Powering your radio - emerg plans?

Discussion in 'Communications' started by N8EPE, Nov 8, 2008.

  1. N8EPE

    N8EPE Member

    I'm curious about your alternate or emergency methods for keeping your radios functioning during a power & phone outage of a few weeks or so. Obviously, if you have generator back up for the home, you're pretty much set. How about those without generators?

    The power and current required for our radios vary as widely as the radios themselves. Whether it's ham radios (HF, VHF, UHF), CB's, FRS, cell phones, handheld, fixed (base), mobile rigs, etc. They could require anything from a few AA's to a bank of SLA batteries for a power source.

    If it's a handheld HT unit, do you just have the factory rechargeable pack and wall wart, or do you have a AA pack for it too? If so, do you have the ability to recharge the AA's? Does it have the ability to use an external power source, like a power cord for use with the cigarette lighter in your car?

    For mobile radios that use a 12V power source, like CB's, ham VHF & UHF mobiles, what's your plan? Are you going to leave them in the vehicle and run from the house to the car, or do you have some way to run the radio in the house, with no grid power, and a way to keep your indoor power source charged, without grid power?

    Cell phones have their particular power needs too. Mine is good for a few days, with light usage. I'm not a heavy cell user though. Have a power cord for the car? Some of the emergency hand crank receivers have the ability to charge cell phones too, they claim. Anyone actually tried that? How'd it work?

    If the grid, phones, internet go down for a few weeks, we might be leaning on our radios a little more than normal. Can your power source keep up? Maybe the usage will actually go down, because we'll be too busy keeping the fireplace fed, and doing other chores to get by, who knows.

    I guess this is a two purpose question. One, maybe it'll get some folks thinking about it, if they don't have an alternate power plan for their radios. Two, there's some innovative, resourceful users on this board that might have some ideas that work and the rest of us can learn from.

    What radios are you using, and how are you going to keep using them when the battery fades?

  2. jaytee

    jaytee New Member

    I have a couple of car batteries and a 12V-115V AC inverter. This allows me to power or to charge just about anything I need for comms. I have CB, VHF, UHF, GMRS, and other radios, and all of them can be charged or powered by my car batteries.

    How do I charge the car batteries? Well I can use my diesel pickup's alternators, and that can run on diesel, kerosene, heating oil, whatever. I have done this before and it works great.

    My favorite method is the solar panel. I have a small solar panel designed for maintenance charging of car batteries, like if you park your car for long periods of time, you put it in the windshield to keep the battery warm. Well, that bad boy will put enough of a charge in my lead acid car batteries to run just about anything I need, even if only for short periods of time.

  3. ke4sky

    ke4sky ke4sky

    Battery Power for Communications

    Portable hand-held transceivers are not adequate for emergency communications. If your portable signal is so weak that it cannot be copied easily, it takes additional air time and battery consumption by others to provide relays, repeats or fills. Having only a portable generally limits you to nearby repeaters or simplex within a few miles.

    Licensed amateur and GMRS operators should buy full-power (50watt) mobile radios and install them both at home and in their vehicles. A mobile radio has about ten times the RF output of a hand held and provides much more reliable emergency performance. If you want a portable radio for the BOB, buy a simple, rugged sturdy portable. It is useful as a backup, loaner and for use on solo foot assignments, such as damage assessment and neighborhood patrol.

    Any amateur or GMRS portable you get should be capable of operation from three power sources, its original rechargeable battery pack, a AA battery case, and an external DC source, such as your auto cigarette lighter port , or external gel cell battery.

    In our experience CERT and RACES operators for county-wide nets in a suburban area need 25 watts of transmitter output and to elevate their a 3dB gain antenna 25 ft. or more above ground elevation. If limited to a portable radio use external battery power to maintain 5 watts into an elevated antenna with at least unity gain, such as a ½ wave J-pole pulled up into a tree.

    It is basic to emergency operation that you must maintain sufficient battery or other auxiliary power to operate your station for at least 72 hours. One amp-hour of battery capacity per watt of transmitter output power is needed for each 12-hour operational period. For a 5 watt portable transceiver an NP17-12FR AGM battery with a 5w solar panel for recharging fits this requirement. These are commonly used in fire alarm panels and emergency lighting, they weight about 10 pounds and fit in a brief-case or backpack.

