To HF or not to HF

Hi all

Wife and I are traveling around Oz mostly on black top and considering a HF? Is this needed or will our UHF and mobile suffice?

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Reply By: Robin Miller - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 12:58

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 12:58
Probably not needed Brian - most likey a Telstra phone and your UHF is all you need unless you plan to go where these 2 items don't work or passing traffic is rare.

I think the principle reason we use VKS-737 HF is for the sense of being in touch with similar travellers.

Strongly suggest a UHF handheld in conjunction with your car UHF though.
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Reply By: Rod W - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 15:20

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 15:20
Get yourself an Isatphone satellite phone prepaid.
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Reply By: Member - Noldi (WA) - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 15:30

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 15:30
Agree with the above, worked with hf since 1980 in the forces and have owned an old barret for many years, it gets dusted off ever 2 years or so. Now looking at a sat ohone as its much easier to use and carry, less concerns over ionospheric condiciton.
However if you want a bit of a hobby then that might be diferent.


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Reply By: Stu & "Bob" - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 19:45

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 19:45
I agree with Robin, probably not really necessary for what you are planning.
I use my HF frequently when traveling on both VKS and RFDS frequencies to yap to people that I know.
However, if you were considering some trips into more of the remote areas (even on bitumen), I would consider a HF radio.
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Reply By: Member - John and Val - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 20:31

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 20:31
Hi Brian and Judy,

IF you are sticking to sealed main roads then you probably dont NEED a HF radio. But given the length of remote stretches of road where there is no mobile coverage I think you would do well to have some form of communication with the outside world. As I see it, there is one big advantge with HF and that it is possible to be in contact with vehicles that could be quite close if you need help - with a sat phone you will never know if help is just over the next hill. Also listening in to the VKS skeds you will pick up a fair bit of useful info about places to see, to camp and to avoid, where the fish are biting etc. And who knows, once you have ventured forth on the blacktop you may find yourself wanting to explore further into places where a HF (or satphone) is essential.

BTW the article highlighted in the box beside your post is worth reading carefully.


J and V
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Reply By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 22:10

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 22:10
Hi Brian

Like the replies above, it will depend on where you are travelling, but the UHF is still a very important tool to have. The only major Telecommunications provider that will give you the greatest coverage will be Telstra, which is available in many out of the way place like Birdsville in far western Queensland.

HF is still the most reliable long range communications for remote travel in Australia and the VKS Network is a fantastic group to belong to. The down side is the initial cost of setting up a HF Radio in your vehicle and it will cost a lot of money. I have had my Codan HF radio now for well over 20 years and it has been very helpful and has been used a couple of times for outside help. I use it as a daily log in with the VKS network and the ability to listen to what is happening in the outside world.

Over the years I have looked at Satellite Phones, but again they were dear and there were 2 year lock in contracts, regardless if you were travelling or not. I have seen some units that were hopeless out bush and had a very small window of opportunity for making phone calls, which in an emergency situation is the last thing that you want to happen.

There have been a number of new players in the Satellite Phone market and 1 caught my one and it took me 12 months to make my mind up and I finally went for the IsatPro Satellite prepaid Phone. I gave it a good try out last year and it worked faultlessly and acquired satellite coverage very quick and easy, and the call rate was not that dear at less than $1 a minute per call. The pre paid is great, as if you do not want to use the phone after your credit has expired, you do not have to get a new sim card when you reconnect and you still retain the same phone number. Another great feature is that your family and friends can send you a free text message via the internet.

So what is better.......I am not game to say, as they are both very different. One good example of the HF was a good number of years ago, a call went out for a missing couple of the Oodnadatta Track. We were many hundreds of kilometres away south of Birdsville, but know that a situation had developed, which after an hour, the couple were found safely, but bogged for a few days with only a mobile phone on them, and they wondered why it would not work when they were told that it would work in 90% of Australia. If on the other hand I only had a Satellite Phone, I would never of known about the situation and the call for outside help. For a long term investment the HF is a viable proposition, while on the other hand, when we leave our vehicle of head off on foot, my HF is useless and my Satellite phone is my lifeline in my backpack.

Regardless of what you buy, you have piece of mind that if you have to make contact with the outside world in an emergency situation, you know that you have what is required and not relying on passing help.

Have a fantastic trip.


