Communications out there

Having had a pilots licence and travelling in remote Australia I am aware on many communications issues from that perspective including the use of VHF and HF and EPIRBs.

However, I now need to think terrestial. I was planning on VHF and EPIRB for comfort. What do others use - checked out HF (mobile) and VKS737 today but initial outlay expensive. UHF compared to VHF?

Understand where it is you intend to go - but I want to have options.

Welcome some guidance.
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Reply By: Member -Ted (Vic) - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 19:21

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 19:21
Hi Terry

What equipment do you envisage for VHF? All VHF requires a license as far as I know. I am an amateur operator and dont know of any services that are available to the general public. I use the VKS737 network and have a Barrett 950.
UHF is good car to car but fairly useless in a real emegency unless you are within a couple of K's of other travellers. EPIRB is good insurance in these circumstances.
AnswerID: 505100

Reply By: Member - John and Val - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 20:07

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 20:07
Hi Terry,

Welcome to the site; hopefully you will find it both helpful and enjoyable.

Re communications, I think you will find that most outback travellers have UHF for convoy work and a combination or all of HF, sat phone and Epirb for long range comms. There are many forum threads on the pros and cons of such the various options. There is also quite a good article under the blue Articles button in the blue bar across the top of the page.

VKS737 is probably the biggest HF "club" and that is what we use with an oldish Codan HF radio. That arrangement has worked very well for us on many outback trips.


J and V
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AnswerID: 505109

Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 20:30

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 20:30
As mentioned Terry, see the comprehensive article here on options for communications in Oz - also comment on HF versus Satphones on may be useful - VHF rarely emerges as a solution for Oz travel comms (others might be able to explain why - widely used in aircraft as I understand it).
AnswerID: 505112

Follow Up By: Member - Terry W4 - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 20:41

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 20:41
Quite right about VHF - altitude makes a big difference. Tending towards HF and EPIRB- have visited the VKS737 site and like what it says quite clearly. But still have 7 months.
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Follow Up By: The Landy - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 14:05

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 14:05

I have a VHF in the vehicle as it used to be in an aircraft we owned, but other than using it to contact overhead aircraft in an emergency on 121.5 it will be almost useless as a general form of communication for outback four-wheel drive travel.

No one of the options will be a perfect solution, either UHF / Sat phone / HF Radio. What you need to do is think about what types of communication you want to have with people when travelling.

If you just want to call home, then a Sat phone might be best, if you want to speak vehicle to vehicle over a longer range and be able to receive broadcast type messages than HF might be the option, and UHF radios are so cheap that you could put one in for vehicle to vehicle over a short range.

Of courser, if finances can stretch, go the HF, Sat phone, EPIRB, UHF...

But you'll find little or no use for the VHF...

Cheers, The Landy
FollowupID: 782102

Reply By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 21:05

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 21:05
Hi Terry (ACT here myself)

For short distance work, just like others have already said, get a UHF CB for local stuff either to others on the road, plus roadhouse and local farmers and station holders as well.

For long distance either or both a a satphone or HF radio. For HF you have two options, namely get something on the 4WD HF service like VKS737 or get a ham licence and a radio for both. Ham radios are miles cheaper and have access to several travellers nets. 4WD HF radios are more expensive and can cost as much as $3000 including radio and everthing. However with the Han radio you have to study for and get a ham licence. At about $70 a year and radio as cheap as $200 plus antennas it is cheaper but takes more to get. 4WD HF is basically across the counter access. Cost could be $120 a year plus the radio.

Personally we only have UHF CB and a satphone.

AnswerID: 505116

Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 21:09

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 21:09
I wish for an editor. My comment "get a ham licence and a radio for both". Wrong! Generally speaking you are not allowed to use a ham radio on 4WD HF. Only those type approved for 4WD HF are permitted on 4WD HF.

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Reply By: Tim - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 21:50

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 21:50
Without trying to go OT, how does a high powered VHF behave in comparison to a HF in terms of signal bounce (propagation?) in the ionsphere? Is it something that could be used over long (1000km) plus?
AnswerID: 505121

Follow Up By: Peter_n_Margaret - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 22:10

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 22:10
VHF is line of sight, but "sight" is a long way from 40,000 feet.

