Category Archives: POTA

Lunch break? Time for a rapid SOTA/POTA activation!

by Vince (VE6LK)

As always there are lots of links within the article. Click one! Click them all! Learn all the things! 🙂 Also, it’s with thanks to the management at QRPer.com who give me this outlet for creative writing.

While on business travel in Northern Alberta recently, I found myself with a slow workday and a few hours owed from lunches not taken that week. A quick plan was hatched and out the door I went after ensuring that all at work was going to be fine without me for 2-3 hours. But before I get to that story…

While travelling to and from this site, I’ve made it a mission to activate as many ATNO [All-Time-New-Ones, ie. never-activated parks] as possible within POTA. I plan these 500km trips with some small side journeys to these parks or natural areas and to break up the otherwise long drive along the foothills of the Canadian Rockies up and down the Highway 22 (aka. Cowboy Trail) corridor. It’s truly a lovely drive and I don’t mind it in the least.

Now back to my late-day lunch break adventure…

With the nearest park to me (VE-3162, Whitecourt Mountain) already activated but only on phone, I figured I’d activate it on CW and do more QSOs than the other activator just for good measure. I can’t believe that a park this close to a townsite had only one activation before I got there to activate it.

If that isn’t enough, it’s also a SOTA entity [VE6/ST-102] with a broad and not-steep slope making the activation zone quite wide. On top of that I can do this two-fer as a drive-up! This worked in my favour as I parked my truck within the activation zone! This SOTA entity had been done a couple of times already so I knew that electrical noise would be my nemesis.

For those of you that may have disremembered, I’m in shape -round- and that shape doesn’t easily climb summits, so a drive-up is totally my kind of summit. But I had to get a move on as there were only two hours left on the Zulu timeclock.  At my hotel room I had more gear, but being nervous nelly that I am at times, I do not leave my KX3 in the room unless there’s a safe. Given that the KX3 gets lonely without companions, I ensure that it always has a battery, antenna and key along for the ride so they keep each other happy as can be 🙂 I had just enough of my portable kit with me to make this happen.

Continue reading Lunch break? Time for a rapid SOTA/POTA activation!

Field Radio Kit Gallery: N5FY’S Elecraft KX1 Minimal CW Kit

Many thanks to Joshua (N5FY) who shares the following article about his KX1 portable field radio kit which will be featured on our Field Kit Gallery page. If you would like to share your field kit with the QRPer community, read this post


N5FY’S Elecraft KX1 Minimal CW Kit

by Joshua (N5FY)

I started operating CW this past August and am having a blast! One great thing, or maybe its a bit of a problem for the budget, is that when you can work CW, there is a whole new world of HF radios to collect…I mean operate!

Not to mention the ability to pack out a small portable kit that can be thrown in a bag at the last minute when headed out the door. I have a few such kits but lacked a throw line for each. So, I picked up some more Arborist Throw Line from Atwood Rope Manufacture so I could finish out the first kit.

I just snagged a used, inoperable, KXPD1 paddle to complete my KX1 radio. I had to rebuild the jack on the key but did so in quick order and decided to make it out to my local park for a POTA activation. My plan was to finish up the kit with the throw line and then test out the new complete kit. Suffice to say, all went well!

N5FY Beautiful Morning View with the KX1

The KX1, now out of production, has been a pleasure to operate CW with. This unit has the internal ATU option, 6xAA battery pack, and I updated the internals to add 80 and 30m. So this rig will run 20/30/40/80m.

There are 2 message memories, built in keyer, and even includes RF, AF, and bandwidth knobs for quick adjustment while operating. I’m no experienced CW operator, but this rig is hard to beat in my opinion. Then again, my KH1 hasn’t show up yet!

N5FY KX1 Complete Compact Kit

The antenna of choice here is my Tufteln 2 Wire No Transformer with a 41ft radiator and 17ft counterpoise. The internal ATU makes working 20, 30, and 40m simple and with no coax needed. I would use a much longer wire if I needed to work 80m. This antenna packs away very nice and not needing the Coax is a space saver. I have one version or another of my QRP antennas in each of my radio kits! 

N5FY KX1 Complete Compact Kit Packed

Packing a kit with no room to spare is almost like playing Tetris. I have a good bit of gear from Go Ruck, its all fantastic. For this kit, the 3L would leave a bit more space for some additional gear. If you are looking for some pockets as well, I like the GR2 Field Pocket. For this KX1 though, with the cover installed, I happed to forgo the bit of extra protection for the lightweight small size.

N5FY KX1 Complete Compact Kit Closed Up with Pencil for Size Reference

Next Kit to finish up is the KX2 and TX-500. Both just lack the throw line.

Joshua N5FY, 72

Elecraft KH1: A Quickie Pedestrian Mobile POTA Activation!

Thursday, November 9, 2023 was a typical “dad taxi” day for me.

By the time I got around to doing a POTA activation that afternoon (which was always on the docket) it was within 30 minutes of when I needed to pick up my daughters.

Fortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway Folk Art Center was en route to town.

I had planned that day to pair up my Elecraft KH1 with a random wire antenna, but looking at the time, I realized that was being a little ambitious–the few minutes to deploy and pack up the antenna would cut into the activation.

Instead (since I had just received my KH1 logging tray/cover) I decided to put it to the test with a real pedestrian mobile activation using the KH1, its  whip antenna, the logging sheets I printed/cut, and the teeny space pen included with the logging tray. In theory, this all looked doable, but in practice I didn’t know if I would actually be able to log on a tray attached to the side of my radio!

I had planned to use my Zoom H1n recorder for the KH1 audio since I would be making an activation video (see below), but frankly, I simply didn’t have time to set it up. I had to make do with the KH1 wee speaker.

Speaking of the speaker…

After playing with the speaker for a few weeks now, I’ve found that it sounds much better when I run the KH1 with a wide CW filter.

I’d always assumed being a low-fidelity 1″ speaker that narrow audio would be best, but I was wrong about that. In the field, I tinker with the filter and attenuation settings for the best audio balance.

Still, it’s not perfect (the speaker is really a “bonus” feature) but it’s much improved over my initial POTA activation.

Of course, I would have been using earphones had I not been recording the activation on camera. Via earphones, the KH1 audio is excellent!

Gear:

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On The Air

I hopped on the air, started calling CQ POTA, and the stations started rolling in. Continue reading Elecraft KH1: A Quickie Pedestrian Mobile POTA Activation!

KX2/AX1 Travel: Two Quick POTA Activations on the South Carolina coast!

SC Coast: A Postcard Field Report

When life gets busy (it is now) I don’t always have the time to produce a full field report. This is especially the case when I have, not one, but two field reports and two activation videos!

This “Postcard” field report covers two activations on the evening of October 2, 2023. At the time, I was staying on the coast of South Carolina for a night. (You might recall I activated Lee State Park with friends earlier that afternoon.)

Instead of producing two full-format field reports, this will be one report with two activations.

Note that I used the same gear for both of these activations.

Gear:

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Myrtle Beach State Park (K-2907)

I arrived at my hotel in South Myrtle Beach around 17:30 local. I checked in (thank you, Hampton Inn for the room upgrade!), dropped off my bag in the room, then immediately made my way to what turned out to be my first of two parks.

As I purchased my park ticket at the entrance gate, the park employee told me that my ticket would also allow me into Huntington State Park (just 20 minutes down the road) until end of day.

At that point, I had no intention of hitting a second park…but of course I just couldn’t resist the temptation of that free entry!

I know that some South Carolina parks are picky about antenna deployments, etc. so I stuck with my low-impact, low-profile combo of the Elecraft KX2 and AX1. It doesn’t disturb the trees, the ground, nor any park visitors.

I parked at the pier and set up at a picnic area under the trees nearby. Early October is very much off-season on the coast, so the park was relatively quiet.

There was no one else in the picnic area, so I had the place to myself. Continue reading KX2/AX1 Travel: Two Quick POTA Activations on the South Carolina coast!

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

by Leo (DL2COM)

San Francisco Radio Diary – Part 1

“No way!” I said to myself when I saw that Alcatraz Island is an official Parks-on-the-air (POTA) reference which has only been activated four times by two operators.

Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island / POTA reference K-7888 & 2fer K-0647

It surprised me that such a historically relevant site hasn’t seen more ham radio activity in the past – or maybe it has, just not for POTA. I then got super excited as I was packing my bags for San Francisco.

I have missed this foggy beauty so much and it has been many years since I visited the city. I won’t bore you with the ordeal of our travel but it included canceled flights, multiple delays and rescheduling via Berlin and London the next day due to a hostage situation at Hamburg airport. So our already super short trip of 4.5 days shrunk into a good 3 days in SF. So which things to cross off the schedule now? It was clear that this unfortunate situation was certainly not going to eat into my activation budget. Hell no!

I admit since watching “The Rock” (1996) Alcatraz has always been a place of mystery and fascination to me. Those who are interested in reading more about the former fort, military prison and federal penitentiary can do so here.

After I learned that it was also a CW ATNO I instantly said: “Done deal. The ink is dry. I will activate with morse code in the shadows of Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris”. Of course I would do it plain vanilla style throwing good ol’ wires in trees and staking pointy things in the ground. Yeah right. Sometimes passion does tend to carry you away a wee bit so a little later I gathered myself and started doing some research.

K-7888 log so far

Apparently the first POTA pioneer on Alcatraz was KC1MIJ who managed to get 5 QSOs in with an FM HT in July 2021. I’d say that’s pretty awesome for a location almost as low as sea level. The first successful activation was done on December 3rd 2021 by Elizabeth “Liz” N6LY and her husband Kevin K6YD. Since then both of them had only been back one time in December 2022 for another day to achieve a whopping cumulative 761 phone QSOs in only two days of total operation. Wow! What an achievement. No other hams have tried to activate Alcatraz since.

National Park Service Badge
The entire island is under management of the National Park Service (NPS)

I didn’t hesitate to write Liz an email and ask about her experience operating from the island as I knew it would probably require some preparation. The POTA website also stated that a permit from the National Park Service (NPS) is required. Luckily Liz replied swiftly with a lot of helpful information and I am very thankful for the email exchange. She specifically pointed out that it is in fact necessary to get a permit (even for simple HT activity) and that she had already applied in July for another day activity this coming December. They are still waiting to hear back from NPS’s office so it does seem quite hard to get approval for a “proper” activation. It is understandable that folks there want to have control over an organized operation where antennas, 100w radios, chairs etc. might need to be set up. With so many tourists visiting each day they also want to make sure that any activity doesn’t interfere with their core business especially on weekends.

Since I really didn’t want to spoil any of the hard preparatory work with NPS that Liz and Kevin had done for the ham radio community as well as respect local processes I wrote an email to the Alcatraz Rangers Office asking for a permit only a few days before my arrival. I knew it was a long shot and highly unlikely that they’d get back to me in time. So I called them every morning and afternoon the days after to follow up but was unsuccessful reaching them on any channel. By that point I had almost given up. However there were plenty of other options for activations so I had a blast in/on several SOTA/POTA references in SF which I will report on later.

Alcatraz Island Ferry
Alcatraz Island Ferry @ Pier 33

On our last day I woke up and thought “Man, I can’t just leave the Bay Area and not activate Alcatraz.” Since one of my appointments got canceled short-term I didn’t think long, jumped on an Uber to Pier 33 and off I was (yeeeees, online tickets were still available).  Continue reading DITs and DAHs from Alcatraz

A welcome POTA layover with friends at Lee State Park in South Carolina

On September 30, 2023, my uncle Reggie passed away at the age of 83. I was incredibly fond of him. His funeral was to take place in Georgetown, South Carolina on Tuesday, October 3rd.

The funeral time was confirmed on Sunday evening (Oct 1), so I made all of my travel plans that night. I decided to leave early Monday morning and drive to Myrtle Beach where I’d reserved a hotel room for one night. I’d then attend the funeral the following day and drive back to my home in the mountains. Round trip, this would amount to about 12 hours of driving.

This, of course, was a pretty somber reason to take a road trip–although it would be nice to spend time with my SC family. I wanted to make the most of my travels and fit in a little “radio therapy” along the way. I glanced over the POTA map for a park that might make for a nice break from travels.

Before hitting the sack Sunday evening, I remembered that many months ago Keith (KY4KK) told me to give him a heads-up anytime I planned to pass by Florence, SC. I knew that Florence would be a simple detour on my journey, so I reached out to Keith and asked if he and his POTA buddies Tommy (N4GS) and Steve (W4JM) might, by some chance, be available for a quick POTA activation. Of course, this was very late notice.

Keith wrote back and recommended that I activate Lee State Park–he and Tommy were both available but, unfortunately, Steve had other plans.

Monday morning, I hit the road and arrived at Lee State Park in the early afternoon.

Lee State Park (K-2905)

I pulled into the park driveway and was greeted by a number of Halloween displays. Evidently, the park staff loves decorating for holidays.

At first glance, this looks like a POTA activator that never never got their ten logged.

I pulled into the visitor’s center parking lot and immediately met Keith and Tommy.

After a quick greeting, Keith said, “Thomas, our job here is to get you on the air as smoothly as possible so you can continue your trip.”

Keith, KY4KK (left) Tommy, N4GS (right)

Herein lies what I love about amateur radio and POTA specifically: even though Keith, Tommy, and I had only just met in person, they were instant friends.

I must say, Lee State Park is the perfect POTA park; there are loads of tall trees, covered picnic areas, open spaces, ample parking, and ham-friendly staff. It just doesn’t get better than this!

We walked to a large covered picnic area and Keith suggested that we deploy his 40 meter EFHW antenna.

I agreed without hesitation!

Unlike me, Keith is adept at using a slingshot to deploy his antennas.

As I started setting up the radio, Keith aimed his slingshot and snagged a really high branch on the first go. This 40M EFHW was being deployed as a vertical!

I decided to bring along my Penntek TR-45L on this trip. I’m glad I did: it was ideal for this sort of POTA activation! Continue reading A welcome POTA layover with friends at Lee State Park in South Carolina

The ARRL POTA Book Prize Package Giveaway!

As I mentioned in my article about the new ARRL POTA book, the ARRL has offered a generous prize package to one lucky QRPer.com reader.

The prize package includes everything you see in the image above:

How to enter…

All you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling us what you love about Parks On The Air (POTA).

If you have yet to participate in the Parks On The Air program, then please tell us what it is that you find so enticing about the program; why you plan to become active in POTA.

Details:

  • We will keep the comments open until 13:00 UTC on Friday, November 17, 2023. You can only enter once, so please include your callsign (if you have one) in the comment.
  • We will take the total number of comments, use a random number generator to pick one comment, then reach out to you to obtain your shipping information.
  • The ARRL will drop ship this prize package directly to you!
  • This giveaway is open to everyone.

Click here to comment and enter the giveaway!

Many thanks to the ARRL for offering up this POTA prize package!

Elecraft KH1 CW Message Memories

Yesterday, I updated the firmware in my Elecraft KH1 with a beta release we’re evaluating in the KH1 volunteer test group. This beta release includes CW message memories and CW send/receive decoding. At first blush, both seem to work really well.

I updated my KH1 while having lunch at my buddy Vlado’s (N3CZ) QTH. Elecraft makes the process so simple: download their utility, download the firmware file, connect the supplied USB cable to the PC and the radio, and make one setting change on the KH1 for it to receive data. That’s pretty much it.

I loaded the firmware right before I walked out the door and then programmed the message memories at K-3378 where I had less than 20 minutes to perform an activation (that video will be posted soon). I had no notes, no manual, and sorted out how to record the messages with no problem whatsoever. The process is very intuitive. I even recorded all three messages correctly on the first go.

I’d already given thought to what messages would go where–one message is very specific to the KH1.

Here’s what I recorded in the three message memory slots:

  1. “CQ POTA DE K4SWL”
  2. “BK TU TU 72 DE K4SWL”
  3. “AS AS DE K4SWL”

Number three is there for when I need to change log sheets in the KH1 logging tray!

AS is a CW Prosign that means, “Wait” or “Hang on.” Since it’s a Prosign, you send AS as one character (dit dah dit dit dit)–no space between the A and S.

I just hit that #3 memory then take my time flipping log sheets!

On my other field radios with CW message memories, I tend to give memory #1 a CQ POTA, memory #2 a CQ SOTA, then the third memory a 73/72 message.

In the early days of POTA, I used my “CQ POTA DE K4SWL” message memory a lot in beacon/repeat mode because we had a mere fraction of the hunters we have today.

These days, I find that I only end up calling CQ POTA two or three times–just enough for the RBN to pick me up. Once spotted? I almost never need to call CQ again and if I do, it’s easy enough to do that by hand. POTA has grown in numbers so much since the early days.

There’s no SOTA CQ on the KH1 for this same reason. I find I only need to call CQ enough for the RBN to find me.

Anyway, just a random Friday note for you!

I had a problem uploading my latest SOTA activation video with the KH1. I hope to have it published later this weekend or on Monday at the latest.

Have a great weekend–I hope you have a moment to play a little radio!

Cheers & 72,

Thomas (K4SWL)

Guest Post: W8GM’s CW QRP Journey Begins

Many thanks to David (W8GM) for sharing the following guest post:


My CW QRP Journey Begins

by David (W8GM)

It is not really a beginning but for some reason it feels like it.

This a summary of my second ever CW QRP POTA activation which includes a summary of my radio path to this point and a unique encounter that shows how amateur radio operators can be so separated by distance but still somehow manage to build and maintain a sense of community.

Life can sometimes be so strange. I had an interest in amateur radio some 30 years ago but what stopped me? Morse Code.

No way would I learn a dead language so I could talk on a radio! Fast forward to the fall of 2021 when I discovered there was no longer a code requirement to become licensed.

