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Ham Radio/Mobile Emergency Ham Radios


QUESTION: Greetings Mr. Bushman

I am looking for a certain type of ham radio but am having an absolutely impossible time working out whether radios like this even exist.

I will be going next month to the license exams, hoping to go from zero to extra in one go. My main interest in ham radio is in emergency communication, and I hope to get involved with official emergency communications groups as soon as I am proficient enough to be truly useful. However, in the emergency communication rigs I have seen (unless they are base stations set up in large vehicles), they are decidedly non-portable - especially with the enormous antennas.

I suppose that setup is all well and good if you manage to have a safe place to raise it, but suppose I find myself right in the thick of a natural disaster and must flee my home setup?

I know handhelds are not up to the job, so are there any truly mobile radios that would be of real long-range use in an emergency that do not require large external antennas? With HF/VHF/UHF and all the bells and whistles? As soon as I've passed the exams, I'll be learning code so CW is a must as well.

Let's say money was no object. I know that such a radio would present quite a challenge to a relative beginner but I relish learning curves. Do I really have to be stuck to a desk to get real emergency work done?

Thank you for your time!

ANSWER: I commend you on your enthusiasm, Tiffany, especially on the CW part.

No, such radios don't exist, for a couple of reasons.

VHF/UHF radios, due to the nature of VHF/UHF propagation, are very low power.  This works out well because because a reasonable sized battery would power a 100W HF radio for about 2 minutes.  Communication with low power HF is very difficult.

Since frequency/wavelength determines the appropriate antenna size, a handheld HF rig would have to either have a huge, non-portable antenna attached to it or have a smaller, very inefficient antenna for portability.

Kick ass on the exams!!!

Chris Bushman
Colfax, California

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I will do my best, thanks!

I know a handheld radio can't do the job, I was wondering more about the non-handheld mobiles.

Also I'm not opposed to antennas altogether, I'd just prefer one that can be moved easily in case of a last minute emergency move.

Are these possible? Fingers crossed!

Okay, Tiffany, here some stuff to look at...

The Yaesu FT897D - is a "most" bands HF/VHF/UHF portable radio.  It has optional batteries that can be attached to provide AC free operation at a reduced 20W.  It runs 100W when attached to a 13.8V supply.  Not sure how much the external batteries weigh.

There is a companion antenna, the Yaesu ATAS-120 which automatically tunes to the appropriate freq when used with the FT897D.  It also covers "most" bands.  Its reliability is questioned by some.  It's a motorized vertical antenna - as I remember, about 7 feet tall?  I think I read that it has a camera-type tripod connector on the base for portable use.  This "universal" antenna represents a whole bunch of compromises.  It's too long for high freqs and too short for low freqs, but it tries to compensate as best it can.  For a mobile antenna, it's a pretty clever design.

Just remember, things that do everything, rarely do anything well.

Most Ham radio emergency communication is weighted toward VHF/UHF.  ...but I did run a ton of traffic during the big earthquake in Southern California in the 1990's on HF.

Since you seem to be very enthusiastic about emergency operations, you need to check out your local Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and/or Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES).  If you haven't already, find your local club, they may be involved or can point you in the right direction.

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Chris Bushman


I have been an amateur radio operator for about 41 years.


In real life I managed a small motion picture film lab in Hollywood. I've been a fireman, a teacher of English in Okinawa, a personal computer tutor. I am an Advanced Class Ham radio operator using my originally issued callsign WB6EEQ. I have operated for extended periods of time from Okinawa (KR6FX & KR6OP), Texas (K5VXG), and Mississippi (K5TYP). While in the Air Force, I was a Manual Morse Radio Intercept Operator.

BS Zoology, UC Davis

Member, Society of Motion Picture/Television Engineers - Member, American Radio Relay League - Member, Quarter Century Wireless Assn. - President, Zen Nippon Airinkai, So Cal Chapter - Member, Maltose Falcons Homebrewing Society - Alumni, American Brewers' Guild

I have held Conditional, General, and Advanced Class Ham radio licenses. Attended UC Davis to study Zoology. Go figure!?

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