Author Topic: Marine FM and NOAA Weather Radio for less than $30  (Read 396 times)

Offline Bilgemaster

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Marine FM and NOAA Weather Radio for less than $30
« on: December 18, 2016, 12:04:23 AM »
Well, Darbydale Avenue's an ice sheet.  There'll be no happy tinkering in the boatyard today, so it must be time for another installment of Bilgemaster's Tips for Useful Cheapo Chinese Crap.  Today I'd like to introduce you to a little handheld programmable Chinese FM radio called the Baofeng UV5R. They may sometimes be called "UV5RA" or "UV5RA+" or "UV5R V+ Bongodongo" or whatever, but they are all basically pretty much the same radio.  As you can see here, you can buy them online for 20-something bucks all day long, more often than not with free shipping...under $20 if you snipe the right auction.  If you can, try to get a "UV5RA+" model.  Not that they are better or worse than any other, but the chance of its firmware or programming being completely compatible to the channels file I am offering will be just that much greater.  They come in a variety of colors: black, blue, yellow, red, gold and even camouflage. Yellow's nice and visible in the dark or buried in a storage bin.  With just a little patience and finesse, you can turn one of these into a nice little handheld Marine Radio with all the NOAA Weather Channels, and also pick up regular broadcast FM stations to boot, and there will be no soldering irons, multi-meters, super-hadron particle accelerators or other tool use required, so just calm down there Fred and Barney.
But first a quick disclaimer: As this is an international forum, the adaptation or use of these radios as I am about to describe may be legal, semi-legal, highly illegal, or get you sent to a labor camp, depending on where you are. I will not be responsible if you wake up to find yourself naked in some bamboo tiger cage blowing up Happy Fun Balls® under the brutal direction of Evil Major Kwan (See my forthcoming feature story, "Escape from the Ball Pit of Hell" in the next issue of Real Man Adventure magazine).  Also, the marine and NOAA Weather Service frequencies described are those in use here in the Land of the Plastic Spork, so if you're cruising some moonlit lake near Ulaan Bator, your mileage may vary.  With all that understood, let us proceed...

Ham and amateur radio guys really dig on these little transceivers for their low price and programmability, and even have a fairly active Yahoogroups forum concerning them.  Be forewarned though, after our informative, genteel and ultra-supportive forums, that Baofeng UV-5R Yahoogroup might strike you like you've wandered into some Tourette's Syndrome Support Group.  Ironically, it seems that ham radio folks--devoted to the technology and practice of reaching out and communicating with others--turn out to be some of the nastiest and most outright abusive gits on the Internet...particularly to noobs in their midst. Go figure. I mean, I sort of get it: they are encountered near daily by what must seem to them as stupefyingly elementary questions from sub-moronic dumbasses, but those guys go right to Defcon 1.  Just make sure to don those flame-retardant underoos if you choose to walk in their midst, is all I'm saying.  With that said, unlike most ham operators, who'll routinely program and reprogram these little radios many many times to meet changing circumstances, we're just going to pretty much set and forget a roster of fixed frequencies and channels.  In fact, if all goes well, I will have already done the hard part for you, namely assigning the right frequencies to the right channels and putting them all into a nice easy single downloadable file that you can upload right into your radio.  So, let us proceed...

Obviously, you will need a Baofeng UV5R radio.  Again, try to find a "UV5RA+" model, if you can. Amazon always has several vendors offering them, but eBay's probably your least expensive source.  While you're there, you will also need a special little USB-to-dual prong programming cable to connect it to your computer.  Oddly enough, though the radios ship with a nice charger stand, AC adapter, battery and earphones, they do not come with a programming cable.  You see, in theory you can program the thing right from its faceplate buttons, but in practice, a little freebie program for your computer called CHIRP is just WAY better for what we're doing.  Don't worry about the little software mini-CD that comes with some cables. You won't be using it. Instead, download and install a free open source copy of CHIRP from http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home to suit whichever type of computer you'll be using (they offer Windows, Apple and Linux flavors).  Tossing them a buck or two via PayPal through their website's "Donate" button at the top of the Downloads page would be good form.

OK, assuming you've got everything you need, or its on its way, you might do well to get yourself a decent manual for the Baofeng UV5R just to familiarize yourself with it.  You'll find several choices over at http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/UV5R-Manuals.html.  The original one, a copy of which also comes with the radio from China, ain't the worst I've ever seen of the Sino-Gibberish tech manual translation genre, but then you probably won't love it long time, either. "The (Chinese) Radio Documentation Project" manual available here is far better.  The same folks who host these manuals have lots of other info on this breed of radio and related "hammy" topics at http://www.miklor.com/uv5r/.  But for our "Making a Cheapo Marine Radio" purposes, we just need to do the following:

