Ultimate Water Radio Challenge - Mountain Buzz

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Old 07-02-2012   #1
Golden, Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2012
Posts: 1
Ultimate Water Radio Challenge

I am incredibly frustrated. I’ve been training hard for over a year, preparing myself physically and mentally, so I can kayak the Grand Canyon. No blind person has ever done this before. And it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever attempted. But I’m being held back by technology or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

Of course, we immediately thought of using radios. But this solution has proved far more problematic than we anticipated. Naturally, the radios, cables, microphones, and earpieces need to be completely waterproof. They also need to be completely hands-free when speaking because both hands are on the paddle when kayaking.

First we tried Motorola MotoTRBO XPR 6100 radios and immediately ran into problems. The first deal breaker was a 1.5 second delay between what my guide tells me and when I hear him—in the fast action of a rapid, that’s a lifetime! I need as near to instantaneous commands as possible.

The second big issue with the TRBO radios is they don’t allow three people to share the system. When I’m kayaking, I need two guides because there’s a reasonable chance that one of them might flip and be unable to communicate. However, due to the voice-operated switch (VOX), my second guide's unit causes interference and interrupts crucial commands from the primary guide. To solve this we turned off the VOX for the second guide. But there isn't a quick way for my second guide to take over guiding.

We gave up on the Motorola system and switched to SetCom VL6 radios with the PirateRadio RL40 headset. These are a step in the right direction but we are still plagued with critical problems. On the plus side, the Setcoms offer hands-free operation for my guides.

Unfortunately, even though the SetComs are marketed as “marine radios,” they are not waterproof or even weather resistant. Water can enter the battery compartment, which is never a good thing for electronics. So we’ve resorted to using waterproof bags and trying to seal the hole for a cable.

On top of that, two out of three microphones stopped transmitting. They are supposed to be waterproof but my life depends on these working 100% percent of the time. Even when they did transmit, they would suddenly start sending unintelligible gobbledygook. Possibly related to this, the headset cable doesn’t attach directly to the radio; there is an adaptor cable between them that adds another point of failure.

Although these are full duplex radios that are supposed to allow all operators to talk simultaneously, the system completely collapses with three radios online. Echo and reverberation make understandable conversation impossible. We tried new connection cables and various configurations of radio channels to no effect. The issue seems to be the RL40 headset units; three radios work fine with non-waterproof headsets.

Another issue is the poor quality of the speaker on the headset is very poor so, even under ideal conditions, the sound comes out hollow and garbled. The earbuds of the Motorola’s were better in this regard.

So here I am, basically ready to undertake one of the greatest adventures of my life, and I can’t go due to inadequate technology. Perhaps you, or someone you know, can help make the “impossible” possible.

This will be another "first," similar to climbing Everest blind. It will take about 18 days to kayak 226 miles. Several of the rapids are huge—Lava Falls drops 26 feet in just 100 yards—and are daunting for even expert kayakers with full vision. Whatever the result, it will be a pioneering adventure!

Here’s my challenge, help me develop or find the system that meets all of our requirements. Beyond my own adventure, these radios could be used for numerous other applications including sailing, surfing, climbing, and tactical operations.

Full duplex radios for three-way communication
Completely waterproof, sand-proof, mud-proof, drop-proof
Completely reliable
Hands-free VOX microphone with noise cancellation
Less than 0.5 second delay on transmit
Single earbud with superior sound quality
Bluetooth for microphone and earbud if reliable
Rechargeable batteries with 8-hour minimum capacity
Compact enough to fit in a life jacket pocket
Costs less than a new SUV


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Old 07-02-2012   #2
hojo's Avatar
Lakewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1989
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 1,235
You might want to contact the local ham radio clubs for some help. I have a radio I'd be willing to lend that I'm pretty sure has a vox feature (I'll check) and it's water proof. I don't have a mic that is appropriate though. The local ham radio clubs may have the gear you can borrow or buy on the cheap though you would have to pass the (very easy) technician test to use the radio. They open up a broader range of communication frequencies as well. Call me if you'd like. 303 957 793for
On the river, I can abandon who I am and what I've done. However brief it lasts, while on the river I am nothing important and everything insignificant. I am flotsam, and happy to be so.
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Old 07-02-2012   #3
MT4Runner's Avatar
Kalispell, Montana
Paddling Since: 1997
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 3,049
What about Bluetooth technology?

