Extend HT Range
Edited 09/2022 by Paul Smith, K5PRS
The HT as a communications go-kit.
The most basic “go-kit” one can ever own would be the ever popular handie-talkie (HT). However, we all know that the HT, by itself out of the box makes for a pretty poor emergency station. So lets look at some things you can do to turn the lowly HT into something more reliable and potent for Emergency Communications (EmComm).
- Purchase a secondary high gain antenna for the HT. The original manufacturers equipment (OEM) antenna that came with your HT for the most part is nothing more than a rubber resistor and performs about as well. Many aftermarket antenna manufacturers make replacement antennas for just about every HT. Talk to others with the same HT as yours and find out what they are using. A step up from that is a mobile antenna or even a base station antenna on a push-up pole or even a crank up tower but it’s likely that you’d be hooking up a mobile radio rather than an HT to the later. Antenna gain and height are the keys to overcoming marginal operations.
- The human body is nothing but a bag of salt water that loves to absorb radio signals and so do trees, especially the evergreens, so remoting the antenna away from people, generally by getting it above them, will help when conditions are poor. There are a couple of things you can do here.
- Mount that higher gain, HT mounted antenna you purchased in 1. above on a short broomstick or small diameter PVC pipe that is long enough to get above the heads of those meat sacks. A couple zip ties will get that job done. A small, hi-viz flag attached to the top will help those in need find you in the crowd.
- If mobile in a vehicle with a non-ferrous roof or in your home shack, a magnetic mount mobile antenna on a kitchen oven baking sheet for a ground plane will vastly improve the signal strength. These can be used in a number of places where you need just a little better signal to get into a repeater. Ground plane kits that look more professional and have better wind characteristics than the pizza pan when mobile are available.
- A fixed station antenna with good feedline and mounted on a stayed, push-up pole or portable mast can be located further away from the operating position and outside in the clear will result in significantly better operation in otherwise marginal conditions when those trees get in the way or buildings are in the wrong place.
- Purchase additional batteries. If you run into extended operations or a high duty cycle event like a multi-day, disaster recovery deployment, the HT battery pack will be drained rather quickly. There are several options to consider:
- Purchase extra batteries or extended power batteries.
- Buy a battery pack and carry replacement batteries, generally of the AA variety. Alkaline batteries last longer but you won’t need to carry as many rechargables if you take a charger and power source (like your vehicle).
- If stationary, another option is a sealed lead acid battery (SLA) with a cable connector matched to your HT and appropriate battery connectors which will last much, much longer. You can also hook directly to your vehicle battery but care must be taken to keep the vehicle battery charged or you might find yourself stranded when the battery won’t start the vehicle.
- Purchase a quality headset. A headset will greatly improve your ability to hear in high noise locations, especially if the headset has noise cancellation or when reception is marginal. The headset will also prevent audio interference from your speakers in a room with other communications going on so other communicators don’t sound like they’re in a boiler room. Speaker mics are an improvement and generally fine if you are shadowing an event official but they lack the ability to isolate the audio to just yourself for privacy/security. Even an inexpensive ear plug like you would get for an AM/FM radio will greatly help but is not recommended because it doesn’t include a microphone. Getting a headset with a boom mic keeps the mic permanently next to your mouth (never in front; we talk across our mics not into them).
The first thing you may say is “WOW, that is a lot to buy!” Well it is, but most of it is cheap and it doesn’t have to all be bought at once. A piece now, a piece later and a more expensive piece when you next get paid and the next thing you know you have a light, well equipped, highly portable and highly effective station.
Keeping it all together.
As you gather items to expand your capabilities, you will want to keep everything together so it can be grabbed quickly. Visit any retail store’s home-wares section and buy a plastic storage box that will keep your items together and provide some level of protection. You’ll probably be carrying more than your portable ham shack, however, so pick up a backpack for your clipboard, writing utensils (another plastic box?), snacks, water, sunscreen, headlight, medical kit, etc. AND your ham shack in-a-box. Work several events like Public Service Events and go outside and work any of our ARES nets in the dark. Develop a list of what you used or needed so that a.) you’ll know what to pack and b.) you’ll know what sized bag to buy. Of course you’ll need more than your backpack when you advance to remote mobile radio and HF radio operations with portable generators, crank up towers, etc. but that’s for a different training.
Headsets are largely up to your preferences but regardless of style they are absolutely necessary to have in high noise environments or where security is involved whether working with an HT or a mobile station. You will not need one every time but at some point you will. Many prefer a single loose on top of the ear style so that they can pay attention to what is going on around them. In high noise situations like the Houston Air Show, I like to wear powered shooter’s ears over an over-the-ear plug with an included microphone. The shooter’s ears electronically clip high amplitude audio signals like the report of a rifle or the noise from a jet fighter’s afterburners. Again this is largely about personal choice. Talk to other people see what they like and why. Speaker mics have their place as well, they will provide some marginal security and privacy due to the proximity to the ear and mouth.
To summarize, the lowly HT can be made into an effective remote or mobile station for long term use by adding additional power sources, by using higher gain antennas, by increasing the height of antennas away from signal absorbing obstacles and by wearing a backpack to keep everything handy while on the move.
That is the end of tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions?
Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.