Radio Chest Pack harness VHF/UHF voice & data

Molle PALS Radio chest pack harness for your dual-band VHF/UHF HT and tablet computer.

Hello Operators. I’ve been thinking about man-portable data communications Go kit for VHF/UHF for quite some time. In fact, there has been an awful amount of messages coming through, asking for my take on a portable VHF/UHF option that was anything but Baofeng. Well, I have found something, and their radios have a great reputation! Let’s check it out.

The Survival & Preparedness communities (generally speaking) hate spending money on quality communication gear. Moreover, there are no shortages of videos telling them they don’t have to. This is why the cheap Baofeng radios became so popular. Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to push the ubiquitous UV5R, knowing it was a crap radio. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a starter radio, though I would not bet my life on it.

What I wanted was a hand held radio to couple with my Microsoft Surface for local data communications. An analog VHF/UHF rig which was portable, rugged, and able to charge without a cradle. I didn’t want a bunch of adapters or cables to break to enable easy charging, and it had to be waterproof.

I stumbled upon the Retevis RA89. The RA89 is an IP68 waterproof analog dual-band radio. It has charging over a USB-C port, and a 2500mah battery. It does not require the docking port for charging, YES!

Rugged radios

Water resistance in a dual-band hand held radio can be critical. Those of you who’ve ever spilled a drink on your radio, or dropped it into water understand! It can mean the difference between a quick shaking off, or replacing a potentially expensive radio entirely. While waterproofing used to be a feature found only on Green, rubber-sealed rugged radios designed for the military, we are seeing more of them at reasonable prices. Ingress Protection (IP) ratings are widely-used to rate a devices water and dust resistance. An IP rating gives us a quick snapshot of the protective qualities expected from the radio.

What Does the IP68 Rating Mean?

The Retevis RA89 IP68 ratings is the very top of the IP rating scale. Both the first digit and second digits are at the top level:

The 6 indicates a total protection against solid (dust, sand, …) ingress.
The 8 indicates a total protection against water ingress, up to and including complete submersion below one meter for more than 30 minutes. Retevis says this radio will handle 1.5 meters for 30 minutes.

Retevis RA89 Main features

The RA89 is their top analog FM radio. Its dual-band VHF/UHF radio we’ll use for voice and/or data communications. Here are the features I believe are most important, in order of importance.

  • IP68 ingress protection
  • Direct USB-C Charging
  • 2500mah Li-ion battery
  • 10 watts output power
  • Dual-band 136-174MHz and 400-480MHz

My chosen features

The IP rating should be a no-brainer. We need rugged, dustproof, waterproof radios to actually survive the disaster.

Not needing the charging cradle for charging means the radio truly becomes portable. The UV5R is more of a Shopping Mall security guard radio (expanded for ham radio), than a field portable radio designed for off-grid field communications. The RA89 has a built-in USB-C charging with or without the cradle. This feature makes it more portable and more practical. The USB-C charging also means we can use the same Anker power banks we use for our Microsoft Surface, for our Retevis RA89. I wish the Icom IC-705 had this innovative feature!

2500mah battery means longer operating times between charges. Simple and practical!

10 watts output power is important when using this radio as a fixed station repeater or gateway. It is also important when using this rig with a hand held yagi antenna for directed communications. Just keep in mind the 10 watts through a rubber ducky antenna isn’t practical. You’ll need a higher gain antenna capable of handling the higher power, to truly make use of the additional output power.

About Retevis

As this is my first Retevis radio, I didn’t have much experience with the company. This is what others are saying about them:

Retevis, a well-known Two-way Radio Brand , and second only to Motorola and perhaps Hytera. Retevis is committed to the production and development of digital radio, analog radio, and walkie-talkie accessories. Retevis is a leading developer of digital radio equipment for the Amateur radio community (HAM).

What I’ve seen so far is an eager aggressiveness to push their dual-band rigs out to the community. I thought about working with Retevis some years ago on a DMR project, but it didn’t work out at that time. Their HD1 DMR rig is impressive to say the least. I’m hoping to work on a DMR survival radio concept during the winter months, so lets see.


Retevis RA79

Retevis RA89

Europe

Retevis Germany on Amazon 

RA89 : https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0CCNNGL91 (1 Pcs) (20% off)
RA89: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0CCNQ7G2Q (2 Pcs) (20% off)
RA79: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0CD3DMG56 (1 Pcs) (15% off)
RA79: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0CD3F7WVZ (2 Pcs) (20% off)


Data modes with the RA89

For data modes were are going to use a Digirig. There is no CAT control, so we’ll just use the audio and PTT side of the Digirig. The RA89 uses the standard Kenwood style Microphone and PTT interface like the Baofeng and TH Kenwoods.

Not sure if we’ll loose any water ingress protection using the Digirig cable on the speaker microphone port. Normally we would see a special molded cable which screws into the rigs speaker mic port. One which offers the same level of ingress protection. I’ll try to find an o-ring or something else to keep water out of those ports.

The USB-C port from the Digirig attaches to the Microsoft Surface USB-C port using a male-male USB-C PD cable.

Microsoft Surface Go 3 LTE

The computer for this go kit is the Microsoft Surface Go 3 LTE. You are free to use whatever tablet or laptop you like. I chose this because of the wide availability of data mode compatible applications for Winlink with Vara FM, APRS, Robust Packet, VARAC with Vara FM, … on Windows.

Naturally, if I were using standard APRS on VHF, packet Winlink on VHF, or APRSDroid running on an Android phone or tablet would be my preference.

