Off Grid Ham: Portable Antennas For The Off Grid Ham

Wire antenna. Courtesy ARRL.org

Chris Warren at Off Grid Ham has a nice, longish article on Portable Antennas For The Off Grid Ham. Please see Chris’s article on his site for the helpful antenna diagrams.

We’re not special.

Off grid amateurs spend a lot of time focusing on the power source for their equipment. While that’s understandable, we musn’t be distracted from the rest of the amateur radio chain. This time we’re going to look at the other end of the system: portable antennas.

To be clear, off grid radio does not require a “special” antenna. Any antenna that can be used for conventionally-powered operating can be used for off grid. Since most off grid radio is done in a portable/temporary/outdoor setting, or for survival/prepper/EMCOMM purposes, some antennas are more suitable than others. Operators who live in apartments, have HOA restrictions, spouse objections, or otherwise cannot have a permanently mounted antenna are in this mix too. Portable Antennas

It’s not practical to go over every possible option as there are dozens of them; we’ll cover the pros and cons of a few of the most popular. If you’re a newcomer to amateur radio, you’ll gain some focus about different antenna choices. At the end of this article I will include links to more detailed information.

A word about portability. Portable Antennas

The definition of “portable” varies considerably depending on who you ask. “Portable” can mean anything from a large trailer full of equipment to a handheld radio in a shirt pocket. It’s up to each individual operator to decide what works for them. Most of the antennas described in this article are not “portable” in the sense that one could back pack all day with it (along with all their other gear). They will all fit in an average car and can be hand carried short distances.

The classic random wire.

There is hardly anything simpler, less expensive, and easier to understand than the random long wire. This antenna has been around since the beginning of radio and is still used today. They can be made from any conductive wire and erected in any fashion…

If you’re going with a random long wire antenna, you’ll need a separate antenna tuner. The integrated antenna tuners on modern radios will not likely be enough. You can try it and you might get lucky, but very few internal antenna tuners have enough range of correction to get a random wire down to the 50 ohm load the radio requires. I have an external tuner that feeds an unun with a ground plane wire for my random wire antenna; that modified setup works well plugged into my FT-817. Portable Antennas

The tradeoff for ease & simplicity is inefficiency. The antenna tuner does not “fix” this problem. Whatever losses are inherent to your random wire will still be there.

Other random wire considerations.

You’ll also have to consider that random wires are not self-supporting. How do you plan on getting your antenna off the ground? You can bring a PVC pipe or telescoping mast but lugging it along that may not fit with your definition of “portability”. Another option is to run your random wire up to a tree. That too may be problematic. Is there a suitable tree at your operating site? Be aware that many public parks in the United States prohibit attaching anything to the trees, even temporarily.

Some hams advise cutting the wire to be a certain length, or to avoid a certain length. This is done to make the antenna work better across all the bands. That’s fine, but then it’s not really a “random” wire. This may seem like semantic nitpicking  but if you are going to cut a wire to a specific length you may as well take it all the way and make a proper end fed or dipole antenna. My wire antenna truly is random; I have no idea exactly how long it is. For all its faults, random wires really do work, and there’s no beating the low cost and simplicity.

The magnetic loop. Portable Antennas

The magnetic loop is one of the most beloved and hated antennas in all of hamdom. I’m not sure why, but every time it comes up in conversation, strong opinions fly back and forth.

Magnetic loop antennas are a conductive loop, a variable capacitor, and a smaller coupling loop. The loop can vary in size, with some versions having less than a three foot diameter. In spite of their small size and odd appearance, mag loops are quite effective. Magnetic loops do not require a tuner and are excellent for restricted space applications, such as apartments, motorhomes, etc. One of the big benefits of magnetic loops is they do not need to be mounted high off the ground. Any elevation greater than one loop diameter is just as good as mounting it on a 100 foot tower.

Magnetic loop disadvantages.

Mag loop antennas have narrow bandwidth. This has a lot to do with the “Q” value of the antenna, which in turn is related to the antenna’s small size, but that’s more than we’ll get into this time around. If you change your transmit frequency, even a little, the antenna will need to be re-tuned. Therefore, you will need easy physical access to the loop. There are commercially made mag loops such as the MFJ-1788 with a remote tuning head. It’s an expensive option, so consider your needs and wants carefully. Also, mag loops will have very high exposed voltages, even at low transmit power levels. Although it’s not necessarily dangerous, if you touch a mag loop while it’s energized, you’ll likely get a very memorable jolt! Keep it away from children, pets, and untrained bystanders.

If you prefer to build you own, the internet is full of plans and tips for DIY versions. By the way, the loop does not have to be a perfect circle, or even be a circle at all. Octagons and other shapes are acceptable. Portable Antennas

In my opinion, magnetic loop antennas are highly underrated. Once you learn its quirky ways it will provide excellent results.

