Upgrading the Icom IC-3SAT

In this post, I’m going to show you a couple of upgrades I made to an Icom IC-3SAT 220MHz handheld.

I’m a fan of older equipment. Almost all of my radios were built in the 1980s and 1990s. They’re easy to work on. There are few surface mount components; basically everything is through-hole. The parts are almost always very common and inexpensive. And this was a bit of a hey-day for amateur radio, so there are a lot of rigs from this time period available on the used market. Plus, there’s a little nostalgia on my part: I got my first ticket, KB5KHR, in the late 1980s.

I recently purchased 2 Icom IC-3SAT 220MHz handhelds off eBay. They were noted as “parts only” and untested and without batteries, but looked to be in perfect condition. The price was right; I paid around $35 for both. As I  was looking for cheap ways to get on 220MHz, this fit the bill nicely.

The 2 IC-3SATs, with a BTech/Baofeng for comparison.

When I won the auction, I ordered a battery and a slow charger for them. I got a larger capacity battery since it was only a few dollars more. When they arrived, I charged up the battery and tested both units. They worked perfectly!

When I tested them, I tried to hit a repeater and couldn’t. Strange; I could hit that repeater on my BTech (tri-band, pictured above), but not on the IC-3SAT. After a bit of research, I realized that I had assumed that they had tone encoders in them; they don’t. They are simplex units and require an add-on. Luckily, I found a bunch of the Icom UT-50 Tone Squelch Units on eBay and bought one.

The Icom UT-50 Tone Squelch Unit package.

The unit is a tiny board which plugs in to a connector inside the radio. So, the next step was to take it apart and install the UT-50. Five screws, and the HT pulls apart like a clamshell.

The IC-3SAT opened and the UT-50 next to it.

There’s nothing special to do to mount the UT-50. You simply plug it into the connector; it’s small enough that the connector holds it quite well.

The UT-50 installed inside the IC-3SAT.

I put the unit back together, programmed in the K7LED repeater, and gave it a try. I pulled up the repeater on the first try. PL tone upgrade complete!

The second upgrade I wanted to attempt was to put an internal battery into the IC-3SAT. As you can see in the pictures, there’s a two-wire connector hanging there; that connects to an internal battery, if it’s installed. So, I ordered the battery from eBay. When it arrived, I put it in; it’s a tight fit, but it’s a compact 600mAh battery and prevents the need to use the large external battery.

The internal battery installed into the IC-3SAT.

I think there’s a trick to using these batteries, though. While the internal battery is fully charged (I tested it with a voltmeter), it doesn’t power the unit by itself (that is, with the external battery disconnected). When I attach the external battery to the unit, it works, but I don’t know which battery is actually powering the rig. I may need the Icom BA-11 bottom cap, or maybe there’s a switch somewhere. I still need to do some research on this.

All in all, the IC-3SAT (and its cousins, the 2m IC-2SAT and 70cm IC-4SAT) is a great little radio. It’s small and inexpensive, and parts are readily available. If you’re trying to get on 220MHz, this is a great option.