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A Few Beginner Questions

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    Sue, KN6CZA

    Happy New Year everyone.Sorry if this is long. I’m hoping to go on a US road trip (not sure how much of the US) this year with one of my dogs. Traveling alone, it’s nice to have emergency communications. (I also like going on camping/hiking trips along the west coast, but am tired of fires and smoke canceling my plans so trying something different.) In the past, I’ve purchased Garmin Inreach Mini, Garmin Inreach Explorer and Spot satellite communication devices. I’ve returned all of them because none work under trees, which is where I am when I need them the most, and it’s hit and miss out in the open. (They also have yearly subscription fees). SO last year I took my ham radio (Yaesu FT60) along and tried out reception on a couple trails with some luck. I’d like to improve my options though. I’d like to be able to contact someone if my truck breaks down on the road or if I get hurt out on the trail. I’m not a backpacker – just someone who likes to hike 4 or 5 miles from a trailhead and then head back.

    So I’m considering purchasing a mobile ham radio for my truck. But I’ve got a few questions. (I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned in class so please forgive me. I’ve ordered a couple ham radio books to help me)
    1) Does a mobile ham radio have better range than the Yaesu FT-60R? I’m looking for emergency communications for both on the road or on the trail
    2) Does anyone know on average how ham radio coverage might compare to the satellite messengers like the Garmin MIni? The Garmin Mini is horrible under trees and I’m hoping my ham radio might do a better job of that along with improving range out in the open.
    3) I seem to remember that having a mobile ham radio in your car can increase your range of your handheld. Is that correct?
    4) Would getting a General license be of any benefit to my needs?
    5) I loved it in our class when Peter recommended the Yaesu FT60R – it made things real simple to get started. If you think getting a mobile ham radio for my truck would help, is there a mobile ham radio and antenna you can recommend? I normally do my own research and overanalyze everything, but I just am too confused by all the terms to trust myself.

    Neil, W6VG

    Hi Sue,

    Your trip sounds great, and ham radio will be important to have with you on the road and on the trail. It might be easier to talk offline so I’ll send you a message. In short, having a handy-talkie such as the FT-60 will be great on the trail, but having a mobile base station with a good antenna in your truck offers several advantages including better range. I’d be happy to talk with you about the benefits of a General license, though not sure that will be important for this trip. I have some experience with the Garmin Inreach as well. Hopefully others will offer their insight too! – Neil

    Sue, KN6CZA

    Thanks Neil!

    Eva, KN6CZD

    Hi Sue,

    we can recommend the Kenwood TM-V71A We have not permanently installed it in a car, we are using it as a base station at home, but with the setup and configuration we followed Neil’s and Jeneen’s recommendation.

      Radio: Kenwood TM-V71A (144/440 MHz FM Dual Band mobile transceiver)
      Power Supply: Astron SS-25M
      WEST MARINE backup battery in case: Group U-1 Dual-Purpose AGM Battery 32 Amp Hours
      Charger: Super PWRgate PG40S Backup Power Switching and Charging System This gizmo will keep the battery charged if there is power and it will switch over to battery power during an outage. In the car it will use the backup battery when you are not driving.
      Antenna: Roof mounted Comet 2m/70cm dual band mobile antenna HP32 FHN roof mounted, connected with 25 ft Coax Jumper UHF PL-259 Male Both Ends LMR-240 RG8X Cable

    We are very happy with this setup and we deployed it in our bus for field day. We added a painter pole antenna to take along in the bus that Mike loaned to us for field day and we replicated it based on Mike’s specs. We had phenomenal reach from the windy hill parking lot.

    My understanding is that the Kenwood TM-V71A can be setup as a repeater, so if you have your truck parked somewhere at a trailhead, and you hike with your FT-60 you ca extend the range of your HT. If anyone has done this I’d love to know more how this could potentially be used to extend the range of a handheld when hiking remotely.

    Also would be great, Neil, if you could post some of your answers. Definitely of interest!

    Neil, W6VG

    Thanks for posting all your details Eva. Yes, cross-band repeating is a very useful function. There may be a presentation in our library about it and we’ve had it as a tech session at meetings, but definitely worth revisiting. The fires and subsequent possibility of debris flows had us thinking about it again for communications in difficult-to-reach areas of the south coast.

