Ok, school me on coms

Chorky

Observer
Hey guys,

Thank you all for your input! It's always good to hear a multitude of opinions and thoughts regardless of any situation, and I do appreciate it :) I'll provide some more info about my thoughts and desires for the original post and try to answer some 'questions' in one thread - hopefully its not too confusing! And I TRULY apologize for the length - its nearing finals week and I am trying to respond to everyone while giving more background info.

First, some background info I guess that will likely play a big role in understand my situation and to get the best most applicable suggestions. I currently reside in western Washington. So a total variety of terrain, from long flat plains/deserts, to mountains - but most often than not it's heavily wooded mountainous terrain (think the Olympics, and southeast Alaska). Soon I will be going to Montana for work, and then moving there permanently next year (hopefully anyway). So although overall range and signal is my goal, I am in a variety of terrain - mostly mountainous though. Also, I do want to do trips all throughout Alaska and Canada - so maximum coms ability is my ultimate goal.

So this post is really to discuss only hams. But for some extra info and potential suggestions, I have already in mind a SSB CB (President McKinley) with a 102 whip. Yes, I know, most people hate whips. But I have one already on my Jeep paired with a SSB 980, and it works pretty amazing. A CB for me is necessary - in the Natural Resources field it is used almost daily to keep in touch with log haulers, towers, and equipment operators, researchers, etc.... Also in the works (but I am still learning and researching) is a GMRS mobile unit, with handheld companions for crews who may step out of the vehicle for a quick inspection. You never know when a quick question comes up, and efficiency is important. Or, on the recreation side outside of work, when actually talking with a ground guide, or in the unfortunate case of recovery needs comes into play, talking with a handheld unit is nice, not necessary, but nice. Handheld CB's are still bulky, while FRS/GMRS handhelds are much more portable - from what I have seen recently anyway. By all means, correct me if I am wrong. I also like the idea of GMRS as a 'intro' to the hobby of hams. Possibly stepping into the world of repeaters - it sounds quite fun!

This leads me to the desire for a ham. Now, the primary reason for desiring a ham truly is to reach out and touch someone. I do like to stay in contact since things can always go sideways - weather that be work, or fun. But I spend significant amounts of time in areas with no cell coverage (which I actually like - I despise this modern smart phone world which is turning people into zombies and removing a primary life component of actually talking to one another), and although the InReach is nice, it is limited on communication ability. So to put a scenario out there, lets say I am out in the woods - somewhere with no cell coverage, and miles/hours away from such a place. And I want to communicate with a friend, or family member back home. Maybe that is just on the other side of a mountain range, or maybe it is a couple of states or even a Canadian province away. This is an ability I would like to have. Not truly necessary, but desired. Plus, from the hobbiest side of things, I do think it would be fun to tinker, and play around with things, options, radios, programming, etc.... But at least to start, I would like something that gives me the best variable options, is relatively simple (from a learning perspective) yet still functional. The desire for a ham as an emergency use is still an option. Some sort of coms in an emergency is always better than no coms. And I certainly don't always trust the InReach since signal and use seems spotty, especially in higher latitudes. I will say, that even from the responses here alone, I am still pretty confused, even on the simplest of levels such as 6m vs 80m, and how that relates to HF/UHF/VHF, aside from the obvious.... That being said, I am most certainly open to learning opportunities - and should someone know of an excellent site that provides guidance, and learning (possibly in an interactive way) I am totally all ears.

Ok, so now to respond to some of the messages...

DaveInDenver:
Thank you for the thoughts on the 875. I sort of figured it would not be advantageous to have a 'multi-use' unit, but for lack of my own understanding I didn't know for sure how bad it could be. I also agree that it would be nice to have 2 units, to listen or broadcast on more than just one freq. As far as the first responder option - it was my own fault for not clarifying in my first post that I fully understand you cannot transmit (legally anyway) on those freqs, and have been searching for a good scanner for a while now - just to keep track in case of a mass emergency - I'm a fan of helping out where I can when I can, after all in a big emergency, we are all in it together. Also, to clarify I do realize the whole ham thing is quite involved and confusing, but it is something I have been wanting to learn and get into for many years - but only now have I decided to dedicate the time to it (you know, life happens). That being said, do you have suggestions of places to get more info? Or is there a collaborated site that might discuss the ham groups in my area to join? I have searched before, but did not find a whole lot of info on that topic aside from forums... Also, considering my extra info above, would you have any particular suggestions of a place to start, or a freq type to learn about first that will best suite my situation and desire??

