The Radio Emergency Challenge from Julian, OH8STN.

Started by gil, April 09, 2018, 02:16:49 PM

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Thank you Julian for re-posting and suggesting that I make a video on the subject in the first place :)

I also would like to say to all my viewers on YouTube that Julian and I are not in competition. We experiment, we try different things. I also have learned plenty from his channel. I had no idea for instance that you could use APRS for messaging on HF! Sometimes I think "how is he going to make this work?" Then he goes freeze his butt off in the snow and does it. His observations from this article are right on many counts. A minimalistic approach is a compromise, trading features we think are most important for others we believe we can live without. Of course, we are going to disagree; it creates learning opportunities. I will clarify a few points here before getting to the challenge. Guys, keep the debate civil. My video is in no way a critique of Julian's work and I highly suggest everyone to subscribe to him on YouTube.

QuoteGil uses a CW only radio. Benefits of this is portability and low current draw. Downsides, it's only one mode, and it's only 3 bands.
Like Julian who doesn't only use a 100W radio, I don't only use a 3-band radio. My Weber MTR is certainly my favorite rig, but it's missing 80m, which in my opinion is a very important band. I will probably at some point get the MTR4b.

Indeed, for myself, I believe CW is all I need in most cases. Why? Because it works and has for more than a century of radio. Telegraphy used to send everything from birthday wishes to market trends across the Atlantic. New digital modes are even more efficient, no doubt, but none of those setups fit in my shirt pocket, yet. I favor simple systems to limit failure points.

QuoteGil shows us his very cheap Chinese solar panel Choetech
I would love a Power Film panel! I would buy a small one. I am not favoring cheap Chinese panels, though they have the merit to exist and work. That's all I have at this time. I have no doubt there are better solutions. I really should have more than one, not a good situation right now... Bottom line is, not everyone can afford high-priced gear. If all they can buy is a cheap solar panel and a $50 CW radio, it's good to know the option exists.

QuoteFinally, Gil keeps focusing on the large capacity battery Builds and QRO radio on the channel.
Actually, I was not focusing on it at all. I only used the 1A/5A number as a general example, the only one that came to mind at the time. The last thing I want is a CW/QRP VS Digital/QRO debate. It's comparing apples to oranges.

QuoteGil's philosophy is one way, but I have never seen him fully test in the field.
I might say I have... We can't easily "fully test in the field." Everything we do is a simulation, simple tests. I have walked for two weeks with a 50lbs backpack in total autonomy in the Pyrenees, but more often than not I am much closer to home and only out for a few hours. I think it is true for both of us. Granted, Finland's climate is definitely harsher than the North of France, which is already as cold as I care to experience. The thing is, I do this mainly for fun, so putting myself in dangerous or very uncomfortable situations to test a radio isn't on my menu. If I want an adventure, I'll get on a small sailboat solo out of sight of land; there is nothing more humbling and exhilarating than that. That said, I don't mind challenges.

If I found myself isolated and injured, I would record an SOS message on my little MTR and send it on a loop. It would probably transmit for a couple days before my three 18650s run out, while I take care of myself the best I can. Like I have said before, I would bet my life on it.

QuoteI suggested to Gil that he do a training scenario to prove his philosophy actually works. A scenario where he's lost with a broken ankle. His goal, send out his exact position over CW, without having a pre-planned sked with any other operator. Do you think Gil would succeed? Let's see if Gil goes for it.

Challenge accepted!

I will pack a small CW-only radio, hike out to some isolated campsite, make contact and ask whomever to send my geographical coordinates to a friend's email address. That is a fairly complex message needing the utmost precision to succeed. Would that work or are there other requirements? Ok, let's make it more of a challenge because really, this is way too easy: I will not return home until I succeed, no matter how long it takes. I will have to set up some time for this, so I don't know when that will be yet, this year for sure.

Honestly, this should not take more than an hour... If it was a real SOS ... --- ... someone would jump on it like a fly on honey within minutes.

Maybe that would finally convince Julian to learn Morse code  ;)



You two have totally different points of view on comms in a disaster situation. So as a bystander I say that it doesn't make sense to convince each other for qrp /qro.

Via TapaTalk


I'm of the opinion, who cares? I like QRP and the way I operate. Sure I'll take suggestions from other operators, but in the end it's my butt that will be in the sling and I'll manage it the best I can with the equipment i have with me at that time, it's not a competition it's survival. To each his own. If push came to shove, I could use CW to save my bacon but meanwhile I prefer SSB/DSB, less abbreviations:-).



I agree guys, it's two different things... Viewers started this debate. I am quite happy in my little corner doing what I love. It surprises me though that many people doubt Morse code can deliver, since it always has... Because something is older doesn't mean it doesn't work. A 19th century Colt will shoot you as dead as a modern AR-15... So it will be interesting to show that you can send something else than a 599-73 message using Morse code. I do it all the time, so it's no surprise to me. I have conversations in Morse on 80m... Usually, I get a contact within minutes of setting up... But all this might not be apparent to people who haven't tried and do not use CW regularly as I do...

