POTA Field Report: Activating Lake James State Park (K-2739) with the Yaesu FT-817ND

One question that often faces newcomers to the hobby is: “Should I buy a QRP or a 100W transceiver as my first rig?

That is a very deep topic, actually, and one to explore in a future post. A 100 watt transceiver will certainly give you more options as they can often pump out 100W or be turned down to 1 watt. If you’re a phone operator only, that’s got some serious appeal. Then again, if you’re operating POTA or SOTA where you are the DX, power–while still important–is much less so than, say, if you were at home trying to work DX.

Again, a deep topic for another post because there is no right or wrong answer.

One of our readers (Phillip) reached out to me a couple weeks ago and asked if the Yaesu FT-818 would make for a good first HF rig. He liked the portability factor, the build quality, the HF/VHF/UHF multi-mode coverage, and the overall flexibility of the rig as a field radio. His goal was to do POTA activations.

We had quite a few emails back and forth about the pros and cons and I decided it might make more sense to simply take my Yaesu FT-817ND (which is nearly identical to the FT-818) to the field and activate a park in both SSB and CW. Since I knew he wouldn’t necessarily have an external antenna tuner from day one, I paired the FT-817 with my resonant 40/20/10 meter end-fed antenna.

Lake James State Park (K-2739)

On January 17, 2021, I pulled into my favorite part of Lake James State park and quickly set up my station. I only had about one hour to complete my activation, so knew this would be a very brief excursion. Since I actually had a minimal amount of gear, it was a quick setup.

Gear:

Since I deployed a resonant antenna, there was no tuning or matching involved which not only makes the most of your 5 watts (in that it’s more efficient), but also saves a bit of time in set up and tuning up.

You might note in the video below that my FT-817 has an accessory board attached to the top: G7UHN’s 817 Buddy Board prototype.

I’m testing this prototype at the moment, but didn’t need to employ it at Lake James since it’s really useful when the rig is on your lap or on on the ground. It essentially gives you top-mounted controls and a larger display to read front panel information from above–incredibly useful for SOTA and proper in-the-field activations. Andy’s v3 board will include a memory keyer–I can’t wait for that one!

Since I had Internet access at this park, I used my Microsoft Surface Go logging tablet to spot myself to the POTA network. I started calling CQ on 40 meters phone (SSB) and within six minutes logged eight stations. Not bad for 5 watts and a wire!

Next, I moved to CW on 40 meters and started calling CQ POTA. The POTA spots page auto-spotted me via the Reverse Beacon Network in short order. In eight minutes, I worked six more stations.

I then moved to twenty meters which was essentially dead, so I called it quits a bit early. I needed to pack up and head to my next destination.

Here’s a QSOMap of this short activation (red polylines are SSB and green CW):

I also made one of my real-time real-life no edit videos during this activation if you’re interested:

Truth is, each time I use the FT-817, I love it more. Sure it’s only 5 watts, has no ATU, has a small display, a clicky T/R relay, and questionable ergonomics, but it is a keeper for sure. Even after 20 years of being in production, it still holds its own and is an incredibly popular radio for good reason.

As I told Phillip, the 817/818 is the Toyota Corolla of the QRP radio world.

3 thoughts on “POTA Field Report: Activating Lake James State Park (K-2739) with the Yaesu FT-817ND”

  1. When people mention a first radio sometimes the underlying context is related to price more than anything being that this hobby can tend to be expensive to get into, especially HF. Other times a first radio can be related to your current skill set or just general practicality. With that being said I know someone that their first radio was an IC-7610. After all, more expensive is the way to go right? Not really

    Being that this blog is mainly focused on QRP and portable operation I have to believe that Phillip is focused on something similar to what Thomas is using.

    After owning an FT-817ND and an FT-891 both for portable use it’s my opinion that the 817/818 series is the Swiss Army Knife of portable radios…2m/70cm +HF in a fairly rugged package. The display is a little small and the menus are a little cumbersome but you have to take the bad with the good when it comes to that radio which is mostly good.

    I eventually bought an FT-891 mainly for the larger display also to find that the menus were just a little easier to navigate. The thing that drove me nuts with the 891 is that you had to quickly change bands before the display would go back to its normal state. It was nice being able to use 100w with the 891 and also dial the power down to 5w for QRP work. The current draw at 5w on the 891 is higher than the FT-817ND but not enough to worry about it compared to maybe an IC-7300 or IC-7100.

    If you get hooked on HF operation like most of us and you think you’re only going to have one radio for a while you probably need to weigh how much you are going to use 2m & 70cm to figure out which of those two radios (817 or 891) is the best fit for you. If you have an HT then I would lean towards the FT-891 so that you can work low and high power with one radio. The filtering on the FT-891 I feel is way better than the FT-81x series and a little better than the IC-7300 and IC-705.

    Either of the two Yaesu radios are great performers and that’s coming from someone that now mainly uses an IC-705 for portable ops. Being a 7300 & 9700 owner using the IC-705 is a seamless transition for me. You’ll have to figure out what works for you.

  2. Thomas:
    I see you frequently use the CW Morse Pocket Paddle. When I visited their website they have two versions, with and without magnets. Which version do you use, and do you have any comments on it?
    TNX, KZ4TN

    1. I love the CW Morse paddles. The ones I use in the field are called their “Pocket” paddles. You might actually ask them which model that is because it’s one of their newest (I believe). I also have the paddles with a base and love them. I’ve been using them at home almost exclusively as of late. I also have a Begali Simplex hooked up to the IC-756 Pro permanently.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

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