0SYA
Member

Posts: 369




Ignore
« Reply #13 on: July 04, 2011, 03:07:50 PM »

I would look at sony radios. But not to fear, gaia will keep you safe.
Logged

If you have a clumsy child, you make them wear a helmet. If you have death prone children, you keep a few clones of them in your lab.
LA9XSA
Member

Posts: 376




Ignore
« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2011, 04:53:43 PM »

And one last thing: am I correct in thinking that a good length of small-gauge wire will improve reception if I wrap one end around the antenna and run the other end up to the ceiling or out the window?
On most such radios, yes. Many high end short wave radios also have an external antenna connector - usually a mono mini jack.

The Grundig/Eton/Degen G6 and G3, and the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, and their siblings, are examples of popular short wave radios, but they're bigger than what you intend to buy.

How about something like a wideband scanner, like the Icom R6 or Alinco DJ-X 11T? Drawbacks with those is that they look a bit like transceivers even if they only receive, and in some countries they might receive more than is legal to listen to.
Logged
Pages: [1] 2 Next   Go Up
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!