Winter Ham Radio Operating Opportunities!

      8 Comments on Winter Ham Radio Operating Opportunities!

Are you hibernating this winter?

Where I live, and for most of you, it’s really cold! It seems like after the Christmas season is over no one is motivated to do much winter ham radio. It is a great time to keep going with radio activities. Of course, we need to find a way to make it interesting and fun, otherwise why do it at all? What can you do to stay engaged? Well, here are some suggestions:

Winter Field Day. winter ham radio

Winter Field Day takes place on the last weekend of January and the format is pretty much the same as the much more well known June Field Day. WFD is the neglected stepchild of amateur radio because it get no where near the support & attention of traditional Field Day. Even the ARRL doesn’t seem to care. I had to dig deep into the ARRL website to find any reference to it. Winter Field Day is organized by the Winter Field Day Association, which is not connected to the ARRL. The website has the complete rules and background information.

The event is really meant for those interested in EMCOMM, but of course anyone is welcome to participate. If you are an EMCOMM person or into survival/preparedness, then surely you must understand the importance of being able to operate in hostile weather environments. If you only venture out when the weather is nice (or you never venture out at all), then you’re not serious about EMCOMM or for that matter survival or preparedness. winter ham radio 

The OH8STN YouTube channel and blog is the go-to resource for rugged, outdoor operating. Julian doesn’t just wander out for a few hours here and there. He walks the talk and operates for extended periods in very hard weather, then documents his experiences on line. Anyone who truly wants to learn how to communicate while in “survival mode” would be doing themselves a huge favor by first checking out OH8STN’s videos. He personifies Winter Field Day.

Ham Meets Military-The Royal Netherlands Army.

Royal Netherlands Army emblem. PUBLIC DOMAIN GRAPHIC

By late April it won’t really be winter anymore, but on April 22 the Royal Netherlands Army will be participating in a 12-hour “ham meets military” event. The purpose of the event is to familiarize military personnel with amateur radio. Eight stations will be up and running on several bands. The Netherlands is a strong ally to the United States, so here is a chance for American hams to bag some DX and extend international goodwill. I would love to see the American military do something like this, and I’d even volunteer to help! I never heard of this project until I was tipped off by a reader so I don’t have details regarding logging, operating rules, etc. Here is a an English-language QRZ and Facebook page with frequencies and times.

Fly solo. winter ham radio

I’ve said this before many times and it’s worth hitting on again: You don’t need an organized contest or event to practice your skills! My home station is fully off grid, so I can do this anytime. Still, for the purpose of training for emergency communications and survival/prepping, I take my portable gear out to the field once in a while. I’m going to guess that everyone who reads this blog has an interest in in EMCOMM or survival/preparedness on some level. Getting out in bad weather may not be everyone’s idea of grand time, but if you are serious about EMCOMM and/or survival/preparedness, then you have to take the bad with the good. So get out there and do it! winter ham radio

If a contests or events are your primary motivator, the WA7BNM calendar lists hundreds of them. There is something going on every day of the year. While many events may be active only in limited geographical areas, no one should have any problem finding an on-air event that suits them. In addition to contests, there are several daily nets on HF that provide excellent opportunities.

Get organized! winter ham radio

Many hams take a break from amateur radio over the winter. If you are in this club, use the down time to go through your gear. Clean and organize everything. Fix that cable that’s been flaky since last summer. How are you doing on supplies and spare parts? Do you need to restock replacement fuses, connectors, wire, and other basic necessities? Are your antennas in need of attention? Check your tools and test equipment too. If you’re not going to operate radio, then at least get your house in order for when you do return to the air.

My winter project is to reconfigure my portable station. The goal is to have a complete HF-UHF setup that is light and compact enough to be transported a modest distance (3-5 miles, 4.8-8 km) on foot by one person. The package must include an off grid power source, antennas, and be effective for worldwide communication.

My current portable station already meets most of these requirements. The biggest unresolved problem is fitting it into a package that is comfortable to carry 3-5 miles. The backpack I use now is not appropriate and very painful after just a short walk. Since bringing a chiropractor along on every outing isn’t practical, I’m on the hunt for a backpack or other mode of transport that won’t twist my back & shoulders into a knot before I get to the end of my driveway. I am otherwise more than physically fit enough to carry the load; I just need to fine tune the mechanics of packaging everything.

