My one-man Field Day. off grid radio training
For amateurs who are into off grid radio for preparedness/emergency purposes, I have a blunt reality check for you: You’re probably not as prepared as you think you are. And you’re most likely not off grid radio training enough. Participating in Field Day once a year or occasionally operating from your deck doesn’t cut it. What should you be doing? Just as important, what should you not be doing? off grid radio training
It may surprise my readers to hear that I seldom participate in Field Day. My reason is simple: I get out with my gear often enough where having to set aside one special day for it isn’t necessary. I’m not motivated by contests, so with that as a non-issue, any time I’m operating off grid has the same benefits as the official Field Day. I can have a Field Day anytime.
The great outdoors. off grid radio training
I had a day off, the weather was awesome, so on a whim I decided to do some QRP in the field. The best times are unplanned, right? “The Field” in my case was just a few steps out my back door. My jab about operating from your back deck aside, you don’t have to travel great distances to practice your radio skills. Set up in the environment you are moist likely to be in when trouble strikes. For some of you that might be an apartment balcony. For others, it might be a large spread in the country. It doesn’t even have to be outdoors. Whatever your habitat is, work with it. off grid radio training
I ran into my first snag before I even stepped outside. My go-bag was in disarray. There were some missing parts that I had to hunt down. My bag also had parts I didn’t need. How did they get in there? And begging the the cat to stop treating my microphone cable like a chew toy was met with typical cat indifference.
Once I did get outside, setup was straightforward. Clever hams always give themselves antenna options. Mine are an Alpha Antenna FMJ, a homebrew random wire antenna, and some homebrew dipoles. Today I went with the FMJ. It’s the easiest to transport and set up. The radio, power source, antenna, everything, was ready to go in just a few minutes.
Another two problems were exposed. My go bag includes 50 feet of coax. That’s a lot to lug around, and I have never needed all 50 feet. Should I give up the flexibility of having a long coax in exchange for lightening the load? At the same time, my power cables from the radio to the external battery and from the battery to the solar panel are a bit short for my use. They store inside the battery box, and it’s already pretty crowded in there. Should I lengthen them, which would mean upgrading to a larger battery box and reducing portability? Or leave them as is, keep my smaller box, and deal with it? off grid radio training
I’ve known about both these issues for a while, but have been blowing them off. That’s not good. Blowing off problems, even seemingly small ones, can result in big hassles later. There is no set “correct” answer as long as you accept the drawbacks along with the benefits.
The strongest element of my portable setup is the power source. A ten amp-hour lithium battery paired with a 27 watt folding solar panel will push my FT817 radio for a very long time, even with full 5 watt output and a generous duty cycle. With the strong sun on this day, I could run completely off the solar while the battery just floated. It isn’t always this easy. Every plan should include provisions for at night or when the sun is not strong. If you are running a 100 watt radio, the complexity and size of your power generation will increase dramatically.
In my opinion, the extra expense and effort needed to power a 100 watt radio off grid is seldom worth it, especially if portability is a main goal. We all have to make our own decisions and accept the tradeoffs. For me, QRP allows me to keep my go-station as light and simple as possible. QRP is something of an art form. It takes patience to master, but once you get the hang of it you will not miss the extra watts.
A day well spent.
Overall, my one man Field Day was productive. I identified some problems that will need to be addressed. I also was able to give that FMJ antenna a good workout. It’s my newest antenna and therefore the one I have the least experience with. The HF bands were not great, but I was able to make enough contacts to satisfy me that my system was working. No matter how long I do this, there is always something new to learn. It’s a good feeling to pack out at the end of the day knowing I’m a better operator for having done it. I’ll do this again soon, building on previous experiences.
What is holding you up?
Have you been neglecting your off grid radio training? There can be many reasons why, sometimes more than one reason. Some “cures” are simple, and others not so much.
Family commitments: Parents who were already busy now have the added demand of kids at home all day distance learning due to Covid. As if normal parenting duties were too easy, many of you are now ad hoc teachers too. Include the kids in your radio activities. It would be a great science project where they can learn about renewable energy, physics, math, and electronics.
Work commitments: Most of us do not control our work schedule. Working from home does not automatically translate into more personal time. There’s no easy out. All you can do is be sure to take all the paid time off you’re entitled to and practice good time management skills while on the job so you’re not always working late. This goes well beyond radio. It’s good for family life and relationships too.
Money: During these hard times, not having money for a radio hobby seems like a petty “First World problem.” And it is, up to a point. Don’t discount your mental health and personal satisfaction as petty. Beyond material needs, you have to take care of yourself by engaging in fun and interesting pastime activities. There are many low-budget projects on this and similar websites, and YouTube too. You might have to be creative and make compromises, but it can be done. off grid radio training
So what’s your next move?
Getting off the grid and practicing your skills should be a priority for any serious amateur. It does not necessarily have to take up a lot of time or money. I find that I get more from several short outings than I do from one long one. If time or money is an issue, look for ways around these issues instead of using them as an excuse not to do it at all. If all you have is one hour and a $35 handheld radio…fine. Get out there and make the best of it. Successful off grid amateur radio is and always will be more about skill than it is about stuff.