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)

American Partisan: Commo Questions Answered

NC Scout at American Partisan answers some radio communication questions from readers, including one about terrain/vegetation and the effect on signal in Commo Questions Answered.

I’m starting up a regular post series where I field your questions on communications-related topics. There’s a TON of questions I get emailed every week that normally revolve around the same concepts or topics, so this is going to be a good way to get them out there for more people to index and use. Keep in mind none of this is a replacement for what you’ll get in the RTO Course, where I literally take you from basement-level knowledge and build you up to creating communications infrastructure where there otherwise would be none, taking it up a notch in the Advanced RTO Course teaching you techniques on operating in non-permissive environments.

MT01 asks:

I know we practice the jungle antenna in the scout course, and course graduates talk a lot about using it. I’ve attached a photo that shows they type of terrain and vegetation that covers the majority of the area where I live, aside from agricultural fields/orchards. It seems like the jungle antenna is not the ideal choice in this terrain. Should we consider ourselves lucky that our signal won’t be blocked by trees? Should be use portable yagi antennas like the Elk antenna line? Is it better to just keep with the rubber ducks? My assumption would be rubber ducks for intrasquad comms and yagi for squad to HQ. We’re also experimenting with some AREDN mesh for certain digital/computer network communications, but aren’t to the point of using it portably, yet. Just wondering your thoughts. I know that most of your posts are going to be tilted toward your local terrain and vegetation, but if you need an idea for a post maybe one on radio or scout operations in more open terrain.

This is an outstanding one. Taking it from the top, vegetation absolutely has an impact on your signal. The higher in frequency you go, the worse it gets. (reference: PRC-64 report in Jungle conditions and tactical jungle communications study) This is one of the reasons why VHF is a better choice in rural terrain over UHF. But then again, that might also be a reason to choose UHF in a rural area. Your signal won’t be blocked completely, but it will get scattered, and possibly to the point it won’t be readable. This makes a big difference when using digital modes, especially DMR. Either way, as you know from the RTO Course, a 4-5w handheld radio can do much when coupled with an antenna purpose-built for the frequency. Jungle antennas are omni-directional, meaning they transmit in all directions at once (as well as receive), so they’re best suited for two tasks:

  1. When you’re needing communications over an entire area, such as a retreat setting.
  2. When your patrol is literally lost (can’t get a fix on your location) and you need to make communications with a Recovery team.

Regarding directional antennas, this is ALWAYS the preference when transmitting to mitigate the DF threat. Not to jump on a rant here, but there’s a reason patrol planning takes as much time as it does in the real world (usually a week, sometimes longer). Among those tasks is mapping out transmission sites and planning the azimuths to transmit your communications. Yeah, its a lot of work. Yeah, its hard. This ain’t for everyone. And if your life depends on it you learn to do it right. You know this, but a lot of other people reading this probably don’t (and will LOVE to comment about exactly how much they don’t know). But long story short you should always be communicating with directional antennas provide you have the ability to do so. In your environment (sagebrush), it’d be a good idea to add a cheap camera tripod to the mix and run your antennas off that.

Inter-team communications are at the Tactical Level– meaning they’re immediate in nature, coordinating fire and maneuver in real time. The range needed is usually short, less than 1km or so, and the standard duck antenna is fine in this role. And contrary to popular belief, only one person on the team needs a radio- the element Leader. That’s it. Anything more than that leads to a breakdown in the command and control capabilities. When you’re going beyond that, to relay critical information to and from a central command point, such as a Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in a Guerrilla Base, this is where the directional communications become a requirement.

On the mesh networking topic…this is a good one. For a local use setup, its good for linking. Just keep in mind you’re not gonna get a ton of range out if it- its meant for a local area, such as a retreat or G-camp. And the second someone attempts to link it to the regular internet, its potentially compromised.

YT asks:

Check the answer in the last paragraph above.

Another topic that I would like to learn about: covert antennas (at home and on vehicles). I live in a subdivision that has nosy neighbors and a restrictive home owners association, so Ham antennas aren’t allowed.

Are there relevant use cases for remote transceivers? If we don’t want to radiate from home, but our gear’s at home, how can we transmit without undue DF risk?

