OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications

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OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by DaveK » Mon Dec 09, 2019 3:47 pm


Recently, we received a request to do a net on wilderness communications, and since its been a few years since we've covered this topic, it seemed like the right time to revisit the area. The subject matter here is large, so we hold out the possibility of a second net, if necessary.

This week, we intend explore the many options for communication once you have traveled beyond the range of the trusty cell phone. In our experience, it seems like cell phones quit working just about the time we hit dirt. To some extent, that has changed, but the reality is that no cell phone carrier who cares to make a profit, is going to provide coverage to vast areas of land on which there are never more than a handful of people.

That means, of course, that the well prepared traveler carries the means to communicate regardless of where the trail takes him. Some communication options work better than others, some are expensive, and some are meant for very specific applications, but you should never leave home with out the ability to reach out for help. While cell phones may be adequate for short trips, near cell towers, it is the remote location adventures where trip plans must include the right equipment.

While we know that it is not safe to travel alone, we know it happens, and in those cases, the ability to get help is most important, assuming that your injuries are not such that you cannot make the call. Although it may seem obvious, it bears repetition that when you travel in a group, there (hopefully) will be others who have the means to make an emergency call when you can't.

Having the ability to get help in emergencies is clearly the most important reason to have the right equipment, but there are many others. Here are some examples:
  • vehicle to vehicle communication on the highway and on the trail
  • keeping track of vehicles in caravans
  • assisting late arriving members of the group to find camp
  • communicating with other Hams in the areas traveled
  • sending pictures and trip reports home
  • keeping family members advised of your trip progress and location
  • preparation for emergencies at home
  • requesting and receiving information, (e.g. radio operation, , weather, menus, vehicle repair info, etc.)
  • For the HF crowd, the ability to appreciate the benefits of night time operation
Time permitting, we will cover the following topics:

1. New developments in communications
Pactor 4

2. Ham Radio


4. Satellite Comms
Spot, In Reach
Satellite phones

5. Value of redundancy and having multiple options available (including multiple users)

6. Trip prep

7. Value of radio operation knowledge, operators manuals, spare parts, radio programming software, analyzers, etc.

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wil/derness Communications


Post by DaveK » Mon Dec 09, 2019 3:50 pm


Having Ham radios on board is a must for any trip. While your VHF or UHF radio will often suffice, and is a "must have" piece of equipment, the well prepared traveler will also have his HT and his HF rig.

For the Amateur community, for the most part, no case needs to be made for the value of your radio. When it comes to long distance communication, reliability, limitless options for operation, a huge variety of equipment, and a great number of fellow Hams across the country who will help out, there is no equal to this means of communication.

Ham Radio HF frequencies make it possible to communicate over thousands of miles, and in the most remote areas, including the deepest canyons. It is humorous to watch those who are unfamiliar with Ham Radio, dismiss it's effectiveness without any real understanding of what it can do. Much of this willingness to eliminate Ham Radio from consideration, IMHO, is due to a certain slavish devotion to the almighty cell phone. Unfortunately, when it's too late, the cell-phone-is-king crowd is forced to realize it's shortcomings. Enter Ham Radio!

By far, the most important benefit of Ham radio is the means to seek help. Secondarily, it serves as a means to communicate for the many reasons mentioned in post number 1, above, all of which we will discuss during the net.

For the balance of this post, I will focus on a Ham radio technique that allows for the transmission and receipt of regular e-mail, just like you use at home, using an HF radio and some related equipment. This is possible through the efforts of the Winlink Development Team of the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, Inc. Here is what they say:
Winlink is a worldwide radio email service that uses [HF] radio pathways where the internet is not present, and is capable of operating completely without the internet--automatically--using smart-network radio relays. Winlink provides its users email with attachments, position reporting, weather and information bulletins, and is well-known for its role in interoperable emergency and disaster relief communications.
We may discuss the various means by which the Winlink system may be used, but for brevity here, we will just mention the fastest and most effective of them all - Pactor. Currently only Pactor 3 is legally permitted for use by the Ham radio community. The SCS Company, the creator and manufacturer of Pactor modems, has developed the next level of this modem, the Pactor 4.

Recently, the FCC considered a petition to allow the use of Pactor 4 modems and following a lengthy public hearing process, has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making, which indicates their willingness to allow the use of this new technology, (see Notice of Proposed Rule Making here:

FCC- - NPRM rm-11708-1.pdf
(196.09 KiB) Downloaded 9 times

The benefits of Pactor 4 is a 200% to 300% increase in transmission and receiving speed, making it just about as fast as your email at home. Needless to say, I am eagerly awaiting the ultimate decision from the FCC. Here is what it looks like:

Pactor 4 Dragon.png
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Pactor4 7400.png
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In addition to keeping family and friends updated on our condition and progress, I have used the Winkink System to provide pictures to other members of OAUSA to be posted here on this website.