If Terry W4 has a portable VHF set, I would take it along (with my UHF and my PLB). While it is illegal to ues without a license amd for "non operational purposes", using the emergency channel (122.5) from the ground would almost always get you a commercial airliner overhead and if the use was life or death, no one would complain, I am sure.

OKA196 Motorhome (and ex glider pilot)
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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 22:22

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 at 22:22
"Signal bounce" with a portable on VHF? Not at all reliable nor even likely. You need grunt and beam antennas. Effectively using tropospheric ducting or bouncing the beamed signal off the trails of the large commercial liners.

From home with a quad ZL special setup I have spoken to Melbourne from Canberra on many occasions on VHF and a few on UHF. I have also heard New Zealand on VHF, but couldn't get in through all the QRM.

Not a bad idea of the portable 122 MHz


FollowupID: 782059

Follow Up By: Member - Terry W4 - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 10:41

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 10:41
I still maintain a pilots licence but not current which entitles me to use handeld VHF radio. BTW the emergency frequency is 121.5. The handheld don't have a great range mind you. Some of the more expensive epirbs I believe have 121.5 homing built in.
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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 11:11

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 11:11
At least with 121.5Mhz, or whatever aircraft VJF frequency would be applicable, you should be able to pick up any aircraft for hundreds of kilometers. Unless you are in a deep valley etc.

Worth putting in the boot anyway if you have room.

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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 18:26

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 18:26
Did someone say signal bounce aka skip????
I (believe it or not) still have a fully functional Pearce Simpson Super Lion Mk2 27Mhz in my Pajero. I certainly wouldn't consider it a reliable means of coms but the novelty of listening in to converstaions from far and wide (often overseas) still gives me a cheap thrill.
Yes....I know.... I need to get out more often!!!
Am I the only one that still has one of these in their rig?

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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 19:06

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 19:06
You old pirate.

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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 16:26

Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 16:26
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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 09:55

Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 09:55
Fab 72, I still remember fondly days of almost unbelievable propagation where conversation with US 27 MHz stations seemed like they were just around the corner. Did you know that you can programme your Codan NGT to work the 27MHz CB frequencies?
FollowupID: 782230

Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 12:23

Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 12:23
I made a contact to California on 28Mhz in the early 80's using only 3/4 watt because I blew the finals ofn the Ft707. I bypassed the finals with a small coax from the drivers to the output circuitry because I didn't have the funds to buy a new set of finals for quite a few months. I used a two element wire beam called a Parasol.

We even changed the meter to make sure the output reading was correct.

Excellent stuff.

Just goes to show what you can do with good propogation on HF.

FollowupID: 782246

Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 08:49

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 08:49
Hi Terry

When it come to long range, reliable outback communication, HF Radio is the only tried and proven form of free to air communications.

The down side it that it will cost at a starting price of around $3000 for a new unit, so there are many questions that you have to ask yourself, like how long do you think that you will be using the until and how often will you be away, will you be in the company of other vehicles etc, etc.

I have an old now, Codan 8525 and brought in new over 20 years ago and back then even with the tap antenna, it was well over $3000. The radio has served us very well, but to be very honest, if I was faced with the same situation all over again, I would have to think very carefully. Yes it is great to keep in contact with the VKS Base Stations, and has been used for a couple of emergency calls over the years. The cost of the licence, like all things , is getting dearer and dearer every year, to the point where one asks do you renew your licence for the sake of using it a few times a year. I know that it is illegal to use the HF without a licence, and big fines apply if caught using it without one. I still have a licence but will monitor the cost of renewing in future years. If I had to use my HF without a licence, there is no way that I would be able to be fined in a genuine emergency situation, and I am not being a smart ass about it, as it would come down to "Duty of Care" and it would open a whole can of worms if it was ever taken to court.

On the other had we always carry in a backpack a hand held UHF Radio, PLB and Satellite Phone. In the event of a vehicle accident, these items are safe in the backpack, (well lets hope they are). and when on foot, my HF Radio is no help to me what so ever.

My Satellite Phone is on a pre paid basis, so I have no monthly continual fees and charges, and was cheap to buy with my 50% Government Subsidy at less than $400.

If my HF Radio dies tomorrow, I personally do not think I would send the big dollars again knowing that I still have a means of getting help if all does go pear shape.