This is actually a very common question. Check out this reference: https://amzn.to/3pvVUQx
It was one of the references we used when learning about HF antennas in non-permissive environments and one that I still reference today. That’s the central idea behind teaching students to build antennas in class, so they understand the underlying concepts behind them. Couple that with John Hill’s excellent work on wire antennas: https://amzn.to/3mQZ4fC
And finally, Sandman sends:

So I’ve been thinking about adding a man portable 11m rig to my signal repertoire to add a way for field ops to establish comms with a fob or hq. Also been thinking about fldigi over 11m. Do you have any experience with this?

11m, also known as Citizen’s Band (CB) radio in the US, is quite a capable tool for use in the field and one that won’t attract a ton of attention when used for underground purposes. FL Digi absolutely is capable over it, especially with some of the narrowband modes such as PSK-31 or RTTY.

If I were rigging up a manpack, I’d bypass kludging a mobile unit into service and simply run a handheld. They fit fine in a surplus MBITR pouch. Just make sure you build a REAL antenna for it. The stock rubber duck on handheld CB antennas are garbage at best. To run FL Digi over them it can be as simple as holding the mic up to the audio on the mobile device and transmitting, but its much cleaner (and less headache) to rig up a dedicated audio output to audio input (on the radio). We so this in the RTO Course with Baofengs using the APRS K1 cable, which makes it pretty simple. I’ve never built one for a handheld CB (or any CB for that matter), but they’re plentiful for a MARS/CAP modded Amateur radio rig (and I have done that).

Anyhow- great questions and as always I look forward to hearing from y’all.

American Partisan: 2 Meter Radio – A Primary Tool

2 Meter Radio – A Primary Tool is a brief primer on the utility of amateur radio use in the 144-148 MHz range. It has considerably more utility than a phased plasma rifle in the forty watt range.

Son of Thunder: 2 Meter Radio: A Primary Tool

Originally appeared on Signal Corps Ministry. – NCS

2 meter band radio (referring to the electro-magnetic wavelength) for amateur radio operators are the frequencies between 144.000 mhz and 148.000 mhz. The modulation most commonly used today is FM. and packet (data). There are amateur radios that are capable of SSB which is permitted but not as widely used. The band (part of the VHF range of bands) is divided into segments for different uses phone (voice), packet, and repeaters being the most common. In emergency radio communications (referred to as ECOM) the 2 meter band is often called the ‘first mile/last mile’ band, meaning it is the communication link between local events and personnel on the ground to their command and control centers (2 meter band for public safety and first responders is more commonly referred to as the public safety spectrum, starting where the amateur radio band ends at the top end) . For local amateur radio operators and first responders, it is probably the most used and most valuable resource for communications in the community. It is also the one of the primary bands you get access to with the easiest and entry level Amateur Radio Technicians license. Most 2 meter amateur radios available today include the public safety spectrum along with the amateur portion but without the ability to transmit on the public safety spectrum unless the radio is modified for use by authorized persons. For situational awareness in your community, having public safety frequencies programmed in the radio’s memory allows one to monitor events, especially using the scan setting most radios today have. While a strictly 2 meter/public safety spectrum radio is highly useful, many people get radios that also include the 70cm band (in the UHF range, also typically used with FM and phone signals). These radios typically add a broader range of frequencies that can be received and monitored but not transmitted on, such the AM airband and other agencies and utilities that use the remainder of the upper VHF range and the lower end of the UHF, sometimes including the 1.25 meter amateur band which a small segment of frequencies from 222Mhz to 225Mhz. Radios that have 2m and 70cm capability are commonly called ‘dual banders’; less popular are ‘tri banders that include 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.

Having a 2m radio in your vehicle is a must, a dual bander is even better. It is extremely popular and versatile. You can communicate and move in real time, an essential capability in responding to your community’s needs. Having one in your home is almost as important, to be able to make calls for assistance, and to be the reciprocal base station to the mobile stations. In fact I would highly recommend having 3 radios to fully take advantage of 2m and 70cm bands: a home/base dual bander radio, a mobile dual bander, and a HT dual bander (HT is short for handheld transceiver, also more well known as a walkie talkie.) With each household having a base station, mobile vehicle, and a handheld for each individual, you are more prepared to handle any situation by magnitudes. Repeaters for the 2 meter band and 70cm bands are quite literally everywhere (see the Repeater Directories entry on the resource library page of this site). If your interest in this site’s articles were to stop after reading this article, you would have awareness of one the most important communications tools available for maintaining safety, security, community interdependence and cohesion there is, one that is strictly maintained by the community and will work in a grid down situation which would deny cell or internet traffic.

