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Help Me Design My HAM Communications System

Discussion in 'Survival Communications' started by 3M-TA3, Sep 25, 2015.

  1. 3M-TA3

    3M-TA3 Cold Wet Monkey

    Currently studying for my Technician's License and plan on continuing to Extra. I don't see myself as a hobbyist, but am interested in emergency communications. Right now I'm very new to the environment, and would like to see if there is a Monkey or three who can help me design my communications system. Budget is fairly open as this is a priority to me and I have noticed that HAM equipment has become a much better value than the last time I looked about 10 years ago.

    I live about 25 miles as the bird flies from my office, which is located on the other side of a major river. The altitude at my home is about 500' and at work about 150'. In the event of earthquake or other natural disaster I need to be able to communicate with my wife. If the main bridges between work and home fail and I can't find some way to get ferried across the river I will need to travel several miles about sea level surrounded by steep terrain to find the closest bridge. Fortunately, I telecommute most days, but do need to be in the office a few days a week.

    My initial thoughts are a mobile for work vehicle, some sort of base station for my home, and some handhelds to augment. I do not have a good way to "hide" an antenna at my home and need to look into my HOA to see my restrictions.

    A few questions:
    Is the above a good starting point?
    What would be good choices for a mobile setup in my truck and as a base station at my home? Would it make sense for the base station at my home to be a mobile unit, so I can power it from 12 VDC batteries?
    How would you design a solution for me to communicate with home in the event of emergency and other forms of communication are down?
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015
  2. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Here are some starting thoughts. There will be others offered.

    First and foremost, if you intend to use the amateur bands to talk to home, get your wife to get a license along with you, otherwise Uncle Charlie (the FCC) might come calling. Not a good thing, they don't visit for milk and cookies. They tend to give high fine tickets and take your gear when they leave.

    With the tech (and higher) ticket in hand, your best bet is knowing where the 2M repeaters are relative to home and work. Most repeaters have independent power supplies, so it's a good bet they will still be operating if something goes awry with commercial power. These will be your best bet for comms in the ranges you mention and are easily programmed into whatever transceiver you may settle on having. FWIW, I use a handheld to hit the local repeaters, one of which is about 40 miles away. (Don't count on that range, it is somewhat terrain dependent as well as not all that reliable under varying band conditions.)

    When it comes to mobile units in the vehicle, things can get complicated in a hurry. If you decide on using 2M and or 70cm bands, then a dual band transceiver is your best bet, both for the mobile and home base stations. Most mobile units will have a higher power than a handheld and could overcome any terrain problems that a handheld is unable. I say "could" because it may not be possible if either end is in a deep, steep valley. It is also possible that the mobile and base can communicate directly if the repeater of choice is OOC for some reason. Note here, google earth can be set up to show an elevation cross section between work and home (or any other two points like repeaters) that will show up geological obstructions on the direct path.

    At home, even with HOA restrictions, a 2M and or 70cm antenna is easily hidden. They are small or smaller, depending on design. On the road, whatever is fair is fair. I use a mag mount, and for the time being the handheld works well when hooked into it. Mounting my dual band xceiver is proving to be a bigger problem than I anticipated, the vehicle doesn't have a lot of space to hang it in. However, that is going to happen if I have to fabricate a mount as appears necessary.

    Until you have some experience, I'd leave all other thinking for later. Using hf bands is great, it really is, but for mobile, not so much. The gear becomes expensive really fast, and antennas can easily exceed the most carefully planned out budget. Hold off until you have some research time.

    Power, then. 12V supply is the way to fly. That means you'll have to have a power supply at home that runs off the wall power sockets. Which means you'll need a battery backup. Easily done, nuff on that for now, just be aware.
  3. techsar

    techsar Monkey++

    Adding to @ghrit's excellent opener, I would suggest going with 2M/70cm dual band mobiles that have the capability to work as cross-band repeaters. Add a couple of inexpensive handi-talkies and you are no longer tied to sitting in front of the (base/mobile) radio, "just in case."
    Altoidfishfins, ghrit and 3M-TA3 like this.
  4. Altoidfishfins

    Altoidfishfins Monkey++

    The technician ticket will more than likely suffice for your short term goals of communicating with your wife.

    For coverage information, you may also want to look at Roger Coude's excellent Radio Mobile web site.