BigSwede:
Thanks for your input. I agree that either CB or GMRS is the way to go for standard every day talk. And CB is what I have used for years. But I do want to branch out - its fun learning new things and tinkering!

sonoronos:
I agree that there shouldn't' be a 'either/or' discussion, but rather a multitude of everything that can potentially best suit different needs. I'm sure it is apparent also that I certainly don't mind having multiple different units in my rig either. Especially when they all have different uses. And since I basically live on the road (actually, yes I live in a travel trailer), then it is nice to have a wide range of options for different desires.

wirenut:
Where would you recommend as a starting point?

REDONE:
Thank you for the input! That was actually very helpful!!! And see...something that small has intrigued me to want to learn more! I also agree that CB has become quite disgusting. But I have a real life need for it regardless, and just tune the nasties out. I have even heard an actual ch9 response going on as well, so its still in use. The picture does help a lot. It reminds me of playing around with my dad's old RF inspection unit used to look for holes in airplane parts (he worked for NDT at Boeing). I do understand the basis of AM vs FM, but all the other stuff and how it relates to the different Xm and 1/2 wavelength and how that relates to the different radio options - now I'm totally lost....



So all that being said - this is something I do want to learn, as it really does sound fun. But I certainly need a place to start that isn't going to be too confusing, and a place that will hopefully provide me with some actual real world function.
 

sonoronos

Usually broken down on the side of the road
So to put a scenario out there, lets say I am out in the woods - somewhere with no cell coverage, and miles/hours away from such a place. And I want to communicate with a friend, or family member back home.
This is where the real meat of the discussion is. Really it comes down to whether or not your friends or family have the same radio to hear you and/or be able to talk back to you.

I don't think there is any problem with whips. HAMs do random wire antennas all the time. A whip is a step up!
 

DaveInDenver

Luddite
And I want to communicate with a friend, or family member back home. Maybe that is just on the other side of a mountain range, or maybe it is a couple of states or even a Canadian province away. This is an ability I would like to have. Not truly necessary, but desired.
So will these friends or family have the same gear as you? If you want to tinker they'll have to be there to converse, e.g. have the same radios and licenses.

You can experiment with APRS using SMS and email to the other party, but it won't be predictable. But OTOH it could be potentially more reliable in a way. By that I mean normally people assume APRS is done on VHF and most of it is. But it can be done via HF over very long distances. Also it's possible to repeat a packet using the ISS when it passes overhead, which is very much like InReach actually. But none of this is guaranteed to work 100% of the time.

FWIW, I have a SPOT for the SHTF situations when a radio or cell phone don't cut it. It's a tiered approach that works for you and depends on what you coordinate with others. A SPOT is only good if someone is getting the messages and knows at least roughly what's going on. My M.O. with a SPOT is periodic check-ins that indicate how I'm sticking to a plan. If I deviate without a notice or SOS there's a period where my family or friends will wait to hear and if a day or two passes without an update then it's a problem.
 
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Chorky

Observer
Most likely my dad will certainly follow suit. And seeing as how we will be 3-4 states apart for several years, it would be cool to communicate even in non-cell coverage areas. It's basically just the two of us as far as 'family' goes, but I'm hoping and sure to make friends, hopefully through a 'club' or organization of some sort. I also do know a few friends currently who are also interested in learning ham's. Now how dedicated to it they actually turn out to be is a question to be answered once I actually get into it. So in theory, yes they would have the same equipment. But in terms of discussing frequencies, is it truly that critical to have the same type of equipment? Isn't frequency just frequency, and so long as two people are on the same level then coms can occur? Or does it also matter the specific type of radio for decoding purposes (as in the GMRS world, unless you are responsible and pay attention to the actual freqs on each 'channel')? Of course it would be great to be able to communicate with a specific person, or groups of people - but thats not to say I'm opposed to meeting new people on the waves. I have fond memories of the days of old where stories were told of two random people became great over the air friends separated by vast distances (and sometimes cultures). And that is also part of my being so intrigued. But again, trying to start simple and not bite off more than I can chew - which is usually what I do hah!
 

