Ham Radio Antennas: Choosing the Best Type

When it comes to radio equipment, the antenna that your radio is connected to is just as important as the radio itself. With so many different types of antennas available, it can be difficult to know which one is the best fit for your radio. In this guide, I will provide you with information on different types of antennas and how to choose the right one for your radio.

Mobile antennas, antennas for handheld radios, and base station antennas are just a few of the options available. By understanding the benefits and limitations of each type, you can make an informed decision and get the most out of your radio. Be creative and explore your options to find the perfect antenna for your needs.

Ham Radio Antennas - Key Takeaways

  • Choosing the right antenna is crucial for optimal radio performance.

  • There are many different types of antennas available, including mobile, handheld, and base station antennas.

  • By understanding the benefits and limitations of each type, you can make an informed decision and get the most out of your radio.

Mobile Antennas

Where to Mount Your Mobile Antenna?

The location where you mount your mobile antenna is crucial. Ideally, you should mount your antenna where it will have the most ground plane, such as in the middle of your vehicle's roof. However, this may not always be possible. For instance, if your antenna is too tall to fit into your garage, you may need to mount it to your vehicle's trunk lip or fender. Alternatively, you can purchase an antenna that can be folded down when you park your car in your garage or in a parking structure.

Mobile Antenna Connectors

The connector used to connect the antenna to the mount is important. Antenna mounts are available with NMO connectors, UHF connectors, and 3/8-in. studs. Most antenna manufacturers make versions of their antennas with two or more of these connector types. It is crucial to ensure that the antenna you purchase will mate with the antenna mount.

Designs of mobile antennas vary, but there are three primary types of mobile antennas: the 1/4-wave vertical, the 1/2-wave vertical, and the 5/8-wave vertical. Generally, the taller the antenna, the more gain it will have. If you will be operating in town, close to the repeaters, a 1/4-wave vertical antenna should work well for you. However, if you will be operating in fringe areas much of the time, then a 5/8-wave vertical antenna may be a better choice.

A 1/2-wave vertical antenna offers more gain than a 1/4-wave antenna but less than a 5/8-wave antenna. It does, however, offer the advantage of working well when a good ground plane isn't available. Therefore, if your vehicle has a fiberglass or composite-material body, then a 1/2-wave antenna might be a good choice.

Antennas for Handheld Radios

"Rubber duck" antennas

One of the most common types of antennas found on handheld radios are the "rubber duck" antennas. These antennas are vertical and consist of a rubberized jacket over a helical radiating element. However, they are not very efficient and do not transmit or receive as effectively as a full-sized quarter-wave antenna. To improve the performance of your handheld transceiver, you can replace the supplied rubber duck antenna with a more efficient antenna.

One popular replacement antenna is the Nagoya NA-771, which is just under 16 inches long and is close to a quarter-wave vertical antenna. It is much more efficient than the typical rubber duck antenna shipped with most handheld transceivers. However, be careful when purchasing replacement antennas, as unscrupulous vendors are selling counterfeit antennas. To ensure that you are buying the real thing, consult the Nagoya website for information on how to identify fake antennas.

Roll-up J-pole antenna

Another type of antenna that you may want to consider for use with your handheld transceiver is the roll-up J-pole antenna. This antenna is a favorite for portable and emergency communications because not only is it a very efficient antenna, it can be rolled up and stowed in a backpack when not in use.

This type of antenna is available from several different vendors, but it is also quite easy to build. All you need to build a roll-up J-pole antenna is a 60-inch length of 450 Ω ladder line and a length of 50 Ω coax. Make a few cuts to the ladder line, as shown in Figure 2, solder the coax to the antenna as shown, attach an appropriate connector to the opposite end of the coax, and you’re ready to go.

Base Station Antennas

Base Station J-Pole

Base station J-pole antennas are a popular choice for ham radio operators. Although the design of a base station J-pole antenna differs from the roll-up J-pole, it is still an effective design. One popular design for a 2-band J-Pole antenna uses a piece of aluminum angle and three lengths of 1/4-inch aluminum rod. If you prefer to build your own antenna, you can find plans at https://nt1k.com/open-stub-j-pole-project-completed-many-times/.

