HF Radio: what other uses?

I'm considering buying an HF radio for my Patrol; probably a codan or barrett with VKS737. My intended purpose for the radio is emergency comms in remote Australia, but I'm finding it difficult to justify given the cost of alternate equipment (eg Spot at the lowest end of the price range).

I'd like to understand what other practical uses an HF radio has, other than emergency communications. For example, I understand that one can use an HF radio to listen to ABC radio and the cricket.

Can anyone comment on other uses for an HF radio?

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Reply By: Member - Chris & Debbie (QLD) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 10:44

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 10:44
Services such as VKS 737 are good for getting road, track and weather updates, we have also called them to find information of fuel availability etc.
Other HF services can supply services such as email, sms and gps tracking.

One of the main uses for us though, is for making telephone calls to keep in touch family and subscrbe to Radtel for this purpose.

I would not rely on one completely for emergeny comms though, for reasons that will be pointed out by Satphone uses I'm sure:)
For this we also carry an EPIRB, light easy to carry if going bush walking etc. and no yearly subsciptions as with a Spot.
Coddiwomple (v.) To travel purposefully towards a vague destination.

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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 18:16

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 18:16
As Chris mentioned "I would not rely on one completely for emergeny comms though".

To expand on what I believe that he is referring to; HF propogation, that is the path between radios that the signal takes, can be severly disrupted and even distroyed for hours by sunspot activity. Electrical storms can cause bad static. Bad enough at times for the audio to be unreadable until the storm passes on. Maybe even from storms over the horizon.

HF certainly has a good place but it should be supplemented with maybe a spot/epirb and backed up with HF and maybe in difficult situations such as mine, with a phone. We had to go down the satellite phone path because the doctors needed full duplex links and in fact requested it otherwise they would not give me their approval.

It really depends on what type of problem may arise for an individual or group and how much equipment, effort or funds are needed to cover that possible situation.
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 09:17

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 09:17
As an example of what Chris & Phil are saying, on one very stormy afternoon, back in the early '90's, I found UHF to more useful than the HF set that was installed in the vehicle.

I was about 100 kms from the station, and on a very high ridge, maybe 200 feet above the surrounding country. I called my wife on the HF, and while I could hear her reasonably well, she replied: "I know you're there, but I don't know what you're saying". The amount of static on the HF caused by the electrical storms was quite intense.

After a couple of frustrating attempts to relay my message, I then tried the UHF, and she was able to hear me quite clearly. Now this wouldn't work where one was out of UHF range, or perhaps bogged in a gully, but does illustrate that HF is not a panacea for emergency communication.


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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:06

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:06
Good example Bob. As an avid user of HF professionally and as a hobby (past that is) I have a lot of time for HF. Yes those times affected us even to the point that on several occasions we lost HF comms for hours to Vietnam while I was System Controller Officer. But for the most we got through. As does the 4WD HF service.

As an aside I used to make quite regular UHF contacts to Melbourne from Sydney. But then again that was using large arrays and heaps more power than we are allowed on UHF. But we cheated. We bounced the signal off high flying planes. Me cheat! Never?

UHF, HF, SPOT, Epirbs and even satphone all have their place. Even a sparking battery lead sending SOS.

Yes it can be done and that in fact was very close to Marconi’s first radio transmission in 1896, with coded signals. Tesla actually invented the radio four year earlier and Marconi was the first to actually make a transmission.
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Follow Up By: wombat100 - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:59

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:59

2nd Sig Regt?? 1LSF???

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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 11:41

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 11:41
Both 2 and 5 then svn 110, 104 and then 1, 127 and then for 18yrs on to "special" and non corps units.

Take care mate
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 14:45

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 14:45
Yeah, Phil, I still get the "warm & fuzzy's" when thinking about my HF days.

The ability to, once multi-tap aerials came in, to talk to station staff on 2020 kHz, then switch to 5110 and send a telegram through Mt Isa base, to head office with say, some cattle numbers, and then, switch over to the radphone frequency(think they were 73XX & 76XX) and make a phone call to a Toyota dealer, to organise delivery of some parts. All from the driver's seat of a Landcruiser ute.

Once everyone got the phone on, Phil, by 1992, their use had started to wane by 1995. Think many stations still use them, but others, as we did, put in UHF repeaters, and sadly, dispensed with the HF's. Nothing like a bit of history, eh!

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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 15:10

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 15:10
I dropped in once when "testing" a "big" set I had just repaired, from Vietnam one day. The poor bloke thought I was pulling his leg when he heard where I was. The boss kicked me from one end of Vietnam to the other though. But it was worth it.

