Field Report: First POTA activation as VY2SW in Ottawa!

As I mentioned in my previous field report, the afternoon I arrived in Canada, I somehow managed to pass my Basic exam with honors.

This granted me full HF privileges and I even obtained the callsign VY2SW within an hour of requesting it the following morning.

No visit to Ottawa would be complete without snagging this photo!

Of course, I was very eager to use the new callsign on the air!

Finding a park

A few weeks prior to our trip, I checked out all of the POTA sites within a short distance of our hotel in Ottawa.

Turns out, there are loads of parks in the Ottawa/Gatineau region so I was spoiled for choice!

Since Ottawa is the capital city of Canada, there’s no shortage of provincial and national parks in the area.  (Washington DC is very similar in this regard.)

What, at first, surprised me was the number of parks that had either never been activated or had only been activated a handful of times. Taking a closer look in advance and with the assistance of Google Street View, I could see that many of these entities are simply historic buildings/sites or formal parks in the city with no easy means of activating without special permission.

Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve (VE-1596)

Shortly after noting on QRPer that I’d be in Ottawa a few days, a reader named Andrew reached out and offered advice about local parks. He suggested the Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve since it was only a 15 minute drive from our hotel. We made plans to meet up there for the activation.

Not only was Hog’s Back convenient, but it was also a large park with loads of spots where one could set up and play radio. No doubt this is why it’s one of the most popular POTA spots in the Ottawa area.

First Attempt

Andrew and I agreed to meet up at Hog’s Back on the afternoon of June 17, 2022. The weather that day had been spectacular. We’d just come out of a mini heatwave with record temps so the cool dry air felt pretty amazing.

On the way to the park, my daughter and I could tell that clouds were moving in rapidly, though.

We met up with Andrew and walked out to a brilliant little spot to set up the activation. I put my end-fed half-wave in a tree as we chatted and pulled out the Discovery TX-500 assuming we would be hit with some rain.

As I was finding a clear frequency on the bands, the rain and winds moved in with a bit of a vengeance.

It was very heavy rain with strong wind gusts and I had no proper shelter from it. Times like this make me wish I had a Bothy Bag like Fraser (MM0EFI).

Andrew looked at me and said, “You know, discretion is the better part of valor.

That gave me a chuckle and I agreed. Instead of fighting the crazy weather which was deteriorating so quickly, I simply packed up my gear as quickly as I could and we made our way back to the parking area with a plan to return the following day.

Take two…

The weather on Saturday, June 18 was much better; it was overcast, gusty, and about 10C/50F.

We arrived on site and I made my way to the same spot where I’d set up the previous day. There was no real threat of rain that Saturday morning, but it was quite gusty!

Instead of using a park bench, I brought one of my folding chairs and set it up under a large tree.

 

To date, this was the most urban park I’d ever activated and I felt a bit conspicuous if I’m being honest. I’m not quite used to so many people walking about.

That said, I’m always prepared to stop my activation and answer any questions from passersby; we POTA and SOTA activators are often ham radio ambassadors and this is very much a privilege.

Gear:

Deploying the random wire antenna was super quick and easy.

This was also the first activation where I used a small folding camp chair I purchased at ALDI a couple years ago. I’d always assumed it would be a poor choice for activations since it sits much closer to the ground than my three-legged REI hiking stool. Turns out I was quite wrong about that. This chair proved to be comfortable and, of course, much more stable than the REI stool. I’ll continue to use the REI stool, because it’s much smaller and packable for my SOTA hikes, but it’s nice to have a slightly more comfortable option.

The new call

Since this was the first (of many to come!) activations using my VY2SW callsign, I decided:

  • Not to use my CW message memory keyer and do all of the CW by hand with the attached KXPD2 paddles. The reason for this was to get my fist used to sending VY2SW instead of K4SWL. I figured the extra keying would help re-wire my brain and muscle memory.
  • I also decided not to attempt to log in real time on my HAMRS app. I didn’t want the distraction on this activation.

I’m often asked why I bother with logging on both paper and the HARMS app. The reason is I actually prefer logging on paper only, but I really dislike transcribing the logs to electronic form later to be uploaded. I also find that I have more errors in my logs when I transcribe them after the fact. I do find it a pain to log to a mobile phone or tablet in real time along with logging on paper, but it saves SO much time post-activation, it’s very much worth the effort.

On The Air

I started calling CQ POTA on 30 meters and fortunately the band was open. My very first contact with the new call was Gary (W5GDW) in my home state of North Carolina! The next contact was my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and my buddy Mike (K8RAT) soon thereafter. It was great working two fellow SEORAT members in this first Canadian activation with my new call.

