HF radio: limitations of a low-cost approach

I've decided that I'm going to buy an HF radio for safety purposes during my Simpson desert trip next year (and hopefully future trips). I will supplement the hf radio with a spot gps. Thanks to this forum for helping me reach this decision by providing advice in my earlier threads.

Now comes the decision of what type of radio. Given my intended use, I think I can probably go for a basic old hf radio and multi-tap antenna (eg barrett 250). The cost should be less than $1,500 installed; much cheaper than new models.

My question for the forum is, what functionality / performance will I compromise by going down an inexpensive path? Would I be better off investing in a new radio with auto tune?

Keep in mind that I'll only be in the outback 2 or 3 times pa for a week or so each time.

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Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012 at 22:56

Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012 at 22:56
Yagon,

The old Barrett250's were pretty "deaf", so you might be better with a later model, or perhaps a Codan.

The Codan 7727 were a good, old 10 channel transceiver, and a later model, also a 10 channel Eeprom unit, was I think an X-9. Much smaller physically, than the 7727, but still had 100 watt Tx & sensitive Rx.

The one advantage with a new ones would be multi channels, where you can talk to any RFDS base, tune to ABC/Radio Australia and use Radphone. And many more........But a lot of money for 2-3 trips a year. Maybe you need a satphone LOL?

Nothing wrong with multi-tap aerials either. They were getting plenty of use long before the auto tunes came along.

Your money, your call, you should get some useful replies from others that currently use the newer transceivers etc,

Bob.
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Reply By: Member - John N (SA) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 00:21

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 00:21
G'day Yagon,

The new ones are quite costly as you have probably already found out. I have a Codan 9323 which I picked up second hand about 5 years ago. It has an autotune and works exceptionally well. A mate has one hooked up to a multi tap and it seems to get out marginally better. Advantages of a bit later unit like the 9323 include selcall facility, ability to make telephone calls and multi channels which can be programmed to ABC stations around the country.

If you go to the "links" area on the VKS737 website, you will find sellers of refurbished units - e.g Hf-Radio.com.au - they have 9323 sets for $1399 which you can match to a multi tap and be close to your budget. We have just got back to SA from a 2 month Cape York trip and it was great tuning into the VKS community on most days.

Best of luck

John
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Reply By: Member - Boobook - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 05:21

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 05:21
I would definitely get a late model 8525 or a 9323 as these have selcall and are pretty user friendly to program and use. I regularly see 9323 with autotunes on ebay and trading post for about $1200 - 1500. They also give you the flexibility of lots of channels and as mentioned above ABC,Radio Australia, BBC, weather etc.

You need selcall to call RFDS in WA and I think Qld. The premium over an older unit is not too much these days. Bearing in mind that the 8525 is now 4 generations old and the 9323 is 3.

Also if you get a 9323 and enable it for GPS, you can use the HFradio club GPS locating service which posts your loacation on Google maps and or facebook so you don't need a spot.

You'll have much more fun using a later model.





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Reply By: yagon - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 06:55

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 06:55
Thanks for the feedback. Looking at the websites mentioned above, I think I could stretch to budget to a Codan 9323 or Barrett 950. Although I don't really understand what additional benefit these models would offer over the lowest price unit I've seen, which is the Barrett 250.

When using a multitap antenna, I understand that scan functions may not work. Practically, is this a major problem? What other compromises are made if I go for a multi-tap rather than an auto tune?

Regarding alternate communications, I think I would appreciate the community aspect of HF Radio vs a Satphone. And I would like to have a Spot or Epirb for when I go bushwalking away from my Patrol.

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Follow Up By: olcoolone - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 08:32

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 08:32
There is a lot of merit in buying later model stuff, the older the radio the more chance of it failing and if it does fail; then the availability of spare parts that will more then likely be secondhand.

Most older HF gear have had a hard life.

Later model radio's receive and transmit better, have more user features like selcall (a must), option of a telephone interconnect and antenna auto tune abilities.