CampStewart

Observer
^^ great information.

Ham is for hobbyists, and trail comms is about 0.1% of what you can do with ham if you are into it... hence your bewilderment, which I share with you. A discussion with a ham hobbyist will usually unleash a flood of obscure acronyms and terms that make your head swim.

But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Our overlanding group went to ham about 5 years ago because CB wasn't cutting it for range and clarity. Only a couple of the group are into ham as a hobby, the rest pretty much use it for trail comms only. We created a "recipe" of recommended simple 2-meter radios, antennas, and coax so a club member could just buy the stuff without doing all of the research if they weren't interested in doing so. This cured a lot of resistance for the conversion from CB.

Having said all of that, if I was starting the process today for our club, we would be looking at the GMRS options pretty closely, due to the CB-like simplicity of use.

But as above, it strongly depends on who you will be talking to, and what radios they have. I have been on runs where some have CB, some have FRS, and some have ham, it it is a bit of a nightmare to try to listen to all of them at once.
I would like to see your recommendations. I feel the need more than the want to increase my communication capabilities and researching this stuff makes my head hurt.
 

prerunner1982

Adventurer
IIRC SMSGTE allows non-licensed users to send messages to an APRS user, right?
SMSGTE works both ways APRS to Cell and Cell to APRS, however the messages are sent over RF at some point so both users should be licensed.
It's like using APRSdroid, it can be used over your data network only however there are Igates that may transmit from APRS-IS to RF so you still have to be licensed to use APRSdroid even in cell data network mode.
 

DaveInDenver

Luddite
the messages are sent over RF at some point so both users should be licensed.
This is a key point. It actually comes up in many different forms, APRS, Echolink, etc.

We as hams are in the clear on transmitting to the gateways, there's no question about that. But as you say a reply should originate from another ham. Thing is APRS position beacons IMO are skirting the rules since we are not supposed to "broadcast", which is a transmission with no expectation of a reply. Which is pretty much what a beacon is, right?

But there are other legitimate transmitters, such as the DX propagation beacons, foxhunt transmitters and data telemetry radios that are integral to ham activities that are doing just that.

Point I'm making I guess is it seems rules are somewhat situational and adaptive. So you getting an all-clear reply from a non-ham spouse via APRS message over the SMS gateway probably doesn't make you public enemy #1. Don't abuse it or make it normal thing, maybe.

Could that maybe be covered by the clause there must be a control operator in charge of the transmitter, which in this context would be the repeater trustee for the APRS-IS station sending the reply? He is, in a way, just relaying a message from a non-ham. Big stretch, yup.
 

sonoronos

Usually broken down on the side of the road
btw, all this "rulesing" is precisely why HAMs are all old, boring, heavily opinionated men. :) And we still sit here wondering why all these people just want to use plain-old unlicensed CB. Hmmmmmmmmm
 
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wirenut

Adventurer
Chorky,
If you're going to be exploring on foot a good waterproof, drop-proof hand held will be necessary. I've had great experiences with Yaesu hand-helds but I'm sure Icom are great too. Yaesu normally have an illuminated keypad and Icom often doesn't so that's a big factor for me. I would get something that does both 2 meters and 70cm. 2 meters is the most popular band. 70cm is the second most popular and will allow you to do cross band repeat.
Your hand-held won't be worth much unless you're on a mountain so I would also get a dual band rig for your vehicle that allows for cross band repeater operation. I've been using several different Icom models for this for years with great results: IC-2340, IC-2350, IC-2720. The new one is the IC-2730. I have a friend who used a Yaesu FT-8800 for cross band operation and really liked it. Kenwood's TM-V71A is apparently a great rig. It gets good reviews and has lots of neat features. I have had terrible experiences with Kenwood equipment but I would almost try this radio. Except, I don't like the mandatory 3 minute time-out-timer when in cross band mode. For your purpose it may not matter. I like to monitor some repeaters that get really busy sometimes and it would keep timing out.
If you really want a fancy mobile rig then the Yaesu FTM-400 will allow for cross band repeat and also gives you built in APRS. It's touch screen makes it a bit easier to send text messages in this mode. Beware, this is about a $500 dollar radio with tons of features, a thick manual, and a steep learning curve. I don't have one but I want one bad.
There are a lot of cheap Chinese radios around these days. I stay away from them. I want something I can rely on. Many people say "they're so cheap, if it breaks just get another one." To that I say "That doesn't help if it breaks when I'm out in the woods and need it."
 