Generally speaking, the 2 meter frequencies are a ‘line-of-site’ radio wave which means exactly as it sounds: a FM 2 meter signal will propagate through clear air until topography interferes or it goes out into space. If you imagine a tangential line from a point on a circle, that point being your antenna and the circle being the surface of the earth, that is how this signal basically works. A FM signal can, potentially, follow the curve of the earth over the horizon by as much as 15% as the bottom of the radiowave drags on the surface of the earth. Transmitter height, signal strength and atmospheric conditions are always a factor as well. 70cm signals have less range, but do have a particular advantage of being more viable inside building and structures. They are a good choice for shorter range communications (shorter than 2 meter) which can be used for the advantages of security and privacy in conjunction with other practices. Antenna polarization plays an important role in FM transmissions: the vertical antenna transmitting a signal is best received by a vertical antenna. Although there is a significant loss in power, a horizontal antenna will better picked up by another horizontal antenna. It is not commonly done, but this technique also can create a security advantage. In an area with a lot of topographical changes, a 2 meter FM radio wave will drag, reflect, and bounce; this can result in an elliptically polarized wave. This can be best observed when holding a HT radio: while receiving a transmission, slowly rotate (up and down, left and right) your antenna to see if your reception improves. Also requesting the transmitting party to ‘better their position’ can improve how well their signal is getting out, the major adjustment is holding up the HT higher. A HT held directly in front of your body restricts transmission and reception by 180 degrees; this could be desirable, but if you’re trying to get help from anyone available, holding your HT high and using a speaker/mic can incredibly increase the reception of your signal.

Quick recommendations: the Yaesu FT-2980R is an incredibly robust and powerful radio. See my field deployment radio ‘Go’ Box:

It also has a packet TNC and USB interface but more on that later. It is a great mobile unit and base unit. Kenwood also makes a great 2 meter only radio: TM-281A

I also use the FT-60R and in my truck a FT-8900R Quadbander as well as the FT-7900R in my shack. Again, there are many good models out there, I just have used these mostly and can recommend them based on my use of them, not for any other reason.

As a member of the Body of Christ in your community, a person whose role is to acquire the skills and capabilities to serve, lead, and minister to your church, it is imperative to get the licensage and radios necessary. Action item: lead your community by studying for your Technicians license, get your license, and budget your resources to get radios. Then help others to do the same. Train and use these tools regularly. When you train, do not just chat on the radio; practice all the skills you would use in a very bad day scenario. As an autonomous communication infrastructure in your community, any member may have to respond to an urgent need, and so everyone needs to have the complete skillset at their fingertips and be able to use it competently. This is no light matter as radio use and net discipline (to be discussed further in another article) can be the difference between life or death, no joke.

If you are called to serve then let nothing stand in your way of being a proficient and professional radio operator (this applies to any role and function in your community; this is the fallen world and corruption abounds, the great opposer is always working to deceive and mislead. We must be out front. Put on the Armor of God and stand!). It is incumbent on each of us to acquire the skills and hardware, learn and train how to use it, and teach and train others how to use it. Then continue training regularly.

Brushbeater: Antenna Polarization and COMSEC

NC Scout at Brushbeater has an article on Antenna Polarization and COMSEC (communications security).

So you’re out there on a patrol, the commo window is open and you need to make a Cyril Report back to your TOC. Your RTO sets up the yagi getting ready to make contact, checking and rechecking the azimuth. He glosses back over the transmit and receive frequencies to make sure everything is set, double checking the report to make sure nothing was missed, and getting the approval from you, the Team Leader. You notice one small thing- the Yagi is horizontal, not vertical, and a slow grin grows on your face.

You’ve got a good man on the Team who paid attention.

There’s one element to small unit communications that usually gets zero attention- antenna polarization. Let’s take a look at our most common denominator at the basic level- the Baofeng UV-5R. Its a VHF and UHF FM two-way radio. FM nearly always uses vertical polarization, meaning in simple terms, the antenna is straight up and down.

