Emergency Antenna Suggestions

The rubber duckie antenna that comes with many handheld radios (HTs) are not going to give you the best performance.  They’re designed to be small and match the (usually small) radio.

As you’ll see below any of these antennas or mounts will work.  The question is, how WELL will they work.  As Lynn Burlingame (N7CFO) pointed out in his presentation at the March, 2012 meeting, everything in radio is a compromise.  The perfect antenna would be several feel long, permanently mounted with a great ground plane, rigid and would break off the first time you went under an overpass.  Everything listed below is a compromise but will give you different options in terms of flexibility, size, convenience, efficiency, etc.  I’ve listed a couple of “Upsides” and “Downsides” to each antenna below for comparison.

When shopping for antennas, the two brands that are most highly recommended are Comet and Diamond.

Comet SMA-24
I have this antenna on the radio most of the time.  It costs $20, is 17” long and extremely flexible (nice for when wearing it or going into and out of cars since it’s so flexible).  It’s a dual-band antenna so it improves performance on both 2m and 70cm bands.  You can get the antenna with two different connector types, BNC and SMA.  The radio has an SMA connector so if you buy this, make sure you get the SMA version.  Upside:  Way better performance than a rubber duckie and carry-around portable.  Downside:  Not as good as a magnet mount antenna since the ground plane is limited to the size of the antenna.

Comet HS05, HS10
If you’ve got an antenna on your car or house that ends with a PL259 connector (a relatively large connector, about an inch wide that usually plugs into the back of a mobile radio) you’ll need an adapter to connect it to your handheld.  Having a short length of thinner cable hooked up to the radio will reduce the physically stresses on the SMA connector on the radio and make it easier to pick up and operate the radio as well.  The HS05 ($13.95) has an 18 inch piece of thin, flexible coaxial cable along with the adapter and the HS10 ($16.95) has a 39 inch piece of thin, flexible coaxial cable.  Upside:  Connect your handheld to a larger antenna and get much better performance than you’d get out of a smaller, mobile antenna.  Downside:  None that I can think of. 

MFJ-310S ($20)
MFJ is considered a “discount” manufacturer but they do sell some really great stuff, including this nifty window mount.  I have one similar to this and am very happy with it.  You put this mount on the top of your car window, roll up the window to secure it in place and then attach a rubber duck (or the Comet SMA-24 listed above) to the mount.  This gets your antenna outside the car and provides a 10 foot thin, flexible coaxial cable to hook onto your radio.  Just getting the antenna outside your metal box will improve performance 4-6 times above what you get inside the car.  Upside:  It’s outside the metal cage so you’ll get better performance than using a rubber duckie inside the car.  Downside:  No ground plane means lower performance than a magnet mount antenna or antenna mounted with a physical connection to the car’s metal.

2 Way Electronix Dual band 2m 70cm Slim Jim Antenna ($21)
This is a “roll-up” J-Pole antenna for 2m and 70cm.  While this won’t do you any good in your car, it provides great performance when hung in a tree or from a push pin or nail in your home office.  I’ve made these before and have been very happy with them, but you can’t make it for as cheap as these guys sell it and the consensus is that the quality is great.  I recommend having one of these in your “go bag” to provide great antenna performance when camping or during a disaster.  This antenna has a PL259 connector on it so you’ll need an adapter like the HS05 or HS10 above to connect it to your handheld.  Upside:  Portable, stuff in a bag, better performance than a rubber duckie or small whip antenna mounted on the radio.  No ground plane necessary.  Downside:  Can’t use it when driving, performance not as good as a larger antenna with ground plane.  Not ideal for permanent home use.

Dual band rare earth magnetic mount antenna, w/ 9ft RG-174U coax & SMA connector ($17)
“Rare Earth” means they stick to metal like you’ve never seen before.  I have one of these that I stick on top of my car and run the coax through the window when I want to use my handheld in the car on trips around town.  You’ll get better performance than the window antenna mount listed above since the magnet bonds to the roof of the car to create a ground plane.  Sometimes I just hang this in the window of my home office and hook it up to the handheld to give me better performance in my house.  Upside:  Small, stuff in a bag, easily move between cars, can use it without a ground plane in the house but performance isn’t as good as a ground plane antenna.  You could stick it to the top of a metal object in your house to get a ground plane (cookie sheets with antennas stuck to them are common sights in the home offices of hams!)  Downside:  Smaller antenna means less gain, coaxial cable is a bit cluttered on the front seat so it’s not a great permanent mount solution.