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Follow Up By: Bonz (Vic) - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:37

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:37
spot on Steve, an excellent commentary mate, now I want both
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 13:50

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 13:50
Hi Bonz

If you asked me years ago, I was not a fan of Satellite Phone, mainly they were dear and you had to have a contract.

The IsatPro was the answer that I was after, it was cheap, no lock in contract, good reliable service and at less than a $1 per minute for phone calls, it gives me great piece of mind.

Every time I made contact with dad with it when out bush, he said it was crystal clear and just like I was talking from next door.

I was lucky to get the Government subsidy, so at just over $400, it was the cheapest piece of safety equipment that I have ever purchased and will give me many years of satisfaction that if I need to speak to anyone, it is as simple as a normal mobile phone, but will work anywhere.



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Reply By: Ross M - Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 22:49

Friday, Jan 11, 2013 at 22:49
B & J S
If you decide on the UHF only, but two of them.
As previously mentioned one should be a handheld 5W unit which can also be connected via a connector to a vehicle aerial for distance purposes,.
The other can be a dedicated incar setup.
Therefore one is portable and the other fixed but communications for your selves can be had by using the handheld away from the vehicle and still be in contact, ie going for a wailk.

If both are used in vehicle one can be set for the road channel you are travelling on to pick up truck colourful truck "chatter" while the other can be set to 18 to contact other vanners/traveller as they pass or you overtake. This is handy because some sit only on 18 and some on 40 for example.
Also they can be set to scan selected channels so you can monitor frequencies which are important to you.

I found after using one channel and talking to a station and also Oodna Pink Rhouse the local mailman knew who I was 1 1/2 weeks later when he called at another station I was at. Generally if you talk the locals are listening. My contact was related to a motorcycle accident and with a good aerial suitably positioned I contacted station repeaters 70km away. yes it is fairly flat. Was also told by the late Adam Plate that UHF don't work from where we were, I talked to his wife and he was surprised.

Try your setup by doing some travel away from a another radio operator/ point so you can gauge the performance, try both flat areas and hilly, to find what it does so no surprises and disappointments.
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Reply By: olcoolone - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:37

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:37
One thing to remember..... don't rely on a UHF or mobile phone to work if need in an emergency.

HF radio would be an over kill for you and a satellite phone would be a good idea..... the down fall of some satellite phones is you can not dial local 1800, 13, 1300 or 000.

Be very cautious with the IsatPro Satellite prepaid Phone's, they don't like the numbers listed above and can be very very costly for people to phone you.

If you don't want to spend the money I would be looking at a SPOT or a PLB with GPS (personal location beacon) for emergencies......
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Follow Up By: Grumblebum and the Dragon - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:46

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:46
Any sat phone can be costly (up to $20 pm) for people phoning you - I think this mainly applies to people phoning in from a different network. i.e a Telstra subscriber calling a Inmarsat sat phone. But outgoing calls are reasonable at $1.00 to $1.25 pm and its is a great bit of emergency kit but not ideal for long chats to the 'grandies'

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Follow Up By: Grumblebum and the Dragon - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:51

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:51
You do not need the 000 and 1300 type numbers if you pre-programme your emergency numbers for police, ambulance etc into your contacts list before departure .

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 14:16

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 14:16
Hi olcoolone

I do not know why you say that about the IsatPro. If you need to be contacted by family or friends, they can contact you for free via the internet and text message.

As for making phone calls, I have found them quite cheap and the actual cost was from memory $0.80 cents per minute.

I also have a HF and a PLB with GPS function, but the trouble is when I am away from the car, I cannot speak with anyone on the PLB(yes I also carry a 5w handheld UHF Radio). Just like my PLB, my IsatPro has the ability of transmitting my GPS co ordinances, so again it has more than just one safety function.

Like above, if you add all the numbers that you could need into the contact list, there is no problem contacting outside help.

I know that we each have our own requirements and different aspects on safety, but at the end of the day they are features that we hope that we never have to use and I know that I have all my base covered, from HF, PLB to Satellite Phone.

It is better to be safe than sorry.

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Reply By: Grumblebum and the Dragon - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:41

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 08:41
I have both but only because when I am currently resident is outside of mobile reception which allowed me to buy a Isatphone Pro for the princely sum of $123.75 plus some pre-paid credit - all due to the governments 85% subsidy. As far as I know its the only sat phone without a 'plan' and monthly fees.

The Barret 930 does a great job and would be our first point of call on VKS737 if we had a problem. VKS are a fantastic volunteer organisation. The sat phone is useful as I can throw it in the bag if off prospecting/fishing if away from the vehicle.