Vertical antennas.

Commercially made portable vertical antennas might be the most popular antenna for off gridders. There are many choices: Buddistick, Alpha Antenna, Chameleon, and others. They generally do not require a tuner and will operate over numerous bands. Unlike mag loops, verticals maintain good bandwidth without constant adjustments. And unlike random wires, they do not take up much linear space when deployed. They’re easy to set up and take down and self supporting. There’s a lot to love here. I personally use an Alpha Antenna FMJ and I must say it delivers on its promises.

The main disadvantage is the cost. Commercially made portable antennas are pretty dang expensive for what you are getting. I realize a lot of the price tag is related to research & development expenses, plus the relatively low production runs of these products. Because portable antennas can be a serious financial commitment for the average operator, it’s important to do your homework and make sure you’re getting an antenna that is appropriate for your operating goals. Portable Antennas

Everything else.

There are so many other antennas that we can’t realistically go through them all here. Some of these antennas are quite effective, others not so much. Still others are just more complicated versions of well established designs. Experimenting is a big part of the fun, so don’t be afraid to take a chance. Home brew antennas are typically inexpensive and can be recycled into something else if they don’t work out.

Resources.

Here is an Off Grid Ham article from 2016 that goes into detail about random wire antennas, including notes on how to build your own.

This awesome database gives DIY plans for over four hundred antennas. It’s one of my favorite antenna resources and I highly recommend you bookmark this one.

This lengthy (33 page) PDF goes into deep detail about magnetic loop antennas, including operating theory. If you are or want to be a mag loop geek, this one’s for you!

Here’s another very well written and illustrated article about mag loops.

Here is a handy on line mag loop calculator if you want to take a stab at building your own.

The Villages Amateur Radio Club published this very well done guide to stealth antennas for those living in HOAs, apartments, etc.

Finally, an easy to understand explanation of antenna Q values. 

OH8STN: Portable Ham Radio Solar Power and Antenna

Here are two videos by Julian, OH8STN of SurvivalTech Nord, on running portable radios. The first covers portable solar power and the second is about an efficient, rugged, antenna for portable operations. Good communication is key in any disaster situation, so make sure you can maintain contact and keep your radios running.

Hello Portable Operators. This episode of oh8stn ham radio is the first of a series called “how to solar power your portable ham radio”. This episodes focuses on solar power and battery storage for mobile, low power and QRP portable amateur stations, operating off-grid. The episode covers my own experiences with popular solar panel brands, charge controller options, battery packs, solar storage options and explains the best way to build your own portable solar powered go kit for EMCOMM, POTA, SOTA or even preparedness. Later in the series we will look at both DIY and ready to run battery pack options, to get your station ready for off grid operation.

This video series continues where my guest post on the PowerFilm blog left off. You can read the original blog post here: http://oh8stn.net/PowerFilmBlog

The series is supported by PowerFilm Solar and GigaParts. Almost all gear mentioned in the video can be found from my GigaParts page at https://oh8stn.net/gigaparts . You can find PowerFilm folding panels, rollable panels, Genasun charge controllers and the perfect battery pack,all from GigaParts. GigaParts also offers a 5% discount to supporters/channel members/patreons of this channel and series.

73 Julian

Hello operators In this episode of OH8STN ham Radio, we test an off center fed dipole as an ultra portable HF antenna option for QRP field station. The antenna is the OCF 40 from chameleon antenna. The HF dipole is resonant on 40, 20 and 10 meters. It handles 50 watts SSB and 20 watts all other modes. Join me as we test this off center fed dipole with the Xiegu X6100 running on solar power and Icom IC-705 running an NVIS winlink session on 40 meters. 73 Julian

AmRRON Mobile (Radio) Training Exercise, May 14-15

AmRRON is holding a radio operator training exercise this weekend – May 14-15, 2022. This exercise is being held on HF frequencies, using digital modes and off-grid power.

Get ready!  The AMRMRX 22 is a fun exercise involving fixed-site ‘Command’ stations and field mobile ‘Reporting’ stations, requiring the mobile stations to set up a field station, listen and then transmit, then pack up and move to another location and repeat the process!

Exercise begins:  Saturday, May 14th @ 0945 Local Time

  • 4 Segments – Three 2 hour segments and a 1 hour 4 th segment.

Scenario: X10 Solar Flare on 20220508-1200Z with full on CME impact
28 hours later (20220509-1600Z). Expected loss of Grid power,
communications including cellular telephone and internet.

All guidance and instruction documents are downloadable below for you to print and review.

AmRRON CORPS MEMBERS be sure to participate in this Wednesday evening’s ‘BREAKOUT CHANNEL’ AmRRON Z-Net Voice Net for discussing the exercise and the roles and participate in the Q&A session.