Please do take a look at my pages and videos regarding the Microsoft Surface, and why I use it.
Microsoft Surface Go 2,3,…

Like the Icom IC-705 I normally use on VHF/UHF, the Retevis RA89 handles Winlink connections on VHF using VaraFM. The RA89 & Microsoft Surface combination reduce my load-out quite a bit. Of course this comes at the expense of HF capabilities. We could look at it differently though. Having a dual-band VHF/UHF rig in addition to our HF radio, allows us to communicate with voice and data simultaneously on HF data or voice and operating data on VHF or UHF. It’s all about perspective.


Bastian Custom Chest pack

The Microsoft Surface, Retevis RA89 and Digirig all need a bag to ride in. I also need to carry things like cables, power supply, simple fire kit, notebook, knife, and anything else which might be required in a regional outing. This chest pack go kit is independant of my INCH pack. I opted for a hand-made chest pack from Latvia made and sold by Bastian gear on ETSY. This chest pack is a customization for the Microsoft Surface. His standard model was not large enough to accommodate the Surface, so I asked him if he could do a custom one for the channel. He did!

Bastian (Boris) hasn’t added the custom pack to his ETSY shop yet, so just send him a message on ETSY asking him about the OH8STN chest pack for the Microsoft Surface. The quality is magnificent, the attention to detail is incredible, and his customer service is unbelievably awesome. If/when he adds the custom OH8STN pack, I’ll update the links.

Bastian Chest Pack measurements

Why a VHF/UHF data kit?

Sometimes our focus is on local communications. Some of us might think tactical comms but it doesn’t have to be. Truth is, there are far more Operators with a focus on VHF/UHF than HF. I still believe wholeheartedly in HF, but these higher band operators have reached out for help. Since VHF/UHF local data communications is also on my radar, why not!?

There are a variety of modes useful on VHF & UHF for local comms. This is true as long as we have the “middle-man” stations providing local and regional services, or we have the ability to reach those stations we’d like to communicate with, directly.

From a preparedness perspective, there are not a heck of a lot of Operators doing data modes on a local or regional level. This is a good thing from an OPSEC perspective. The bad actors need to find your signal, decode your signal, and act on the intelligence gathered while it is still valuable. Good luck with that 😉

Contents of my Data Modes Chest pack

  • Retevis RA89
  • Microsoft Surface Go
  • Garmin Foretrex
  • Digirig & cables
  • Boruit Mini LED flashlight
  • Fire kit
  • Write in the rain notepad

Of course the chest pack data go kit is work in progress. Things will be added, and others removed until it’s “perfect”. If you have some suggestions, leave them in the comments.

More about data on VHF/UHF

Data communications allow us to send near real-time messages from one station to a large group of deployed stations in one “click”. The information is shown on our screens allowing the Operator to read, reply or forward that data on to other stations. The idea that our dual-band hand held rigs should only be used for voice communications is short-sided. Take advantage of the added bandwidth! Take advantage of the additional throughput! Take your groups communications to a much higher level of competency with man-portable data of VHF and UHF.

It certainly is possible to utilize digital radios for text messaging to a large group. There are benefits to these built-in messaging features, but also downsides. One reason digital radios also feature analog modes is the ability to augment their built-in digital messaging, with analog voice and data. This creates a best of both worlds scenario, with few if any downsides.

Local communications

Please remember our dual-band hand held radios are designed for local communications. By local, we literally mean not more than 1-2 clicks station-to-station. This can be extended by repeaters and gateways, but not if the infrastructure isn’t there. If you’re trying to achieve a more distant level of regional communications, it may be wise to consider HF NVIS instead of VHF/UHF comms.

Incoming for the Retevis RA series

You already know we’ll be using the RA89 as a data radio in the chest pack go kit. I also have an Retevis RA79 which will be installed on the winlink gateway for VaraFM Winlink connections.

The 10-watts of output power connected to a dual-band VHF/UHF tower mounted vertical will make good use of the higher output power. In fact, during testing, the RA89 was able to make connections to the RA79 Winlink gateway from 15km (9 miles) out.

The RA79 utilizes USB-C power directly from my EcoFlow River 2 Max. The EcoFlow also provides power to the tiny netbook running the Winlink gateway & hybrid network software.

Links for Europe & North America

Retevis Ailunce HD1 DMR Ham Radio

Retevis RA79 Dual Band Ham Radio

Retevis RA89 Dual Band Ham Radio with IP68 Waterproof

That’s about it Operators. Let me know what you think in the comments here, or wherever you’re reading this post.

73
Julian oh8stn

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4 Comments

  1. Hey Julian, thanks for this interesting introduction.I wonder why you put so much emphasis on the IP rating of the radio, when both the digiRig and the Surface are not waterproof at all. I know, IP rated tablets are expensive and hard to get, but what about at least water-proofing the digiRig? Should be easy enough with some epoxy, right?

    • Hi Phil.
      I don’t disagree. The digirig would hopefully live inside the waterproof zippers of the pack. Though some potting compound on the pcb of the digirig might make better sense.
      I believe the IP rating for radios is universally important. Just hoping shining some light on the topic drives the discussion forward.
      Excellent points.
      73
      Julian oh8stn

  2. Hi Julian, thanks for this idea…just a question, the Garmin is utilised as gps unit stand alone or providing gps data to the radio during APRS tracking?

    • Hi Marco.
      At the moment I am using the gps from the surface itself. The garmin basically acts as a track logger and compass. That would be a good topic to write about. Thanks for the question

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