Hand Held Radios
First off, I own several and would not be without them. My problem with hand held radios is that they are designed for a purpose, and many people use them for other things. Hand held radios have low power, crappy antennas, and are generally ineffective when it comes to communications at other than close range. The upside is that many of them are inexpensive which makes them the first radio choice for new hams. The problems start when people use them for long range communication.
This is understandable because they can hear the repeater, but do not understand that the repeater cannot hear them unless they are well situated. An analogy would be that you can hear your neighbor’s stereo when he has it turned up, so you make the assumption that he can hear your iPod when you are listening to it on earphones!
Another issue is batteries. Batteries are outrageously expensive and have a limited life span. The more power you use, the quicker you deplete a battery. If you are into EmComm, you need to consider that it takes several hours to recharge a battery, so your spare battery (you DO have a spare battery, don’t you?) may be dead before the first battery is recharged. To make things worse, some radios are poorly designed and the battery must be connected to the radio for charging - this takes you off the air until the battery is re-charged. All of this is assuming that you have the means to charge the battery. Don’t forget, communications emergencies are often caused by power outages.
Another issue is using your hand held inside a vehicle. The vehicle (even the glass) is a RF cage and greatly limits your range.
All is not lost, and all it takes is training and money to solve these problems!
· Always keep the location of the repeater or your simplex contact in mind and make sure that you have a clear path. Moving just a few feet can make an enormous difference.
· Altitude is everything! Use the “Statue of Liberty” pose (radio held over your head and talking into a speaker microphone) if you are having trouble making a contact. Go to high ground, and make sure that your body is not between the radio and the repeater.
· Get the radio off your hip! Your body makes a dandy attenuator.
· Keep the antenna vertical! Polarity is important.
Money. This is a slippery slope, and you can easily spend more money on accessories for your hand held than you would for a mobile radio. Here are some items to consider.
Power inverter so you can use your AC charger in your car
DC power cord to allow you to power the radio with the car electrical system. Some DC cords also charge the batteries.
AA battery pack. They are surprisingly expensive for what you get, but are very handy.
Speaker microphone so you don’t garrote yourself with the DC power cord by trying to talk into the built in microphone.
Gain antenna. Anything is better than what comes with the radio.
Amplifier. You can mount an amp in your vehicle and connect it to your hand held. Unfortunately, dual band amps cost about what a mobile radio costs.
External antenna. Magnetic mount antennas are great, but are guaranteed to damage the vehicle finish. Any external antenna is better than a rubber duck antenna inside the vehicle. Mounts are expensive and most require that you drill holes in your vehicle.
Portable antenna. There are some good ones out there, and they are not all that expensive. Roll up J-Poles, a 1/4 wave ground plane or a small Yagi can make a world of difference. A mag mount 5/8 wave whip can be effectively used as a portable antenna if you can find a good ground plane.
So, what is the solution? I suggest that you consider a hand held radio with a gain antenna, an AA battery pack, a brick of spare AA batteries and possibly a vehicle power cable. The next step is to spend some money and buy a dual band mobile radio with a good antenna. This will meet all of your needs and you will be able to communicate effectively.