There are two documents to download and print:

  1.  AmRRON AMRMRX v1.4.pdf  (Overall Exercise Description and General Guidance)
  2.  Instructions to reporting stations AMRMRX v1.4  (These are specific instructions for deployment as a reporting station.)

Reporting Station Requirements:

  1. AmRRON member
  2. Portable or Mobile HF radio capability (low power acceptable).
  3. Multi band antenna capable of reception / transmission on 40 & 80M.
  4. Digital HF capability utilizing FLdigi suite and JS8call simultaneously.
    Transportation (A conveyance capable of moving the operator and all
    equipment a distance of 3 miles in under 30 minutes).
  5. Off grid power (preferably PV panel and battery or equivalent).
    Generator power is acceptable but use caution in transporting and using
    flammable liquids.
  6. Operation from your vehicle as a mobile station is acceptable.

OH8STN: Survival Radio & Emergency Communications Ukraine

This video comes from Julian/OH8STN.

In this episode we take a look at decentralized communication strategy using 2 way radio for emergency group communications, tactical communications, spotting, intelligence gathering and getting critical news and information over the radio, to the people.

We will look at HF Radios, hand held walkie talkies, SDR (software defined radio). We will also look at the best survival radio strategies for a civilian emergency response during war or occupation.

73 Julian

Tactical Wisdom: Being Honest About WROL Comms

Joe Dolio at Tactical Wisdom has written an article titled Being Honest About WROL Comms (h/t American Partisan) which talks a little about amateur radio experts versus regular joes. Another way of putting that might be high tech hardware versus whatever gets the job done. And yet another way to describe the article is to tell ham radio people to stop intimidating new radio users with an overwhelming discussion of encryption, overspec’d radios, radio spectrum, etc., and just recommend they get a Baofeng.

Being an amateur radio licensee myself as well as having once been someone who knew nothing about radio, I know how easy it is to be overwhelmed. The LVA has a good number of ham radio operators, but mostly because we have taught the license classes ourselves and encouraged everyone who can to get at least a Technician license. That said we’ve only asked people to arm themselves with a Baofeng radio, unless they really want to take the step to higher end radios or long distance communication. With most people in your mutual assistance group using the same radio, you can easily maintain a configuration containing your local repeaters and call frequencies to load on each person’s handheld, further reducing the “know how” each person needs. The Baofengs are also inexpensive enough to buy in bulk, then you can load the configs and give/sell them to your people.

Being Honest About WROL Comms excerpt:

Radios

Let’s get a little housekeeping out of the way…my dear amateur radio friends, please refrain from the hysterical screeching about how wrong I am until the end; I think you’ll admit that what I say here has merit. Also, if you feel the need to discuss the FCC in the comment section, please understand that we are talking about true WROL communications, so understand that I don’t care about the FCC then. Sorry, but if we are TRULY talking about WROL comms, the FCC is not an issue. Agreed? Cool.

Some advice from the Ultimate Tactical Handbook:

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

Proverbs 18:2

The cold hard truth about WROL comms, which I take a lot of heat for, is that not everyone on your team needs to be a top-tier amateur radio guy and not every single person needs to have a $500-$600 handheld and a $1500 vehicle mount/base station radio. Sorry, amateur radio friends, but it’s true. Let me explain before you argue.

The VAST majority of your communication needs will honestly be INTRA-team communications. In other words, short range UHF-VHF comms among members of your team, relatively close to each other. The day-to-day communications will be everyone going about their business with their handheld radio in case they need to call for help or spread the alarm.

For example, the guys at your watch posts will have radios. A couple of people you send down to the local stream for water will need radios. Hunting parties…. radios. An OP 700 meters out, radios. None of these radios need to be a top of the line ultra-cool-guy frequency-hopping radio.

Cool Guy Digital Radio Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3ukGvXk

I know, encryption sounds cool. It makes you feel high speed. The truth is, I can achieve the same thing with my own brevity codes and code names for locations (I know, amateur guys – FCC says no codes – see above). Some of the push back I get on this is “but the government” or “them Russkies”; I assure you that you can’t buy any radio as a civilian that a nation-state can’t crack if they want to. The truth is, you aren’t that important and if a nation-state has localized you to the point that they are listening to your short-range comms, you’re done anyway. They’re already within a couple of miles of you and it’s only a matter of time.

I don’t say this to discourage, but to ENCOURAGE you all. Every time I get asked about radios for people just getting started and I recommend something like a Baofeng for new people, a bunch of very helpful, but highly discouraging Hams pile on, overwhelming that new person with a list of every $500 to $800 handset that is the BARE MINIMUM they need, and people get frustrated.