I logged Dave (W4JL) who’s a local back in NC–in fact, we rarely get to work each other because we’re too close for skywave and too far away for ground wave. I also logged Steve (K9IS) on 30M along with a few other familiar calls! All in all, I worked eleven stations in 12 minutes on 30 meters.

I then QSYed to the 20 meter band and immediately picked up K9IS again (thanks for the second band, Steve) and added four more contacts for a total of five on 20 meters in 5 minutes.

For fun, I also moved up to the 17 meter band where I worked one more station for a total of 17 total contacts in 30 minutes on the air.

I was very pleased with these results–thanks so much to those who hunted me during this activation!

QSO Map

Here’s how my 5 watts into the PackTenna random wire propagated that day:

Activation video

Here’s my real-time, real-life video of the activation at Hog’s Back Conservation Reserve.  As with all of my videos, there are no ads and I don’t edit out any parts of the on-air activation time:

Click here to view on YouTube–please consider also subscribing!

Near the end of my activation, Andrew showed up and we got to spend a bit more time together. My whole family was appreciative of his local advice about places to see and the many beautiful walks in Ottawa.

We had such a great time in Ottawa, we adjusted our return trip so that we could enjoy a few more days in Canada’s capital city! In fact, look for me doing an activation there within the next few days (at time of posting).

Thank you!

Thank you for joining me on my first POTA activation in Canada as VY2SW! I have many, many more activation reports and videos from Canada in the pipeline.

Of course, I’d also like to send a special thanks to those of you who have been supporting the site and channel through Patreon and the Coffee Fund. While certainly not a requirement as my content will always be free, I really appreciate the support.

In fact, your support is what has made this extended family road trip to Canada possible. I apply any funds above and beyond the costs of running the website, producing the videos, and purchasing review equipment, to our family travel fund. This not only gives me an opportunity to play radio well outside my home area, but my family also gets to benefit from the work I put into producing activation videos and content on QRPer.com.

Thank you so very much!

Cheers,

Thomas (VY2SW / K4SWL)

9 thoughts on “Field Report: First POTA activation as VY2SW in Ottawa!”

  1. My apologies if ‘Ive missed the link, but what is the folding clip board you are using in this video? It looks ideal.

    1. Great question. This is a folding 3D-printed knee board made for be by the amazing Carolanne (N0RNM). I believe she may be working on a way to make these available soon. It’s a genius little kneeboard and has become an essential part of my radio kit.

      1. Much appreciate your reply. It would be good to see something like it available.
        Regards
        Fred

      2. Awesome knee board, I hope they will offered for sale. They would make portable with my KX2 much easier.

  2. I hope you sign /VE3 when using VY2SW in Ontario. Although not a legal requirement, it is expected. Unlike in the US, in Canada, the prefix still designates the location of the station.
    Glad you enjoyed your time in Ottawa. It seems there is a park or green space pretty much everywhere you look around here.
    73
    Mike Kelly, VE3FFK

    1. Hi, Mike,

      Throughout my Canadian POTA activations, I did include a /VE3 or /VE2 when I remembered. Honestly, though? It wasn’t terribly often because I’m not used to doing that and didn’t realize it was convention here. As you note, it wasn’t in my exam prep as a requirement or suggestion, so I never thought about it. When I remembered, I did it as a courtesy in QC calls.

      Thanks for the tip, though!

      Cheers,
      Thomas
      VY2SW

  3. It’s something of a shame that the POTA lists are contaminated by unusable “parks” which have been added to the list for no apparent reason other than making the lists longer. The carpark of an administration has nothing to be proud of or to respect. A park you can’t activate for obvious physical or logistical reasons may as well not be in the list.

    1. So in my experience I’ve never found a POTA park that couldn’t be activated. Even the ATNOs I note in Ottawa could definitely be activated, but one might simply need to get special permission in advance (I’d have to assume). POTA does have some hard-to-get-to parks in their network like national wildlife areas that are only accessible by boat or by air, but they all eventually get activated (these are fairly rare in the CONUS).

      I was very tempted to reach out to one of the historic sites in Ottawa and seek permission to sit on their lawn to complete an activation–just for the challenge of it. I would have used my self-supporting AX1 antenna which requires no ground penetrations or lines in trees. I simply didn’t have time to make all of the arrangements, though, and wanted to reach for lower hanging fruit. 🙂 If I lived near Ottawa, I would definitely attempt to get permission.

      POTA only adds “state/provincial/prefecture etc. or national/federal level parks” to their database, thus they must all be on public lands that are somehow accessible and available. There may be exceptions in the database, of course, but I’ve never encountered one. I’m sure they have a process for removing any that simply can’t be activated under any circumstance.

      There are a number of public lands and parks that aren’t in the POTA system, but users can request that they be added–I believe this is handled by regional coordinators who typically live in that very region (so have some local knowledge).

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