The other big plus is most a computer programmable making it easier to add frequencies as needed.

HF radio's hold there value very well and the newer the radio the quicker and at a higher price it will sell for.

Most of the time we monitor only one channel.



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Reply By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 07:48

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 07:48
Yagon

If safety is your concern then the most important thing is that the radio must work when you need it to.

Buy a single piece Barrett 950 or eqiv - thats what I did ($750)- there are reasons for this that go beyond the normal forums wisdom.

These include that it can transmit anywhere whereas the latest models restrict the freq of operation and puts out a little more power.

A reasonably late model unit is also needed as it is less prone to transmitting issues when the aerial is not quite right etc.
(Don't know if your technical or not - but when desiging the early radios we used transistors which would faill much more readily than later ones which use different
type devices in power stages)


P.S. 90% of people with us never take their radio of 8022mhz call channel and a multitap is not only fine but prefferable as it is much less fussy and easier to repair.

If money is no object then get multitap then an autotune and carry the multi tap as a spare.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 09:08

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 09:08
Robin, perhaps we could also add that with multitap it is not necessary to select specific tappings for reception, only for transmission, which is satisfactory for scanning.

As you say, the multitap antenna is more reliable but is a little less convenient than an autotune. But it can even double as a dune flag mast!

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Allan

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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:15

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:15
Good points Allan

For my backup I just carry 2 30ft pieces of pvc covered wire, attaching one to each side of the coax - even when these are rolled out poorly along the ground to make a crummy 1/2 wave dipole it usually betters the multitap.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:29

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:29
Yes Robin, I also carry a length of cable attached to a cord and weight to use as an emergency longline antenna. However, nowadays I consider the HF and VKS737 useful for information and assistance in such matters as obtaining and delivering spares. For life & death emergency I rely on the satphone and carry comprehensive emergency phone number list.

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Follow Up By: Member - PJR (NSW) - Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 10:11

Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 10:11
Yagon

What Robin said makes sense on the practicality side.

However I would like to highlight one issue with it. Having in your possession a radio that will transmit on a frequency that you are not licensed to use can be illegal. If this concerns you then you should investigate it.

Phil
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Reply By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 08:37

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 08:37
From the intended activity you have described, it seems you simply need an HF that has selcall.
Antennas: Multi-taps provide superior performance, but you only have those tapped frequencies - if you do happen to swap service providers (with all the different frequencies), you will probably need another (expensive) antenna, or reworking of the existing. With an autotune, you simply reprogram the radio and carry on.
The Radio: Whatever you choose, just make sure it can be supported with parts and service. That said, there are still many early HF's in use and performing very well.
BTW... Jenal.com make microphones that add selcall and other modern functions to a basic HF. May be of interest (but then, most of the system's value resides in the mike and may not have resale value).
Cost: You would save a lot if you could source a radio privately and install it yourself. There might be a member of your intended service provider nearby that could give you advice, or a hand ? $1500 would have to get you a very good radio with modern features and autotune. Maybe check http://vks737.on.net/market.html as one source.
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Follow Up By: MEMBER - Darian, SA - Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 10:06

Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 10:06
Re tap antenna mounting query below - I had an crystal controlled Tracker Scout HF years back with a Lencom tap antenna (beautiful quality comms, but no selcall). The tap antennas have a small base given the height and weight of the rod overall, so they can exert a lot of leverage on their mounting. IMV, a HD spring base is essential and that needs to be bolted to a well mounted steel flange.
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Reply By: splits - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 09:15

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 09:15
yagon

Have a talk to David Collins athttp://www.hf-radio.com.au/component/page, His rebuilt 9323 is $1849 complete with a new multi tap aerial. A 250 with similar aerial is $1289. An old radio updated with later parts is no longer the same radio so a 250 may be more than good enough to meet your needs.
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Reply By: yagon - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:20

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:20
Thanks for the feedback; this has helped my understanding greatly.