I remember a week-long primitive camping trip in Florida... Ray and I chatted daily, QRP, over 820 miles. I made a few contacts every day. My MTR was powered by eight AA cells. I did not have to recharge them, though I had a solar panel, didn't need it. The radio had two bands, 20 and 40m, CW only, that's it. It worked great. At the end of the trip I asked Ray to email a friend so she could come and pick me up at a certain time and place... There was no challenge... It was normal radio ops. I did not need a big radio or a computer. If I remember well Ray also had an experience calling for a seaplane for pickup, maybe he can recall it for us here...

Really, a small CW radio is not a handicap. It isn't lacking in any way. Ok, maybe I can't send a photo, but otherwise, to relay messages, it's hard to beat. There is a culture in telegraphy focused on traffic handling and message forwarding. It goes back to wired telegraphs, later ships at sea... There are plenty of people tuned on the bottom parts of the bands listening for dits and dahs. They always welcome the opportunity to do something useful and somehow recapture the magic of the old days. Then there is the technical side. CW is quite efficient. Not as efficient as the latest digital modes, but twenty times more efficient than SSB. Combined with the simplicity of the radios, you get a winning combination.

More isn't always better...



So has the challenge been set yet or am I having an (early) senior moment?
Once a 'STAB in the Dark'


Quote from: Andywragg on April 10, 2018, 08:35:43 AM
So has the challenge been set yet or am I having an (early) senior moment?
See the link at the very top Andy...


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I did this for decades, in real wilderness while rucksacking in Mountains, deserts and even the Frank Church Wilderness Area and aboard various sailboats: relayed everything from Lat/Long to love notes - worked fine.  [ Forget the rumors, I never actually sent love notes to Gil. . . haha ] Actually it was a bush plane we had arrive at a specific (different) meadow a day early.  No reason to wait for our prearranged pick-up, we were finished shooting the video and tequila & steaks were sounding very good. .  I was in northern Idaho, the ham was in Arizona and the bush pilot was at his airfield in central Idaho.  The ham took the pilot's phone number, name of our party, my lat/long, common name of the meadow and landmark info , called the pilot on the phone and we (I was on crew,  shooting a survival video) received our answer via Morse from Arizona: "maybe tomorrow". (We're kinda laid-back up here in the mountains of Idaho and the bush pilot also had mail to deliver. ) ...  Worked fine.  That was a kit built, 'one band' SW-40+ ( about two Watts) in a lite clamshell case about the size of a paperback book, with a push button on top for a key; antenna was a dipole with RG-174. Passed traffic for two weeks ( 3 =< 20 words messages per night for crew members and my messages abd sked chatter and hobby hamming ) Before that, I did it for the government/military - enciphered - worked fine and lives depended on it.

Gil did this with the SAME shirt pocket and home made transceiver he often used on our 2 year sked from southern Florida to northern Virginia - two years . the camping trip was very reliable for a week straight, including accurately relaying message traffic: it's daily comms.  Oh and, the entire 'comms shack' fit into his cargo pants side pocket and he hiked into place.  Like Gil said - it's no challenge, it's daily comms, but if it can illustrate some useful points, let's be useful.

Let's do the challenge prefaced on a scenario where  Size, Weight and Power consumption matter. Here's a point to begin with. Is your comms gear a minor addition to normal trekking gear? Can you carry it ALL up and over obstacles, across rivers, up mountains? It is small and robust enough to be PART of your gear, not all of it? If not - why not?

1. Entire comms kit to fit inside of a small coffee can, so that it can easily accompany you trekking. (You can cook in the can when it's not in there ;-)

2. 5 Km walk , including a 500m lift and descent (that's only about 1500 feet - simple days hike - really)

"One Band"   So what? 

Just because something is larger, more expensive and heavier does not make it better.

Skills -vs- 'stuff': you choose.
"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Quote[ Forget the rumors, I never actually sent love notes to Gil. . . haha ]

You break my heart Ray, LOL.

Great post, thank you. I like it because it is not a statement of opinion, just facts, recounting field experiences.

I might just pack my QCX single-bander on 80m. It always seems to work any time and people listening on 80m are more willing to ragchew. The QCX is a great companion to my MTR. This way I have four bands and redundancy. I love the SW+, glad I have the 30m version. I am wondering if I should sell my KX2 to get an MTR4b... Making SSB contacts is always a chore, while CW goes through most of the time. I really don't want to bother with a computer or tablet in the field.

