How to Ship a Boatanchor

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Now that you've found a new home for one of your boatanchor rigs, what's the best way to package it for the perilous journey via one of the normal carriers? It turns out that it's pretty straightforward, and all it takes is a couple of cardboard boxes, some Styrofoam "peanuts", and some pieces from a Styrofoam insulating sheet. You can also make a good estimate of the shipping cost by knowing the weight of your rig and the materials you will need for shipping.

In an ideal world, your shipment would be handled delicately. If the package were accidentally dropped, the packing material would absorb the shock with none of the impact being delivered to the radio.

The real world is a different story... packages are sometimes tossed around, and occasionally they are dropped, or have something else drop onto them. Regardless, our goal is still the same: have the radio see as little of the impact as possible within reasonable limits. How do we accomplish this? We use methods like double-boxing, to spread the impact over a large surface area. This will prevent localized shocks from reaching the radio. We can also pack the outer container with springs to absorb much of the shock before it reaches the inner box. These springs are known to most of us as Styrofoam "S's", or "peanuts". These packing marvels have gotten a bad rap as packing material because they are used improperly. It is a mistake to simply pack Styrofoam peanuts between the inner box and the outer box. If that method is used, the inner box can shift around and work its way to the side of the outer box. When that happens, the impact can be transferred directly to the inner box which dramatically reduces the protection to the radio. Here's the right way to do it.

First, let's get the materials we will need. Here's the list...

Next, the tools you will need:

Before we get into the details of this project, let's define three terms: Height, Width, and Depth.

Height is the distance from the top of the table to the top of the radio .

Width is the distance from the left side of the radio to the right side of the radio, as you look at it from the front (including handles, feet, etc that may be on the ends).

Depth is the distance from the front to the rear (including knobs, meters, and connectors).

Although you can probably scrounge around for a couple of cardboard boxes (inner box and outer box), let's just go over to an office supply store or the Container Store, and buy a couple of heavy duty cardboard boxes of the appropriate size. They will run around 3 Ė 5 dollars, depending on the size. The UPS Store also has a good (although pricey) selection of heavy duty cardboard boxes.

The Styrofoam sheets are typically used as rigid insulation in the walls of houses. I've seen two varieties at home centers, and used them both. The first kind is a bag of white panels already cut to fit between the 2 x 4's. These panels come in six foot lengths. The other kind I've seen are the 4 x 8 foot panels of pink Styrofoam. I have the store cut this large panel into smaller 2 x 4 foot strips for ease of handling. I prefer the pink Styrofoam because it's not as crumbly as the white stuff, but either one will do the job.

The Packing Tape is readily obtained at an office supply store or a home center. I use the clear, 2-inch wide variety.

The Styrofoam peanuts (or S's) can be bought by the bagfull at office supply stores, but you may be able to find it for free by asking around at different stores. Many stores recycle the stuff, and may be willing to let you recycle some of it for your shipping project. Be sure you donít wind up with "end-of-life" material. They are designed to disintegrate after time and use, and if you try to reuse them when they are in that condition, they will not protect your beloved boatanchor on its journey to a new home.

An alternative to the Styrofoam peanuts is polyester foam, or what I call "furniture foam". This is especially useful when shipping heavier (greater than 40 pounds) boatanchors. You can buy scraps of this from an upholsterer at pretty reasonable prices. For this discussion, weíll stick to peanuts, but donít forget about the option of using "furniture foam".

The construction adhesive is for gluing two pieces of Styrofoam together. This would be necessary if the panels of Styrofoam you have are a little smaller than what you need, or maybe you can use two scrap pieces to make up a piece that you need. One other possibility is if you need to build your own inner box (more on this later).

THE INNER BOX (Figure 1)
The inner box should be just a little bit larger than the Height, Width, and Depth of the radio Ė maybe an inch of additional space on all sides. The chances of finding a box with the exact dimensions needed is pretty slim, so you'll have to look around for the best choice. If need be, you can always buy a larger box and cut it down to the size you want. Once you have selected the inner box, find an outer box that is approximately six inches longer in each dimension. This will allow room for three inches of packing material on all six sides of the inner box.

Once you've found the inner box you need, assemble the box (if necessary), and cut a piece of Styrofoam sheet that will fit snugly in the bottom of the box. (An electric meat slicer is great for cutting Styrofoam panels.) Make sure this piece doesn't rattle around in the box, nor should it push out the sides.

Remove this Styrofoam sheet from the box, and place your radio on the sheet so that there is equal space around the radio on all sides. Remember, we need about 1 inch minimum between the boundaries of the radio (including knobs, handles, switches, meters, connectors, etc) and the edge of the Styrofoam sheet. Gently press the radio onto the sheet so that the feet will make indentations in the Styrofoam. Remove the radio from the sheet and cut out holes all the way through the sheet for the feet. These holes should be big enough for the feet, but not big enough for the radio to slide around on the sheet. This sheet is what holds the radio in place within the inner box. I've found that sometimes the feet are longer than the sheet is thick, so I've had to use a second bottom sheet of Styrofoam to make sure the feet of the radio are at least an inch away from the bottom of the box. Before you remove the radio from the sheet, get a marking pen and write "FRONT" on the sheet so that you can position the radio correctly in a later step.

Place the bottom sheet(s) of Styrofoam into the inner box, and set the radio in position on the sheet. Check to make sure you've got the proper orientation of the radio (remember, the front of the radio should go next to the word "FRONT" that you wrote on the Styrofoam sheet). There should be at least an inch of space between the radio and the box on all sides (don't forget the top). Now you can make up the difference between the top of the radio and the inside top of the inner box with one or more Styrofoam sheets. You can use newspaper between the top Styrofoam sheet and the inside top of the box to make up for any small gaps. Now your beloved boatanchor has a protective box to be shipped in. But don't seal that inner box yet.