I'm clear on my path regarding the antenna. Compared to an autotune, a multi-tap:
1. is much less expensive;
2. is smaller and lighter, therefore easier to mount;
3. provides better performance;
4. doesn't compromise scanning because you don't need to change tap to scan other channels;
5. but is cumbersome for changing transmission frequencies, although most users spend 90% of their time on 1 channel.

This is a no-brainer for me, I'll definitely go for a multi-tap.

Can anyone refer me to some images that show how best to mount a multi-tap? I've tried to google it but can't find many clear images.

I need to reflect a little more on the radio.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:20

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:20
You may find this instruction brochure from Barrett useful.

Cheers
Allan

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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:24

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:24
Yagon,

Don't have any digital images that I could show you.

We used to mount them on the passenger side of bullbar, where you could "monitor" where the tip was, in relation to trees, overhead wires or gate caps. And they weren't in the driver's direct vision either.

Have seen them mounted on head rail, up behind the cab, or even on rear spare wheel carrier. The latter position might be a bit close to body work, unless it was on a raised mount. The standard heavy-duty spring mount is very robust, and haven't seen many break. Some do lose the tension in the spring, and tend to "flop" about, even coming back to wack the cab, in really rough conditions.

We used the 4' whips, because we had areas of low gidgea scrub, and were often off road. Otherwise the 6' whips might give slightly better performance. Terlin makes one that is in 2 pieces, though i don't know what they are like.

We used RFI aerials, but didn't notice them on their website now. Check out TERLIN, from WA, for a good variety.

Just on radios again. We have a Codan 8525 that my wife won in a RFDS raffle, and it has been a really good unit. However, at over 25 years old, it mightn't be the one you need, if you could afford something newer.

Bob.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:45

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 11:45
Bob, As you say, mounting location and height can be an issue. Our tapped whip is in the bull-bar, LHS. We are often on bush tracks with overhanging branches that give the antenna some hard whacks, so in this situation I tie the whip back to the roof-rack with an occy-strap. Seems to still have reasonable reception in this mode but have not tried transmitting whilst tied-back.

It is also possible to get the tap-selecting wandering lead hooked in passing foliage and rip it off. Had it happen only once but, even though it was closely wrapped around the antenna. Ripped a few other things off that trip!!

Also found that the HF antenna and the dune-flag mast banged together when rolling across tracks such as the Simpson. Now they are on opposite sides with no problem.

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Allan

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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 09:41

Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 09:41
Yeah, they're a bit too expensive to damage on a regular basis, Allan. :-)

When I checked the Terlin site a couple of days ago, the prices didn't seem too bad. Well, not that much dearer than they were 25 years ago.

Re the tap lead, as we were mostly on 2020kHz, it usually hung off the rear vision mirror, except for occasional radphone call, or a brief call on "company" frequencies.

Often seems to be some juggling, with aerials, to get everything "right",

Bob.

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Follow Up By: wombat100 - Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 12:08

Friday, Sep 21, 2012 at 12:08
As you will be using just one channel (frequency) 95% of the time (say 8022 for VKS737)- a tapped whip is more than good enough. Also, (despite what others say)..a tapped whip IS a better performr than an Autotune !!

I have used- for many years- an ole Codan 8528 with an ole Terlin multi-tap whip and have had no probs !! Yes, it has Selcall, Yes, I can (but never have used) the Telephone function. It can use 99 channels- of which I use about 5.

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Follow Up By: get outmore - Friday, Sep 28, 2012 at 15:06

Friday, Sep 28, 2012 at 15:06
just a note on terlin antenaes.

it was far cheaper for me to order one from over east delivered than is was for me to drive 10km to his shop and pick one up!!
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Reply By: anglepole - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 14:36

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 14:36
Hello Yargon,

Just be a bit careful of buying older Codans. Codan appear to me to be too quick to withdraw support for their older models. If you buy a radio that uses crystals they need their own oscillator coils as well as crystals. Expensive if you need it for 10 frequencies.
I think you are selling yourself short if you don't have selcall and telecall.

