HF Radio experience

Submitted: Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:11
ThreadID: 40851 Views:3187 Replies:13 FollowUps:8
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Hi all,

After much reading I thought that what we needed was a HF set for our outback expedition. I also thought that we would need to have the set installed as I thought that a professional installation would be better than I could do and would be trouble free. Of course we would need training in the art of HF. We would also need a license which meant that we would have to join an association that would enable us to use the set. We also decided that since the potential was there we would join another association to enable us to make phone calls.

First choice of “supplier installer” was not country oriented and was not open to the possibility that maybe I could turn up with my own antenna bracket and console ready to have the radio fitted and seemed to think I had a week or a fortnight to spend in our nearest capital to get the antennae bracket and radio fitted. This merchant also thought that because we were country people and could not attend the regular weeknight training session, he could charge us $160 for a special training session. In hindsight maybe we should have done this!

The second “supplier installer” seemed to be more amenable to our requirements and we engaged him to do the job. The contractor he used for the installation located the antenna plugs and sockets underneath the vehicle, they were not waterproof and a large cable bung (which was left hanging on its original cable [we did quite a few water crossings during our trip]) was pushed out of underside of vehicle to route the antenna cable and it was routed to within two inches of the exhaust.! In fact When I did the reinstall, water was dripping out of the plugs as I stripped the insulating tape off the plugs and sockets(self amalgamating tape as recommended in the Barrett manual had not been used). The training consisted of a twenty minute demonstration (not hands on) before he rushed off to another job.

We joined 3 HF groups.
1. Telephone calls were difficult or impossible and we ended up using our travelling companion’s sat phone (that is another story but not for me to tell) A letter from the HF telephone service provider shortly after we arrived home indicated that they had been having problems with two frequencies since the association's inception. Was this the reason I was having trouble? No mention was made of this when we paid our money. The radio will have to be reprogrammed for some new frequencies before we use the phone facility again.
2. No practice from home was attempted with the second group as the frequencies used could never be received in my town, I could hear people talking to the base in Adelaide during the sked times but could never hear the base and I didn't have the confidence to attempt a relay by another member.
3. We did not attempt to use the facilities of the third group.

1. The set could not be used with the engine running as there was too much interference. When we were stopped there was so much current draw from the 80 amp hour battery that it would cut the fridge out while the radio was transmitting.
2. If the fridge was running there was so much interference it had to be turned off before the radio was used. Yes it was a Waeco!

Next time we go to the “so-called” remote areas of Australia we may take the HF for security but maybe we will get rid of it and just buy an epirb. We certainly won’t be spending money on pre paid phone calls which don’t work. We may subscribe to an HF club or continue one of our current subscriptions but would need a lot more support and training than we have received so far. Yes I accept some of the blame for all this. I should have gone back to the original supplier and insisted on proper installation, interference reduction, and training and put more effort into becoming a proficient HF operator. Any comments or suggestions would be most welcome.


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Reply By: Peter McG (Member, Melbourne) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:22

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:22

An interesting read. I'm just about to get a Barrett installed for this year's trip. Can you tell me which installer to stay clear of?

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Follow Up By: Bonz (Vic) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:55

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:55
Buy Doug's Barrett
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Reply By: Bonz (Vic) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:57

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 12:57
Doug, you sure we're not related? Why wouldnt u go for a Sat phone in the forst place and be done with it? I would consider having one installed into the vehicle with a permanent antenna, same as a mobile installation.

Great read tho, are u sure we're not related, sounds very much like many of my adventures.
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Follow Up By: Member - Roachie (SA) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:16

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:16
G'day Bonz,
I'm sorry to read of Doug's trials with his HF. However, I do think his is an isolated instance and others who may be contemplating getting a HF should not be put-off. Satphones have their place in the outback, for sure. However, the HF is a different beast and has it's own niche.

The story has been written on here several times before of a bloke with a HF who holed his fuel tank out the back of beyond. He had the gear to fix the hole, but no diesel to fill the tank. He was able to use his HF radio to contact a base station and consequently (as it turned out), there was another HF owner (VKS 737 network) not far away from the stricken vehicle. That bloke was able to provide some fuel to get the vehicle underway and back to town.

Now, had the bloke only had a satphone, he could have phoned for assistance and it would have cost him a grand or so to have a kind person from the nearest servo bring out some fuel to him.

