What’s a Go Box?
The subject of go boxes is one that has many, varied opinions. I don’t think it would actually start a big argument, but like any other topic in ham radio, there are some strong viewpoints on the subject floating around. Sort of like the old AM vs SSB arguments of a few decades ago, or the newer, voice vs digital modes, that is popular today. And no, I’m not going to weigh in on either of those arguments because honestly, I don’t really care. I like what I like and the hobby is large enough for every viewpoint and area of enjoyment. I’m also not going to say that my perspectives on go boxes (or anything else in amateur radio for that matter) is or is not the best way to go about building one. I’m just going to show you my builds and hopefully give you a few ideas that might be useful in your version.
In this series I’m going to show you two go boxes that I’ve built and share my perspective on what went into each and why. Keep in mind these are my opinions and not gospel truth. The fact is, the definition of a great go box is one that:
- fits your needs
- works for your situation
- falls within your budget (or what the xyl will let you spend)
and that’s it. No magic formulas or heady theory on this one. Also, most versions of a go box that I’ve seen online or in person have one thing in common; if you don’t like something, or find that your goals and needs have changed, you can revise or alter it! That’s the beauty of DIY!
Also, in my first box, all the radios were purchased new along with all of the support items, except the box itself and the screen. In Go Box #2 (covered in Part 2) the radios were purchased at a swap meet, with a new components added to round it out. The point is that you don’t have to break the bank to build a good go box, and depending on your design, it can be expanded as needs and budget allow.
So what is a go box? Well, for me it’s a box that’s preset with the equipment needed to communicate in a specific set of environments or situations. That’s a broad enough definition for most anyone’s need and leaves a lot of room for experimentation and innovation. I currently have two and both have been through more than one iteration as I’ve used them and refined them based on in-use assessments and, in both cases, some mistakes made in their first versions.
I would also like to take a moment to differentiate go boxes from go kits. At least for me, a go kit is a collection of items, including a radio (possibly more than one), that is packed in a bag, sack, backpack, etc., that can be transported to a location, unpacked, assembled, plugged in, turned on, and operated. Though very similar in nature, the go box is ready to go and only has to be opened up, plugged in, turned on, and operated. Little or no assembly required. I’m probably splitting hairs, and it’s my opinion so no hate mail.
I hope the example below gives you ideas for planning your own setup. So, without further ado, lets get into Go Box #1.
Go Box #1
To the right is Go Box #1, or GB1 for short. It’s my EM or Emergency Management response kit. GB1’s purpose to provide most every standard communication method/band that I might need to monitor in a disaster response. It’s built into a 6 space, shallow depth, 19″ equipment rack, normally used for av equipment. It has removable front and back covers, however the front is also hinged on one side so that it can swing out while still remaining attached to the rack.
There are four radios in this kit and they are:
- Yaesu FT-891 (HF/6M) – Long distance communications with voice (SSB/AM) and digital modes
- Yaesu FTM-7250/DR (VHF/UHF/Fusion) – Short distance communications with voice (FM/Fusion) on local repeaters and simplex if required
- Leixen VV-898 (VHF/UHF/FRS/GMRS) – Just in case these modes are needed (see below)
- Uniden Pro505XL (CB) – Keep track of what’s happening on the roads and in neighborhoods
This lineup allows me to monitor or establish communications with just about anyone in the civilian world. To me, this is an important capability in a disaster scenario. Now before anyone gets on their soapbox about needing a license to operate on GMRS, and that the VV-898 radio has too much power and no fixed antenna for FRS, you are absolutely correct! However, their purpose is to listen, and if absolutely necessary, could be used as an available means to get a message through in an emergency.
Please understand that I will never encourage anyone to knowingly or intentionally violate the law or FCC regulations!
That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a capability, just in case. I would rather have a capability and never use it, than not have it and need it in a crisis.
So, aside from the radios, what else is in the case? Well here is the rest of the equipment and usage in this application:
- ATU-100 Automatic Antenna Tuner – used with the FT-891 and provides the capability to tune from 1.8 to 50Mhz and up to 100watts. Yes, I know it won’t tune 6M (as I reluctantly found out one evening on a local 6M net) but other than that it works great. I may replace this in a future change up if I find on that will fit the space.
- Raspberry Pi 4B/2G in an Argon One V2 case – this is the literal brain of GB1 and allows remote control of the FT-891 for digital mode work and most any computer related need. It runs KM4ACK’s (Jason) Build-a-Pi software suite of ham radio applications. You can find his Youtube videos here.
- SUPERNIGHT DC 12V 30A 360W Universal Regulated Switching Power Supply – Power for the rack.
- Chunzehui F-1006 Low Loss Power Gate PWRpath Module – allows seamless switching between the internal power supply and an external battery plugged into the large 50Amp Anderson Plug in the lower left corner of the back of the rack. It will also charge the battery while on the power supply.
- Chunzehui F-1005 9 Port 40A Power Splitter/Distributor, 1 Input and 8 Fused Outputs – distributes power from the Power Gate module to all of the equipment in the rack.
- The switch panel has switches to control the RPi, Screen, USB Charger, 12V Socket, and blue LED strip light for night work.
- Various cables, adapters, switches, etc., to connect everything and make it all work.
Oh, but wait, I almost forgot about the screen! Well this baby was one of my first DIY ham projects, from several years ago, as part of a previous attempt at a go box. The go box itself failed, but the screen was a success. In essence, it’s just a laptop screen from an old HP laptop I had that died, but still had a good screen. I’ll not go into detail here on how to make it when another DIYer (DIY Perks) on Youtube can explain it much better than I (Also, he has pictures, and I didn’t take any cause I never thought I would be doing this blogging thing). So check out his video here.
Well that’s GB1 in a nutshell. I hope this has been informative and gives you ideas for your own go box. If you have a question or comment please leave them in the comment block below. Please stay tuned for part two where I’ll describe GB2. This one is a little more unique and took some major noodling to get right. Also, I will include a detailed parts list for GB1 and GB2 in the next installment. So until next time, 73’s!
WA4OPE – The DIY Ham