    One caveat on the PWRgate – if connected to your car/truck battery, it needs to be on a circuit that disconnects it from the vehicle battery when the ignition is off. You don’t want to take a chance of draining your vehicle battery.

    My mobile radio is the Yaesu FT-8900, a 50w dual band radio with cross-band repeating. With a good antenna, and especially with a painter pole extender, it covers a very wide area. It’s little older model now, so there may be some newer good choices like the Kenwood.

    Briefly, setting up your radio as a temporary repeater (cross band repeating) is fairly simple. Your handy-talkie uses one band (ie: 440.100) to call your base station, which when in cross band mode sends the traffic out on another band (ie: 146.730). We’ve used it at the San Gregorio Store during bike races where connection with the repeater was scratchy. Parked the car up the hill, set the base station in cross-band mode, and used our handy-talkies back at the store to call the car. Great for hiking in hilly terrain! There are limitations as to how far away you can get from your base station though.

    Mike, KJ6VCP

    Sounds like fun – we all need more of that!

    Most handhelds like the FT-60 are in the 5 Watt power range, while mobiles are more like 50 Watts. The extra power helps when you get a little off the beaten path. Combined with a good external antenna, a mobile is hard to beat for range. It’s nice to be able a hold a conversation on a repeater 20 or 30 miles away while driving. I’ve also had decent success with an external antenna and a handheld when traveling, but I prefer a permanent mobile install.

    I would go for a dual band VHF/UHF mobile. Cross band capability is nice to have, since you can relay from your HT through the mobile. There are a whole crop of ‘new’ generation mobile radios coming out now. Most of them are adding digital voice (D-Star, C4FM, or DMR) but only a few have cross band. Digital voice is catching on, but I think we’re a few years away from considering it an essential feature. Another important feature to look for is weather radio, maybe with weather alert.

    I have a Kenwood TM-V71A mounted in my Jeep, and I’ve used the crossband capability several times. My antenna is a Comet SS680SB mounted on the roof. The tip of the antenna is 7′ 5″ high, which gets me into most covered parking lots without too much hassle, and it has a spring base to help with minor collisions. I also have a Comet CSB-750A I can put on there. It’s 8′ 9″ tall, which is guaranteed to cause clearance problems but it has a fold-over hinge, and has a little more gain. A mag-mount antenna or base is also a viable option, but it needs steel to hold it. (A lot of newer cars and trucks are using fiberglass and aluminum for body panels.)

    Apart from the radio/antenna, the most important thing is to research and program repeaters in advance for wherever you’re going. The bay area is saturated with VHF/UHF repeaters, but the rest of the country isn’t, and terrain matters when you’re trying to reach something distant. Repeaters on mountains cover the flatlands well, but when you’re in the mountains it’s a different story. will help you locate repeaters in a general area, but doesn’t really tell you which ones are active and popular, and it doesn’t have a lot of coverage information, If you cross reference the call sign or sponsor, you will often find a radio club website with more details. Repeaterbook has mobile apps for android and iphone as well.

    Checking with campsite or park operators for local repeaters might be worthwhile.

    There are also a lot of ‘linked’ repeater systems that are worth knowing about. is one in California and Nevada. They have a nice travelers index that matches highways to repeaters. One benefit of linked repeaters is the possibility of reaching operators near your destination that can give you up to date local info on repeaters and accessibility.

    Lastly, remember to program the national simplex calling frequencies. VHF 146.520 UHF 446.500. Those frequencies are widely monitored and will often get you in touch with someone that can help relay information or get you connected to a local repeater.

    I drove across the country just before Thanksgiving with one side of the V71 on a local repeater or linked system, the other side on the VHF calling frequency, and weather alert enabled. There was plenty of chatter on the VHF calling frequency. No actual weather alerts, but there were thunderstorm and tornado possibilities in the forecast. Local AM/FM radio stations are not as dense as they were last time I did a drive like that, so the weather radio was surprisingly useful.

    Sue, KN6CZA

    Thanks everyone for your replies. (Not sure what happened to my previous thank you).
    I researched most of yesterday and part of today after getting these responses. I’m trying to not bother everyone too much!

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