    To power an FM mobile radio or HF-SSB for three days of monitoring with only occasional talking when necessary, you should plan on not less than a BCI Group 27 deep cycle marine battery and 20w of solar panels for recharging.

    Powering your mobile LMR or ham radio from the car battery works OK for only a few hours. It is wasteful of scarce gasoline in a real emergency to run the engine for 10 minutes out of every hour to keep the battery charged, when there may not be electricity to run the pumps!

    A best technical solution is to equip your bugout vehicle with dual batteries and an isolator obtained from a boating or RV supplier so that both batteries are charged by the vehicle alternator, but isolated when discharging. If your BOV is not driven regularly, connect solar panels equal to 2% of battery capacity to maintain the battery banks against self-discharge when the vehicle is sitting idle. If solar panels connected don't exceed 2% of battery capacity, they self-regulate and no charge controller is needed.

    A low-cost option is to connect an automatic, low amperage AC battery maintainer to your vehicle, which will maintain it as long as the AC mains remain up. I use the Schumacher Electric Mod. SE-1-12S on my vehicles.

    Flooded batteries are cheap and plentiful, but must be boxed, stored upright and lose half of their capacity below freezing. Delco-Voyager or GNB-Stowaway sealed-flooded, deep-cycle/RV batteries with recombinant caps give acceptable service at low cost. In Group 27 size they are about $99 with a trade-in at Wal-Mart or K-Mart. Better, for severe service, high vibration, extreme temperature environments are valve regulated AGM batteries as used in public safety vehicles. A BCI Group 27 Concorde Lifeline weighs 65 lbs. and costs $199. It has aircraft-type cell construction and is UPS shippable from West Marine, (1-800-BOATING).
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2008
  4. JeepHammer

    JeepHammer Well-Known Member

    Actually, in a full scale blowout, like a serious hurricane (like Andrew) there weren't many tall towers left alive...
    So most of us got on the portable radios every 4 to 6 hours and listened to the emergency bulletins,...
    You only had to have the radio on for 10 or 15 minutes because the new information was always broadcast at the top of the hour.

    Where the red cross was going to be (Useless bunch),
    OR where the Salvation Army was going to be and what times (really helped out! Stuff wasn't new, but when you have nothing, clean and used basic utensils are great!)

    Where you could get water, ice, fuel, ect. and when the trucks would be there, where to get medical treatment,
    Who had opened up a shelter, ect.

    For cross communication, we used marine radios or CB's.
    Neighbors were the only ones you could count on since the roads and waterways were so choked with garbage you had to clean your own way out to the highway or channel, then clean out your section of the highway or channel to get through!
    (or maybe more than your share!)

    Didn't do much good to try and get help from someone in Miami since it was going to take them 6 days to get to us!

    Powering radios was easy, all you need to do is connect a few automotive batteries to a car and start it up a few minutes, and it will charge up all the batteries connected in series.

    If you want to get 'Extravagant'...
    Find an old lawnmower motor that still runs, and build a frame to hold it up high enough to mount a Delco car alternator under it, and you have a charger that is portable and fuel efficient, and will put out more than enough current at the correct voltage to run any DC powered radio...

    A simple DC to AC inverter makes the AC powered radios usable in a flash.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2008
  5. N8EPE

    N8EPE Member

    Thanks jaytee, that's the info I was looking for. How many watts will your inverter provide, and do you find it adequate for most of your needs? Or, if you had to replace it, would you get basically the same size, or get one that will handle a bigger load, next time?

    An inverter is something on my list of goodies I'd like to get, in the future. On any given day, there's 4 cars sitting in the driveway / garage here, (5 in the summer, when my youngest daughter is home from school) so, I look at those as potential 'generators' that could provide all the DC power I'd need, to charge the batteries my present radios require. Having an inverter too, would just make the 'fleet' a little more versatile, by providing a little A/C power as well.

    That being said, I really think having the ability to charge my various batteries, via solar power is the goal I'd like to work towards. I'm not there yet. I have a 10,000 mah NiMh pack (12 D size NiMh cells, 14.4 volts) that I use for my portable HF station. The key word there is portable. That battery will easily power my HF rig for a few days of conservative use. I'm talking about personal use, not being a 24 / 7 emergency communication center for a coordinated service agency.

    The whole station will fit in a 12 x 6 x 10 plastic ammo 'style' box (antenna included) and I can close the lid and go, if need be. It will put out 20 watts max, SSB or CW. That's not 'communication center' power, but what I felt was a good balance of output power, battery requirements, and being portable.