In a conventional environment we do this for two reasons. First, pretty much everyone else is vertically polarized when communicating via FM, and second, there’s 9db of loss between a vertical polarization and horizontal polarization. Wait, what?

Like how we measure light in Lumens, signal strength radiating from an antenna is measured in decibels (db) of gain or loss. With each 3db of gain, we double our effective radiated power (ERP) in terms of signal strength. With each 3db of loss, we cut our strength in half. This is measured in orders of magnitude, meaning that with each 3db, the strength doubles on itself (4w x 2= 8w x 2= 16w, etc). Taking that into account, the difference in strength between horizontal and vertical polarization is 9db- quite a difference. If someone is using a vertically polarized antenna to attempt to intercept my transmission, they’d likely be using vertical polarization. After all, why wouldn’t you? Nearly all FM transmissions are vertically polarized, its common practice. But if I change my operating practice to account for this, now they’re going to have a harder time both intercepting and getting a bearing on me.

Not impossible, mind you. But much harder. And that’s on top of my other operating practices, such as transmitting on one frequency and receiving on another, keeping my transmissions as short as possible, and making sure I’m always using directional antennas. It goes without saying that your intended receiving station should be matched in polarization. Its a basic practice that, when coupled with my other techniques, turns inexpensive equipment into much more formidable gear for clandestine or unconventional forces operating in the field.

Brushbeater: The Jungle Antenna Revisited

NC Scout at Brushbeater has a new article worth your time if you are into radio communications – The Jungle Antenna Revisited: Task and Purpose for the Partisan and Prepper

Going back to the early days of the Brushbeater blog, the Jungle Antenna post has been and continues to be one of the more popular posts I’ve done. And for good reason- I wrote it to be used. It’s the antenna every student in the RTO course builds and one of the designs they get hands on with, and it’s the one that they know works from the demonstrations we do with them. But often, as with everything, a context for the task and purpose has to be clarified.

Students in the RTO Course preparing an improvised Jungle Antenna for use.

Many preppers who contact me fall into a similar trap. I have an goal and recognize a need. What can I buy that does for me what I want it to do? How do I do this in the most cost-effective way? And finally (but what should be first), how do I obtain the skill to best use the gear I’ve purchased? Its a problematic point of view for a lot of reasons but one I get frequent questions about nonetheless. And that’s ok. I’ll normally answer it the same way- Use your stuff, Learn to use it even better, and never stop!

One of my objectives back then, as it remains in my classes and writing today, was emphasizing the skill of building your own equipment. With communications that’s improvised antennas, because it’s one of the better skills to have. Taking common and cheap components and using them to boost your capabilities is a great talent to have and makes you a force multiplier for your team or group. Those skills have served me very well and for the great people I’ve had in class, it’s went on to help them too. The end goal is getting the most bang-for-buck out of a piece of equipment as possible and with radios, that always means focusing on antennas.

The Jungle Antenna, 292 Antenna, Groundplane, OE-254 or whatever else you wanna call it, are vertical antennas designed to boost range from the relatively inefficient antenna on your radio while using the same power. It does this through efficiency; an antenna has to match, both the ‘hot’ element and the ‘cold’ element (positive and negative, respectively), in order to be resonant. Resonance is another term for an antenna’s electrical match to a particular frequency. And that resonance is measured through wavelengths– with each leg of the Jungle Antenna being one quarter wavelength long. It’s an incredibly simple antenna but it’s one that improves your transmitting and receiving ability- something you definitely want.

Jungle Jim operators in Vietnam getting a commo check before a patrol. Likely packed away in that ruck is a rolled up Jungle Antenna, ready to get strung up.

The Jungle Antenna gets its name from an interesting time in American military history. During the interwar period of the 1920s-30, the Army Signal Corps was experimenting with antenna designs to boost the range of their SCR (Signal Corps Radio, pre-A/N PRC designation in case you’re wondering) in jungle environments. Testing the designs in Panama, they found that if you take a vertical dipole and add two more negative elements, it boosts the radio’s signal in all directions even when the thick vegetation would otherwise absorb the signal. It found its way into use with groups fighting in the island campaigns and in Burma. Even though the crude radios would eventually fail from the humidity and harsh conditions, the antennas worked. Imperial Japan was also experimenting, with two engineers named Yagi and Uda coming up with a directional antenna that still bears their name. Both became very popular designs, with the Jungle Antenna saw extensive use in Vietnam and is still being taught to unconventional warfare RTOs today- because it’s simple, rugged and it works. This history provides us with a bit of context for the antenna and its intended use. It’s an omnidirectional antenna, creating a stronger signal in all directions, optimized for heavy woodland and jungle environments where much of your signal might be lost.