Here are some examples of pictures that I've sent using Winlink:

Airmail Picture 1.JPG
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Airmail Picture 2.JPG
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Airmail Picture 3.JPG
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Here is an example of the set-up I use for HF operations, including Winlink. The antenna is a Scorpion connected to an Icom 7000. The advantage of this screwdriver antenna is that is able to use all Amateur frequencies from 6-80, and tunes with the push of a button.

Outside Equipment

Scorpion Antenna.JPG
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Inside Equipment

Everything that is needed to utilize all of the benefits of Ham Radio for UHF, VHF and HF are present in these pictures, including the GPS (which feeds position information to the computer, the computer itself, with all programming for APRS, Airmail, and all navigation programs, and the Pactor Modem. Note: (The Pactor Modem is concealed behind the computer, but it's there, honest!)

DTK Set-up.jpg
DTK Set-up.jpg (107.86 KiB) Viewed 243 times

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communbications


Post by DaveK » Mon Dec 09, 2019 3:50 pm


Briefly, APRS is a means to report the coordinates of your position, even when traveling, so that others can know where you are. This position data can be transmitted either to other nearby users or to the internet. In short, it is a way of keeping track of APRS users.

For our purposes, there are two APRS devices that we will discuss on the net:
  • Vehicle mounted APRS
  • Portable APRS via a hand held transceiver (aka walkie talkie)
Keep in mind that for this discussion we will only deal with APRS for VHF. For those who are properly equipped and who want the ultimate in APRS, there is a version of this that utilizes Ham HF Frequencies, resulting in significantly increased range. There are some definite challenges and limitations in the HF version, but it does offer users a singular means to communicate.

How it works

APRS data is transmitted from your Ham radio to digipeaters, (much like a repeater) which in most cases, serve as internet gateways. Once it hits the internet, it is available world wide. So, as you travel, your position (and other information) becomes available to anyone with access to the internet. In these cases, the digipeater will usually take the form of high level repeaters (high level meaning repeaters located at high elevation.)

This same position information can be received by other nearby APRS users who can then place your position on vehicle mounted computers (running the appropriate mapping software.) This benefit allows groups to know the positions of all other members who are also running APRS.

The benefits of APRS involve both communications and navigation, and we will deal with them both during the net. Briefly, here are some of the communications benefits of APRS:

1. Allows traveling groups to keep track of everyone in the group
2. Allows family and friends back home to know your exact location
3. Allows rescue operators to know your location in the event of an emergency
4. Allows users to send email messages to anyone
5. Allows users to send text messages to others in the group or at home
6. Allows late arriving members of your group to locate your camp or the traveling group.
7. Allows retrieval of your complete trip tracks for trip reports and future planning

Here are some of the Navigation benefits of APRS:

1. Can use most maps, especially USGA Topos.
2. Allows drivers to pre-plan the trip by annotating the maps.

Some examples of APRS systems:

Different APRS maps
Note: The first is a USGS TOPO map of an area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, called Twin Point.

APRS Navigation 3.jpg
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APRS Navigation 2.jpg
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APRS Navigation 1.jpg
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Examples of APRS radios

Yaesu VX8DR (http://www.yaesu.com/indexVS.cfm?cmd=Di ... Archived=0)

From the Yaesu website:
VX-8DR – A Devoted APRS Users Version of the VX-8R Series

The VX-8DR APRS®/GPS/Bluetooth® Handheld Transceiver is an additional version of the VX-8R that includes not only its solid features and specifications but also new expanded APRS® capabilities to meet the needs of even the most active APRS® user.
Yaesu VX8DR.jpg
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Kenwood TM-D710GA

From the Kenwood website:(http://www.kenwood.com/usa/com/amateur/tm-d710ga/)
The GPS unit required for mobile station APRS operation is included in the control panel. Genuine APRS operation is possible with the TM-D710GA alone. GPS Logger, Mark Waypoint, Target Point, and automatic time correction functions are also included.

Kenwood D710.jpg
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Yaesu 8900R

The 8900R has an enviable reputation as a rugged, well built, built to last, workhorse radio. Add to that it's "easy-on the wallet" price tag, and it is a great choice for a trail radio. Located on the rear panel of the radio is a data port which will allow APRS operation, although some additional equipment will be necessary.

Yaesu 8900.jpg
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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communbications


Post by DaveK » Mon Dec 09, 2019 3:52 pm


While Ham radio is the best communication tool for remote location adventurers, there are most certainly other forms that offer unique features and capabilities. For the adventurer who wants the ultimate in communication, having one of these devices, in addition to your Ham radio gear, is a great idea.