  • Assemble and fully charge radio as per its instructions
  • Start up the CHIRP program
  • Connect programming cable to computer's USB port and its dual-pin plugs into dual headphone jacks of radio
  • Save a backup of the radio's factory-preset settings/channels (just in case).  To do this in CHIRP, from its upper menu choose "Radio" then "Download from radio". A little window should then pop up asking for Port, Vendor and Model.  First, for Vendor choose "Baofeng", then for Model choose "UV-5R".  The Port is the only slightly tricky part, since it depends on what USB port you plugged the programming cable into. Port choices like COM1 through COM6 may appear in its little window, though usually only those ports in use by any device will be shown. You'll just have to repeat this and the couple of mini-steps that follow until you identify the right COM port to your radio.  When it finally works you'll know.  Click that <OK> button. A scary-looking advisory about some "experimental driver" may appear, asking if you wish to proceed. Fear not and click <Yes>. Next a window of instructions will appear.  Make sure all instructions are met and click <OK>.  If a message stating "An error has occurred" appears. it just means you chose the wrong COM port, so repeat with a different choice (and remember it...You'll need it later for the upload)
  • Like I said above, once you choose the right COM port you'll know.  You can now download and save the radio's channel and other settings as a single file to your hard drive.  A new folder named "BaofengRadioSetups" might be a good place to squirrel this backup file away, so go ahead and do that. For example, you could call it <OriginalSettings.img>. It's just insurance in case things don't work out as easily as we'd hope.
  • Now go online to http://www.amphicar.net/Baofeng/ and download the file listed there named <BaofengMarineRadioSettings.img>, perhaps saving it into that "BaofengRadioSetups" folder you created.
  • Now it's time to upload that <BaofengMarineRadioSettings.img> to the radio using the CHIRP program. So, in its top menu choose "File" then "Open" and navigate to wherever you put the file (possibly that "BaofengRadioSetups" folder?) and double-click it. CHIRP's screen should fill up with lots of rows and columns of numbers and other stuff.  These are the channel and frequency settings. You're welcome.
  • Now in the CHIRP upper menu choose "Radio" and "Upload to radio".  Remember that COM Port number?  Good. Proceed similarly to the earlier download of the radio's original settings. If all is well, a little progress bar should tell the tale as it "clones" the new settings to the radio.  When it's done you should have a fully-functional if perhaps semi-legal handheld marine radio with all the transceiver channels (send and receive), the NOAA Weather Radio channels (receive only), and if you just want the ball scores, just press the little "Call" button once on the upper lefthand side and it'll receive regular FM broadcast stations.
If it doesn't work--if there is some problem uploading that <BaofengMarineRadioSettings.img> settings file directly to the radio or some other error, obviously you might want to give the above routine a second and even third try right from the top. After all, the likeliest problem is that you've just chosen the wrong COM setting, or the cable's not pressed firmly enough home.  Though, if you have some other model than the "UV5RA+" it just might just be that your radio has a different enough firmware installed to have caused an issue.  Not to despair though. It's an easy fix: You'll just need to open CHIRP and copy and paste the settings in the lines and columns of my <BaofengMarineRadioSettings.img> file's tables over those of your original backup, then renaming and saving the resultant file of course, and then just try uploading that file to the radio.

At the risk of becoming everyone's technical support bitch, if it's all just too baffling you can PM me, and we can take it from there (or perhaps your true deepest fears may be realized as I merely point and laugh derisively at your distress, cruelly mocking your lack of manly technical prowess as unfitting for the pages of Real Man Adventure magazine). In a real pinch, I guess you could just mail me the radio.  But happy thoughts: Everything probably will work out just fine.  I've modded two of these Baofeng UV5RA+ radios from different vendors, and they both work just great.  They're real handy for monitoring Channel 16 or getting a quick weather report in the cockpit, and I don't need to dive into the cabin, where my boat's main fixed Standard Horizon marine radio is installed.  They might also be handy for dingy-to-boat or dock-to-boat communications.  In any event, a backup marine radio's always a fine thing to have handy.  Sure, my hunch is these Baofengs are not really all that waterproof, and I don't think they'll float, but for only $20 or so a pop, who cares?  Live a little.

« Last Edit: December 18, 2016, 12:29:50 AM by Bilgemaster »

Offline kahp ho

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Re: Marine FM and NOAA Weather Radio for less than $30
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2016, 12:18:14 PM »
Nice write up. I have a UV-5R sitting around that I bought for a toy at the price they are selling for. Thanks for the file.
'07 Legacy "Amphibian"

Offline BruceW

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Re: Marine FM and NOAA Weather Radio for less than $30
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2016, 06:23:18 AM »
Well, I woke up early today, and thought I'd read about that radio. Wow, very lucid step by step instructions. Funny, too.

