Tag Archives: Yaesu FT-818

Two of the toughest QRP transceivers on the market

The Yaesu FT-817/818 (left) and lab599 Discovery TX-500 (right)

A reader asked this morning:

“[W]hat’s the toughest HF QRP transceiver on the market? I want a rig with good field performance and features, but I what I really want is something rugged…something that might survive falling off a rock or log while I’m doing a little SOTA.”

It was a no-brainer to me: either the lab599 Discovery TX-500 or Yaesu FT-818/817.

I feel lucky in that I’ve acquired a number of excellent QRP transceivers over the years. Most of my field-worthy radios are acceptably rugged, but the TX-500 and the FT-818/817 really stand out.

The Discovery TX-500

The Discovery TX-500 was designed from the ground up to be a rugged, weather-resistant portable radio that could operate in challenging environments (think the extremes of Russia where it’s manufactured).

If I’m heading outdoors and it could rain or snow? I’ll be grabbing the TX-500 for sure. It’s a brilliant portable radio

Yaesu FT-818 or FT-817

My Yaesu FT-817ND paired with the Elecraft T1 ATU

While the Yaesu FT-818/817 has no serious weather-proofing, it does have an incredible study chassis like the TX-500 and was obviously designed for outdoor use. Both of my FT-817NDs have side rails and with those in place, I really feel like it would easily survive falling off a rock or log. In addition, I’ve heard stories of the FT-817 surviving some hard falls–that goes a long way for me. No doubt, it’s a study little rig!

The X5105: A close runner up?

I’ll admit that the Xiegu X5105 feels like a very study radio as well. The chassis is made of an aluminum alloy and feels rigid. Mine has a polycarbonate screen protector.  I also like the fact that its buttons and the main encoder are all low-profile. It’s still pretty new to me, but it’s obvious Xiegu designed the X5105 to be rugged. If it fell off a rock during a SOTA activation, I wouldn’t worry too much.

Admittedly, I feel like the X5105 wouldn’t be terribly weather-resistant–the buttons are somewhat recessed and the button openings are quite large, likely allowing water intrusion. Of course, I haven’t cracked mine open yet (it’s still under warranty and is sealed), so I’m assuming there’s no effort to stop water intrusion internally.

Do you need a “rugged” transceiver?

That’s up to you.

One of my favorite portable transceivers is the Elecraft KX2. I’ve taken it everywhere. I’ve dropped it, it’s rolled off my clipboard, I’ve got caught in the rain with it, and I’ve even slid and fallen on my backpack when it was stored inside. I wouldn’t classify the KX2 as a “rugged” transceiver, yet it’s survived all of this without even sporting side rails (like its bigger brother, the KX3).

You can add after-market side rails to the Elecraft KX3–and to most field radios–which will protect the encoder and front panel buttons/knobs.

At the end of the day, if you like to operate in extreme conditions, put ruggedness at the top of your priority list. Otherwise, simply protect your transceiver in transport with a good waterproof case or padded/waterproof pack. If you’re worried about rain or water, bring a rain jacket or portable fly/canopy to protect you and your rig during operation.

Did I miss something?

What radios do you consider to be some of the most rugged on the market? I’m certain I’m overlooking some. First hand experience would be most welcome! Please comment!

Phillip discovers the TPA-817 B pack frame

Many thanks to Phillip (VE3OMI) who writes:

Hello Thomas,

[…]I came upon this interesting mount setup for the Yaesu FT-818 via Armando – KP4YO. I saw his setup on his QRZ page and was intrigued, as the rig seems to be able to stand up on its back side even with a pretty large whip installed.

(via KP4YO on QRZ.com)

Seems the gist of it is to bring all of the rear mounts and connections to the front.

Quite interesting and certainly looks “beefy”!

Product description from Armoloq:

The TPA pack frame provides a modular platform for configuring your Yaesu FT-817 and FT-818 into a quickly deployable base, mobile, field or mil style man pack configuration.

