Keeping in touch, retrieving email, letting others know you are still alive and well, while overlanding in distant remote locations, can be challenging, even in the age of instant and always-on communications. Before the Internet was so nearly ubiquitous and pervasive, there was Amateur Radio. And it’s still going strong today.
Amateur Radio is a hobby that allows licensed operators to communicate with other enthusiasts around the world. It also allows for the experimentation of various aspects of radio, communications, and electronics.
Amateur Radio is also a is a vital part of global communications and a public service. It does not rely on internet or telephone links and is a good back-up when those systems fail. In times of emergencies and disasters, licensed Amateur Radio operators often lend their qualifications, skills, experience, and personal equipment to provide voice and data communications to government and relief agencies. Amateur Radio operators don’t need cell towers, the Internet, or radio repeaters to relay messages, to or from anywhere in the world.
It’s for these same reasons this technology is relied on to stay connected while travelling to some of the most remote locations in the world, whether overland, air, or by sea.
I like a broad spectrum of this hobby but my primary area of interest lies with QRP, the acronym used by Amateur Radio operators to describe operating at low power–generally defined as transmitting at a maximum of 5 or 10 watts. Operating QRP means needing less and lighter gear. Consequently, QRP allows for portable operation where I can combine my love of adventure travel and communicate to and from almost anywhere.
Radio communications are controlled by individual countries, and as long as the local rules and laws are followed, they recognize and allow licensed Amateur Radio Operators from other countries to operated within their jurisdicitons.
The radio I have chosen to overland and explore the world with is a Yaesu FT-818ND. It operates at a whopping 6 watts maximum raw, solid output power 😜. The small Yaesu is small, light, efficient, rugged, proven to be reliable, well loved, and provides coverage of the 160-10 meter bands plus the 6 m, 2 m, and 70 cm bands, in all modes (voice, data, Morse Code). The 1.25 Meters – 222 MHz band is the exception, but then very few radios operate in that that band.
An important consideration in choosing the little FT-818 for overlanding long distances over rough terrain and being off grid for months at a time, was it’s proven ruggedness and low power consumption. The FT-818ND uses only 2.4 Amps on HF through 2 Meters, and 2.7 Amps on 70 cm and has a long history of holding up well in less than ideal conditions. Other QRP radios would physically fall apart in these conditions.
For about the past 20 years, Yaesu’s FT-817 radio has been the favourite portable transceiver for QRP enthusiasts, especially backpackers and SOTA enthusiasts. The FT-818ND is essentially the same transceiver built with one extra watt of output power and updated components to replace parts that are no longer available.
Some will laugh at the wimpy power output, but I don’t require 1500 mega watts — the legal allowable limit in the U.S.A. — to compensate for small hands or any other shortcomings and can consistently communicate great distances with that amount of power. When you understand the science and do the math, you can appreciate the reasons for not needing mega watts to communicate wireless around the world.
Considering that the dim light of a bicycle is generated by about 2.5 watts, it’s impressive that only 5 or 6 watts can carry voice, data, and Morse Code communications over unbelievable distances on a regular basis with QRP.