Add to that the benefit of being able to tap-in to the "skeds" to find out what weather is on it's way to your position, the security of being able to "check-in" each day to let them know you are safe etc and IMHO the HF is the better proposition. Ideally, you'd have both satphone and HF

Cheers mate

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Follow Up By: Mike Harding - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:22

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:22
I'm with Roachie: ideally both but if I could only have one I'd go HF.
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Follow Up By: Member - Matt M (ACT) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 18:38

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 18:38
I'm with Roachie and Mike.
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Reply By: Vince NSW - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:04

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:04
How much do you want for your HF set ?
AnswerID: 213202

Reply By: Darian (SA) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:42

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 13:42
Starting backwards (I often do :-0).... even the most whizz bang Epirb will only tell people you are at a certain place and in deep shtoom - effective communications re your situation is worth untold more than an Epirb (if stopped, you may only need a basic part to get you mobile again !). And as Roachie says, a kindly traveller might be just around the next hillside with a spare part (but radio contact is the only way of catching them in nearly all ceses, it would seem).
HF is famous for interference from a number of common devices - its pretty much the "nature of things" - engines and fridges are dead set contribuors - we seasoned HF users jus accept is as one compromise in that setup (every game has its compromises - just look at choosing cars, trailers, vans etc).
Re installation - you could do a much better job than a dud installer (as you have already seen) - a pro installer might well do the best job though, as you say.
Re training - if you can't acces the free offer, that's just tough - best thing you might do is ask the forumites here (in a new post)- you might have a seasoned user nearby who can offer free time for a demo - several people I know would offer if it was convenient.
The Barrett is a fine unit (as are many other makes of course :-0) - Radtel phone comms work well too - (all subject to HF "conditions" of course ).... re Satphones... not my choice, but many rightly consider the sat to be their best option.
AnswerID: 213208

Reply By: John R (SA) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 14:13

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 14:13
Doug, based on what you've said, I'd probably do the same as you (in regard to installation) - find who suited me best and go with them. There's no way I'd consider staying in town for a week for the installation.

I get the impression that you didn't go back to the installer. I don't think I'd have let that slide. Not sure that I would have engaged his services to reinstall the radio, but would have extracted a pound of flesh one way or another!

Not an encouraging experience, but I think the other reports on this forum indicate that HF is, for the most part, an effective & reliable comms system. I hope you are inclined to have the problems rectified and next time head bush with confidence.

AnswerID: 213213

Reply By: Stevo - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 14:15

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 14:15
As for that pr#@!ck who provides the HF telephone service, he shouldn't be in business. Recently renewed my subscription with his company (no forewarning about possible change of frequencies) and subsequently upgraded my old Barrett 250 with an EPROM (fixed frequencies as opposed to battery supported memory). Within 3 weeks I receive a letter advising that he has changed frequencies. Tapped whip & Barrett now next to useless for radphone calls.
AnswerID: 213214

Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 15:29

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 15:29
Stevo, I'm with Bushphone and haven't heard of any frequency changes. Who are you with (a hint would be OK)?
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Reply By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 15:47

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 15:47
Gee you've had a hard time of it Doug. My experience was fortunately a lot better.

4 years ago I bought a new Barrett from Phil at Electric Bug in Adelaide. He asked me about installation, and I said I wanted to fit it myself, so he spent the next 30 minutes telling me some tricks to get a good install - things like clearances, earthing, vibration etc etc. They included first year VKS membership. They included 4 hours of tuition one night after work, and said we could go to subsequent sessions and sit in the background if we wished. They included programming a heap of channels into the set - so it already had all the frequencies I was ever likely to use.

The set worked well in the Prado, although I had a friend with me when I made the first transmissions. I transferred it into the 79series, but had the noise problem when the motor is running. Electric Bug again gave me some advice about noise reduction, then basically said that nothing works except a noise reducing speaker - so I installed one of those and it makes a difference.

I only have the HF, but I have mates with sat phones, and they do different things - they will both get you out of trouble, but in different ways.

I like doing telcalls from the HF - I can call my wife or kids at home and tell them where we are and how we're going - usually do this early in the morning. Once you get the hang of how to get a good line, it works pretty well. But theres a fair learning curve.

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Follow Up By: Stevo - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 16:20

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 16:20
Phil, I can't "tel" you
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Follow Up By: Member - Phil G (SA) - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 16:42

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 16:42
.....and the boss at work can't "tel" me either :-)))
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Follow Up By: Richard Kovac - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 22:03

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 22:03

try link www.radtelnetwork.com.au/

had no problem wiyh there service it's only to Frequencys
FollowupID: 473610

Reply By: Mike Harding - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 16:28

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 16:28
Here's an idea for you Doug: contact your local Amateur Radio club and ask if someone there would be interested in spending an hour or two giving you all the ins and outs about your radio and HF comms in general - look here:


Amateur Radio operators are usually such geeks about radio that they would probably relish the chance to spout forth about it for an hour or two and get to play with a radio (Codan/Barrett) which we don't normally use but they will be able to give you some good information and, if you ask nicely, they might even have a look at your vehicle noise issue. Maybe they'll even tempt you into going for the Foundation Licence? :)

I'm sorry you've had a bad experience but it’s down to poor suppliers rather than any intrinsic problem with HF radio - preserver and all will be well - are you a member of VKS737?


Mike Harding
AnswerID: 213235

Reply By: anglepole - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 17:00

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 17:00
Hi Doug,

I am sorry that you have had a bad experience with your Barrett installation and your service provider, I too would like a hint to who they are.