I have travelled all over Australia and have never had trouble accessing at least one of VKS bases. If you make a call on 8022 I reckon at least half of VKS members (VKS has about 4500 members) have their radio on, so someone will help.

Barrett radio have a great support system.

Cheers
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Reply By: yagon - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 14:42

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 14:42
I've another technical question; something that I've been thinking about today.

Someone mentioned that a multi-tap antenna can scan / receive all frequencies, but only transmit in 1 frequency (at a given setting). How is it possible for it to scan all frequencies if it is set to a specific length?

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 15:16

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 15:16
In order to transmit at design power the antenna needs to be tuned to the frequency of the selected channel. This is not so critical on reception although theoretically it would be better if the antenna was tuned to the reception frequency, so it is unlikely that you would notice and difference in performance. Therefore, as when scanning you are only in receive mode, the radio will receive all channels scanned.

An autotune antenna automatically adjusts its tuning to the selected channel on both transmit and receive.

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Allan

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 15:19

Thursday, Sep 20, 2012 at 15:19
Incidentally, on a multi-tapped antenna there is not a tap for each and every channel. Each tap position covers a range of channel frequencies.

Cheers
Allan

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Reply By: Echucan Bob - Friday, Sep 28, 2012 at 14:48

Friday, Sep 28, 2012 at 14:48
Yagon,
If low cost is important then an old Yaesu FT747GX with a multi tap whip will get you on the air. You'll need an outpost license from ACMA. VKS 737 insist you have a preferred brand if you want to talk to them. I have a Codan NGT with a Codan auto tune antenna, but a Yaesu FT 857 D connected to the Codan antenna or a Yaesu F40 auto tune would be cheaper, more flexible, and more user friendly. This information usually generates heated responses.
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Follow Up By: yagon - Friday, Sep 28, 2012 at 19:09

Friday, Sep 28, 2012 at 19:09
Well this has given me something to think about.

If understand correctly, I could have a brand new Yaesu FT857D for less than the price of a 10 year old Codan or Barrett. It would cover UHF, so I wouldn't need a stand alone UHF radio. I could build a switch to swap between my current UHF antenna and a new multi-tap HF antenna.

I would need a different licence. But that's not a reason to rule this option out.

But this setup would not be permitted by VKS737. Why do they care about what transceiver is being used? Would they know? Do other networks permit this arrangement?

Is the Yaesu FT857D as robust as the Barrett and Codans? That is, would it survive corrugations etc?
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Follow Up By: yagon - Monday, Oct 01, 2012 at 21:05

Monday, Oct 01, 2012 at 21:05
Bump - can anyone comment on this alternative?
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Monday, Oct 01, 2012 at 23:01

Monday, Oct 01, 2012 at 23:01
"Bump" is an App that enables transfer of data between two smartphones. As part of the operation the phones are bumped together.

I don't see how it relates to this subject.

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Allan

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Follow Up By: The Explorer - Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 00:07

Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 00:07
Hello Alan,
"bump" in this instance refers to moving ("bumping") the thread up to the top of the thread list as a consequence of the new (bump) post. Preferred method compared to starting a new thread on same subject.
Cheers Greg
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Follow Up By: Member - John (Vic) - Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 01:55

Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 01:55
These amateur radios such as the Yaesu FT857D are not type approved.
Contrary to some comments being made, type approval is not something VKS has put in place its actually the law and governs the quality and type of equipment that is allowed to be used on certain frequencies and under certain licensing conditions.

These amateur sets are not permitted to utilise the frequencies that VKS etc operate on and VKS won't grant you membership/licensing.

You will also need selcall capability to operate effectively these days.

Mobile conditions of use.

If you are only doing limited travel then hiring a sat phone is the cheapest and easiest method of communication.



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Follow Up By: Allan B (Member, SunCoast) - Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 07:11

Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 07:11
Sorry Greg, I forgot to add "LOL"............lol

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