One advantage is the HF is a 'one to all' comms systen versus a sat phone which is 'one to one' - and you have to know the number. You never know help may be just down the track.

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Reply By: muffin man - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 12:14

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 12:14
The short answer is you will not need a HF or satphone on the blacktop. If you want a HF for a bit of fun get one but they do take up a lot of space.
If you decide you want long distance communication for in the vehicle and out a satphone is the only way to go in these modern times.
Iridium is the best and be aware some phones and this includes isatphone I think can not dial 000/112 emergency for help, the only number you want in an emergency.
While cost shouldn't sway your decision compare HF V Sat and I bet you walk away with a satphone.
Happy Travels
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Reply By: anglepole - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 16:39

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 16:39
I am not quite sure on the pricing of Isaphone call charges. If you look at some Australian sites the call costs are more than a $1.00 a minute. A 25 unit prepaid is about $42.00 ie about 1.70 a minute. These units expire in 30 days.

After travelling Australia for 40 years+ and living in places like Oodnadatta I still think HF is the quickest way to get help in an emergency.

VKS has arrangements with RFDS and its operators can be contacted 24/7 you can speak to a real person who will help you out.

Phone calls via VKS to emergency services are free and untimed.

Enjoy your trip.
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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 19:24

Saturday, Jan 12, 2013 at 19:24
Hi anglepole

The VKS network can't not be contacted 24/7, sorry that only applies if you have selcall. My 20 year old Codan does not have that facility and I have to rely 100% on voice contact only.

So in my situation, once the base stations have gone off air as such, my only hope is that someone is listening on what ever channel I am transmitting from.

At least when the RFDS were monitoring their frequencies, I could have pressed my emergency button on 2020 and it would have sounded the alarm in every base that received my transmission.

So in my situation, I still have my satellite phone to call for help. I get the 50 unit vouchers which are good for 3 months, as well as I always carry as spare voucher in my backpack.

They are both very good units and it would be unfair to say one is superior over the other. I would not be alone in the HF world that does not have. A selcall feature.



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Follow Up By: anglepole - Sunday, Jan 13, 2013 at 11:20

Sunday, Jan 13, 2013 at 11:20
Hello Stephen

You are quite correct, you do need to have Selcall to access VKS outside of sked times. You also need Selcall to access emergency numbers.

My 19 year old Barrett does have Selcall.

Your comment about RFDS and the emergency button is interesting, the Central District (Alice Springs and Port Augusta bases) does not to my understanding have arrangements with VKS, they can be still be contacted via the emergency button on their frequencies.

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Follow Up By: Member - Stephen L (Clare SA) - Sunday, Jan 13, 2013 at 11:40

Sunday, Jan 13, 2013 at 11:40
Hi anglepole

Thanks for that and it is very interesting. Well before the VKS Network come onto the HF scene, I had my call sign logged with every RFSD Base in Australia, as well as registered for Radphone Calls, which we had many over the years.

Just like the now VKS Network, I would log on daily to either Broken Hill, Alice Springs, or Port Augusta RFDS Bases when they had their log in schedules and often I was asked as a matter of safety to test my Emergency Call Button, which worked of course.

In some ways it was a real putty that they went away from monitoring the frequencies, as it was very assuring for me without selcall knowing that in an emergency situation, I could go to 2020 at any time of the day or night, press my emergency button and then wait for what ever base answered first. It is now good to know that there are a couple of bases that still keep a ear out as such.

Like I have said above, both the HF and Satellite Phone are great, but both are different and compliment each other. Another point that I should have also made note of was years ago then there were only 2 real Satellite Phone service providers, one of the major ones had satellite problems and from Friday until the following Monday, there were no phone call's that could be made, which would have been charming in the event of an emergency, and then showed just how great and reliable the trusty HF Radio was and still is.

If memory serves me well, it was also a HF Radio that broke the news to the outside world of the destruction of Darwin when cyclone Tracy destroyed the city.


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Reply By: Brian & Judy S - Thursday, Jan 24, 2013 at 10:53

Thursday, Jan 24, 2013 at 10:53
Hi all

Many thanks for all your replies and the time taken to answer our question.

A lot of food for thought there and we will consider both options.

Thank you again and we hope to see some of the travellers here on the road during our round the block tour.

Cheers and safe travels.

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