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Reply By: Member - Graham N (SA) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 11:38

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 11:38
Would endorse the comments made by Chris above. We have only just become a member of Radtel I'm sure it will be a useful service.
We have owned a HF radio for about two years now and in that time we have had about six important messages from VKS 737 delivered to us or friends travelling with us, with out having that service we or them may have not been out there.
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 11:55

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 11:55
Pretty much all points covered above - on the issue of safety, I'd just add that if you have a problem and you call into a sked session (not all HF networks have skeds), other network members (or even non member listeners) could well be nearby and might be able to assist you (this has happened a lot over the years - medical issues, breakdowns - ferrying car parts along remote tracks etc.) . Even if you selcall a base in off-sked time, once the next sked is up and running, your issue can be shared if appropriate. It's the ''community on the airwaves'' thing - the other communication modes don't offer this factor (except for UHF, in close circumstances). I think the issue is 'needs driven' - if you note the facilities that you would most value while 'out there', you can then choose from the various providers and the options they offer.
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Follow Up By: Member - Jerry C (WA) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 15:32

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 15:32
Hi All,
Adding to the above, RFDSWA and RFDSQLD have an agreement with VKS using the HF network with Selcall to make Emergency and Help calls via the PSTN network and the 18 nominated sites, to the RFDSWA Operations Centre at Jandakot Airport in Perth and the equivalent RFDSQLD site, 24 hours a day. RFDS Doctors and Emergency Services are available for consultation as required.
This Emergency Service is available to "All HF users with SELCALL". Note: during "SKED" sessions voice contact should be used, Selcall should not be activated. Interested users of this service can down load VKS "Document 40" which is found under the "Document" Tab on the VKS site.

Cheers, Jerry C.
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Reply By: Robin Miller - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 12:05

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 12:05
Yep I know what you mean , things have to reach a critical mass of usefulness before we lug them along.

For example out netbook and its bits simply weigh a lot less than the maps books etc that we would otherwise
take so now it goes instead .

With the HF , we decided that of the main options HF radio was the best,and one of it main uses is
not logging in each night but simply listening (mostly VKS-737) as you drive along and becoming aware
of whats happening out there - this often leads us to change plans slightly.

Other non-standard uses include using the aerial as a mast for our sand flag , listening to ABC radio when there nothing else to be found , using it for our amateur radio communications and also using it for car to car contact when out of range of UHF.

We also use ours for 27mhz CB which can give you a real option for emergency comms as quite a few long distance truckies and radio hobbyists still use this mode.

Pity real text messaging options are not available - and even partial ones that are require you to subscribe
to another servie.

You need the right radio to do some of the above , our Barrett 950 does the lot and at 125w output can even shut down or overload some other nearby comms systems and light up a close fluro tube.

All in all very useful and worth carrying.
Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 12:25

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 12:25
Hi Robin

125w output??? either things have changed or you must have yours tweaked up.

When we brought our Codan years ago, they were only 100w output and when I enquired about this, they told me that this was the greatest legal output available.


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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 15:51

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 15:51
G'day Stephen - hope a radio expert drops in (or back) to clarify - my Barrett 950 is rated at 100W nominal and 125W PEP far as I know - the new Barretts are too. Seems that PEP (peak envelope power I think) is what the max output CAN get to at specific points in a transmission, while it might only average 100W across any time period....as I recall, the supply voltage needs to be up in the low 13's to achieve this though.
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 18:41

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 18:41
Think I might be the only Radio Engineer on this site now Darian - Years ago there were some others like Mike.

Yes Stephen the Barrett 950 is a unique product which has features not found on later models - like the 125 watt peak envelope power as Darian states and also the ability to transmit anywhere without restrictions (electronically that is , not legally).

The later models can't for instance tx on 27mhz.

As a radio amateur I can use a linear with the HF radio and transmit 400w PEP , only on cerain channels legally - but this wouldn't hold one back in a genuine emergency.

The Barrett 950 sort of reminds me of the Patrols I like - just enough technology to be with it, but still having the good old bits like live axles.
Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Member - Boobook - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 18:46

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 18:46
Not that it is significant in transmission terms, but I think the max power is 125W BUT as a Land mobile device it is limited to 100W by ACMA rules.

That's only about 2 db though.
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Reply By: Peterbilt - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 12:28

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 12:28
VKS737 is very good for information and assistance as others have mentioned. While VKS logs your calling location in their database, understandably they cannot track you on a day-to-day basis and alert anyone if you haven’t called in. Since I have a dedicated GPS feeding into my Codan, I use HFoZ to transmit my location each day to its automated database so that friends at home can monitor my location against schedule to monitor my progress (or lack of). I also log location coordinates in my radio which will then calculate distance and direction to my current location (similar to an independent GPS). If you have colleagues with HFoZ, the Codan canl interrogate their position to calculate their distance and direction from your vehicle. HFoZ is also excellent for its short email and SMS capabilities when out of phone range. Telephone interface through Radtel and other providers is also very valuable.