pagero

New member
To connect with your Dad 3-4 states away using a mobile rig you would be best off using a 2m/70cm mobile rig and rely on linked repeaters. You would be connecting to a repeater that is close to you and make this repeater link to a repeater that is close to your dad. There are multiple systems of linked repeaters, if you use EchoLink you can find repeaters in your state at Repeaterbook. One of the unique features of EchoLink is that you can also connect from a PC without using a ham radio, as long as you are a licensed ham. In other words, your dad could use his PC to connect to a repeater close to you and talk to you while you're on your mobile ham radio.
 

Chorky

Observer
Chorky,
I've had great experiences with Yaesu hand-helds but I'm sure Icom are great too. Yaesu normally have an illuminated keypad and Icom often doesn't so that's a big factor for me. I would get something that does both 2 meters and 70cm. 2 meters is the most popular band. 70cm is the second most popular and will allow you to do cross band repeat.
Your hand-held won't be worth much unless you're on a mountain so I would also get a dual band rig for your vehicle that allows for cross band repeater operation.
Thank you wirenut - I appreciate the input! That was a topic I was going to ask at a later time but I'm glad you covered it - needing cross band repeat, not that I now what that means just yet, but its good to put on the list of things to learn about. :)



To connect with your Dad 3-4 states away using a mobile rig you would be best off using a 2m/70cm mobile rig and rely on linked repeaters. You would be connecting to a repeater that is close to you and make this repeater link to a repeater that is close to your dad. There are multiple systems of linked repeaters, if you use EchoLink you can find repeaters in your state at Repeaterbook. One of the unique features of EchoLink is that you can also connect from a PC without using a ham radio, as long as you are a licensed ham. In other words, your dad could use his PC to connect to a repeater close to you and talk to you while you're on your mobile ham radio.
Thank you that points me in the right direction of where to concentrate learning on haha. That being said, can we dive into for a moment the reasons why you say a 2m? I have been doing some reading and watching, and haven't quite found yet a 'good' site (well good in my mind anyway, OCD and picky I guess) that explains well the differences between other options as far as range goes, and how the wavelength transmission actually works within the atmosphere to be able to decide which one would be best suited for any given situation - which would dictate naturally where I start, since I want to learn with just one for now and then branch out.

AFTER I get my license - yes yes I know a license is needed. :)
 

pagero

New member
I suggested 2m/70cm because they're the most common mobile ham radios out there. Most repeaters are on those 2 bands as well, this is the way to reach farther than your radio can do on its own.

I'm assuming you're looking for mobile communications because we're on expenditionportal.com. If you're looking to communicate from a fixed location (you "shack") then HF equipment is probably more interesting. I don't have any experience, nor am I particularly interested in HF - that's a hobby in its own right. For me, ham radio and cb and gmrs is about staying connected with friends while we go off road (or more accurately - on dirt roads), and secondarily as another option for calling for help should I need it when I'm out on my own.
 

HenryJ

Expedition Leader
2m/70cm Keep a few local repeaters programmed for the area you are in. I have found that the comfort level of my "navagator" is much more relaxed when she hears some chatter on the radio. Hundreds of miles from civilization and we can hear them. This means we have the option to contact them should we need to.

The HT is a good place to start. Do consider a mobile for a more reliable method of reaching out though. Having the two work together for hiking the canyons is a nice option. At the very least a simple mobile 2m can be installed for a reasonable cost.
Have the tools you need and hope to never "have to" use them :)
 
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