Here’s another tip:

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Romans 14:19

Now, having said that (listen up ham guys), you definitely need a licensed and skilled amateur radio operator as your communications chief. This person can make sure that your team has a set of radios that they can use to make long range contacts and gather information from outside sources, scan for others, and coordinate with other like-minded groups, but NOT EVERY PERSON needs this capability. Find a solid radio hobbyist and make them your comms chief. My good friend NC Scout holds a series of great courses on WROL comms (we have one coming up in Michigan), check out his classes at http://www.brushbeater.org.

Yes, Hams, I get it. You are very enthusiastic about your hobby and very helpful. Sometimes, though, in your zeal you intimidate and discourage new people.

So then, what does the average team member need? Some type of handheld VHF/UHF radio for local comms. I personally have had no issues with the Baofeng, and to be fair, those who do are trying to use it for more than what it’s intended for. For basic, point-to-point communications in a local radius, it’s sufficient. No, it won’t go 20 miles, but no handheld will by itself. Any handheld that can accept VHF/UHF programming with 4-8 watts is all you need for each member…(continues)

QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo, March 12 & 13, 2022

The QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo takes place this weekend, March 12 and 13, 2022.

Opens : March 11th, 1800 PST, or March 12th, 0200 UTC
Presentations Begin:  Saturday, March 12th, 0800 PST,
                                          or 1600 UTC
                                          Sunday, March 13th, 0800 PDT,
​                                          or 1500 UTC
The Expo platform will remain open until April 10th, 2022 for on demand presentations. 
​Tickets are $10.00 until Expo opens, then $13.50 until April 10th

Click here to register.

Click here for presentation schedule.

About the Expo

Amateur radio is like a big circus.  It has its main tent with three rings in the center.  In those rings could be Contesting, DXing, and Rag Chewing.  However, amateur radio now has a “midway of a thousand smaller tents” according to Eric Guth, 4Z1UG, founder of the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo, and host of the QSO Today Podcast, a interview program featuring the most interesting amateur radio operators.  It is exactly this midway that the “Expo” was founded to explore.  

The Covid-19 Pandemic closed ham radio conventions, hamfests, and monthly meetings all across the World in 2020.  It was because of these closures that Eric, 4Z1UG, got the idea to create an on-line, and virtual convention that has all of the elements of a real ham radio convention, similar to the most notable live conventions.  

The First QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo was in August 2020 where over 15,000 amateurs attended on the Expo weekend, attending on their computers over the Internet instead of in-person.  Over 80 presentations were made, with live Q&A on Zoom webinar, and attendees could come back over a 30 day on-demand period to view the recorded presentations that they missed.  

We discovered something unique in August from surveys that we made following the expo.  Sixty percent of the attendees, almost 9000 hams do not go to live expos, preferring to stay at home.  The Covid-19 Pandemic has made this all the more important.  

The Expo has also become the place to discover more niches in amateur radio through the presentations given at each one.  In March 2021, while there was some difficulty with the platforms, over 6000 hams came and viewed almost 100,000 presentations from the over 80 that were offered in March.  Our Expo in August 2021 had over 90 presentations in 8 tracks of amazing amateur radio content. 

The QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo returns on March 12th, 2022 and has become a twice yearly event.  We hope to see you there!

OH8STN: Zero Dependency Winklink

Justin, OH8STN, has a good post up about emergency communications, talking about Zero Dependency Winlink, or using communication modes that don’t rely on other grid-up resources like the internet.

Recently having a discussion with Dean K5MPG about Winlink Radio only networks. This topic is so important, I thought to turn my responce to his email into a blog post, albeit with a bit more context.

In emergency communications and communications for preparedness, we see the usual blogs and youtube vids talking about repeaters, winlink gateways, DMR, DSTAR, Fusion, … All of them are excellent for what they were designed for, but also heavily dependent upon the internet in some way, based of course on how we use them. They certainly work for simplex comms in a grid down, but with severe limitations. On VHF/UHF there is also a finite number of these services available, or in range of our stations. These are fine for soft events or “after the fact”, once grid power has been restored. This is the risk we take when basing our communications plan, on infrastructure dependent platforms. Not right or wrong, just not as robust as they could be.

Another approach, and one which brings the majority of hate to the channel focuses entirely on HF communications. Unlike its VHF/UHF cousins, HF communications has little to no dependency on infrastructure. If fact, other than station power, there is barely any infrastructure dependency at all! What we are talking about is Radio Only Winlink Networks. Networks with no services dependent upon the internet, not on cloud servers, and networks which can adapt to changing operational variables DURING THE DISASTER!

