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Prepping vehicle for overland, seeking comms advice

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Joined
Aug 13, 2016
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Des Moines, IA
#1
Hello, everyone. I'm an absolute newbie when it comes to HAM and CB so bear with me here, and thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

My wife and I are prepping for several extended overland trips and we'll be spending a lot of time in remote areas without cell coverage so we're looking at installing a mobile unit. We're both studying for the tech license so we will both have our own call signs and the Mrs has tasked me with nailing down our equipment since I'm the techy one haha. That said I'm looking at dual band mainly for the ability to remote mount the display away from the main chassis (space limitations). I'm looking at different models from Icom, Yaseu, TYT, etc, so I'm all ears on thoughts regarding those brands. I'm also considering a scanner but wonder if that's absolutely necessary or even worth it? It seems like a scanner would make finding local much easier when we are in unfamiliar areas. Our main use here is emergency comms but the hobbyist in me says it'd be fun be able to talk to people and break up the monotony of being isolated for days and weeks at a time.

As far as bands and antennas go, should I just focus on the 2m side or does 70cm have benefits given our intended use? I found a site that has maps of repeaters across the country and at least where we're going it seems to be about an even split between both bands as far as repeater locations go. As for antennas I know there are dual band models out there but I'm assuming they're a compromise. Is it a matter of switching out masts depending on the band we intend to use or do you run two coax cables?

I'm also looking into DIN sized CB radios since a lot of off roaders still use CB over HAM and we'll be visiting various trails during our trips. I've looked at Uniden 880 and 990 models, they have a nice aesthetic that will blend in nicely with our interior and they seem to have good reviews. Is the SSB of the 990 truly useful? Don't people on the other end also need to be on SSB?

And finally, I know CB antenna placement is critical and I'm sure the same can be said for 2m/70cm. We'll have a roof rack and our vehicle also has a sunroof so advice in mounting the antennas would be appreciated. If we install a scanner that's three seperate antennas and things could get crowded. I'm assuming they need to be spaced away from each other to prevent interference?
 
Joined
Apr 1, 2004
Messages
530
Location
NM
#2
Few random things that popped into my head as i read thru.

A good scanner would be a complimentary addition to the CB and ham radios, both for the reason you mentioned (to scan for local traffic) as well as the ability to hear weather and public safety communications in areas that are unfamiliar. One of the remote head whistlers comes to mind for the same reason you're considering a remote mount ham radio.

A GOOD dual band antenna would work well. The one I use when im out in the middle of nowhere is a pretty solid performer, decently rugged for its size when a spring is added, works well as a multi band receiving antenna as well as solid transmit across ham and land mobile VHF and UHF.
Comet CA-2x4SR

2m is pretty universal across the country, but there are PLENTY of 70cm repeaters and users, i've noticed many hobby repeaters (as opposed to club-maintained) on 70cm in the southwest.

As far as CB goes, i looked closely at the 880, but ended up with a 680 from amazon dirt cheap. For what I use it for, it works pretty well. The power wiring, and antenna mount are permanantly in the truck, but the CB itself is only mounted in the summer (when i'm working wildland fire, and spend a lot of time on the road) or the rest of the year when i'm participating in organized off-road events.
 
Joined
Jul 27, 2005
Messages
10,205
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Point Nemo.
#3
It really depends on your definition of "remote".
How remote are we talking?
What is your expectation for who to talk to?
Most importantly:
What is your budget?

You asked some good questions, but answers could range from $300 for a cheap radio and antenna, all the way up to a thousand to several thousand dollars. Giving us a frame of reference as to what you are willing to spend really helps a whole lot.

I use amateur in some remote areas of California and Nevada. It is possible to get outside the coverage of 2 meter and 70 centimeter repeaters pretty easily. Death Valley is a notorious radio hole, with some coverage in certain areas of the park, most of it has none.
If you -really- need to talk to someone, I'd take a look at an HF radio, that will just about let you reach out and talk to someone from anywhere.

Also, do not rely on amateur radio for any sort of emergency situations. While there are some that assume that there will always be someone there on the repeater, it's not always the case. I'd really, REALLY, strongly urge you to add a PLB to your equipment list. A PLB is a satellite transmitter that will send your GPS coordinates to a satellite and notify specific rescue agencies that you need help right away. They are small, easily packable, and very reliable. I won't go out on a trail ride without one. I prefer to have one and have someone else in the group have one also.
Spot! type units are pretty good, but there are a couple of drawbacks:
1. customer service is reported to be horrible.
2. you have to pay an annual subscription for the thing to work.
Benefit of these units is that they'll do a "check in" message to someone you designate ahead of time. This can be useful for letting them know where you are and that you are OK.