I will recount here the way I got into HAM radio... My motivation was to have an independent mean of communication while hiking/camping and at sea. I wanted something small and portable, which could go forever on batteries; something that could be a gear afterthought that would not remind me of its presence in my pack... I knew CB, my first radio encounter at age 14... I also knew about 2m handhelds and regular amateur transceivers... None of these fit my bill... Searching the Web I found the QRP movement. Those small CW rigs really got me thinking. Perfect size! Actually smaller than I was hoping for! Add eight AA cells and you're on the air, for days! It doesn't get any better. Only problem was, I didn't know Morse code, zilch, nada; didn't have an amateur licence either. Whatever... I bought a Rock-Mite 20 kit... As soon as I heard those dits and dahs (still no idea what they meant), I ordered a K1 kit. I knew this was what I needed, and that there was nothing better for that purpose. I didn't choose Morse code because it was cool, only because it is simple, efficient and gets the job done without fuss or complex systems.

I am a latecomer to 80m, because of the antenna length... Ray kept telling me about how great the band was for survival radio... I should have listened earlier... 135ft of wire is manageable when strung horizontally. 80m is like having a regional telephone that is practically always on.

My best advice to anyone who hasn't tried Morse code: Buy a cheap CW kit. You'll only be out $50 or so, no big risk. Ask a friend to help you if you're not comfortable with a soldering iron. Get a wire end-fed, a slingshot and fishing line... Buy battery holders on Ebay for AA cells and 18650s, look for a straight key or paddles while you're at it. Download "Ham Morse" for iOS or "KMT Pro" for Android. Learn the code at 15wpm minimum. Then it's easy:

GET OUT OF THE SHACK! Go hiking :)

The efficiency of these radios is amazing. All those who use them know that not making contact is very rare. Morse code has always been used for message forwarding, it's nothing new and has always worked.

As we inch our way towards WWIII, there is nothing I would rather have as far as communication gear is concerned, along with an AM broadcast receiver. IMHO, after an SHTF event, only simple systems will stay on the air. Very few complex stations will remain. I am not saying none... Julian will probably still be broadcasting ;) Most others though, I doubt it. We would also all have much more important things to do than calling CQ hoping to find other survivors, like trying not to die... If we have to evacuate on foot, every ounce will matter. If someone is chasing you, that cart you're towing will get thrown to the side in a hurry... A backpack, you might be able to keep...

The best solution, of course, would be to have both, a base-camp style radio with maybe a computer or tablet, and a tiny CW bugout rig... But when you're running for your life, that's another story... The small CW rig is enough for me. I know it will work.

So I know it will be no challenge at all, but I do need to get out. This winter has been depressing. I think I am not quite over losing my last dream, sailing away into the sunset... A bit of sunshine helps a great deal. At last we are getting a little here now. It will be a great opportunity to soak it up and spend some time in nature. Finding a good spot might be the challenge, as camping in France is pretty much restricted to RV type parks only, except in some rare wilderness areas when you can pitch a tent (restricted in height!) between 19:00 and 7:00. The ex USSR didn't disappear, it just moved West a bit... Maybe I should look East for more freedom, LOL.




This discussion has the possibility of creating more LIGHT than heat.... This is good.

Perhaps not now, but discussing the prepper scenarios would be good. They can vary depending upon whether it's a camping trip or a total grid down, continental emergency. That being the case, I prefer Morse, for the reasons you've pointed-out: basically - Morse code is the last to die.

1. Power efficiency = TOTAL POWER CONSUMPTION for the entire system.

"I just talked to Gil using one Watt digital!"

Output         = 1 Watt
Radio weight = 2.5 pound (FT-817)

With power
supply           = 5 pounds (mine is heavier - it's a ToughBook)
Power           = 25 Watts

Spare batteries, chargeing system ...

This means that your system Size/Weight & Power is at least   26 Watts ( not one ) and at least 7 1/2 pounds.

When driving to a park and setting-up your CHARGED laptop and rig batteries, this is not a problem and a lot of fun. On the move, with little spare time for charging - it's tough.  I've done it. Having the transceiver, and computer ON and monitoring for calls eats a lot of precious battery power.

2. What is the purpose for communicating?  If it's as an 'emergency radio' i/e I am inured and need help, but not a grid down situation - use the cellphone.  If you are going to be out of cell range, do as Gil did; use a SPOT or other Personal Distress Beacon. However, there is no chit-chat with those.  You push the button and the orange helo appears overhead. [ Don't use this for ordering pizza. ;-)  Ont he other hand, if it's to send short messages, whether camping or GRID DOWN, then what is needed? plan and practice, based on needs and abilities.

2.1  Skeds/Roundtable Nets - I tell people: "If you're not talking to them now, you will probably not be talking with them THEN".  Friendships develop this way.

