FT817 and derivatives

The FT817ND (and the earlier FT817) is a handheld/ transportable successor to the world famous FT690, 290 and 790 range, but with HF too. The FT818 is the successor.

The FT290 was the most popular multi-mode handheld ever made. The 817 unit includes 6m, 2m and 70cms as well as all the HF bands too. Data modes such as PSK31, JT modes and FT8 are well supported as well as the usual SSB, CW, FM and AM.

Most of the features of a base station multi-mode 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 the FT817 performs - and some handheld HF DX results

5 continents on 2.5W QRP handheld HF SSB can't be bad! Best DX from indoor handheld 2.5W operation is the USA on SSB. Using 2.5W and 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 and just 2.5W into a long run of RG58 (quite lossy) coax cable. ERP on 50MHz was around 1W. 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 of the FT817. 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. 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. Recently I bought a second FT817 (the ND version) and a 250Hz wide CW filter. The 0.5ppm TCXO option helps on 2m WSPR.

Battery life on the Yaesu FT817 NiCad pack wasn't too great - enough for an hour's lunchtime DXing but not much more unless you use external gell cells.

Overall the FT817ND is a great little rig and I love it!.The rig is ideal for QRP holiday and Adventure Radio use. The FT817ND is now supplied with NiMH cells. The FT818 ships with 1900mA NiMH batteries.

An external speech processor can make a LOT of difference on SSB: contacts are much easier to make using one. I was disappointed to see how little had been done on the FT818. This is clearly done for Yaesu's benefit and there really is very little new for customers.

Having bought a second FT817 (the ND version widebanded for 5MHz) I expected Yaesu to announce an even newer version! As you will read below, this is the long awaited FT818.

FT817 Specs

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 £540. This is still quite good value, although with a weakening Yen we might expect some discounting. 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 around £100. As with the whip antennas a counterpoise or decent ground will really help with ERP.

Future Versions (see below though)?

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

  • All mode, all bands 1.8-1296MHz with 70MHz and with decent RX sensitivity at 136 and 472kHz

  • 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

It is now very many years since the FT817 was first marketed. Any replacement would have to be SDR based, you would think.

Of course, the Elecraft KX3 and KX2 are now available with a far higher specification than the FT-817ND, but at a much greater price and without 2m and 70cm, although at extra cost 2m is available in the KX3. Yaesu has simply "missed the boat" and an opportunity to address a VERY large replacement market. It is their loss. Personally I prefer the layout of the FT-817ND: the KX3 and KX2 seem to have sockets everywhere!

There is also the uBITX which is a very low cost way of getting on HF. There are now Chinese QRP rigs starting to appear. Also now ICOM have the IC-705.

The real FT818

As of March 2018, Yaesu announced the real FT818 to succeed the FT817ND. What a real disappointment! As far as I can tell this is an upgrade to the FT817 with changes that cost virtually nothing. Most of the features we looked for are not there. One has the thought (hopefully wrong) that Yaesu is in deep trouble and cannot afford a major new development. One has only to think of the FT991A, hastily introduced to try to fight off the ICOM IC7300. I have been a Yaesu fan since the 1970s, but Yaesu has become a follower. Years ago it was a leader. It would not surprise me if Yaesu went bust or at the very least left the amateur radio market. This would be a sad, sad, day.

As I see it, the FT818 was an opportunity missed. The real FT818 shows me a company that has totally lost its way. Yaesu are you mad, stupid or broke? If none of these, then have a re-think! I wonder if Yaesu will launch an SDR portable or just go bust or leave the amateur market?