The Jungle Antenna up and running. We’re standing right under it and it disappears- think about how it’ll vanish in just a few more steps.

Why you want an Omnidirectional Antenna?

The Jungle Antenna does two things really, really well. It takes even a small amount of power and squeezes more range out of it, by getting your actual antenna higher, meaning more line of sight, while doing it much more efficiently. It also allows your radio to listen to other traffic much better. Because of it transmits and receives in all directions, this is a great antenna to have up for networking now– and when put up in the trees, the thin wire and natural materials make it virtually disappear. So even if all you’ve got is that $25 Baofeng, you can still get an impressive range out of that 4 watts that the UV-5R puts out. Not too shabby for something you can build out of a split post BNC adapter (the real name for what us Army guys call a Cobra Head), lamp cord and electric fence insulators.

Another, more tactical reason to have an omnidirectional antenna is in a retreat setting where a tactical operations center may have to communicate with multiple patrols simultaneously, and an omnidirectional antenna would increase the range of the radio at the base. I strongly suggest radio operators on a team carry one for their Contingency frequency also. People get lost, routes become compromised, plans change. When those plans change, it’s likely that a team in trouble needs their radio for personnel recovery, with the better range and reception from their Jungle Antenna helping them get found (along with a sound recovery plan).

But the most important reason that transcends all the others is the fact that you’re using something you learned to build yourself. You built it, you learned it works, and now you have that confidence in yourself and your equipment you wouldn’t have any other way. That confidence is earned through training.

Off Grid Ham: When Things Go Wrong, What Type of Ham Are You?

Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham asks When Things Go Wrong, What Type of Ham Are You?

It’s all fun & games until the electrons stop flowing.

Operating amateur radio is a load of fun. Operating amateur radio off grid is extra fun, but adds a layer of technical complexity to your station. Have you ever thought of what you would do if your off grid system itself went off line? Do you have the skills, spare parts, and tools to correct the problem and get the electrons flowing again? Troubleshooting solar power system may or may not be hard depending on what type of ham you are.

What kind of ham are you? Troubleshooting solar power

There are basically three kinds of off grid hams. “Type 1” hams do not get very involved with the technical aspect of the hobby. Maybe they just want to run contests. Perhaps they got into ham radio only because their kids are doing it, or to be part of a community service group. Type 1 hams don’t see amateur radio as a stand-alone hobby, but rather, as a tool, a means to achieve some other goal. They have some basic tech skills but want everything to be as plug-and-play as possible.

“Type 2” hams see radio as an end in itself. They love to tinker and experiment and would enjoy radio even if it had no ancillary practical purpose. Type 2’s enjoy messing around with radio/electronics and have a high skill level but don’t necessarily do a lot of on-air operating. They will pursue all kinds of projects, many of which never work and might seem a little crazy. They have a great time anyway. Troubleshooting solar power

“Type 3” hams are a combination of the first two. I place myself in this category. I love DIY and home brew projects and that’s what attracted me to ham radio back in the day. Yet, I see that ham radio has real-world applications. Type 3’s have figured out the magic combination of skills and utility. Troubleshooting solar power

Why this matters. Troubleshooting solar power

The type of ham you are will determine what happens when your off grid system goes down.

For Type 1’s it’s straightforward. Unless it’s a blown fuse or similar simple fix, they either call a pro or replace the entire suspect device.

Type 2’s know their off grid systems forward and backward because they probably built the system themselves. They can resolve even complex problems and have a large personal inventory of spare parts. Many Type 2’s will use the opportunity to reconfigure and make major changes and may spend a lot of time dabbling with different ideas beyond the initial problem.

Type 3’s, like type 2’s, can handle nearly any malfunction themselves because they have extensive technical knowledge of their off grid systems. They also have an inventory of spare parts, but only as it relates to their needs. They do not keep a lot of extra unrelated supplies around just for the heck of it like Type 2’s do. Type 3’s are practical and goal-oriented. They will quickly correct the immediate problem and save the tinkering and experimenting for another time. Troubleshooting solar power

Attention to detail.