    Radio Mobile WEB Site

    (sorry if it doesn't show as an active link)

    Click on "Radio Mobile Online". Enter the repeater's lat, long and elevation, power output, antenna type, a few other parameters, and it will paint a coverage map.

    I have a crossband repeat radio mounted in my Jeep. Excellent suggestion by techsar.
    3M-TA3 likes this.
  5. 3M-TA3

    3M-TA3 Cold Wet Monkey

    THANKS all - much useful information and wisdom along with much I hadn't considered above. I like the flexibility of techsar's suggestion and will use that as my initial goal along with use of other repeaters to extend my range as needed.

    I learn most technical information quickly and usually pass exams easily, so I'm not worried there. That said I am very short on practical knowledge and skills, so that is the weak area I will need to focus on. My technician exam is next weekend, and assuming I pass, the next step is gaining the practical knowledge before I start making purchases. Fortunately there is a club in my city, so I figure that will be a good place to start. I'm also thinking about an initial purchase of a Wouxun KG-UV8D handheld to get my feet wet.

    Next will be getting my mostly non-technical wife to pass her exam - though like all women she seems pretty adept at smart phone operation that mystifies me.

    While my initial goal is emergency communications for my family, I'm also interested in participating in emergency communications in general.
    Yard Dart and ghrit like this.
  6. DarkLight

    DarkLight I self identify as a Blackhawk Attack Helicopter! Site Supporter

    Do just a little bit more studying (if you have the time) and at least attempt your General once you pass the Tech test (same day, no additional sitting fee).

    Have faith, you can pass the tech on the first try. There are a number of us who are Extra as well (myself & @ghrit come to mind...I can't remember if @BTPost is or if he is Advanced and grandfathered in).

    I have a fairly nice HF rig (gifted from an elmer) but I don't get much time/chance to use it since my HF antenna is...a compromise at best. It's amazing what a 2M rig can do pumping 50 watts (when necessary, we always try to use the least power possible). A decent antenna for the car and one at the house with sufficient wattage and you might be surprised at the distance assuming no major obstructions.

    Also, don't count out the repeaters. The ones both in the city and on a couple of the local "mountains" are very well maintained, on UPSs and have generators for when the power goes out. We've had some pretty long spells with no power and the repeaters were just fine the entire time.

    I get by (about 30 miles) on a 5w handheld plugged into a mag mount antenna on my truck. It's a unity gain, cheap'o special (ebay for I think $15) and I can hit just about anything I need to. I have another 5/25/50w iCOM but I haven't had a chance to install it yet. I also have a Nagoya for my handheld (whip) for when I'm not in the car and that at least doubled the distance I could hit from the built in rubber duck.
    3M-TA3 likes this.
  7. 3M-TA3

    3M-TA3 Cold Wet Monkey

    Thanks @DarkLight - I didn't realize I could take the General on the same day. I did the Technician course at hamtestonline, and have been taking the randomly generated sample tests on a daily basis. I'm pretty confidant that I'll pass the Technician on the first try (hope I didn't just jinx myself). I have a week to prepare - so why not at least see if I can do it?
    DarkLight likes this.
  8. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    If you think you are up to it, they'll let you take Extra at the same time, assuming there are enough VEs to proctor it. (BTPost holds an Advanced ham ticket as well as some other miscellaneous licenses.)
  9. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Go for both the TECH, and General, on your first go-round.... If you miss the General, at least you will have that experience under your belt, and you could just pass it anyway.... Yep, I am an Advanced Class Ham which is a Closed License Class, these days... Just like the guy who got me into Ham Radio 50+ years ago.....
    I am also a VE, and likely will be Proctoring a Tech Test, in Hoonah, AK when I get back from my vacation down to the FlatLands, next week....
    3M-TA3 likes this.
  10. Witch Doctor 01

    Witch Doctor 01 Mojo Maker

    Anyone used the Echo link software?
  11. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    I have it, but my SAT based IP Link has to much Latency to actually make it work...
  12. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    "The Plan" is to set that up on the mobile rig once I get it installed.
  13. DarkLight

    DarkLight I self identify as a Blackhawk Attack Helicopter! Site Supporter

    I've used echo-link and it's kind of cool, especially when I don't want to whip out the radio. We have almost a dozen systems available in my metro area.
    3M-TA3 likes this.
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