Power Poles as the Standard DC Connector
Written by Fred Chen, VE7CX
A lot of communications equipment, including those in the Amateur Radio Service, are generally designed to operate on “12VDC” power. However, most of the equipment can often operate between 10 to 16VDC without problems. DC power connectors, however, have not been so forgiving.
Over the past decade or so, the cigarette lighter plug and socket combination have been the unintentional standard for DC connections in a variety of small consumer electronics, especially in automotive applications. Auto manufacturers now refer to them as “accessory” plugs rather than cigarette lighter plugs, primarily due to marketing since smoking is not as popular in North America as it once was. Cigarette lighter plugs are very handy because you can find a socket to power your equipment in any vehicle.
there are many reasons why the cigarette lighter plug and socket are not ideal
for communications equipment. Connections
can come loose from vibration due to the spring-loaded centre plunger and side
clips. Sometimes, the cigarette
lighter plug will just fall apart after extended use because they are often
constructed from cheap materials. Cigarette
lighter plugs are supposedly rated to about 5A making them less than ideal for
high current-draining equipment such as mobile transceivers transmitting 50W of
So what are the alternatives? Many Amateur Radio manufacturers (e.g. Kenwood, Yaesu, Alinco, and Icom) use a polarized female DC connector that hangs off a pigtail located at the back of the transceiver. These connectors are very helpful in preventing accidental damage to the radio as a result of a reverse-polarity hookup. However, these connectors are hard to find in bulk, must be used in pairs to be really useful, not that versatile for other DC connections, and costly ($6.00 CAD for a male/female pair). Other alternatives include polarized Molex connectors and other quick-disconnect automotive power connectors. These are also not that versatile for other DC connections and generally not used much in communications equipment. On the other end of the scale, some have simply twisted wires together and taped them with common electrical tape for their DC connections. Hence the need to standardize!
The Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) in the United States have adopted the Anderson Power Pole as the standard for all their DC connections. The power poles have all the features of a well-designed DC connector. They are polarized, genderless, colour-coded (i.e. red = positive, black = negative), quickly disconnected/connected, relatively inexpensive, have higher current ratings (the 15A and 30A models are the most popular for Amateur Radio), and well-made using hard-impact polycarbonate plastic, stainless steel leaf springs, and silver contacts. The power poles allow for the interchangeability of power supplies and equipment with a minimum of hassle and the maximum of flexibility. The Anderson Power Poles are so popular amongst ARES groups that they are sometimes referred to as “ARES” connectors.
Anderson Power Poles are affordable too. A set of connectors costs about $1.25 CAD each and are available in bulk from many online retailers such as www.hamstop.com and www.powerwerx.com. They can also be purchased in smaller quantities from eBay at reasonable prices.
A set includes one red connector, one black connector, two silver contact pins, and one metal locking pin. However, many users are now recommending that the locking pins not be used. The reason for this is that the locking pin will often work its way loose, especially when connecting and disconnecting the power poles from a DC power supply often. If you're unlucky to have one of these metal locking pins drop in to the heating vents of your equipment, a nasty short circuit can develop and do irreparable damage. If your power poles are a bit loose or you need them locked into place, add a drop of super glue to the track and this should keep it from moving about. When assembling your power poles, make sure the red connector with the wide flat side is the right-hand side, and the black connector with the wide flat side is on the left-hand side.
Once you've standardized the DC connections for your equipment, you may want to consider some sort of DC power distribution panel for your shack. This would similar to the fuse panel in your home. You could always hook up a bunch of pigtails off your DC power supply, but the connections can get cluttered and unsafe. My recommendation is to have a fused power distribution panel like West Mountain Radio's RIGrunner, or the Saratoga PowerPanel. Both manufacturers make them in sizes to take several DC connections. The West Mountain Radio's RIGrunner 4005 or 4008, or the Saratoga PowerPanel 8 are excellent for home installations. The PowerPanel 4 is great for mobile installations, especially when you have lots of radio equipment onboard (e.g. mobile transceiver, TNC, 2m transmitter, GPS, etc.)
|West Mountain Radio RIGrunner 4005||Saratoga PowerPanel 4|
This page was last updated 14 June 2004.