The concept was to design an effective, small form factor frame that when installed, would allow relocation of all rear inputs, minus power and ACC connection, to the front of the radio, provide standoff at the rear of the radio for permanent cable attachment, and also provide protection when used in the field.

The relocation platforms provide a sturdy mounting point for attaching commercial or mil type VHF/UHF whip antennas. All accessory mounts are interchangeable and can be oriented to suit your operating situation.

The TPA pack frame is a 2 piece frame that is secured to the radio via 8, side chassis mounts. The frame is CNC laser cut from 5052 aluminum and powder coated with a matte black finish. The TPA provides protection to the radio body and control head with a wrap around design while allowing access to the top oriented MODE and BAND buttons, as well as the battery compartment.

Click here for full details and photos.

Thank you for sharing this, Phillip! I’ve never seen this pack frame/cage before and I’m not even sure how I’d use it for the type of field work I do, but I’m willing to bet that it’s the perfect solution for those wanting an uber-rugged cage for Emcomm and/or as a manpack. I love products like this that transform gear into military-grade kit!

Anyone out there use the TPA-817 B? Please comment!

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.

Upgrading my Yaesu FT-817 with G7UHN’s rev2 Buddy board

This article was originally published on the  SWLing Post.
Last August, SWLing Post contributor, Andy (G7UHN), shared his homebrew project with us: a genius companion control display for the venerable Yaesu FT-817 general coverage QRP transceiver.

Andy’s article caused me (yes, I blame him) to wax nostalgic about the popular FT-817 transceiver. You see, I owned one of the first production models of the FT-817 in 2001 when I lived in the UK.

At the time, there was nothing like it on the market: a very portable and efficient HF, VHF, UHF, multi-mode general coverage QRP transceiver…all for $670 US.

In 2001? Yeah, Yaesu knocked it out of the ballpark!

In fact, they knocked it out of the ballpark so hard, the radio is still in production two decades later and in demand under the model FT-818.

I sold my FT-817 in 2008 to raise funds for the purchase of an Elecraft KX1, if memory serves. My reasoning? The one thing I disliked about my FT-817 was its tiny front-facing display. When combined with the embedded menus and lack of controls, it could get frustrating at home and in the field.

I mentioned in a previous post that I purchased a used FT-817ND from my buddy, Don, in October, 2020. I do blame Andy for this purchase. Indeed, I hereby declare him an FT-817 enabler!

FT-817 Buddy board

When I told Andy about my ‘817ND purchase, he asked if I’d like to help him test the FT-817 Buddy board versions. How could I refuse?

Andy sent me a prototype of his Version 2 Buddy board which arrived in late November. I had to source out a few bits (an Arduino board, Nokia display, and multi-conductor CAT cable). Andy kindly pre-populated all of the SMD components so I only needed to solder the Arduino board and configure/solder the cable. I did take a lot of care preparing and soldering the cable, making sure there was no unintentional short between the voltage and ground conductors.

Overall, I found the construction and programming pretty straight-forward. It helped that Andy did a remote session with me during the programming process (thanks, OM!). Andy is doing an amazing job with the documentation.

I do love how the board makes it easier to read the frequency and have direct access to important functions without digging through embedded menus. While there’s nothing stopping you from changing the program to suit you, Andy’s done a brilliant job with this since he’s an experienced FT-817 user.

The Nokia display is very well backlit, high contrast, and easy very to read.

“Resistance is futile”

I mentioned on Twitter that, with the backlight on, the FT-817 Buddy makes my ‘817ND look like it was recently assimilated by The Borg.

Don’t tell any Star Trek captains, but I’m good with that.

Andy has a rev3 board in the works and it sports something that will be a game-changer for me in the field: K1EL’s keyer chip!

For more information about the FT-817 Buddy, check out Andy’s website.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated here as well. Many thanks to Andy for taking this project to the next level. No doubt a lot of FT-817 users will benefit from this brilliant project!