If you go with a standard PLB, like a McMurdo or similar unit, there is no subscription or set up fee, but they can only be used for emergencies. Once you buy the unit, there are no additional costs, other than a 5 year battery replacement requirement, which requires sending the unit in to their service center.

2 meter and 70 centimeter are certainly useful, but I wouldn't rely on it as my only source of communications. CB can work well in some situations, but you never know who you are going to get on the far end, if anyone.
Amateur HF radio can be a useful tool if you really get out in the sticks.
A PLB should be an absolute mandatory requirement.

I'd also toss in a portable amateur radio. Just in case you need to bail out and walk to civilization, being able to carry a radio with you is a good idea.
 
Joined
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Point Nemo.
#4
I'll add a few more things:

Most amateur radios will have some basic scan functions. It's pretty easy to set one up to scan the amateur bands. If you are thinking of using the scanner to look for amateur traffic only, I'd skip it and just use the amateur radio.

Your antenna system is everything. Far too often I'll see guys with adventure rigs decked out with all kinds of electronics only to see some half-assed magnetic mount antennas slapped on in random places. You could spend $500 on a dual band VHF/UHF amateur radio, but if you go with a $20 Chinese antenna installed poorly, your $500 radio now works about as well as your cheap-*** $20 antenna.

You need to really consider your antenna system. Antennas need to be installed and set up properly, not just some after thought, low budget antenna. Permanent mount antennas are the way to go. Skip the mag mount consumer grade stuff. Go with professional antennas, Larsen, Laird, Antennex, etc. Stay away from Tram, Browning or the "amateur" radio brands. The few bucks you'll save will bite you later. A properly installed and maintained antenna will outlast your vehicle.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Point Nemo.
#5
One more thing:
If you choose to not add an HF Amateur radio, get yourself a small portable shortwave receiver. One of the nice things about being well off the grid and away from civilization is that RF interference goes way down. Sitting around at night with a short wave radio can provide some pretty good entertainment. You'll quickly realize that once you can listen to the news from a point of view other than a US based network, you get a whole different view about what's going on in the world.
Also, AM Broadcast DX'ing is a popular hobby that goes well with what you are doing. Getting away from the noise of cities lets you hear some far off AM stations.
 
Joined
Aug 13, 2016
Messages
4
Location
Des Moines, IA
#6
Wonderful advice, guys. I guess "remote" is relative. Depending on the trip we might be an hour or more from the nearest town, with sketchy cell coverage at best. At some point we do plan to do Alaska and Canada but that's a ways off. One of our upcoming trips will take us from Silverton, Colorado across Black Bear Pass to Telluride, and then up to Loma and across the Kokopelli Trail to Moab, UT. There's a couple repeaters listed in Silverton but once you're on the Telluride side of the pass I'd guess they're out of range. From Loma to Moab there aren't any repeaters shown on the map and cell service is next to non-existant until you get close to Moab. On that trip we will be in a group so CB will be the go-to method, but that gives you an idea of how remote we will be.

The PLB is a great suggestion; I knew there was something available but I'm glad to know what it is. Definitely something we need to do.

As for the radio, I've been looking at ~$300 for the radio itself. I've looked at the Icom 2730a and the Yaesu ft-7900r as two that piqued my interest. The antennae for both radios will be mounted for optimum performance; if that means drilling holes, so be it. If I can mount to the roof rack, great. I'm willing to do what I have to. We hadn't looked into a handheld but that's also a good suggestion. We have a couple walkies for spotting on trail but that's all they're really good for.

I'll look into HF a little more. My understanding is techs can now use 10m for voice; is that correct? We haven't gotten our study guides yet, just reading online resources and so far I have only been reading up on 2m and 70cm.
 
Joined
Dec 30, 2009
Messages
92
#7
1) PLB as mmckenna noted
2) Satellite phone
3) HF radio with antenna tuner

VHF and UHF are only good if somebody is relatively close, or if you are within range of a repeater. Since you said "remote", I am assuming you will not be within range of any repeaters. However, I think that every 4x4 should have at least VHF for close-in communications with others in the group. As an ex-4-wheeler, I suggest you carry a spare antenna as it can get broken when struck by a branch or ripped off when you encounter crossed branches and the whip gets caught then twisted up (done that, lol), or even lost if it comes loose from vibration without you noticing. Most of the 4-wheelers in my area who are into exploration-type 4-wheeling have obtained their ham license just so that they could have a VHF radio in their trucks. To them, ham radio is just another tool to further the 4x4 hobby. :D

madrabbit's note about the shock-spring is sound advice. A shock-spring will let your whip lay flat when you drag a heavy branch over it, then will allow it to spring back into place once you've cleared the branch. No shock-spring means that branch will bend your whip flat, and that's how it will stay. I know that Larsen sells an optional shock-spring for their antennas; I don't know about the other manufacturers as I've always used Larsen.