    A little off topic history:

    I didn't have a recommended list of criteria to work with when I became interested in portable operating, as a ham radio op, years ago. I learned what fit my style and budget, and what I wanted to carry (a VERY important consideration), over the last 25 yrs or so.

    My first 'portable' station was an old tube boat anchor, and portable meant how much extension cord you had available. I ended up about 150 feet from the cabin, at a picnic table in the trees, and that was portable to me, at the time. I quickly learned that the future of portable operation meant I had to take the leap to solid state gear. 12 volts is the answer! Well, not 'entirely'.....

    My next station was a popular 100 watt, DC powered radio. I used a 85 ah deep cycle battery for portable operation and quickly discovered that having the battery increased my operating radius from the cabin by a whopping 100 feet or so, over the extension cord. That was as far as I could carry that pig (not a typo.. 'big' could apply, but 'pig' is more accurate) of a battery, which weighed about 70 lbs.

    Over the years I've learned a bit of balance as to what works for me, as far as my personal radio use, off the grid. I have an A/C or D/C charger for the HF radio battery. The D/C charger is what is known as a 'field charger' in the radio controlled airplane hobby. It uses 12 volts as it's source and will charge a pretty wide array of different cells and packs. I can charge 4 AA cells, for the 2 meter HT, or the 12 D cell pack for the HF rig, and just about any battery pack size in between, and do it from a single 12 volt source, such as a vehicle battery. My 'solar goal' is to be able to keep the single 12 volt source charged, and be able to run the field charger as needed for charging whatever smaller cells or packs I may need to throw at it. Please remember I'm just talking about radio batteries, not lighting, or appliances or anything else at this time. That stuff is for the other good threads and topics for those applications.

    I'm starting out small, with my solar. I have a 5W fold up panel, that my daughter gave me as a xmas present a few years ago. I think it'll do a max of about 300 ma at 14 or so volts. Not too bad as a light battery maintainer. I've also started collecting individual solar cells. Now don't laugh at my source, but I've collected about 20 individual cells from those solar powered yard and garden lights that lots of people have. It started with my brother in law that was tossing a dozen that had gotten dim after a couple of years. I told him it was just the batteries in the lights that had gone bad, but he didn't want to deal with changing the batteries, so he was just replacing the lights entirely. I took 'em and took the solar cells out, mounted them on a little 8 x 12 piece of luan and hooked them up in series and made my own little 'dashboard charger'. It puts out about 180 ma at 14 or so volts, in decent sun. Almost 3 watts...lol. I noticed the neighbors were re-doing their yard and flower garden and they were tossing their dozen 'dim' yard lights.. so I have another batch of solar cells... Rome (or a 15 watt panel) wasn't built in a day!

  6. kc5fm

    kc5fm Emergency Manager

    Cell Power

    My handheld unit can be used to crossband repeat to the car. It has its own cigarette lighter plug charger. To replace the NiCad packs, I use a clamshell AA battery holder.

    For cell, I have backup of my cell. I can charge off the wall or off the car. After that, I have a little gizmo that plugs into the phone. It has two AAA batteries. THAT kept my phone on during the ice storm of a year ago now.

    In addition to that, I have a hand-crank battery charger for the phone. Never used it past the test. It worked.

    Hope that helps.

  7. Fn/Form

    Fn/Form Function over Form

    IMO, solar is king for extended outages (months or longer in duration). Solar can be relatively costly to set up in any serious wattage; I'm speaking of panels, charge controller/inverter and battery plant. Unless you're in a very open area, your peak solar hours may be further reduced by shadows or stationary panels.

    Short-term outages are served well by generators, although generally very inefficient for the amount of fuel expended. Also, gas rots if stored very long, and the new methanol-blend fuels rot faster than non-blend. A big problem, too, if there is a gas shortage.

    Propane stores almost indefinitely without any maintenance, and efficiency is very close to that of gasoline. There's at least one company that mods Yamaha generators for bi-fuel use (Yamaha factory approval/warranty for the mod--gasoline, propane, some also natural gas). Inverter-type generators also feature a 12VDC output for charging batteries.