For personal preparedness communications, nobody gives a monkey butt about “disaster relief” while the hurricane is ripping the roof off, or forcing us away from our homes. That’s not a knock against emergency services, just a part of the puzzle which until recently, has been ignored. Disaster relief is what comes after the storm has passed. It is extremely important, but not until later. Most of us still require a layer of communications during the storm, after it has passed, and before emergency services arrives in the region. Even when disaster relief is on site, their equipment will be used for their own logistics and communications. Not for finding out where your loved ones are. This is where personal communications for preparedness becomes important. It is the layer which allows us to get in touch with family, friends, or coordinate meet ups while primary infrastructure is still down, congested or somehow unavailable.

MPS settings can be found in Winlink Express under Hybrid Network Settings. These settings allow a station to set primary secondary and a third alternate station to pick up messages, without connecting to the CMS.

The last week of March 2021, Finland had a emergency grid down communications training exercise. The exercise focused on creating a Winlink radio only network to handle message traffic, WITHOUT “any dependency on the internet”. Winlink Radio Only networks are not using cloud based services to store email for retrieval. Instead they act more like store and forward hubs, forwarding and storing messages on a primary MPS, secondary MPS, or a Third alternate if one is configured. This means messages come in from their senders, are forwarded to the recipients configured MPS (Mail Pickup Station) where they are stored. The recipient then retrieves messages from one of the MPS stations he or she configured. This works just as it would from the CMS, only without the need for the internet. Even if one of the configured MPSs go down, messages can still be retrieved from one of the others configured mail pickup stations. These mail pickup stations also synchronize mail between themselves, routing messages between them, when receiving a message intended for a recipient registered to another hub. It is actually quite ingenious.

History has taught OH-Land that some or part of the grid will eventually go down. This will happen either from a mishap, attack, or from mother nature showing us how small we really are. This is odd since OH has a reasonably robust infrastructure. Still, experience has shown us the need to augment traditional means of communications, is real. A need which can fulfil disaster relief, personal preparedness, or augmenting communications for regional services alike.

We augment traditional commercial communications methods , with slower but more robust HF networks. Networks which are able to adapt to a fluid situation. For this reason many operators in OH-Land participate once or twice a year in grid down comms practice, on a national level. This is a deployment and operation of a radio only hybrid winlink network, routing traffic correctly, discovering any weak points or bottlenecks in the system, testing peer-to-peer connections, …. There are a combination of radio only hubs set up for collection, dissemination, and temporary storage of messages. Outside connections to individual stations are still possible through any remaining gateways, or in the case of Finland through gateways in bordering countries. Although Chat and file transfer mechanisms over HF were not tested, I do hope individual radio operators find interested partners to test Vara Chat for file transfers, and JS8Call for near real-time tactical communications, stations tracking and to augment asynchronous messaging. https://www.instagram.com/p/CNFms6PDmsH/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=13&wp=500&rd=https%3A%2F%2Foh8stn.org&rp=%2Fblog%2F2021%2F04%2F05%2Femcomm-and-comms-preparedness-zero-dependency%2F#%7B%22ci%22%3A1%2C%22os%22%3A1199%7D

From a personal preparedness perspective, this should be our goal! A dynamic network made up of hubs. Some of them permanent, others field deployable as required. Then augment the hybrid radio only network with other tools like JS8Call for tactical comms, along with Vara chat for file transfers without unnecessarily congesting the hybrid network channels. This is how we build a robust communications layer, whether for emergency communications, personal preparedness or as a partisan communications network over HF.

I first discovered Radio Only Winlink messages by mistake. I sent a radio only message (by mistake) to an OE station, which actually made it through. We talked about how that was possible for weeks. I understand technically how it worked, but still find it amazing.

IMHO, Radio only email is most effective for “regional “communications, when “hubs” can find a path to one another. Naturally “regional” in HF terms can span multiple countries, so we need to zoom out a little in comparison to VHF/UHF. The more hubs deployed, the the more robust our network. Still, once we start crossing plains, oceans, … it becomes more difficult. Even so, this is the beauty of HF. In part, it is also why my own focus is on NVIS/HF comms, over the infrastructure requirements of VHF and above.

Recently I mentioned on Patreon how the channel is stepping up the technical content once again. One of the projects mentioned was the RMS gateway. Since Dean brought up that topic, I suppose it is ok to let the cat out of the bag. The goal is to deploy a Radio Only network hub for the Northern Gulf of Bothnia region between Finland and Sweden. Naturally it will also route winlink email to the CMS, but that is a secondary function. In our world, many operators mistakenly believe Winlink works like Google mail, eg cloud based email server and storage. It certainly does have that cloud component, but it also has a robust network layer, based entirely on moving email along from hub to hub, until it reaches the Mail Pickup Station the mail is addressed to. I am hoping this change in direction will inspire other operators, bloggers and YouTubers in setting up their own “fill in” stations whether VHF/UHF or HF.