What’s next?

As I write this, at my house it is about 20F (-6C) outside and we got about an inch (2.5 cm) of snow overnight. This is not considered a big deal at all in these parts. The sun is bright and strong, perfect for feeding a hungry solar panel. Whether you go it alone or in a group, work a contest or do everyday operating, it doesn’t matter. Get out there and practice your skills in the worst of times as well as the best.

What are you doing to stay engaged with amateur radio this winter? Leave a comment below or send me a message on my contact page

8 thoughts on “Winter Ham Radio Operating Opportunities!

  1. randall krippner

    I’ve had a lot of stuff going on here this winter so far that’s kept me off the radio, but I’m going to be getting back on hopefully before the end of winter. I lost my primary amateur radio computer and some antennas during a storm back in October. Fortunately none of my other equipment was damaged.

    But that did make me realize how dependent I was on computers to operate. Everything I’d been doing on amateur radio required the use of computers – FT8, JS8Call, PSK, etc. I decided I needed to go back to the basics, so to speak, at least for a while. So once I get the outdoor antennas back up I’m going to try operating entirely computer free and see how that goes. That means CW and SSB only. So all winter I’ve been working on my CW skills trying to get up to at least 15 wpm. So we’ll see how that goes.

    I spend a lot of time outside in the spring, summer and fall and while I have the FT-818 that I could take along with me, being dependent on a computer meant lugging a laptop around in addition to everything else. So I’ve put together a backpack with just the 818, the mag loop antenna, a tiny CW paddle, and battery that I can just grab and go when I go out on the bicycle or run to the parks or am out on a trail somewhere.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      I have the ability to run data modes, but I seldom do. It’s cool and all that, it’s just not really my style. I’ve always held the opinion that for EMCOMM and prepping/survival purposes, data modes need to be carefully considered because as you correctly point out the extra equipment, plugs/connectors, and software add a layer of complexity and therefore another point of failure. I also speculate that, in a true disaster, no one is going to be fooling around with computers just to get a message out. OH8STN seems to have found the “secret sauce” for running data in EMCOMM/disaster environments. Anyone who is interested in pursuing data for survival comms is encouraged to check out his YouTube channel and blog.

      1. randall krippner

        you’re exactly right about computers. They’re fun to us, the digital modes are certainly useful, but they add a whole layer of complexity to the system and for emergencies you want to keep the system as simple as possible. The ARRL seems to be going the other direction, adding more and more complexity to emergency systems every time I open a copy of QST and read what they’re doing. Their mesh systems and radio networking and all of that has its place but as you said in a real emergency the people who are still trying to communicate are probably not going to have access to that kind of equipment, at least not out in the real world.

        Now that I got rid of the sports car I have a vehicle I can mount radios in again so another thing I need to do is get my Yaesu mobile installed in there this spring. Plus it has enough space that I might even think about putting a small HF rig in there as well with wire antenna that can be quickly set up so I can just pop the hatch, pull out a folding chair and operate out of the back end of the car when I go fishing.

  2. Earl Boaz

    Parks on the Air and Summits on the Air are both great activities for Ecomm practice. I have participated in both for years and have met some great folks and learned a lot and had a lot of fun. These activities help provide focus.

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      You are correct, Earl. POA and SOA have been around a long time and are a great way to practice operating “in the wild”.

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Robert L. Haar Ph.D.

    Another opportunity to be radioactive in the winter is to volunteer for the Sno*Drift Rally. This is a sports car rally held on snow covered public roads (closed off for the race) in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. A number of ham radio operators are used to coordinate the race. Get out in the snow, play radio and watch some fast cars. For more details, go to

    1. Chris Warren Post author

      Dr. Haar’s comment illustrates a good point: There are a lot of under-the-radar local events that do not get a lot of attention outside of their respective geographical areas. Check local club websites and social media pages for details on these very worthwhile opportunities.

      Thanks for your input, and good luck with your winter car rally!

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