As far as which radio to go with, I suggest getting something durable and reliable, built-to MIL-STD specs. You will be subjecting your radios to vibration, dust, heat, etc. A cheap radio is not a bargain when it fails on the trail.
 

wuzafuzz

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Mar 21, 2009
Messages
165
Location
Fort Collins, CO
#9
First thing: have fun!
Now for very thing else:
The recommendations for a beacon are wise advice. If you go with a PLB, get the kind with a GPS built in. I do beacon searches a lot and the PLBs that don't include a GPS don't live up to their promise of pinpointing you. Especially in the mountains, their location can be miles off. I've heard they work better on flatlands, but I have no experience with that.

I roll with a SPOT tracker. It includes GPS and has nailed my location in mountains and in deep canyons. Furthermore, in my SPOT profile I include info stating what frequencies I'll be monitoring if I pop the SOS button. That way can talk to me long before they reach my location. The fact that SPOTs allow non-distress messages and routine tracking accessible by friends and family is an added bonus, although the breadcrumb tracking costs more. I've had no trouble with customer service. My volunteer group has about 15 SPOT trackers, placed in all our airplanes. Love 'em!

As others mentioned, I wouldn't DEPEND on amateur radio as a sole source of getting a mayday out. But combined with a beacon you'll have a safe, reliable, and entertaining solution. My truck is dual band equipped (Yeasu FTM-350 w APRS module) and a tri-band antenna on the cowling. I only run HF with a "portable" IC-7000 and an Alpha "Recon" antenna system. Stationary only on that count, but it's intended for fun at remote campsites. Although, I have to admit that Overlanding rigs look extra awesome with a big HF whip ;-)

As for CB radio, I have an old beat up handheld I can run if I need to talk to CB-only folks close in. Never use it. Frankly I find the ubiquitous FRS/GMRS radios more reliable. (Yes, I paid for a GMRS license.)

Avoid any temptation to attach transmit antennas to your roof rack. Especially at HF. On my Tacoma I used a cowl mount for my 144/220/440 antenna. Roof mount would be even better if the roof rack isn't too close. Flexibility is key, as others mentioned. I've seen NMO mounts ripped out of roofs when antennas or their base loads catch on something. Typically I've limited my roof top installs to 1/4 wave whips. Very flexible. Keep spare antennas in your rig, and you can swap them around to fit your current needs. When I'm not surrounded by trees & bushes (or low garages) I put bigger, badder antennas on the buggy.

Scanners can be fun and interesting but I haven't mounted one in my truck. I'd go with a Home Patrol with GPS for traveling, and might get one yet. That would save me from the horrors of programming and carrying a computer to support the scanner as I change locations. So far I've been able to listen to National Park and USFS traffic on my ham radio. I understand they are slowly going P25 which will hide them from my ham radio.
 

wuzafuzz

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Messages
165
Location
Fort Collins, CO
#10
Another thought:

In addition to a beacon and radio, I keep visual attraction toys in my truck / backpack too. Orange panels or tarps. Signal mirror. Obnoxiously flourescent ANSI vest. A whistle doesn't hurt either. During SAR training events the airplanes always see me long before anyone else.

Most search subjects are hard to see from the air. Especially in wooded areas while wearing "natural" colors. In mountainous areas planes have to fly even higher above ground, making it harder to see people even when they are jumping up & down, waving their green or brown coat in the air. If I have to call for help I will be found much more quickly than most!
 
Joined
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Messages
530
Location
NM
#11
We use SPOT! and Inreach devices here at the BLM. Slowly replacing the 1 way spots with the two way inreaches, especially on the fire side.

The GPS equipped spots are used by people in the field for their scheduled check ins, for two reasons. 1. It gets a bunch of traffic off the radios which are shared by the districts and fire, which can be really helpful during fire season, and 2, the gps location embedded in the messages tell us where they are, rather then let them take guesses, or even screw up reading whats on their gps screen.
 
Joined
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Messages
6,684
Location
Fortunately, GA
#12
JBThompson;2626289 I'll look into HF a little more. My understanding is techs can now use 10m for voice; is that correct? We haven't gotten our study guides yet said:
Only a very small portion of 10 meters is allocated for voice with a Tech license. To have full privileges of the voice spectrum, you must have a General class license. The CB would be a better choice. Would everyone be a licensed tech in the group? Or, only your wife and you.
The suggestion of a Sat phone and the locator are better suggestions.
HTH,
Larry
 
Joined
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Messages
10,205
Location
Point Nemo.
#13
Satellite phone is a good option.
I've got one at work, although in 7 years I've only used it for monthly tests.