ARES, RACES and the like have this part covered, but Survivalists & Preppers often focus on buying gear, protecting gear, maintaining gear, … We rarely if ever see any videos or blogs about “deploying services”. There is talk about AREDN networks, which are very infrastructure intensive, but a nice attempt at recreating a fast, wide area network. Like VHF/UHF services, I’ll have to pass for now! My personal belief and strategy sees a basic traffic net as a critical requirement, before we start sharing “Nice to have” naughty videos over 5Ghz links. (I digress).

Bottom line, and the reason for the post.
Radio Only Network would work extremely well, if more of us put up our own Radio Only Hubs to pass messages through the network or on to other networks. If we start providing services to the network rather than just consuming resources from the network, we can create a much more robust radio only system. This approach will end up being more valuable to everyone. Think of it as a grass roots radio only traffic net. One which adapts to adding or removing hubs, balances congestion, and easily adapts as it grows or contracts. This as opposed to simply consuming resources as a user eg repeaters, gateways, … all of which have weaknesses most of us already understand. This is where the channel is headed!

Xiegu G90 oh8stn

Today we have good choices for reasonably priced low current draw, CAT controllable rigs like the Xiegu G90. We can combine them with any one of the increasing number of micro computers on the market today. Add a battery, solar power or wind generator, and we have the makings for own Hybrid Network Hub.

Let’s get off grid capable together!

73
Julian oh8stn

Comm Academy, Apr. 10 & 11, 2021 – Online

The 2021 Comm Academy will be held online this year on April 10 & 11, 2021. In the past this has been an excellent venue for learning more about emergency/disaster communications, especially with amateur radio.

Two days of training, talks, and information on emergency communications on this year’s theme:
Disasters Here, There, and Everywhere – Are We Ready?

Headquartered in Seattle, Comm Academy is two days of training and information on various aspects of emergency communications. Organizations attending include:

Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES©)

Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS)

EOC Support Teams

Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES)

Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary

REACT

CERT

All those interested in emergency and amateur radio communications are welcome. Learn, network, and share your experiences with others.

As it has in all of its 22+ previous iterations, the conference will feature expert speakers on a wide variety of topics, from radio and messaging technologies to communications techniques to tales from the “trenches.”

More than just a collection of online presentations, Comm Academy 2021 will be an interactive event, with participants able to converse with presenters and other attendees.

Registration link.

Link to schedule

HRCC: Explaining Tactical Communications With Mike Glover Fieldcraft Survival

Ham Radio Crash Course has an interview up with former US Army Special Forces SGM, former Office of Global Affairs and founder of Fieldcraft Survival Mike Glover wherein they are Explaining Tactical Communications. The interview begins with an overview of SF communications and gear, but the moves in communication planning, PACE (primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency) planning, direction finding, comms preparedness and more. Mike Glover is also behind American Contingency, an organization designed to create a trusted network of support and teach people training they might need to survive in today’s uncertain times.

OH8STN: Grid Down Ham Radio Texas

Amateur Radio operator OH8STN, Julian, talks about grid down ham radio and the recent Texas winter/ice storm and power outages.

Hello Operators.

Today we are talking about grid down ham radio communications, while the Texas power outage is fresh in our minds. This short film should add some much needed context about our grid down communications preps, training, and ultimately sustaining ourselves while supporting our group, during a grid down scenario.

73 Julian oh8stn

For more preparedness related content about the power outages in Texas, also listen to the Survivalist Prepper podcast Lessons Learned From Texas With Sara

OH8STN: Effective Communications

Amateur radio operator and vlogger Julian, OH8STN, has a short post up on Effective Communications, especially in emergency communications.

Hello Operators.
As the field of content creators increases each day (a good thing), it is still important to separate the bull-hockey, from what’s real.
Here are two areas any preparedness comms related content creator, should be able to demonstrate:

  • How can we as a community, measure the effectiveness of our communications plan?
  • Are you able to get messages in or out “at will”,, without grid power, from any location, at any time of day or night?

The fact is, It may be a nice and fun to watch distraction, but we can’t bet our lives on buzzwords, the “I’m not an expert” disclaimer, or on content created solely for entertainment purposes. Preparedness communications related content should be educational, and MUST add value to the discussion. If it doesn’t, we certainly shouldn’t be modelling our own comms strategy, based on what we see in a staged video or post.

So how can we combat this? I believe most content creators come to this topic, with the best intentions. However, to keep us on the straight and narrow, it is important that you the readers, viewers, followers consuming this content, constantly (but politely) call out creators. Challenge us to explain, to demonstrate, to show the process of discovery, and to answer the questions “how & why?”. Any honest Elmer with good intentions will welcome the challenge, since it helps us improve our own communications preparedness, over the long term. Anyone showing resistance to this idea is probably just a parrot, emulating what he or she sees from those who are actually putting in the work.