As it is the solstice, I will keep waiting until sunrise. But, now I'll have a cuppa, and see if I think I should have one of these radios!
Bruce Woods
Raleigh: WR 17
New Bern: CP 23

Offline Bilgemaster

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Re: Marine FM and NOAA Weather Radio for less than $30
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2017, 10:41:24 AM »
Just as a quick followup on the issue of using handheld marine radios ashore, say between the boat and shore, which, until recently had been a "legally problematic" practice that might have encouraged law-abiding folks to program in a couple-few additional MURS channels, like those used by little 1/2 or single watt type license-free walkie-talkie sets, such as those made by Cobra and others, the recent April 2017 issue of "Sail" magazine has the following item in its "Ask Sail" section on page 68:

==============================================================================================

VHF PORTABLES ON LAND

Q. Our dockmaster tells us that portable marine VHF radios are now permitted for use on land. Does this mean I can use my hand-held on the ski slopes, or talk from the office with boats for weather reports?  Don Hull, New York, NY

GORDON WEST REPLIES
Yes and no. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its August 2016 Report and Order amended the rule 80.115 (a)(1)-(4) to allow portable VHF radios to be used on shore "adjacent to a waterway" to talk with your own ship about ship's business. With this in mind, for pleasure craft you would use non-commercial channels and keep transmissions to a minimum practical time. However, this rule change does NOT allow ski slope operation. Nor does it allow you to gab with any and all ship stations--just shore to your own ship station, like calling from the dock for the kids to pick you up, or calling your ship from the shore-side marine hardware store to see if there are any other parts you need to bring back aboard.  The FCC also makes it clear that this should not be interpreted as a free-for-all on using marine hand-helds ashore between each other. Again, the only permitted shore-to-ship calls will be to your "associated ship station," and not anyone or everyone to just "yak, yak, yak." DSC calling on channel 70 is also permitted to minimize channel 16 traffic.

================================================================================================

Those yearning to wade through the actual published regulatory amendments in the Federal Register may don their snorkels and water wingies, and dive in right here.  They read as follows:

9. Section 80.115 is amended by revising paragraphs (a)(1) through (4)
to read as follows:

Sec.  80.115  Operational conditions for use of associated ship units.

    (a) * * *
    (1) It must only be operated on the safety and calling frequency
156.800 MHz or 156.525 MHz or on commercial or noncommercial VHF
intership frequencies appropriate to the class of ship station with
which it is associated.
    (2) Except for safety purposes, it must only be used to communicate
with the ship station with which it is associated or with associated
ship units of the same ship station. Such associated ship units may be
used from shore only adjacent to the waterway (such as on a dock or
beach) where the ship is located. Communications from shore must relate
to the operational and business needs of the ship including the
transmission of safety information, and must be limited to the minimum
practicable transmission time.
    (3) It must be equipped to transmit on the frequency 156.800 MHz or
156.525 MHz and at least one appropriate intership frequency.
    (4) Calling must occur on the frequency 156.800 MHz or 156.525 MHz
unless calling and working on an intership frequency has been
prearranged.
* * * * *


So, it seems it'll be OK after all to radio the boat in order to inquire with the Admiral concerning the critically important ship's business of whether she wants that slaw on her crabcake roll or as a side...Maintenance of proper morale being critical to the efficient operation of the craft and all.  Of course, when in doubt, just get it on the side.  You can always plop it on easier than scraping it off.  And don't you even think of coming back without that chocolate that you've thoughtfully jammed into that bulk ice reefer outside the marina shop to keep it from getting all melty on the way to the boat.  Just make sure not to grab that other guy's little bait bag of flies and worms instead by mistake.  The Admiral is unlikely to be amused by this.

As far as how all this affects Baofengs or their setup, it simply means that if your primary intended use for the unit like mine is as a cheapo marine transceiver and NOAA weather radio that also gets broadcast FM stations, and you just want to do a little ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship chatter, then you need not really bother about programming in additional MURS channels, like those used by little walkie-talkie sets, such as those previously mentioned pairs from Cobra.  Of course, you could still easily program those added frequencies in if you like, but if you just wanted to really clarify that whole crabcake issue, you're already good to go...And don't forget that chocolate!
« Last Edit: April 21, 2017, 10:56:22 AM by Bilgemaster »

Offline Bilgemaster

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Re: Marine FM and NOAA Weather Radio for less than $30
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2017, 01:48:12 PM »
This is just a "heads up" on a couple of useful cheap accessories for those little BaoFeng radios.  First, although the radios ship with a nice charger stand for regular 120V AC charging, for just about a buck and change with free shipping you can get yourself a 12V DC cigarette lighter style cord that'll plug into that stand. I got one, and it works just fine:



Now, just in case you don't have a 12V ciggy-lighter style socket already installed aboard, or want one, these little Zowaysoon PJH-RS-0377 Car Digital Voltmeter Dual USB 2 Port Power Socket Three Hole Panel, Black units are a pretty easy install, and also feature a handy low-draw voltmeter to keep an eye on the state of your battery, as well a pair of USB charge ports at 1 and 2.1 Amps--useful for keeping those Android or Apple gizmos tip-top, with handy snap on waterproof covers over the fussy bits, all for less than $10 with free shipping: