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15 things you can do with (or to) your Yaesu FT-817

Initially met with a mix of incredulity and suspicion when it came out in 2000, the Yaesu FT-817 transceiver has become the company's longest-lived transceiver model. It has attracted a strong following amongst portable and QRP operators. While other transceiver models offer superior performance in some aspects, none matches the 'jack of all trades' capability of the FT-817.

There are two models. The early FT-817 and the later FT-817ND. There's not a lot of difference between them. However the ND model is preferred as some of the earlier '817s blew their final amplifiers. You can recognise an ND model by its choice of three (rather than two) screen lighting colours.

Assuming you've already got an FT-817 here's 15 things you can do with (or to) yours and what you'll need.

 

1. Try the sound card modes

Even when band conditions are tough on SSB or a major contest makes competition fierce, refuge can often be sought on the digital modes. PSK-31 is a good low power performer for keyboard contacts. WSPR has even better low power effectiveness and you'll be amazed at what you can decode (and who decodes you). Or if you wish to send pictures slow scan TV has mobile phone apps that you can use in conjunction with an FT-817.

There are a couple of precautions to observe when transmitting. Use the 1 or 2.5w power setting as digital modes are often 100% duty cycle. And don't overdrive it with audio coming in.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* A wire antenna, mast and antenna coupler and mast
* Some form of digital modes interface between your FT-817 and phone / computer. Build or buy, eg this one for Android phones
* Suitable computer or mobile device with appropriate software

 

2. Go on a mini-DXpedition and activate an island for IOTA

An FT-817 is just the thing to take to an island to do some QRP portable. From a quiet spot you'll be able to work stations (especially other QRPers) you can't hear from home. And if the island is a separate IOTA group to where you normally live you may attract the attention of IOTA chasers.

Look up islands near you and available ferry services. Aim to be self-sufficient, with an FT-817, antenna mast, wire, antenna coupler and battery. Something around 8000 mA/H should keep you on the air for hours, with a solar panel an optional extra to provide some top-up.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* A wire antenna, mast and antenna coupler and mast

 

3. Work hundreds of kilometres with VHF/UHF SSB

A surprising number of FT-817 owners use their rig on HF, and maybe VHF/UHF FM repeaters, but not on VHF/UHF SSB. Ingnore what some diehard VHF/UHF SSB operators say - the FT-817 a perfectly capable performer at these frequencies. Its five watts SSB can readily span hundreds of kilometres when communicating with well-equippped stations. The main thing you'll need is a horizontally polarised antenna, preferably a small beam. Height helps but is not imperative; below I'm just a few metres above sea level right near home.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* 2 to 4 element beam for 144 MHz and mast

 

4. HF milliwatting

Some reckon that the 5 watts an FT-817 puts out is low enough, but there are some game to try even lower. The FT-817 can go down to 500 milliwatts but even this is 'high power' under favourable conditions. To see how low you can go you need an RF attenuator. Try it and see what you can do with 20 milliwatts or less.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* RF attenuator built at home or from a kit.

 

5. HF pedestrian mobile

Portability is a great feature of the FT-817, but few enjoy it to its full advantage. A great way you can do this is to operate HF pedestrian mobile. Despite the FT-817's low power some great results are possible if you use the right antenna such as a well-built magnetic loop or vertical. The video shows working a contest on 40 and 20 metres with a lightweight 90cm loop.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* Shoulder bag to hold FT-817 and any external battery
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* HF pedestrian mobile antenna such as a a magnetic loop or vertical

 

6. Scan the bands during a power cut

When the power goes off don't just sit around at home waiting for it to return. Instead find a battery, fire up the FT-817 and savour the temporary pleasure of exploring the unusually quiet bands.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* Your home antenna

 

7. Exploit 10 and 6m summer sporadic E

Summer can turn often dead bands into active segments with massive signals. The cause is sporadic-E propagation, a phenomenon most noted in mid summer, and, to a lesser extent, mid-winter. Stations between about 600 and 2000km can become stronger than those 50km away when the propagation is in. If you're on air at the right time excellent contacts can be had even with five watts and portable antennas.

To make the most of the enhanced conditions put together a portable 'grab and go' station so you can be out pedestrian mobile at a moment's notice. This includes your FT-817, a battery suitable for at least 2 hours transmitting and a loop or vertical antenna. This needs to be good for either (or preferably both) 28 and 50 MHz. You'll find it a rewarding experience and those contacting you will probably enjoy the novelty of working a pedestrian mobile station >1000km away as much as you did working them.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* Shoulder bag to hold FT-817 and any external battery
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* 28 or 50 MHz pedestrian mobile antenna such as a a magnetic loop or vertical

 

8. Do some listening from a quiet portable site

Operating the amateur bands from a quiet spot is a treat but don't overlook the rest of the spectrum either. Make it a habit to tune the whole available MF and HF spectrum before you pack up your portable activity. It educates you about other spectrum users, teaches propagation and you'll probably hear some interesting communications that makes it worthwhile.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* 20 or more metres of thin insulated wire, antenna coupler and mast

 

9. Less stress on your FT-817's DC power connector

A simple modification to the FT-817's rear panel can reduce stress on its DC power connector. There is no drilling of holes and the addition can be removed, mark-free, if required.