One think that I always have on me, and no body ever mentions is a hand help GPS. Even with all our outside communications (Yes my Satellite Phone has the ability on sending its GPS Co- Ordinances). This is one cheap little tool that is overlooked and if you need genuine help and are speaking with an operator, by any form of communications, being HF, UHF or Satellite Phone, at least you can tell them your exact location and not like.........the first track on your left, about 30 kilometres from Birdsville heading north.

Like personal insurance, we have these safety divides and hope like hell that we never have to use them.



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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 09:40

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 09:40
Stephen, I have to agree with you about the economic value of HF radio now that we have convenient and reliable satellite phones and PLB's. It is not illegal to listen on the HF and maybe enjoy the traffic but only economic if you already own the HF radio.

If no longer a member of an HF radio network and in the event of an emergency, would the operators deal with you on an ongoing basis or merely report your emergency to an appropriate contact? Certainly, as you say, worth a try in a genuine emergency and possibly even worthwhile even if you had to wear the penalty.

I consider my satellite phone to be my first lifeline now and carry a comprehensive list of appropriate phone numbers. In addition I can always call one of my family if I needed a single contact to relay a message or arrange spares etc.

Yes, I'll keep my VKS737 membership for now but reconsider it each time it is due. VKS trumpeted a new membership service based on satellite phones but it is yet to become a reality. It could be worthwhile when the details are announced.


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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 14:59

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 14:59
Hi Allan

Like I said above, when I purchased my HF all those years ago, there was now other real and reliable long range communications, and back then, the VKS Network were only ideas in Steve Johnstons mind, which with people power, has leaped forwards, along with its fees.

I know one person that lives in Clare that did not renew his VKS membership for the cost factor, and has purchased a IsatPhone. Just like you stated, Dean now only listens to the network, and he was the one that said that in the event of a real emergency, the operators have a duty of care and would be obliged to offer all help (he is an ex Senior Sargent SA Police)

Either way, like everyone we hope that we never has to use what we take, but it is reassuring to know that we have all bases covered.


Sorry for leaving you off of the first email list. When I was speaking with Val today, one of the first questions she asked was, Itsn't Allan and Roz coming anymore......


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Follow Up By: The Landy - Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 17:03

Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 17:03
The problem with taking the approach of not renewing and just listening until you have an emergency and then calling because they’ll help anyway, is that if everyone took that approach the service would be ‘dead in the water’ tomorrow.

It is a bit like taking the free option, don’t support them until you need them.

Mind you Steve, I’m not suggesting you are doing it, but these organisations only survive through membership and fees paid, bearing in mind that most VKS737 people are volunteers.

I’d suggest anyone taking this approach should do the right thing and get the cheque book out – support them, because in your time of need I'm sure they'll support you, whether you a paid up member or not...

Cheers, Baz
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 19:35

Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 19:35
Hi Baz

The point that I am making is justifiable. Yes the stations are manned by free volunteers and the only paid people are those in the VKS Headquarters, only 2 I believe.

I have been a continuous paid up member since 1994 - how many people could lay claim to that. Back then, the number of members was only limited to financial members of four wheel drive club in South Australia only and was only in SA only, thanks then to Steve Johnston from the TLCC of SA, something that we are all greatful for.

The annual fee was very cheap and when you received a Members list,it was on an A4 sheet of paper and the main Australia base station was in Woomera. Things have now changed for the better and as you know, there are thousands of Members, from every state and territory, as well as government bodies and other various agencies.

With the vast number of members and the dearer fees, it makes one think that just how much dealer it will get, where as I personally now only ever turn it on either very first thing in the morning, or after camp is set up and log in with my position.

Even last trip when out on the Anne Beadell and other places in that general area, there were many days that I never turned on the radio, and made private phone calls on my satellite phone. If I was starting off from scratch, three thousand dollars + can give me a life life of paid credit on my satellite phone as well as buying it and still have lots of money in the bank.

If you visited any outback station 20 plus years ago, you would find a HF aerial on nearly every station vehicle, to keep in contact with the station. Have a look today and you will be going flat out to find a HF in any station vehicle, as they now use UHF for the very same job, as well as satellite phones. Times are changing and if annual membership fees keep rising, there may be many people that will think the same as me.