A true measure – Someone recently said their comms gear was “effective”, because they were able to have a QSO with a random operator. An operator who probably did most of the heavy lifting, for the modest QRP station. In this example, station effectiveness is a misconception.

A random, unplanned QSO will never be an example of station effectiveness, unless that contact can be consistently repeated, any time of day or night, from any location, without pre-scheduling. This is our number one goal for EMCOMM & Preparedness comms.

This is the reason I don’t rely on Parks on the air, Summits on the air, RaDAR, or contesting field days as a measure of communications preparedness. They are nice as a method of practice for setting up or tearing down a field station, but not for preparedness. Even this might be a stretch, since these events are rarely done in poor weather conditions. We can tweak these events to make them more effective, for our own needs (recommended).

The reality is, Ham radio as a “hobby” is generally about meeting other operators by chance, over the air. In contrast, communications preparedness or EMCOMM is more about reaching out to a specific station, from any location, despite the time of day or night. Reaching that specific station is much more difficult, than having a QSO with someone you happen to meet on the air. We might not even know which station is “the station”, until we are knee deep in mud, trying desperately to get those messages in or out. When we can do this with a great percentage of success, we are on the right path.

So, make us work for your views. Content creators will thank you for it down the line.

73
Julian oh8stn
YouTube http://www.youtube.com/c/oh8stn
TipJar https://paypal.me/oh8stn/1USD

NC Scout on The Gunmetal Armory Podcast

NC Scout of Brushbeater and American Partisan recently appeared on The Gunmetal Armory Podcast.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/prepperbroadcastingnetwork/tga-live-with-nc-scout-of-american-parti

I had the awesome experience of being on with The Gunmetal Armory podcast last week. It was a kick-ass time and I’d like to give a big shoutout to Dane for being an excellent host and all around good dude. Its likely we’re going to have a course or two out in AZ this coming Fall- so if you’re out there, I’m looking forward to training with you.

OH8STN: Portable Ham Radio Motivation

Julian, OH8STN, has a new video created to try to inspire radio operators to create their own portable/off-grid stations in Portable Ham Radio Motivation. Julian has written and vlogged a lot about off-grid emergency radio communications as well as portable radio operation as their much overlap between the two.

Hello Operators.
These are a series of portable ham radio station clips. Their purpose is inspiring and hopefully motivating ham radio operators, to build & ultimately deploying portable off grid ham radio stations for themselves.

With increasing limitations placed on our ham shacks, freedom of movement, personal liberties, … operating an off grid ham radio station might just be one way to take back our passion for ham radio emergency communications, and communications preparedness.

American Partisan: HF NVIS Antenna

NC Scout of American Partisan talks about the HF NVIS Antenna.  Also check out a follow up post here.

In the last Radio Contra I discussed a simple way of rigging up an antenna for NVIS HF use. Its a topic that gets a lot of attention, and in turn, a lot of confusion. But trust me, its simple. The whole point behind HF is creating regional communications- anything that’s beyond line of sight– and while you can spend a heck of a lot of money in a hurry and not get a lot, you can spend just a few bucks and with a little knowhow I’m about to impart here, have a great setup.

NVIS relies on sending as much of your radiated energy skyward as possible, with as close to a zero degree takeoff as possible. So, this means a horizontal antenna close to the ground. In case you’re wondering, the takeoff angle is perpendicular to the orientation of the antenna- so, if the antenna is vertical, you’ll have a very shallow takeoff angle, aka groundwave, if its horizontal, the radiation goes vertical. NVIS generally works best between 1.8-8mHz, with the higher frequencies working better during the day and the lower ones at night.

I’ll also add to this that the direction finding threat almost exclusively comes from groundwave. So on HF, NVIS is what you’re looking for. As little groundwave as possible.

So with that said, let’s talk about this antenna.

The first thing to know is that its built out of dirt cheap materials. 128ft 14AWG stranded wire, a Cobra Head, and ten plastic electric fence posts. Less than $25 or so.

For an 80M dipole antenna, each leg is going to be roughly 64ft long. You can make a loop or use a ring terminal to secure the wire to each end of the cobra head. Stretch it out- now you’ve got a dipole. Those plastic fence posts serve both as a suspension for the antenna and as an insulator. All you have to do is wrap the ends in a loop, and boom, you’re ready to rock and roll.

The antenna itself is roughly 2ft off the ground. This creates a high amount of reflectivity from the ground, sending your radiation almost completely vertical.

And with that, you’ve got a dirt cheap antenna that works pretty well. If you want to see how it works and get hands on building one, come out to class.

Off Grid Ham: Learning From Off Grid Mistakes, 2

This article comes from Chris Warren at Off Grid Ham – Learning From Off Grid Mistakes, Part 2.