Find a full duplex radio system that works at the range you need, and then waterproof it? Radio in drybox, convert to waterproof speakers/headphones?

BT Motorcycle Bluetooth Multi-Interphone Headsets for Motorcycle & Skiing | eBay
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Old 07-02-2012   #4
Avatard's Avatar
portland, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1991
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 2,191
I've seen full face scuba masks with radio transmitters. The plus side is if you flip you can breathe right? So maybe if the transmitter is in a drybag "around" your neck that encompasses your head, it wont fail.

So i'm wondering do you use text to speech on your computer to read this? Do i sound like stephen hawking?

Unfortunately the mechanical means of being waterproof (gasket) is much better than the electrical
Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it "guaranteed", I will. I got spare time.
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Old 07-02-2012   #5
V for Victory
9300ft, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 329
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That's a tall equipment order. I'd try an amateur radio forum. They LOVE gear questions like that and will probably be more helpful than we can be. Hell, one of those HAMs will probably be willing to build you a solution.
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Old 07-02-2012   #6
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2004
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 3,107
You might need to add another requirement to your list... In the meat of the rapids, that sound of the water is a roar. The background noise from the whitewater could easily be 90+ dB. I've thought about this before, and my take is that you probably need some active filtering of the white noise of the water from the microphone, otherwise you will get very loud whitewater and barely audible voices. Maybe the sound canceling headphone technology from Bose or something would work.

Not sure if you have reached out, but perhaps you could contant some of the bose, motorola etc folks who make this type of equipment and try to get some sort of sponsorship / gear donation or get them to help you build it. I suspect that it won't be available off the shelf in exactly the package you want, but it should be able to be put together with existing technology.

Good luck on your quest!
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Old 07-02-2012   #7
JDHOG72's Avatar
Wolcott, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 432
The Navy Seals must have something
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Old 07-02-2012   #8
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Paddling Since: 1983
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 179

You might try posting on some military/tactical type web forums as well. There is a whole different supply chain that addresses that market and you might find some folks that can point you in the right direction. Don't have any specifics on websites, but just a thought. Do you have any military connections from your motivational speaking work?

One thing for you to consider - do you really need to be able to talk to the guides, or is the need mostly for 1 way communication? Would it be easier to find a system that works with 2 speakers (the guides) and you as a passive listener? If the guides need a response from you it could be in the form of some standard hand signals vs a verbal response. This should simplify the system quite a bit and the middle of the rapid is no place for a conversation.

Whatever you do figure out, please share it with the community when you return. We are at a turning point in the growth of adaptive/therapeutic adventure recreation and I am pretty sure the tools are not keeping up with the users. With the large numbers of soldiers returning with disabilities and the drive to overcome them there is a great need for tools that let them push their limits. A radio system like you are looking for could be one of those tools.

I look forward to hearing about how your trip goes. You always seem to have some new adventure in the works and I am always impressed. I met you years ago when I worked at Bent Gate Mountaineering and you were getting a group outfitted for a Kilimanjaro trip.

George Marsden
Los Alamos, NM
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Old 07-02-2012   #9
Fort Collins
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 249
I would add a plug for HAM radio. I have a submersible hand held radio that might do the trick - YEASU VX7R. I use it mostly for backcountry skiing and hiking because it is smallish (<3" on the long side) and lightish, but I often toss it in a dry bag when boating just in case. I think it would fit in the pocket of my Astral Tempo, though I haven't tried. I have also not actually submerged it yet. It pumps 50w instead of the 1/2 -1 watt of most 2-way radios. They also have lots of accessories and options, for communication, and like was pointed out earlier, if you don't find what you need, you may find someone who can build it.

Finally, if you go into HAM Radio Outlet Ham Radio Outlet - World's Largest Supplier of Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) Equipment. Sales, Supplies, and Service. located on Illiff, a couple miles east of I-25, and tell them your needs, they can help you get familiar with what is availailable, where some HAM clubs are, and some info to help you get the liscnese (which is actually pretty easy and only costs $15 for 10 years).

There you go...$.02
Be sure to let us know how it goes.
"If I'm not there, it means I'm dead...or late!" General W.R. Monger
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Old 07-02-2012   #10
Fort Collins
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 249
BTW, one stupid question I just have to ask...
How are you reading this thread?
"If I'm not there, it means I'm dead...or late!" General W.R. Monger
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