Yaesu FT817 all band, all mode handheld transceiver


The FT817 is a handheld/ transportable successor to the world famous FT690, 290 and 790 range. The FT290 must have been the most popular multimode handheld ever made. Now, the Yaesu unit includes 6m, 2m and 70cms as well as all the HF bands too. Data modes such as PSK31 are well supported as well as the usual SSB, CW, FM and AM.

Most of the features of a base station multimode are included plus space for a set of AA rechargeable cells to allow true handheld operation. The top BNC antenna connector is normally active on 6, 2 and 70cms for which bands a whip antenna is included. The top antenna socket may also be menu selected for the HF bands so a compact base or centre loaded whip can be used for handheld HF DX working. When used with an HF whip on the rig it is best to use a short counterpoise wire as well as this helps radiation efficiency and antenna matching considerably.

How it performs - and some handheld HF DX results!

5 continents on QRP handheld HF SSB can't be bad! Best DX from indoor handheld operation is the USA on SSB. Using a Miracle Whip antenna the best DX from indoors in the bedroom is LU (Argentina) at 11000kms on 10m SSB, and LA (Norway) on 40m SSB. On 50MHz it has worked around 35 countries with best DX over 5000kms (K1TOL) when using a simple external vertical. Several Europeans have been worked handheld on 50MHz. On VHF and UHF it has worked a fair number of QTH squares around the UK and Europe with simple antenna such as whips and halos.

Likes and dislikes

Of course I like the very small size. Also, unlike my old IC706, there is no annoying fan blowing away. The ergonomics are pretty good for a radio of such small dimensions. The receiver SSB filter is a little wide although with use of the adjustable passband filter shift one can compensate for this to a degree. It held its own in the recent ARRL DX contest and I managed to pull plenty of stations out of the mayhem and work them. A serious CW QRP DXer would benefit from the optional narrow filter which I added last Christmas. I prefer to use the wide setting (less tiring on the ears) but sometimes the narrow 500Hz filter does help to pull signals out of the QRM.

Battery life on the Yaesu NiCad pack wasn't too great - enough for an hour's lunchtime DXing but not much more unless you use external gell cells. I suspect that with 2500mAhr NiMH cells it would give a much more useful duty cycle (a few hours of casual operating). Overall it is a great little rig and I love it! The rig is ideal for QRP holiday and Adventure Radio use.


Power       2.5W SSB/CW/FM/CW, 0.7W AM (int. batteries) ,
                  5.0W SSB/CW/FM/CW 1.5W AM (with 13.8V supply)
RX            0.1-56MHz, 76-154MHz, 430-470MHz
TX             1.8-432MHz (not 70MHz, not 220MHz)
Weight     2.6 lbs
Size          5.31 x 1.5 x 6.5 inches

The UK price has been as low as £359, with 60m coverage, NiMH rechargeable pack and charger, from the usual Yaesu dealers but these days is around £500. This is still good value. An ATX Walkabout multi-band or ATX single band antennas are available to use with the rig but always use a counterpoise to get the best performance. The Miracle Whip antenna is a good addition to the FT817 station although in the UK the price is higher than I'd like at £109. As with the whip antennas a counterpoise or decent ground will really help with ERP.


Future Versions?

A while back I speculated on my blog about a possible successor product, perhaps called the FT818 with the following specs:

  • All mode, all bands 1.8-1296MHz with 5MHz and 70MHz
  • 5W RF (2W 1296MHz)
  • 3.5AHr Li-Ion battery pack (2hr charging)
  • Built in random wire and whip auto-ATU
  • Full colour OLED display
  • Multi-function DSP noise reduction
  • RF Speech processor
I am still surprised that Yaesu has not yet done such a rig (this picture is a mock-up created with Photoshop and NOT a real product sadly) as it would be an instant money spinner for them as most FT817 owners would aspire to upgrade to such a new version. It is now 12 years since the FT817 was first marketed. Also, why has Icom not done something similar?

Of course, the Elecraft KX3 is now available with a far higher specification than the FT817, but at a much greater price and without 2m and 70cm, although at extra cost 2m will be available later. It may be that Yaesu has simply "missed the boat" and an opportunity to address a VERY large replacement market. It is their loss.