You'll spend $900 or more for a new phone. You can find them used, but figure on replacing the battery.
Airtime is expensive.
There are a few options, though. You can buy plans that give you a certain amount of airtime. The plan I have at work is $50 with no free airtime, so we pay for what we use.
If you do go with a satellite phone, it's worth the extra cost to get a small Pelican case to store it in. It'll protect it in storage (where it'll spend 99.999% of it's time) and it makes it easy to keep all the accessories together.
Satellite phones are only useful if you have someone to call when you need help. Make sure you keep a list of 7 digit phone numbers for local 911 centers, although most of them can transfer calls between centers, it takes up precious time.

As for a 2 meter/70 centimeter radio...
I always liked my Yaesu 7800. It's the earlier version of the 7900. It's small and compact. Remote head makes it easy to install in modern vehicles. It is a dual band radio, although it only allows you to use one band at a time. It doesn't have dual receivers like some of the other radios do. That was never an issue for me.
Consider one of the APRS enabled radios. This will allow you to connect a GPS to the radio and send out your position data every few minutes. While APRS coverage isn't 100%, it is pretty good. Anyone with your call sign can track your vehicle online, if it's in range of a digipeter. It's cheap and easy, and would give you another option.

As for HF...
Getting your General license isn't much harder than getting your technician license. It gives you some more options, but if you have a dual band mobile radio and a PLB, you'll be covered. I've been an amateur radio operator for a long time, and HF never appealed to me, even after owning a radio and using it for a while. Your own experience will vary.

Since getting your vehicle hopelessly stuck is a real possibility, make sure that all your communications tools are not reliant on the vehicle. Make sure you have some devices that are small and easily packed. Never know when you'll need to hike out.
 

fourthhorseman

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So Far Away....
#14
What are you driving?

I hate to revert and skew the topic, But what is your power supply set up..

A dual batt setup may be prudent, If you are going to remote areas. Running
radios, laptops ect..will stress your primary. A 2nd 12-14v batt with a simple
Stinger High amp relay wired to a keyed power source..

The set up is pretty straightforward, Wire the Batts Parallel..for 12-14v..
run all your radios power off the aux/2nd batt..Stinger isolates the Aux
from the Primary when you key off..You dont drain your starting batt..
then keyed on will allow the ALT to charge the Aux batt..

Also,,Generator?...Carrying fuel/ Petrol cans..
 
Joined
Apr 1, 2004
Messages
530
Location
NM
#15
Adding onto that last post.

A commercial or public safety grade VHF handheld, (preprogrammed with common calling frequencies, and ideally with FPP,) with a "clamshell" style battery pack that takes AA batteries (do not attach the pack to the radio in storage), stored in a rugged case like a pelican, put in the trunk or cargo area.

If you lose electrical power, or have to leave the vehicle, its a good emergency option.

You can find several dirt cheap on ebay, not narrowband capable, so pretty much worthless for public safety or land mobile, but works fine on ham. BK EPH and GPH radios, since they are no longer on the wildland fire approved list are a dime a dozen, and they work with all the common accessories for the current DPH series, including the battery packs.

I plan on grabbing a couple of GPH radios, decent antennas, battery packs, and AA batteries, and tossing them in a pelican case, and keeping it in the truck for emergencies. They're big, but i'm used to them from wildland fire.
 
Joined
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Messages
3,237
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Texas
#16
I'll add this from previous experience. I only keep a VHF radio and CB in my expedition rig (99 XJ). Quarter wave antenna on the roof (Larsen NMOQ with a spring currently) for VHF and a Larsen NMO27 for CB on the hood channel. Both NMO mounts.

I had the Comet once upon a time the first responder posted…never again. It's way too heavy and too stiff for what it is. It got **** canned from all of my vehicles the day before Comet released the spring for it…only took them a few years and a handful of threatened lawsuits for advertising it as a SAR antenna that had a nasty habit of pulling mounts out of the roofs of vehicles when it struck something…I struck a tree on my dd and it pulled the mount out of the roof and changed over to Larsen, Sti-Co and Panorama and haven't looked back. I'd recommend the NMO 2/70.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
Joined
Apr 1, 2004
Messages
530
Location
NM
#17
I have 19 of them in service, plus the one i keep under the seat of my POV. All have the optional spring, 11 of them are on a thick L shaped NMO bracket on the headache rack of pickups, 8 are hood channel NMO mounts on ford F-series chassis wildland engines. I've never had an issue on any of these setups.