Remove the radio (again), and take out all the tubes. Yep, those tubes can become flying glass projectiles given the right kind of shock. And tubes are not cheap anymore Ė assuming you can still find some of them. I used to think I only needed to remove the big tubes because they had more mass (converts to momentum under shock). But then I received a boatanchor with a small 7-pin tube that was shattered and still in its socket. That was enough to tell me that the caution that I'd used in previous shipments was indeed justified. So remove all the tubes, and wrap them individually in small bubble wrap or a thin Styrofoam sheet. Don't get cheap now and stuff them back into the radio; the tubes will be shipped separately. While you've still got the cover off the radio, rotate all the variable capacitors so they're fully meshed. This will provide some protection should something break loose (unlikely, but possible) during transit.

Put the radio in a plastic bag for protection against moisture. The bag could be anything from what you bring home from the hardware store, to a large size garbage bag, depending on the size of the radio. It doesnít have to be a perfect fit, you can tape the seam with some packing tape. This is your last line of defense against moisture, and it also keeps any Styrofoam dust out of the radio.

OK, now you can put the radio back into the inner box for the last time (I promise). Look at the radio in the box, and label the box on the outside "Front", "Rear", "Left Side", "Right Side", "Top", and "Bottom". This is helpful when installing the inner box into the outer box, and also during the unpacking process. Add the Styrofoam sheets to the top, close the box, and tape it shut. Speaking of taping, tape all the seams of the box. This would be the long seam on the top and the bottom, plus the two end seams on the top and the two end seams on the bottom. And donít forget the seam that runs from the top to the bottom of the box along one edge where the box itself is glued together.

Sometimes you just canít find a box the right size for the Inner Box. When this happens, simply make your own box out of Styrofoam panels you cut from the pink sheet of Styrofoam you brought home from the home center. I wonít go into the construction details, but the general idea is to cut the panels you need, and glue them together with construction adhesive, to form your own Inner Box. You will still need a separate piece for the bottom to position the radio properly within the box, and also allow room for a separate sheet to be placed on the top of the radio, in addition to the top cover of the box. So be sure to account for these when youíre building the box.

THE OUTER BOX (Figure 2)
As I mentioned earlier, you will want at least three inches of shock absorbing material on each side of the Inner Box. This material could be anything that will absorb the shock, and still retain its original shape after the shock. The simplest candidate for this task is the ubiquitous Styrofoam peanut, or "S". But hereís the trick for using the peanutsÖ you have to keep them from shifting around, and allowing the Inner Box to migrate toward the side of the Outer Box. Simple Styrofoam barriers will accomplish this. First, you need one for the bottom. Put three inches of peanuts on the bottom of the Outer Box. Jiggle them around, and press down on them occasionally because they create a lot of air spaces. Now cut a Styrofoam panel to fit the bottom of the Outer Box and place it on top of the peanuts. Make sure the fit is good enough to prevent the peanuts from sneaking around the panel.

Place the Inner Box on top of this bottom "peanut barrier", centering it in the Outer Box. Cut a Styrofoam panel that is the height of the Inner Box, and runs along the left side of the Inner Box, from the front of the Outer Box to the back of the Outer Box. Do the same for the right side of the Inner Box. This will create four chambers for the peanuts. Pour the peanuts into these four chambers, filling them to the top of the box and barriers. Cut another sheet of Styrofoam the size of the Outer Box to cover everything thatís now in the box. This would be a good time to include the manual. Put it in a ziplock bag, and place it on top of the Styrofoam cover. Then pour peanuts over this cover to fill the Outer Box to the top.

You should now have a radio in the Inner Box, spaced about one inch from all sides of the Inner Box. There should be one or two layers of Styrofoam sheet under the radio, and one or two Styrofoam sheets on top of the radio. There should be an inch of air between the four sides of the radio and the sides of the Inner Box. The Inner Box should have about three inches of Styrofoam peanuts between it and the Outer Box protecting it on all six sides.

Put a mark on the outside of one of the outer flaps on the Outer Box to indicate that it is the TOP of the box. Not that it matters a lot, but I like to imagine the radio being shipped right side up. Tape the flaps of the Outer Box shut. Then tape the open seams of the box on both top and bottom. Finally, tape the seam of the Outer Box where it is joined together by glue.

And donít forget to ship the tubes. If there is enough bubble wrap around each tube, you should be able to put them all in a single box with additional bubble wrap on all six sides (no need to double box).

Measure the final dimensions, weigh it, and look up the shipping cost on the carrierís website. I have not had a bad experience with any of the usual carriers when the radio is packed as described, so I will look for the lowest cost carrier unless one is preferred by the buyer.

In some cases, this may be overly conservative, but Ė when it comes to shipping a boatanchor safely Ė I believe itís justified. The dimensions referred to in this document are pretty general. I believe they can be calculated with a bit of effort, but I have never seen this done on any of the ham reflectors. I invite anyone who has the required background to provide these calculations for the rest of us to use. Or, maybe someday, Iíll try it myself and include it in this document.

My single claim is that I have shipped radios ranging from a portable transistor shortwave radio to a sixty pound boatanchor using this packing method, and they have all (make that ALL) arrived safely.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me via email.

73ís, and keep those boatanchors on the air.

Ed Ė k9ew






It looks like there is more than one inch of air space between the front panel and the front of the box, but you should measure from the furthest knob, switch, or meter. In this case, from the knob sticks out the most, so the air space is measured from there.



You can see the peanut barriers (pink) in the picture above. There is obviously not 3 inches of peanuts on the sides, but the radio is quite light so having less than 3 inches is acceptable. This is where it would be nice to have a couple of formulas to refer to if youíre not sure how much space you need.