MI UP Trip and Radio Recount

Background

My master’s advisor invited me to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a research assistant. His research site is in the Grand Sable Dunes, just outside of Grand Marais. For those who know the area, it is isolated. Michigan tends to be heavier with AT&T, so we didn’t have cell reception. There was another master’s graduate attending. The three of us had our amateur radio license.

Radio Choices

All three of us took different radios. The decision of what radio to take was unique to each of us. I had the largest selection of what radio to take. All repeaters in the area were FM only. They did have Echolink and IRLP, but the primary mode was FM. No YSF. No D-STAR. No DMR. My choices were the Yaesu FT3DR, the Kenwood TH-D74a, the Alinco DJ-G7T, the Anytone AT-D878UV Plus, and my wife’s Yaesu FT-70. I decided to go with the Yaesu FT3DR. I chose this because of the water resistance and familiarity incase I needed to program it. I wasn’t bringing my laptop, so programming any radio would need to be done on the front screen. I programmed in all the local repeaters, including those that were further away than we planned to go. It also has a Diamond SRH77CA high gain antenna. All of my radios have Diamond high gain antennas for the extra push. I like to have my tools sharp.

The other two brought two different radios. The next was a Yaesu FT-60, a solid pick. It is a dual band, single-VFO HT. Attached to it was a Diamond SRH701. This FT-60 suffered from antenna problems last trip, and the antenna broke. He put on a new antenna.

The third radio was chosen due to cost. Do I even need to say what it was? It was a Baofeng. It was ordered through Radioddity, so it shouldn’t have had any of the spurious emissions that were common with the Amazon versions. Either way, you get what you pay for with a $30 radio. This had a stock antenna.

The choice would play into the experience we each had.

The Yaesu FT3DR

This was the best performing radio of the three… obviously. It was also the most expensive of the three. We operated simplex with the Grand Marais repeater as backup. We didn’t want to tie up the repeater with our traffic since it would be short traffic. The typical traffic was letting the others know they had run the measuring tape to the points or simple traffic about the terrain. I used VFO A for simplex and VFO B for the repeater. I didn’t have any issues with either.

I don’t thrash my equipment, but I also don’t baby it. It was clipped to my CamelBak. When we took a break or ate lunch, I would set it down. I would cover the screen when walking through dense tree cover. This made me a little nervous. A hard hit to the screen would take the radio out. Another problem is the sand. Being a dune, there is sand everywhere. It gets in everything and infiltrates everything. Never take anything into the dunes you aren’t willing to get dusty/sandy. This was a concern, but the FT3DR has seals over all the covers. This meant that I couldn’t use an externa speaker mic as it would involve removing a seal and sand infiltration would be an issue.

We were in Michigan for two weeks, from Monday July 5 to Saturday July 17. On Thursday, July 15, the radio would suddenly power off and back on with an impact. I thought this was a battery issue. When I would impact the top of the battery, the radio would power cycle. It didn’t take much. Just a small tap. I removed the battery and cleaned the contacts on the battery and the radio. The terminals were still springing. I reinstalled the battery, and it worked. I took a second battery. It worked. The next day, it didn’t work well. It cleaned the terminals, and it worked well. Not sure why. This battery was also the first that came with the radio. I had it for over a year. It had been used and recharged nearly everyday since I purchased the radio. It might have just been fully cooked.

This was the only issue that I had the entire time. That being said, I was prepared enough and had all of the repeater frequencies programmed. I should have taken my Anytone. Although I don’t like the Anytone, it is probably the most robust of all my radios. I didn’t bring it, because I wasn’t bringing my laptop, and I don’t know how to program it from the front panel. If I would have had more experience with the Anytone, I would have taken it.

The Yaesu FT-60

Another guy took the FT-60 with a Diamond antenna. This is a solid pick. There isn’t much to say. This radio performed well. It is robust enough to handle the abuse of the dunes. When we hit some of the bowls, or low points, in the dunes, I was able to hear him. He was able to hear me and the Baofeng. It was just a solid performer.

I think this was probably the most solid. There wasn’t any worry about it’s performance. If only all of Yaesu’s radios were solid like this…

The Baofeng

This was the worst performance of every radio… obviously. It had a stock antenna, which didn’t help out the performance. The biggest issue with this radio was the receive. It struggled to receive my radio. It struggled to receive the FT-60. It was just a poor radio overall. On the last day, we had to split up more than just the 50 meter spacing to the plots. We rounded the corner and started walking down the road. We were maybe 70-80 meters away from him, and he failed to receive either of the other radios. This was flat ground with only trees between us, on VHF simplex. When in a bowl, he couldn’t hear us. I would be standing next to him and receive the FT-60 just fine. About 4 hours after we split up, he switched to his mobile radio in the truck, an FTM-3100R. We were around 700-800 meters into the dunes and in a bowl. I was receiving him at an S9+. He was receiving me at an S6-7. The FT-60 was similar. Much of this was probably the mobile antenna, but it shows the importance of having a good receive.

The reason this radio was brought along was the price. For $30, it is hard to beat, but you get what you pay for. Would I ever trust a Baofeng? No. It is a good SHTF radio? No. It is an alligator. All teeth, no ears.

The Perfect Radio

This is easy. The FT1XDR or the VX-8DR. Something digital. Something water resistant. Something dust resistance. Something with APRS. Something with dual VFOs. Something robust. This is where the FT1XDR or the VX-8DR would come in handy. Unfortunately, Yaesu discontinues all of their solid radios. I’m not saying the FT3DR isn’t solid, but one slip and the screen dies, therefore, the radio dies. There needs to be a no compromise HT. The ID-52 will fill this role, but it didn’t release in time. It also doesn’t do APRS, which I feel is an oversight by Icom. This seems to be the big flaw with Icom. The ID-52 has the advantage of USB charging, which is my personal favorite feature. It is limited since D-STAR isn’t everywhere, but YSF and DMR aren’t everywhere either but are more widely adopted than D-STAR.

This goes back to my article over common sense radio manufacturing. The FT in Yaesu’s model numbers stands for Field Transceiver. Would anyone really take the FTdx101MP into the field? I’m sure someone would. But it seems that the idea of a field transceiver has passed. It would be nice to have a great field transceiver. I keep calling on Yaesu to do it, because they call their radios field transceivers. Icom has stepped up. Kenwood is doing Kenwood things. Kenwood isn’t focused on making portable field transceivers.

Wrap Up

That was the trip. There are more details, but the focus here was on the experience with three different HTs in the dunes. I’m glad I had this experience as it reinforced the differences you get with each HT. Each of them serves a different purpose but were put in a situation in which they had to adapt.

Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, send me an email or leave a comment.

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