I did quickly decide, after watching how much flex i had in the roof of my own POV that i would probably never use one on a standard NMO mount thru a thin roof. That stiff center coil loop is just asking for a situation like yours, where it would very likely rip the mount out.

Aside from that specific caveat, my recommendation for the antenna stands, they are a solid performer on 2m, land mobile and federal VHF, excellent receive antenna across the bands, and while we rarely use UHF, i've done a lot of 70cm work with mine in the middle of nowhere, and they work pretty well.
 
Joined
Jul 27, 2005
Messages
10,205
Location
Point Nemo.
#18
A $10.00 quarter wave VHF antenna will give you all that too, and won't damage NMO mounts.

A quarter wave VHF is also resonate on UHF as an odd multiple of 1/4 wave. I've run them on dual band radios and they worked just fine.

As for wide band, you can't beat the ten buck quarter waves. I put one on my analyzer at work, switched it to SWR mode and set it up to sweep from 144MHz to 174MHz. Here's the result:


A few things I've learned about mobile antennas over the years is:
1. basic quarter waves will work very well in almost all situations.
2. I will not buy "amateur" grade antennas.
3. Paying more for an antenna doesn't mean it's better. There is no magic pixy dust that these amateur antenna manufacturers have that the professional antenna companies don't.
4. Ground plane is important. Mounting antennas in the center of the roof with a proper sized ground plane under them will make a big difference in performance. Halfway and compromise mounts aren't worth the trouble, that is unless you wife won't let you drill a hole in her mini-van.

When a $10 antenna will work, I see no reason to spend $60 on some ariel eyesore. Sometimes simpler is better, especially when you really need to rely on your equipment.
 
Joined
Aug 13, 2016
Messages
4
Location
Des Moines, IA
#19
What are you driving?

I hate to revert and skew the topic, But what is your power supply set up..

A dual batt setup may be prudent, If you are going to remote areas. Running
radios, laptops ect..will stress your primary. A 2nd 12-14v batt with a simple
Stinger High amp relay wired to a keyed power source..

The set up is pretty straightforward, Wire the Batts Parallel..for 12-14v..
run all your radios power off the aux/2nd batt..Stinger isolates the Aux
from the Primary when you key off..You dont drain your starting batt..
then keyed on will allow the ALT to charge the Aux batt..

Also,,Generator?...Carrying fuel/ Petrol cans..
We're using an 05 Explorer Limited. Not the most popular choice due to front and rear independant suspension, but with a rear locker, a mild lift and a good set of tires it'll get us where we want to go. I'm even relocating the diff and trans breathers and doing a custom snorkel. Many Explorers have been hydrolocked even in heavy downpours as the intake is very low in the bumper, and I want to make sure we are prepared since heavy rains can easily become a problem. The electrical is already partially upgraded with 200amp alternator and 0ga wiring but we'll also have an isolated dual battery setup as soon as I decide out how/where to mount the house battery. All connections will be treated for water resistance, too. Extra fuel will be two, 20L NATO spec jerry cans mounted in a custom cradle behind the passenger seat, good for about 100 miles. The cans are leakproof so no worries of vapors inside the truck.


I'm not sure if we'll have anyone else on our Moab trip licensed, though of course that would be ideal.
 
Joined
Jun 16, 2013
Messages
3,237
Location
Texas
#20
I have 19 of them in service, plus the one i keep under the seat of my POV. All have the optional spring, 11 of them are on a thick L shaped NMO bracket on the headache rack of pickups, 8 are hood channel NMO mounts on ford F-series chassis wildland engines. I've never had an issue on any of these setups.

I did quickly decide, after watching how much flex i had in the roof of my own POV that i would probably never use one on a standard NMO mount thru a thin roof. That stiff center coil loop is just asking for a situation like yours, where it would very likely rip the mount out.

Aside from that specific caveat, my recommendation for the antenna stands, they are a solid performer on 2m, land mobile and federal VHF, excellent receive antenna across the bands, and while we rarely use UHF, i've done a lot of 70cm work with mine in the middle of nowhere, and they work pretty well.


As I stated, the spring wasn't available when I purchased and equipped my vehicles with them.

My experiences also mimic that of mmckenna. The only real gain I've found in using 5/8th wave or even 5/8 over designs is the added height on receive. Where we differ is my tend to choose a wideband knob (430-480 MHz) for UHF over a $7 quarter wave due to an extra 2" of clearance.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
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