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* Piece of chopping board material
* Basic hand tools

 

10. Better transmit audio from the FT-817

The FT-817's internal microphone is OK but not great. And if you're running low power you want the punchiest transmit audio possible. Here's a modification that's got consistently good reports from stations contacted.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* electret microphone insert, resistor, capacitor
* Basic hand tools

 

11. Improved frequency stability

The FT-817 is stable enough for casual HF operating but could be even more stable. Better stability is desirable if you operate frequency critical digital modes or 70cm SSB where variations become significant. Fitting a TCXO (temperature compensated crystal oscillator) can greatly improve stability. Both the Yaesu TCXO-9 and aftermarket versions are available. I can't comment on the genuine Yaesu one but even the cheaper version gives a good improvement to stability and is a worthwhile purchase for the small cost involved. Installation involves opening the FT-817 and substituting the new TCXO for the old crystal oscillator. ZL2BKC shows how easy it is with no soldering required.

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* A TXCO suitable for the FT-817. Eg genuine Yaesu TCXO-9 or after-market compatible TCXO
* Small Phillips head screwdriver to open the FT-817

 

12. Optimise AM performance with your FT-817

My FT-817 performed well enough on SSB and CW but reports on AM were mixed. AM is already a compromise compared to SSB but stations worked reported weaker than expected modulation. It turned out that the default setting (at least on my rig) was not ideal. Not that most users would notice since few would use it on AM mode, but you might as well have it right, especially since the settings can be done from the menus, with no internal adjustments required.

Bob K6XX identified the problem early and suggests a small changes to the carrier level setting. I made the adjustment as suggested and can confirm it did improve reports. Here I am working 7 MHz AM pedestrian mobile, including working another QRP portable station.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* Nothing else! Just a minute to make the adjustment.

 

13. Fit a narrow CW filter

Especially when the bands are crowded, operating CW with a standard FT-817 can be a trying experience. A CW filter can make a great improvement to reception. Filtering can either be done in the receiver's audio or intermediate frequency stages. Both work well but the latter is superior when there are a lot of strong signals near the receive frequency. CW filters for several bandwidths are available for the FT-817. Personally I prefer 500 Hz as I'm in Australia and the bands are fairly quiet. But those in more densely populated areas might got for a narrower (250 Hz) filter. Installation ie easy and requires no soldering.

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* A YAESU YF-122CN CW Extra Narrow 250Hz for FT-897D, FT-857D, FT-817ND
* Small Phillips head screwdriver to open the FT-817

 

14. Get a better battery

When I first bought my FT-817 I, like many others, also purchased the accessory internal battery. I could have saved my money. For its 600mA/h was insufficient for anything more than brief contacts. The '817 takes about 350mA on receive and 2A on transmit. Even if you were to just listen you'd get less than 2 hours charge. A higher capacity battery pack was clearly needed.

Battery technology has advanced since 2000. You can now get internal batteries with significantly more capacity than 600mA/h. Or, you can do what I prefer and use an external battery. That's bulkier but you get more flexibility with battery types. A good bag (discussed later) can help.

The FT-817 has a wide voltage range but you want to avoid a battery that gives around the extremes of this. Too low a voltage (eg 8 - 9 volts) will mean the FT-817 won't be able to put out its full 5 watts and doesn't give much 'headroom' when the battery voltage drops. Whereas too high a voltage (14 - 16 volts) is inefficient because of higher current consumption for no more transmitter output. Optimum is probably around 11 or 12 volts.

My portable operating sessions are typically 2 to 3 hours. Sometimes up to 4 or 5 hours if it's a field day contest. It's worth doing a power budget but generally you're looking at a 4 to 8 Ah battery capacity. I've had good results from sealed lead acid (cheap but heavy), NiMH and, more recently, LiFePO4 battery types. Note that the latter is quite critical with charging and if you leave it for a while its voltage can drop below its minimum. This can make it hard to bring it up to full voltage again.

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* battery and charger (large range available - ideas below)

 

15. Walk your neighbourhood loading up random objects

To be sure of being able to transmit from anywhere you take the lot - transceiver, battery antenna coupler, mast and wire. But it can be fun (and lighter) to just take the rig, battery and an antenna coupler. Then it's up to your ingenuity and good luck to find something that can be loaded up as an antenna and get contacts.

Not everyone has the coastal environment I'm in but fences, lamp poles and sculptures are all possibilities. Success is not guaranteed. But even if no contacts are made the excercise will let you see everyday metal objects and fixtures in a new light.

 

What you'll need

* FT-817 transceiver
* External battery pack or a higher capacity internal battery pack
* A good wide range L-match antenna coupler

 

Don't yet have an FT-817?

Read the reviews on eHam

 

Disclosure: I receive a small commission from items purchased through links on this site.
Items were chosen for likely usefulness and a satisfaction rating of 4/5 or better.

 

Further information

FT-817 Facebook group

The KA7OEI FT-817 Page

 

Books by VK3YE

 

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