Dipole Antenna

Dipole antennas are another option for a base station antenna. They are relatively short, with a 2-meter dipole being about three feet long and a 70-center dipole antenna being even shorter. These antennas can easily be built and mounted vertically. If mounting outside is not an option, they can be taped to a window or wooden window frame. As with other base antennas, the higher up it is, the better it will work.

Ground Plane Antenna

Ground plane antennas are also popular and effective. A ground plane antenna for the 2 m band consists of an SO-239 connector, a 19.25-in. vertical radiator element, and 4 20.25-in. elements to form the ground plane. The elements are made with stiff wire or welding rod. Like the J-pole, ground plane antennas are also available commercially.

Yagi Antenna

If you are in a remote location or find it difficult to access a repeater, you might want to consider a Yagi antenna. Yagi antennas are directional antennas, meaning that they concentrate your output power in a particular direction. This directionality is also a disadvantage. If you wish to communicate with repeaters or other hams that are in opposite directions from your location, you will have to be able to rotate the antenna. VHF and UHF Yagi antennas are available from a number of different manufacturers.

Overall, there are many different types of base station antennas available to ham radio operators. Each type of antenna has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it's important to choose the right one for your specific needs.

Be Creative

If none of the previously mentioned options work for you, don't worry. There are still ways to set up a functional ham radio antenna, even if you live in an area with a restrictive HOA. One option is to use a mobile antenna on a magnetic mount placed on a metal surface such as a file cabinet or car roof. Another option is to get creative and experiment with different types of antennas and placements to find what works best for your situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Best Antenna for Long-Range Ham Radio Communication?

The best antenna for long-range ham radio communication depends on various factors, such as the frequency band, terrain, and power output of the radio. However, some popular options include Yagi antennas, log-periodic antennas, and multi-band dipole antennas. These antennas are designed to provide high gain and directional radiation patterns, which can increase the signal strength and reduce interference.

What are the Different Types of HF Antennas Used in Ham Radio?

There are several types of HF antennas used in ham radio, including vertical antennas, horizontal antennas, loop antennas, and wire antennas. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the frequency range, installation location, and available space. For example, vertical antennas are easy to install and provide good low-angle radiation, while horizontal antennas can provide better high-angle radiation and are less affected by nearby objects.

What are Some DIY Ham Radio Antenna Projects?

There are many DIY ham radio antenna projects that you can undertake, such as building a dipole antenna, a ground-plane antenna, or a magnetic loop antenna. These projects can be a cost-effective way to improve your antenna performance and learn more about the principles of radio frequency (RF) design. Many online resources and ham radio clubs offer detailed instructions and support for DIY antenna projects.

What is the Best Mobile Ham Radio Antenna for Use in a Vehicle?

The best mobile ham radio antenna for use in a vehicle depends on several factors, such as the type of vehicle, frequency band, and desired range. Some popular options include mag-mount antennas, trunk-lip antennas, and glass-mount antennas. Mag-mount antennas are easy to install and remove, while trunk-lip antennas can provide better ground plane and reduced noise. Glass-mount antennas are less visible and can be more aerodynamic.

What is the Difference Between a Ham Radio Antenna Tower and a Mast?

A ham radio antenna tower is a freestanding structure that supports one or more antennas at a high elevation, usually above the roofline of a building or tree line. A mast, on the other hand, is a vertical pole that supports an antenna at a lower elevation, such as on a rooftop or in a backyard. Towers are more expensive and require more space and permits, while masts are easier to install and maintain.

How Can I Improve My Ham Radio Antenna's Performance?

There are several ways to improve your ham radio antenna's performance, such as adjusting the height and orientation, adding radials or counterpoises, using a balun or tuner, and reducing nearby noise sources. It is also essential to use high-quality coaxial cable and connectors, and to ensure that the antenna is properly grounded and protected from lightning strikes. Regular maintenance and testing can also help detect and fix any issues with the antenna system.

I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Hi & Welcome!

My name is Jeremy and I have been an avid car nut for many year. My first car was an 1987 Honda CRX. I put in my first Kenwood stereo, amp, 2 10" JLs and a CB Radio in it and have been an avid user of CBs and car radios for years. I'll do my best to share my tips, information and thoughts to help you with whatever question you might have, ABOUT ME 

After I graduated from High School, I worked 5 years are Radio Shack and 3 years at Circuit City answering questions and helping customers with various electronics questions.