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Follow Up By: Echucan Bob - Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 10:17

Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 10:17
I think I joined around that time. I remember using HF on a Kimberley trip in July 94. I've been a continuous paid up member as well. Not happy when they pulled my call sign after I accidentally paid my subscription twice one year. They wouldn't/couldn't refund so agreed to two years cover. During the second year I called up and was told I wasn't a member any more! Being a very low number my call sign was reallocated virtually immediately. The operators have all been great, but their head office is as bureaucratic as any government department. $120 is a lot to pay for one or two weeks travels. It certainly wouldn't stand economic scrutiny these days, unless you were a grey nomad, getting a discount subscription, for several months continuous use.
FollowupID: 782234

Reply By: V8 Cruiser Ute Paul - Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 11:09

Wednesday, Feb 20, 2013 at 11:09
Gday Terry
UHF for the 4X4 and a sat phone
I have worked in tourism in the Kimberley for 10 years and have seen my fair share of roll overs and breakdowns . Our satphones were with us all the time and were used on several occasions .
I'm no longer in tourism but still do the GRR , Mitchell Plateau , etc once a year .
I purchased my own sat phone a couple off years ago after being the first on the scene to a roll-over North of Doongan Station on the Kalumburu road .
The Male passenger had neck injuries and I wasn't in my ute I was in a hired 4WD .
I had a mate still working for the tour company I had worked for and new he was only about half an hour behind me , with a sat phone and a good chance one off his clients would be a Doctor or Nurse . ( there was 2 )
Want go into great detail but without the sat phone and being able to contact the RFDS this bloke would have been in trouble .
All went well .
I purchased my threw
They were excellent , I got the government rebate and all up for the phone , 100 minutes of talk time and the waterproof pelican case was about $780
I've just bought another 100minutes for $240 this lasts a year , Have all numbers programmed into phone , and very happy with it , Its a small price to pay if it can save a life .
Safe travels hope this helps
Regards Paul

AnswerID: 505158

Reply By: Sigmund - Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 11:51

Thursday, Feb 21, 2013 at 11:51
Another option is something like the Spot Connect. This will allow short text comms (41 chars) via satellite when paired with a smartphone; longer predefined text messages via buttons on the unit; sat tracking; plus SOS msg & coords which will be relayed to AMSA.

The unit is about $200 plus an annual sub (IIRC USD 115; more for tracking).

I use the more basic Messenger when bushwalking and ski touring where weight is at a premium. Outback in the car, a prepaid satphone.
AnswerID: 505233

Reply By: Andrew & Jen - Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 11:15

Friday, Feb 22, 2013 at 11:15
Hullo Terry

FWIW, here is what I carry and some rationale :-)

UHF - mainly vehicle to vehicle but still useful for contact in the bush via a repeater. Can be used for contacting HS re permission for camping o/night and can result in timely assistance from them if required.

SPOT - very useful bit of kit. Light weight, goes with me everywhere. Uses satellite to send signal with lat.long and short sms message. I have set it up for 4 modes - 1) All OK (goes to daughter and son who have app on mobile that shows my position on a map - used at the end of the day while I am setting up camp; 2) Need vehicle help: 3) Need medical help but not life threatening; and finally, 4) emergency message to SAR in Canberra.

HF - old Barrett 950 with auto tune. Member of VKS-737 and regard the annual subs as good value cf all the other expenditure we incur when travelling, eg equals cost of ~300kms of fuel. Check in most nights during remote travell. Chief benefit is that, unlike a sat phone, it is a broadcast system. (Similar to VHF marine and I would assume with aircraft) The times this has been a significant help are well documented - advice re road conditions ahead, spare parts being delivered by someone coming along the same track, etc. Most outback police vehs still use HF and police cellcall #s are available. Both Codan and Barrett are built to military specs and, unlike most amateur sets, can take the pounding out on the road.

Sat phone - prepaid and used sparingly as we use our mobiles to talk to family, etc as needed when we are in range. We turn it on for receiving messages at an agreed time when we are in camp. Can be used in an emergency if HF not working well. Note: there are also times when HF reception is good and sat phone is poor or not available.

Laptop - used when in mobile range via modem - emails, forecasts, photos, etc

Hope this is of some use to you as an overview.

AnswerID: 505297

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