Originally Posted by denverd0n
Check out hamfests in your area. You can often try out a radio before buying it. I got a great little HF transciever for less than $300 several years ago. It is an Alinco DX70, which is an older and little-known model, but it works just fine for both talking and e-mailing via HF.
Search for postings by btrayfors about "alternative backstay antennas". You don't have to have an expensive auto-tuner, if you are willing to limit yourself to a couple of bands, or are willing to make up several different (easy to make) antennas for the bands you want to use.
Denverd0n brings up a couple of very good points, i.e.,:
1) you don't HAVE to spend a lot of money
for a radio; and
2) you don't HAVE to spend a lot of money
for a tuner if you limit operation.
Here, in very brief form, are your choices -- organized by cost.
1. Get on the air for $100.
Find an older ham rig, say an Atlas 210X or 215X, for around $100. Limit your operation to the 20-meter ham band. Build yourself a vertical dipole out of THHN insulated wire from Home Depot. RESULT: with this setup you can talk many thousands of miles...easily work into Europe and beyond from the U.S.
2. Upgrade your radio to either ham or marine
for under $500. LOTS of good used radios out there, including very good marine SSBs. Result: You're still limited to 20-meter operation, though, until you upgrade your antenna.
3. Upgrade to all-band operation.
Effective all-band operation will require a tuner, preferably an automatic tuner. A manual tuner can be used, but not effectively unless you add an UN-UN (small box..less than $100) near the base of the antenna. You'd still be limited to manual tuning, though. No way around it, an automatic tuner is the way to go.
Antenna choices are many. Effective ones include the traditional insulated backstay, an "alternate backstay", a 23' or longer marine SSB whip, or other wire antenna (e.g., insulated shroud
, triatic stay on a yawl or ketch
, etc.). All of these require a tuner.
With all unbalanced antennas (and most all end-fed antennas are unbalanced), you will require a good RF ground system as well. No external RF ground is required for a dipole antenna, which is a balanced antenna system.
There are a couple of multi-band antennas which don't require a tuner. Among these are: the Hustler mobile whip antenna with resonators for each desired band of operation; a motorized or manual center-loaded "screwdriver" antenna; and a base-loaded Outback whip antenna. Problem is all of these are very inefficient antennas; they'll work somewhat, but nowhere near as well as a longer antenna, particularly on the low bands 3-10 mHz.
Some HF antenna choices on a boat may be found here:
Result: an SSB installation for all marine and ham band operation.
All-band operation could add several hundred dollars to your costs, possibly over $1,000 depending on how you do it.
Can you build an effective all-band ham/marine installation for under $1,000 all-told?
Yes, you can. How?
1. a used marine or ham radio and suitable automatic tuner ($500-700);
2. an "alternate backstay" antenna made of 1/8" s/s insulated lifeline ($75) with a GTO-15 feedline ($15); and
3. a RF ground system -- homemade or the KISS -- ($50-150).
keep the 20-meter vertical dipole antenna around; it's a killer antenna for DX!
Here are some construction details for dipoles and "alternate backstay" antennas. Click twice on each pic for full resolution.