Installed Back-Up Communications

Installed a VHF (2m) Ham radio and terminal node controller (TNC) in the van for those times a phone might not work in an emergency, and just for fun.

It gives me five things:

  1. Direct (simplex) communications using a relatively high power transmitter. This one has 80 watts available for transmit (a CB is limited to only 4 watts).

  2. Duplex communications through standalone repeaters and linked repeater systems. New Mexico, and much of the country, has an extensive linked repeater system which allows me to connect from anywhere in the state and much of the surrounding states with almost no “dead zones.”

  3. Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS). Installed a GPS and TNC to use the radio as an APRS transmitter. The way it works is: the GPS receives the coordinates, the TNC turns those coordinates into a digital audio packet and transmits it through the radio. Digital repeaters receive the packets and pass them on to gateway stations that put them on the internet. It leaves a track of where I’ve been and where I am. Automatic once it’s turned on. My location is displayed on a map on the internet;

  4. Email without an internet connection using the Winlink system. The way it works is I unplug the GPS from the TNC and plug in a laptop. As long as there’s a Winlink gateway station in range or in range of a digital repeater that’s in range of me, it works. Slow baud rate, so simple messages only without big attachments, but great for exchanging simple emails.

  5. The radio has all 10 National Weather Service frequencies programmed in, so the local weather forecast is at my fingertips wherever I am.

You have to have a ham radio license to do all this (anyone can listen to the weather forecasts), and none of it can be used for any kind of business, but it’s completely free once you have a license. Go the ARRL website for info on getting a license.

1 Like


Interesting setup… I never had much luck with HAM’s, other than just fun, but I also didn’t have anything as sophisticated as your setup.

My CB’s have found me pretty immediate help in the boonies many times though, while traveling, and in cities too. With “skip” I have both recieved and rendered help to/from locals that was relayed from far far away, so even in the most remote areas, CB’s can still be quite useful.


"Always avoid expensive solutions to cheap problems." ~ OffGrid

A CB is extremely limited compared to the capability of Ham radio. The radio in my van is on only one band of several, the VHF 2 meter band. With the simple addition of an HF radio (shortwave) I can have state-wide, country-wide, and international communications. Just have to know which band is open and at what times. There are ham radio weak signal digital modes now that are so good that they’re able to get messages through that the human ear can’t hear through the static. I’m old fashioned to a point though - I still enjoy chatting with other ham operators using the oldest radio communication mode; Morse Code. But that’s another subject.

Here’s my track over the past 24 hours using the APRS system. Spent the night in the Jemez Mountains north of Albuquerque.
MC Trips-17

Van Dweller, you said that you tried ham radio? What’s your FCC callsign?