The news wasn’t shocking.
One would have to be living deep in a cave not to have heard the news. Just before the new year, seemingly out of nowhere, Yaesu announced that it was discontinuing the venerated FT-817 & FT-818 radio.
Although the news came as a surprise, anyone with even a little objectivity knew the 818 was already a decade or more past its shelf life. Beginning in 2001 as the FT 817, it was upgraded to the 818 a few years ago. “Upgraded” is a somewhat generous term. Since the original 2001 release the FT-81x has had only minor technical changes and almost no physical changes.
Being real. FT-817 & 818
Let’s not BS ourselves. You have to be a high-level fanboy to overlook the tiny, difficult to operate controls, vague display, labyrinthian menus, and tendency to drink a lot of electricity. To be fair, putting up with all that did come with a handsome payoff.
The FT-817 was very rugged and compact. Over the years, a huge selection of aftermarket products allowed a ham to modify their FT-817 for any personal need. Even people who hated it had to admit it earned its legendary status. It had a large, almost cult-like following. I suspect that following will become even more devoted.
Yaesu states a lack of component availability is why the are pulling the plug on the FT-818. That’s an easy excuse in these times. I think there is more to it. If Yaesu truly believed in their product, they’d temporarily suspend production until parts are available, or find some other way around the problem.
The FT-818 was simply passed by (see also: Icom IC-705) and Yaesu either couldn’t or wouldn’t innovate. The “upgrade” to the FT-818 was so poorly executed, it was as if Yaesu didn’t want the product to continue. I own an FT-817ND and love it…but I can be objective enough to see that Yaesu got caught sleeping. The IC-705 is a vastly superior radio. Sorry, not sorry.
The specialty QRP portable market will now be occupied by Icom and Elecraft at the top of the pyramid, and various Asian manufactures at the bottom. The saddest part of the FT-818 product dirtnap is that Yaesu has no plans —that they are talking about, anyway— to introduce a successor. For all practical purposes, Yaesu is abandoning the QRP portable market segment. The dynasty, such as it was, has ended.
Farewell to a legend. FT-817 & 818
I deeply respect the FT-817 & FT-818, so I want to end this obituary on a positive note. Misgivings aside, it was and still is a great radio. I got many hours of enjoyment out of mine, as have countless other radio amateurs all over the world. It deservers a place in the pantheon of great radios, and signals from FT-817 and FT-818 rigs will continue for decades. The FT-817 & FT-818 were the genesis of the modern QRP radio. Surviving Yaesu competitors should not get too full of themselves now that the king is dead because being technically superior alone is not enough. Spirit and personality, the intangible qualities that give a radio an “it” factor truly make a radio a legend. The FT-817 & FT-818 had that “it” factor. Time will tell if any of the rest can fill the big shoes of that little radio.
I like my 818 a lot but even I admit that it isn’t the best transceiver out there. As you said it’s often awkward to use. I still think the menu system is irritating and for someone with big hands like mine operating those tiny controls has always been difficult. I’m not really surprised they’re discontinuing it. And as for replacing it, QRP radios is a real niche market and Yaesu needs to sell a lot of radios to justify the research and development costs, costs of tooling up a factory, etc. It would be a struggle to sell enough radios to make it profitable, especially considering the competition. The iCom is a great transceiver and the Elecraft is still an amazing little rig that I drool over.
For a while now I’ve been considering selling the 818 and using that to help finance buying an Elecraft KX3. I really, really like the KX3. For me personally it would be the perfect transceiver. Add on the 100 watt amplifier and the panadaptor and it could actually replace all the other gear in my shack.
Hmm, I think I may have just talked myself into buying a new radio…
The Elecraft would be a huge step up from the 818…if you can afford it.
It’s true that the QRP portable market is not that large, but many radios (including the 817/818) “borrow” engineering from other existing radios. There’s a lot of technology “recycling” out there, which keeps R&D costs down. Yaesu had a chance to jump ahead when they were first to market with the original 817, so they more or less squandered a golden opportunity.
Good point about how the R&D can be adapted from other radios. Yaesu has come up with some interesting stuff in their new desktop rigs that could have probably been adapted for a new QRP transceiver.
I’ve wanted a KX3 for some time but was never able to justify buying one when i already have so many rigs. But then I think well you can never have too many radios, can you? So I might eventually end up with one, especially if I sell the 818.
Oh, the Bluetti “solar generator” seems to be doing better than I anticipated. I’ve tested it several times now, including having it running the furnace which would be its primary use. Starting at 100% capacity it ran the furnace in 30 – 35 degree weather for 3 hours and still had 78% capacity left. It would have used considerably more in extremely cold weather of course but it looks like this thing is going to actually work.
Please keep me updated on the Bluetti. I’m very curious to see how it works in a “real world” environment.
The Yaesu FT-818 has been a widely used asset and a solid radio.
The Yaesu FT-7900 is the one I want Yaesu to bring back. This radio is great and I have no idea why Yaesu stopped production. Just about every Ham I know who likes Yaesu is looking for this radio in the after market, (trying to avoid the fake clones). This radio is simple to operate, has good power and covers emcomm needs nicely.
If anyone has one or more for sale, I am here. ; )
No one really knows for sure the reasoning behind cancelling a product, but I think it’s clear the 818 was done some time ago.
Thanks for your comment, Jed. I hope you have a great new year.
Great article. Thanks. Looking forward to seeing the next one. N5PZ
Thanks Ryan. Please invite all your friends to stop by Off Grid Ham.
I bought an 818 three months ago. Wouldn’t you know Yaesu just decided to drop it. Well, what is done, is done. I like the 818, Evan have a cw filter that I kept from an 817 sold years ago. Works for me as: only operate 20M cw with a straight key. So menus seldom entered and the small display is ok.
I have an 817ND that’s about five years old. I like it a lot, but had I known the IC-705 was coming I would have waited and bought that instead. Still, it’s certainly no curse owning an 817/818. I’m glad to hear yours is working out for you.
RIP FT-817 Gone but never forgotten. Portable QRP will never die!
It’s great to hear from you Mike. Portable QRP never dies, but radios do and that is the reality of product lifecycles. Luckily there are other awesome options out there. Portable QRP was never about one radio.
Have had my 817ND for several years now and love the little guy. Always performs well for me whether when I’m working portable with a W3EDP antenna or from the shack with a dipole or Ham Stick dipole in the attic (condo living here.) Sorry to hear that it’s discontinued but mine is a keeper til one of us goes silent.
I have an 817ND too and I loved it until the Icom 705 came out…now I’m contemplating a “divorce”.
Funny how quickly they all vanished from all the radio dealers.
The prices increased too. But as expected there is panic buying; prices will level out over time.
Quite possibly that’s due to scalpers, Scott. When a popular product goes out of production they’ll snap up every one they can find at the list price and then turn around and try selling them on ebay and amazon at hugely inflated prices. That happened with the RaspberryPi. I saw $30 Rpis going for $250 or even $300 as soon as supplies began to get tight.