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APRS and Ham Operations with the Garmin Montana GPS
Written by Adrian Burg of Calgary, AB

HAM radio setupThere is much to be considered with APRS (Amateur Packet Reporting System) operations and setup but most of all the parts you need for mobile operations. The best way to do this, is to sit down and look what you are using your gps unit for. To do the groundwork first is better than to find out later that you have the wrong part or the wrong system you like to use and having to drive back and forth. Especially with the cables you need and the hardware. How you are intending to use the system and where, is very important. There are lots of ideas on the internet on the setup and use of APRS, but if there is one thing I have to stress, it's the safe operation in the mobile vehicle. I see a lot of hamoperators that use the gps unit only for letting other users know where they are. This is only one function of the APRS system. There are more things that you can do with APRS, like sending messages and e-mails. Also you can use the whole system for ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service), so you know where every station is and can communicate with that station without asking yourself where he is.

HAM radio with tablet set upMy setup is very simple and yet very effective in operation. I have a Garmin Montana 600 sitting in a Garmin AMPS Rugged Mount (#010-11654-01). But any gps unit that outputs NMEA sentences (most handheld GPS units) will work within the APRS system. This mount has all the cables connected already and all you have to supply is the plug for the power and the radio connector. The Kenwood D710, which I use in the car, accepts a 2.5 mm 3-conductor plug. The tip is to 'data in' on the gps, the centre is to 'data out' on the gps. The top is the shield 'to ground' on the gps unit.For other radios you have to consult your radio manual and the plug you have to use. For connecting the radio to a laptop or tablets you also need a cable, depending on the radio and laptop or tablet you are using. In my case I use the RT system cable, you can order those from RT systems in the States.

I also use a special support system for the tablet I use for in the car. My support was for the vehicle system 2006-Toyota Camry or the Vibe by Pontiac (RAM-VB-137-SW1). I use this system when I drive the Pontiac Vibe. Everything in my car is sturdy and securely fastened to the car for safety, and positioned so that it is very easy to operate. If in doubt, you can always get other hams to help you on tips and setups and installation of APRS. In my car and at home I use APRS-IS program for running APRS on both the computer and the tablet. Just have a look at my setup here in this article image.

Adrian is not the only one with this kind of setup. Check out Jerry's assembly!

Garmin Montana 600 with Had readio and KenwoodJerry's (VE6AB) Assembly
In this photo, I just finished installing a new Garmin Montana bi-directional device into my radio stack, and with my newly made up data cable, connecting the Garmin Montana to my Kenwood TM-D710, it was as simple as making a couple of changes in the APRS menu of my Kenwood TM-D710, and one change to the menu of the Montana. and they shook hands, and were off and running. Needless to say I was very pleased, as I couldn't find any information on the Internet, in pairing the two together, so I just ran with it, and I am glad I did, as they are playing nice together.

The Montana proving to be compatible with my Kenwood APRS TH-D72A, and my TM-D710A, provides GPS location information for my transmitted APRS beacons, and it shows the received APRS information on the map. You can set it to navigate to your favorite APRS mobile station and get rerouting instructions when the new position is reported! You also can watch APRS activity right on the screen. Static positions are indicated with a blue icon with the associated call sign, although you may assign a custom Icon for each station. The Montana provides fast and accurate fixes, and you get 2D, 3D and night views. You also get to enjoy turn-by-turn vocal instructions with street names, like on a Garmin Nuvi.

With the Canadian Topo maps enabled, the driving experience is superb, as you have all the mapping as per normal in your driving of urban and rural roads, and highways, but you now have national, regional and local parks, forests and wilderness areas, including points of interest such as campgrounds, scenic lookouts, hiking trails and land contours shown with elevations, as well as your elevation tracks and more.

I also am involved in Geochaching, so when I head out from my mobile, I grab my Montana and hit the trail with my trail maps enabled.

The view that is shown on the Montana in this photo, shows the screen in night-view-mode, with a number of beaconing stations depicted. I also have assigned custom Icons to each station, or at least for the hams in my local area, allowing me to identify them at a glance. I also can change the size of the font for the callsign, allowing for easy reading of the information shown on the screen of the Montana.

Another cool feature, is by touching any of the beaconing stations on the screen, all the pertinent information is high-lighted on the screen, and by touching notes, a keyboard comes into the view, and I am able to include notes for that station, that may be anything of importance to me, like maybe the name of the ham, or possibly his email address and phone number, or anything else I might want to add to his resume, that is saved under waypoint management in the menu.

So to give you a heads up, I now have a view of the objects on the screen of my Montana, that can show repeater frequencies in the area, meetings, nets, events, hamfests, echolink and IRLP nodes and frequencies, traffic speeds, accidents, emergency situations and more. As well, the Montana can show the location of each of these events that are happening now.

I am connected, and loving it!


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