HF technologies are always being improved and modern HF should be most reliable. HF is used in aircraft communications both domestically and internationally as well as marine and emergency services. The guy I bought my antenna mount has just sold over 100 Barrett Antenna mounts to the UN.

I have travelled from Adelaide to Perth to Darwin to Townsville as well as many remote tracks, and I can say that I have never been unable to raise at least one usable VKS 737 base.

Unfortunately there are many so called experts on HF in the business who would not know poo from clay.

Keep the Barrett get some proper advice and help and you should have a positive experience.

What Town do you live?

AnswerID: 213242

Reply By: wilko65 - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 21:09

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 21:09
I think that maybe you have more money than sense. Maybe you should have spent some time researching what and how a HF radio works before spending the money on buying one.
If you want a telephone, buy a sat phone. If you want a radio, buy a HF radio.
If you are happy with the radio but want to make a telephone call occasionally, then subscribe to the Bushphone network. There bases are well equipped, reliable and with a good spread of frequencies. Night time is always difficult.
I have had HF for years and know the problems with it. If you understand how it works and are patient, the HF is a very usefull tool and I consider it to be an essential item in my vehicle.
Ask around for assistance before you throw it.
I have both a 9323 Codan and an Iridium 9595a. I take and use both. I consider them both as equal for what they are.
AnswerID: 213287

Reply By: Footloose - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 21:27

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 21:27
I'm sorry you've had a bad trot. Your HF experience should have been much better.
Installs...hate em. They are labour intensive and nobody wants to pay big $ for a job that can take all day ++. But a professional installer should have done the job to your satisfaction by informing you what had been done.
Installing a radio is individual to the vehicle and owner. Its not just a 123 job, so the time taken can be elastic. Whatever can go wrong, usually will.
The last Barrett I installed was in an F350, and it cost me two days and a new drill. It cost the owner exactly $100 as he was part of a charity bash.

Water dripping out of the tape ? That shouldn't have happened with or without the self amalgamating tape. I've never seen it..but the fact that it was near the exhaust....hmmm....I hope I don't know the installer. I've heard a few bad stories about a couple in WA.

Sending someone bush without them being able to use their new radio properly is not a great thing to do. But once again training takes time and money. Some people say they're right, and then when they make a mess of it blame the trainer, who hasn't bothered to evaluate their readiness. Either you're comfortable using the radio or you're not.

HF is a variable medium but you should have been able to listen to a base sked on at least one of the networks. Unlike a phone, these aren't "facilities on demand", you do have to make an effort and be patient. You need not worry that you'll make a mess of it...most people do the first couple of times and the ops are very forgiving and helpful. Doesn't take long to get into the swing of things, and once there you'll be glad you persevered.

I agree with you about the phone provider. Another service with poor customer service. On the bright side, if you pay more than about $70 to have the radio reprogrammed , assuming its a current model, you've paid too much. Many people use the phone facilities and have no worries.

I've found that there are HF people and there are sat phone people. A few manage both easily, but not everyone. Sat phones can have their downside also.

Your battery was too small for the radio. That should have been pointed out to you on install. Also the engine should have been run, and the interference noted and suggestions offered. ( I assume that its petrol or common rail diesel ?) Interference is a multi horned frustrating beast, but remember that if you need to use your radio in an emergency you'll probably be stopped. Hence a decent battery.

I had extremely poor experiences with a certain sat phone service provider. However I accept the fact that I chose the wrong mob. Next time I'll spend more money and have a decent sat phone provider along with my trusty HF.

“so-called” remote areas of Australia "...where did you go ?
Mate, remote is remote. And you'll know it when you're there, and be B%oody glad you've got HF or a satphone.

On a recent trip across the Plenty, Tanami, Gary Junction track and the Kidson Track (and home) , I had HF comms at least once a day(usually twice) with one of the networks you joined. No worries. I had NIL communications for 2/3 of the way (the 2/3 I tried to use it ) on satphone. And NIL satisfaction from them when I got home. But that's another story.

HF is great for 4wders. Sat phones are great for 4wders. But they are very different beasts, which do different jobs.
They sometimes suit very different people.

Personally, when I go into remote areas, I take both. If I had to choose I'd pick HF. But I'm not everyone.

AnswerID: 213291

Reply By: allblack55 - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 21:38

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 21:38
Hi dougmac,

Sorry to hear about your unhappy experiences with HF installation and operation, if you care to contact me direct we may be able to address some of your concerns in detail as some of the problems may be install specific.


AnswerID: 213295

Reply By: markeaust - Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 22:06

Thursday, Jan 04, 2007 at 22:06

As others have mentioned, let us know where abouts you are and there will be no end of forumites willing to assist with both your installation difficulties and some ongoing training....may only cost you a couple of coldies!!!!!!!!


Victor ???not sure anymore.

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