I wasn’t planning a “part 2”. learning from off grid mistakes

Last May’s article about off grid mistakes received a surprising amount of attention. Many months later, it’s still a very popular piece. As a follow up, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the issue and go over a few points that were not discussed last time. I encourage readers to send in questions and comments because most of the articles that appear on Off Grid Ham are derived from reader input. learning from off grid mistakes

Mistake 1: Mismatched batteries.

Batteries are very exclusive. They don’t like other types of batteries. Just because two batteries are of the same voltage, and maybe even the same capacity, doesn’t mean they play well together. If you are using multiple batteries, they should be the same make and model, and roughly the same age. Most batteries will have a date code on the outer casing for determining age. learning from off grid mistakes

When I went shopping to replace my large storage batteries two years ago, I brought my battery analyzer with me to the store. They had a huge pallet of deep cycle batteries, so I had plenty to choose from. I dug through the pile and picked out a few that were manufactured within a month of each other. From that cohort, I tested each until I found a few batteries that had the same or very close to the same internal resistance. That was the matched set I ultimately bought and took home. Yeah, I must have looked a little weird picking through batteries and running tests, but I got what I wanted. learning from off grid mistakes

When you mix dissimilar batteries or batteries of different ages, the weak one will pull down the strong one. Always Install and remove your batteries as a set. If you must mix dissimilar batteries, wire a battery combiner between them.

Mistake 2: Mismatched solar panels.

This mistake needs some clarification. You should not mix/combine solar panels of differing voltages at any time. Solar panels that produce the same voltage but not the same wattage can be used together, but only if they are wired in parallel. Solar panels are often wired in series to increase efficiency and make better use of MPPT solar controllers. This works only if all the panels in the series are the same voltage and wattage.

If you wire solar panels of the same voltage but different wattage together in series, you will not damage anything or create an unsafe condition. What will happen is that the total power output of the system will not exceed the capacity of the smallest panel. For example, you have one 100 watt panel and one 50 watt panel wired in series. It might seem reasonable to think you’ve got a total of 150 watts capacity. Sorry, but you’ll never get more than 74 watts out of this system.

The reason why is fairly simple: Kirchoff’s Law states that current will always be the same at all points (nodes) in a series circuit. A 100 watt panel will produce about 5.75 amps. A 50 watt panel maxes out around 2.85 amps. Our 12 volt example panels below are wired in series for a system total of 24 volts (in reality, it would be closer to 26 volts).

Since Kirchoff says the current is the same at all points in the series, and the 50 watt panel will never exceed 2.85 amps output under any conditions, the system total is limited to 2.85 amps. Doing some basic math, 2.85 amps x 26 volts= 74 watts. These numbers will vary due to differences between loaded and open voltages, what specifications are used for your calculations, etc., but this gets us pretty close. Think of it like a convoy of ships: The entire convoy cannot go any faster than the slowest ship.

learning from off grid mistakes

ORIGINAL GRAPHIC ©2020

Mistake 3: Using automotive batteries.

If someone gives you a car battery, or a car battery is all you have (such as in a SHTF situation), then certainly go with it for your off grid ham radio power needs. But no thoughtful ham would purposely choose a car battery.

Car batteries are designed to deliver a large burst of current over a short period of time, which is needed to start a car. Off grid hams need batteries that can deliver smaller, steady amounts of current over a long period of time. Using a car battery will not hurt your equipment and is not a safety hazard, but you will not see the the level of performance that a correct battery would provide, and the car battery will have a shorter service life too.

Mistake 4: Using automotive “jump boxes”.

Those inexpensive portable battery boxes made for jump-starting cars seem like an easy, ready made power system for ham radio. They are not recommended for ham radio use for the same reason as standard car batteries. They are made for a short power burst, not for a lighter, continuous load. Some hams do use them with modest success, especially for QRP, but they’re not a serious way to power your radio.

Mistake 5: Buying the best, most expensive gear available.

Just as buying cheap junk because it’s cheap is a mistake, so too is insisting on only “the best”. More expensive does not necessarily mean a device has better build quality or will last longer than a less expensive device of the same type. In many cases it only means you get more cool switches and pretty lights. If you cannot justify the extra cost with some clear purpose or practical benefit, buying “the best” is a journey of vanity.

In my experience, mid-grade equipment has always given me the most bang for the buck. Early in my off grid career I spent over $500 on an ExcelTech inverter. They are made in USA. They are practically indestructible. The American military and US embassies around the world use them. They’re the Rolls Royce of inverters. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was unnecessary overkill. As nice as my ExcelTech is, my Samlex inverter is just as suitable for my application. It cost half as much as the ExcelTech and gives excellent performance. I still use both inverters, but if I were doing this over I’d get two Samlexes and spend the extra money on other useful upgrades.

Never buy any piece of off grid amateur radio equipment based solely on high or low price point…(continues)