It happened fast. I took the tests, explored the bands from 70cm to 80m and simply felt my way around amateur radio. I discovered POTA and I activated my first park on January 2nd, 2022. I have enjoyed camping, hiking and the outdoors my entire life and I realized that POTA had the potential to bring the outdoors and amateur radio together. However, I was simply a weekend POTA warrior. Most of my activations were from a car or sitting at a picnic table while I was camping.

During this time, I discovered websites such as QRPer.com and The Long Island CW Club and I watched oodles of videos of people combining hiking or remote camping with small radios and practicing amateur radio. I was jealous. However, I knew I only needed to put the pieces of the puzzle together and I could be like those YouTubers I was jealous of.

So really, this is where the journey began. I joined LICW completely ignorant of what a wealth of CW information and education this club offers. I soaked up a lot of that education and continued to follow the QRPers of the world.

Unfortunately, in June of 2022, I took off a full year from amateur radio. But in July of 2023 I was able to return, and I resumed my QRP goals. Once again LICW was there to support me and what follows is the story of my second ever CW QRP POTA activation.

Activation time

I pulled into my parking spot thinking “Wow, I’ve been coming here for over 15 years.” That thought quickly disappeared when I looked at my dash and saw it was 26 degrees Fahrenheit. Southwest Michigan’s first cold week of fall. I grabbed my pack and started heading to my secret spot.

My plan was to set up and then explore the woods most of the morning. Hiking around would keep me warm through the cold morning and I’d try to play radio in the afternoon after it had warmed up a bit. I arrived at my spot and, once again, I found it undisturbed. My leftover firewood was still sitting there in a neat pile. Over the last 15 years I have come here countless times, for as short as an hour and as long as 3 days and never once has anyone disturbed my little 20-foot patch of earth.

I set up my coffee kit, chair, antenna, and radio kit. I used a Packtenna 40m EFHW for an antenna and hung it in a sloper configuration. I did it just like all those QRPing YouTubers do it. I tossed a weighted throw line in the air and had the high end up about 40 feet. The radio was an Icom IC-705 and I put an Elecraft T1 ATU tuner in line for some extra insurance. I plugged in my cwmorse.us paddle and battery pack and I was good to go. But first I headed off to do some exploring before I returned and powered up the radio.

After getting back from exploring, I was ready for some coffee and that was made next. I powered up the radio and thought I’d try starting out on 10 meters. I had learned that a huge advantage of CW is you can be auto spotted on the POTA page. Cell reception at my spot is hit and miss. Some days it is there and others you have nothing but SOS on your phone.

No worries about spotting today. CW wins again.

I called CQ for quite some time and was starting to get nervous until a faint station broke through. And of course, it was the last thing a rookie CW operator needs. The call sign was wrong, or I was failing. Continue reading Guest Post: W8GM’s CW QRP Journey Begins

The Parks on the Air Book! Coupon code for free shipping & a giveaway!

If you haven’t heard yet, there’s a new book by the ARRL called “The Parks On The Air Book.” Here’s the description from the ARRL site:

The Parks on the Air® Book explores the process of activating a park unit and hunting those activations. Through the experiences of 14 operators, it offers advice and motivation for taking your radio out to the park and becoming active in the growing POTA community. Full-color format!

I’m honored to be one of the 14 operators who has an essay in this fine book.

Mine is called, “The Art of the Self-Sufficient QRP Field Kit.

A number of my POTA friends also contributed essays in this book. It was great fun reading through these.

I think the editors did a fine job pulling together a wide variety of perspectives in this book–not only focusing on activating, but also hunting. I also love the fact that the articles have a more human-interest focus; more context about why the authors enjoy POTA and how they make it their own. This is not a dry read…quite the opposite!

I should mention that the ARRL pulled this together by teaming up with the Parks On The Air crew.

Click here to read the full press release (.docx).

Click here to read sample pages from the book (.PDF).

Coupon Code for Free Shipping!

As a contributor of this book, the ARRL have given me a coupon code to share with my readers and subscribers; this will give you free shipping.

At checkout, simply enter my callsign as a coupon code: K4SWL

Click here to purchase on the ARRL website.

The list price of the book is $22.95, and ARRL members can buy it for $19.95. I feel like this is a great value and an excellent read despite the fact they invited me to contribute! 🙂

A POTA Package Giveaway!

The ARRL have also given me a little prize package to send to a lucky QRPer.com reader. We’ll run a little contest this weekend that’s open to anyone and everyone interested in POTA.

Stay tuned for more details!