You can also receive synoptic weather charts from the BOM via an audio interface (lead from your speaker) into your computer via a software program. Essentially it’s a fax conversion program of the 3-hourly weather charts the BOM transmits via HF. I often use mine as a long-range am radio by free tuning to the radio station I want to listen to. It’s not brilliant quality but my Codan seems to get reception where my vehicle radio doesn’t. regards, Peter
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Reply By: yagon - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 16:28

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 16:28
Thanks for the feedback. Some additional questions:

1. I really don't have a sense of what 'happens' or what is discussed during a 'sked'. Although I suppose the only way to really find out is to listen to a sked (but I don't have a way to do that), could anyone describe to me what is discussed during a sked?

2. Is HF of much use for weekend trips away from major metro centres (aside from emergency requirements)? That is, do you guys use the VKS737 skeds if you're going to, for example, the Blue Mountains for a camping weekend from Sydney?

Thanks in advance for your feedback; this forum has very knowledgable users and basic feedback such as this is greatly appreciated.

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Follow Up By: Member - Graham N (SA) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 16:49

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 16:49
During 'sked' times you can log in with a base operator your position and receive any recorded messages left with VKS's message service.
Many owners log in even if moving from city to city, it makes sure your equipment is working and gets you or your family used to operating the equipment I'm sure Darian can explain it better.
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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 21:19

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 21:19
On VKS737 skeds, 95% of contacts are simply log-ins from members letting the operator know where they are and where they will be the next day (just in case anyone back home needs to find them). Other issues covered at times include the following:
#Messages to the member (from whoever has been advised of their travel and given the network's messagebank number).
#Messages taken from the member and passed on to whoever.
#A simple radio check - to regularly make sure the hardware is all running well
#Requests for roads and weather info, to aid in trip planning en route
#Requests for technical advice and/or assistance re vehicle / trailer failure
#Requests for medical advice and/or assistance
#Requests to assist others found to be in difficulty (optional on our part)
#Requests to assist anyone at all with an emergency (an obligation in law)
#At this time of the year, queries on footy scores do feature :-o)

Members with mobile phones travelling inside phone cells probably have no vital need for their HF, but some still call other VKS members, or say g'day to operators in quiet times.
VKS have 6 skedding bases (and other stand by bases) across the nation and there are 7 skeds every day.
As mentioned above, the HF organisations in Australia all have varied practices and features - personal contact with other HF users is the fast track way of learning in my view - research on the web will get you part way.
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Reply By: Isuzumu - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 20:40

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 20:40
Have a look at what is happening at HF Radio Club these days, we are far the most advanced HF operators around and the best priced. Check out there web site.Here

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Follow Up By: Member - Rod N (QLD) - Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 22:50

Sunday, Sep 09, 2012 at 22:50
G'day Bruce, Your link is to the members area of the HF Radio Club site. The correct link is HF Radio Club
Selcall 4350
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Follow Up By: Isuzumu - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 06:16

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 06:16
Thanks Rod
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Reply By: Wayne's 60 - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 00:36

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 00:36
Hi Yagon,

We had the same issue, to justify the cost of a HF radio for our outback trips.

For $250 we bought a Barrett 220 SB HF Radio and tapped whip antenna.

For emergency comms.

We are away in the bush to get away from data transmissions and all the other forms of contact.

We are members of the VKS radio network and if needed our children can get a message to us.

Our last trip through the Eastern Goldfields was an interesting view on communications.............. especially when "Auto tune" antennas..... didn't.

Wayne & Sally.
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Reply By: cookie1 - Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 12:03

Monday, Sep 10, 2012 at 12:03
When we did the Canning earlier in the year we had a potential fueel issue, looking at the Hema Map it provided the number for Granite Downs Station, using VKS737 HFTel I called the station and obtained permission to get fuel from them as it looked like we dropped 180L of diesel so we were going to fill up and retreat if in fact it took the whole lot indicating a leak.

This saved our trip as it turned out to be a fuel gauge issue, we called in to VKS every night and indeed called home mostly every night to let them all know we were OK.

The other party had a Satphone and I noted thta he had to move around sometimes to get coverage.

We also took Flares & an EPIRB due to the remoteness but didn't need any of it.

I would thoroughly recommend HF & VKS737



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