3. Expense - I know more than a few survivalist/preppers who have prepared so well for their families, that it caused a divorce and so they lost their families.  If you spend more time and money on preparing than on family life - you might sacrifice the main reason to be prepared.  Have a life worth surviving, and you'll get the family -vs- emergency preparedness ratio right.
3.1 QRP CW radios can be very inexpensive, compared to their tremendous capabilities. The 10 Watt uBITx CW/SSB transceiver is $109!

4. If it's a GRID DOWN emergency, most computer controlled, pan-adaptor wearing, HIGH POWERED hams will probably be off the air. ( No contests - Woo-Hoo!)  I regularly talk with CW stations on battery power, but the last SSB on battery power I talked with was using a uBITx at ten Watts ;-) Copy was 'weak readable', and would have been easy in Morse. (>13 dB system gain for CW compared to voice.)

5. General information gathering. A separate 'plastic' radio for listening to broadcasts and other monitoring.  A 'plastic radio' serves another purpose: it is great fo non-hams to tune around, listening and keeping their 'claws' off of the ham radio - haha  I have a reasonably effective, HF/MW/FM BC - (AM/FM modes only) radio that is smaller than a deck of cards and has a built-in clock/alarm clock (for skeds). Needless to say, it runs a very long time on 2x AA cells.  Few years ago, it cost about $29 and it's eas easy to operate as any radio can be.
5.1 The next 'plastic radio' up in capability is the CountyComm GP-5 SSB.  A true U/LSB receiver, with FM and AM . It's quite good for monitoring all broadcasts and even SSB/digital ham radio (computer not included ;-)  .  I have used the earphone, placed over the mic input on my laptop and/or cellphone to read PSK & etc.  Mine has MiMH rechargeables in it and is easily recharged (it runs a long time) via the USB port and USB voltage source of my choice.

So - I prefer small, highly portable, and very low power drain for my preparedness radios. I have the next level up - My KX2, but that adds more capability, with the cost of a bit more complexity, and the third level is the mini-camper van with solar panes on top, two deep cycle batteries and true sinewave inverter, incase I NEED to play video games - ha ha. There are plenty of steps in between, including the Pelican , solar rechargeable power station I have, but that's TRANSPORTABLE, not something I'd manpack.  A preppers' portable radio station should not be the size of an airport carry-on luggage, though I've seen worse - - -

73 de RadioRay  ..._  ._

"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Excellent points Ray. I think the future of portable digital will be tablets, then integrated systems... If only someone made a tablet with a built-in HF transceiver! I wish there were more programmers developing digital software for Android. You can get PSK, but not much else...

No doubt the new digital modes are very efficient. I just saw a guy on FB post an image of a series of WSPR spots with one milliwatt! With a few thousand-mile spots!

But of course, Morse is simpler and gets the job done in most cases  ;)



One milliWatt output ! This began by using modulation and Forward
Error Correction schemes, from hams who developed the methods to retrieve data from
deep space probes. Talk about QRP 


"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Yep. I wish there was a mode based on WSPR for SOS only (with a beacon test mode), which would send coordinates from a GPS chip. Success guaranteed!



Most (all?) of these WSPR/JT modes require precise time base, which is usually synchronized by  internet or GPS. As long as we have one or the other, it's viable. A canned massage is used in some of the modes, and can be replaced with a message of choice, but limited to (13?) characters.  That is why I did not pursue it: need for external time base for everyone participating.  In fast, there is significant privacy if you could coordinate to use a time offset from the normal start sequence of 00 seconds each minute. I know the arguement that 'You can set it by hand, using WWV" and yes, BT&DT, but it's not as easy as it sounds, considering the lag on a laptop in setting time... there is usually a slight delay and ALL the other station would have to do it as well.  Please understand that I am VERY impressed with anything that operates at -28dB compared to noise, but with proper band/time choice, does that matter?

An asynchronous version of even a dozen letters could have it's use, though dependent on having a computer of some type.

For me, the first question is " what is the goal?".  If' it's Worked All Outhouses on 630 meters, then these modes are fine. If it's the ability for conversation - it's difficult.  If a simple SOS and Lat.Long, they are fine as long as the Size Weight And Power can be accommodated.

"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Definitely, as they are, those modes are of little use for our purpose. The technology used though could be modified to allow chat, drop messaging and SOS emergency beacons, maybe. There are modes that do some of that... I still need to further investigate FSQ, but none were really engineered for survival radio.

The complexity problem remains... There just aren't enough tablet applications for radio. A laptop in my book is too much trouble and an extra failure node. It would be interesting if a Chinese manufacturer would combine an Android tablet and a 5W HF transceiver. The programmers would get to work then.

All that said of course, being able to reliably communicate with a simple $50 CW  radio is hard to beat, even with the new high performance modes. I'll investigate anything interesting, but if the SHTF, I know what I'll grab first...

BTW, the only other electronic device I might want aside from a radio is a solar pocket calculator...


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