Keeping in touch, retrieving email, letting others know you are still alive and well, while overlanding in distant remote locations, can seem challenging in the age of instant and always-on communications over the Internet. But before the Internet was so nearly ubiquitous and pervasive in the western world, 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, and experiment with all 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 so it is a good back-up system when those systems fail. When modern communications 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 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 watts. Operating QRP means needing less and lighter gear. Consequently, QRP allows for portable operation where I can combine my love of travel and the outdoors with amateur radio and operate almost anywhere and communicate to almost anywhere.
The radio I overland and explore the world with is a Yaesu FT-818ND operating at a whopping 6 watts maximum raw, solid output power. That means I’m cheating with 1 extra watt of available output power. I don’t require 1500 megawatts — the legal allowable limit in the U.S.A. — to compensate for small hands or any other personal or equipment shortcomings and consistantly communicate great distances with the proper. When you know the science and do the math, you can appreciate the reasons for not needing mega watts to communicate wireless around the world.
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 favorite 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.
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.
I’ve put together a list of Amateur Radio resources I use while overlanding.