    Using a vehicle engine/alternator is very inefficient. It's better than nothing, tho, and fine for short term. Powering an inverter above a few hundred watts will entail direct tap of battery terminals. Most personal vehicle alternators are relatively small and unsuited for continuous high-current inverter operation. Also, most vehicle batteries are not designed for inverter type operation, but they'll work fine for short term.
  8. N8EPE

    N8EPE Member

    You brought up a very good point, Lloyd. My HT is almost 20 yrs old. The two battery packs I originally had for it faded many years ago. It's a real oddball shaped pack. To be honest, it would have cost more than the radio is worth, to send the packs out to be rebuilt. When I was deciding which accessories I wanted to get, when I originally ordered the radio, I almost passed on the 'shell' that allowed use of 4 AA's. At the last minute, I thought..'might come in handy some day' so I got it. I am so glad I did, now. I'd urge anyone considering an HT purchase, to add the AA alkaline pack to their shopping list. It could really come in handy.

    I wasn't aware of a similar external device for a cell phone, I'll have to do a search and see what I can find. Thanks for the tip.

    Fn/Form, thanks for the info on the generator fuel & inverters, too. I wonder if anyone has a propane conversion for the old Coleman generators with the Tecumseh engine? I've got an old 4000 watt Coleman that I took in trade for an old 750 Honda restoration project that never seemed to get off the ground. The Coleman runs good, although it sure makes a racket, and takes up less space in the garage than the Honda project. I'm too old for hotrod motor-sickles now, anyway.
  9. Fn/Form

    Fn/Form Function over Form

    N8EPE, here's a link to the propane generator company I mentioned. They do sell retro kits for gas engines.

    Generator Conversion Kits to Propane and Natural Gas.

    For anyone considering AA batts for long-term use, look at the Sanyo Eneloop. They lose only a very small amount of charge over a LONG period of storage time. Always ready. Some kits are available with C and D size ADAPTERS in which you put the AA Eneloops. Versatile... you never know what device you may come across/need in an emergency situation.
  10. chocotaco

    chocotaco Guest

    Is it possible to make a radio u stick into the side of a tree to power it? Like how u power a light with a lemon or whatever.
  11. N8EPE

    N8EPE Member

    Thanks for the generator conversion link, Fn/Form. Good info.

    That's a good one to put in the link archive, if it's not already there.

  12. kc5fm

    kc5fm Emergency Manager

    Battery backup for Cell phone

    At Cell Phone Shop, there is an item that uses four AAA batteries and plugs into the charger port of the cell phone.

    It's what kept my phone alive overnight during a winter-storm-instigated power outage.

    I found mine for a $1 at one of those Everything's a Dollar store.

    There's also a solar powered battery charger for cell phones.

    A Google Search for "cell phone charger" crank produced the Sidewinder crank charger.

    I have no relationship with either company. I have bought items from Cell Phone Shop.
  13. dksac2

    dksac2 Member

    There is a great deal on a solar system from Harbor Freight Tools - Quality Tools at the Lowest Prices. It has 3 15 watt panels with a stand to hold them, a charge controller that has a built in voltage meter and outputs for 3,6,9 and 12 volts. It also comes with an adapter cord that will plug into most battery operated radios etc. It also has 2 12 volt 60 watt lights with cords. Couple this to a couple of 12 volt deep cycle batteries and a power inverter and it will provide basic power needs. This is not a large system, so powering high wattage things will quickly discharge the batteries faster than the panels can charge them. It will provide for basic needs. All solar panels burn in after a period of time and loose some capacity. The Harbor Freight system will loose up to 10% of their charging capacity over time. The systems costs $200.00. I bought two of them. Some people say they are cheap and not as reliable as the higher cost panels. I didn't have the money to buy the higher priced panels, so I'm hoping these will hold up for me. I've hooked up and tested mine and they work fine.I read on another thread about a guy who has used the system for a while and it performed pretty good for him. A couple people said they had problems with the charge controllers over time. I bought a 7 amp controller for $20.00 as a back up in case the controllers that came with the system go bad. One 7 amp controller will handle all 6 panels if need be. If things don't go south to quickly, I plan on buying one quality 80 watt panel to add to my system.

  14. OFG

    OFG Active Member

  15. Yukon Mike

    Yukon Mike New Member

    I have the same system for emergency power. I bought it as a test bed just to see how easy or what kind of problems Solar PV may have that no one talks about. Its been going for 2 1/2 years without a single problem. There is enough power to run some lights and my SW Radio for several hours a night. Best way to go..