Spot X

This is Spot's most advanced 2 way satellite messaging device, with some very impressive features. This unit bears a striking resemblance to the Blackberry cell phone with its individual alpha/numeric buttons. Very nice touch, and it sure speeds up texting. Here is what they say (https://www.findmespot.com/en-us/produc ... x#overview)
SPOT X provides 2-way satellite messaging when you’re off the grid or beyond reliable cellular coverage. Connect SPOT X to your smart phone via Bluetooth wireless technology through the SPOT X app to access your contacts and communicate easily with family, friends, or directly with Search & Rescue services in a life-threatening situation. If preferred or when necessary, SPOT X can be used as a standalone communication device. SPOT X has its own dedicated U.S. mobile number, so others can message you directly at any time.
Spot X.jpg
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Garmin In Reach

Another satellite messaging device, with a lot more very impressive features. Here is what they say (https://buy.garmin.com/en-US/US/p/561269)
Rugged handheld satellite communicators enable two-way text messaging via 100% global Iridium® satellite network (satellite subscription required.) Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center. Track and share your location with family and friends. Pair with compatible mobile devices using the free Earthmate® app for access to downloadable maps¹, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more. inReach Explorer+ device adds preloaded DeLorme® TOPO maps with onscreen GPS routing plus built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
In Reach.jpg
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McMurdo Fast Find 220 PLB

Personal location beaconing devices have been around for a long time, and for a very good reason - they work and work well. A PLB is a personal safety device designed to alert search and rescue services and allow them to quickly locate you in the event of an emergency, on land or sea. Here is what McMurdo says (https://www.oroliamaritime.com/wp-conte ... asheet.pdf)

The FastFind 220 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) uses advanced technology packed into a simple, lightweight, palm sized unit. Using the dedicated 406 MHz frequency, FastFind 220 transmits your unique ID and precise GPS location to the global network of search and rescue satellites. Within minutes rescuers are alerted to your situation, and receive regular position updates. Finally, emergency services can home in on your beacon's 121.5MHz transmission to find you. Explore the world with peace of mind. If you find yourself in a remote area without any other form of communication, activating your FastFind 220 will summon emergency assistance.
McMurdo Fast Find.jpg
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Sat Phones

For the well heeled traveler, the Sat phone is quite a convenience. Among it's many attributes is the one that is it's most limiting - the price. If you get around this cost feature there are a few other considerations to make, the biggest being which satellite constellation to select. For us here in the lower 48 of the USA, there are three from which we can pick - Inmarsat, Iriduim and Globalstar. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For us, there are some additional basic considerations:
  • system reliability
  • ability to connect in varying terrain conditions.
  • plan, usage and equipment costs
  • equipment ruggedness
If you have the need and the wallet for a sat phone, there is much research to do.

The Iridium Extreme 9575 (https://satellitephonestore.com/catalog ... hone-kit-7)

Iridium Sat Phone.jpg
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BGAN (Broadband Global Area Network

BGAN is a system that uses small portable modems or terminals which are used to connect a computer (usually a laptop) to a network of satellites, in order to access the internet. BGAN terminals can be used anywhere, as long as it has a clear view of the satellite. In addition to access to the internet, the terminals will also provide sat phone capabilities.

The real advantage of BGAN is the ability to conduct business on the internet, when your travels take you well beyond the range of your cell phone. Yes, we know that one of the benefits of our adventures is the opportunity to escape from all the distractions of daily life. But, for those who can be gone for extended lengths of time in the outback, but who need to take care of business, this is one great tool.

Like sat phones, this communication device comes at a price, especially if you buy all the necessary equipment. There is a solution however, and that is to rent the equipment for the length of your trip. Kinda' the best of all worlds, if you rent - you get to take extended length trips, you can take care of business while gone, and the cost is not going to break the bank (well...................sorta'!!!!)

See here for more info:


Pictures from https://www.groundcontrol.com:

BGAN Small Stationary Terminal

BGAN-3.jpg (41.09 KiB) Viewed 202 times

BGAN, on the trail

BGAN-4.jpg (44.22 KiB) Viewed 202 times
BGAN-2.jpg (52.12 KiB) Viewed 202 times

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by NotAMog » Thu Dec 12, 2019 2:40 pm

Please check-in

John - KN6VL

Bruce - KD6GCO

I have my monthly motorcycle dinner this evening. I hope to be on by 8:00 or so.
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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by Diesel4x » Thu Dec 12, 2019 5:17 pm

Thanks for early check in, KF6KOC Randy.

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by KA9WDX » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:26 pm

Check in please - Thanks - Bernie

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by k9atk » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:28 pm

Please check inn

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by VK2DY » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:34 pm

Please check in
VK2DY, Robert in Sydney
Thank you

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Re: OAUSA Net - December 12, 2019 - Wilderness Communications


Post by Ionyx » Thu Dec 12, 2019 7:41 pm

Good evening.
Please check me in early.


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