Hopefully you occasionally take time to verify everything is in order. This means checking cables and connections, topping off electrolyte levels and density in flooded batteries, looking for damage with outdoor components, etc. By the way, when is the last time you cleaned your solar panels? Troubleshooting solar power

If you’re a Type 1 you’re probably not doing any of this. You probably don’t keep any spare parts around either. If you don’t plan on fixing anything yourself then at least plan for the time and resources for someone else to do it for you. Type 1’s are seldom preppers/survivalists (and if they are, they’re delusional) so being independent in SHTF situations is not a priority to them. I’m not trashing on Type 1’s. We all gotta do our own thing, right? It’s all good. I just want them to understand that they will have very limited options when things go wrong.

Types 2 and 3 are best set up to go it alone if needed. Still, there are always areas of improvement. For example, do you have printed technical data and manuals for your equipment? Are your tools neatly arranged and easily accessed, or are you the kind of person who spends thirty minutes tearing through a heap of junk to find a screwdriver? Do you proactively maintain your system, or do you only react when something goes wrong?

It happened to me. Troubleshooting solar power

troubleshooting solar power

PHOTO COURTESY OF PCHACADEMY

A few weeks ago I noticed that my home solar was producing hardly any watts during strong sunlight. Still, the batteries were fully charged at sundown. I didn’t think much of it until the next morning morning when the batteries were much more deeply discharged than they should be… (continues)

Hurricane Watch Net Active for Hurricane Zeta

As of this morning, Oct. 28th, 2020, the Hurricane Watch Net is active on 14.325MHz for Hurricane Zeta, which is expected to make landfall in eastern Louisiana and/or Mississippi later today.

The Hurricane Watch Net will activate Wednesday morning at 11:00 AM EDT (1500 UTC) on 14.325.00 MHz for Hurricane Zeta. We will begin simultaneous operations on 7.268.00 MHz beginning at 5:00 PM EDT (2100 UTC). Once activated, we will remain in operation on 14.325.00 MHz for as long as we have propagation. We will remain on 7.268.00 MHz until after Zeta is downgraded to a Tropical Storm or we lose propagation, whichever occurs first.

Zeta is forecast to be a Category 1 Hurricane when it makes landfall somewhere in southeast Louisiana late Wednesday evening.

As with any net activation, we request observed ground-truth data from those in the affected area (Wind Speed, Wind Gust, Wind Direction, Barometric Pressure – if available, Rainfall, Damage, and Storm Surge). Measured weather data is always appreciated but we do accept estimated.

We are also available to provide backup communications to official agencies such as Emergency Operations Centers, Red Cross officials, and Storm Shelters in the affected area. We will also be interested to collect and report significant damage assessment data back to FEMA officials stationed in the National Hurricane Center.

As always, we are praying and hoping for the best yet preparing for the worst.

Sincerely,
Net Management

Brushbeater: Directional Antennas for the Small Unit, Part II

NC Scout at Brushbeater has Part II of Directional Antennas for the Small Unit.

The use of Directional Antennas are the most basic way to improve communications security even if all you’ve got is a set of inexpensive radios. In Part 1 we talked about the theory of use and why they’re important to have for the dedicated RTO of a small unit. Sending your signal in one direction versus all directions does a couple of things for us- creates security through only sending a signal along the necessary path and second it greatly improves the range along that path. In this section we’re going to discuss the antennas themselves and how they work.

The Yagi

UHF Yagi in the field during the Advanced RTO Course.

Remember just a few years back when every house had those funny antennas on its roof? The ones you had a rotor (or if you were poor you had an set of big channel locks on the pole) to turn to get a better signal on the TV stations you wanted to watch? They’re mostly gone these days but that was a type of Yagi antenna.

Named after two electrical engineers in Imperial Japan during the interwar period, Yagi and Uda, the antenna was a solution to two problems. First, it sent a signal in one direction much further with a lot less power. Second, it listened much stronger in that same direction. It enabled directional communications links with even the very crude radio gear of the day, and found itself in service with the primitive radar systems just coming into use.

Yagis work through having a basic dipole (called the driven element) connected to the radio, with one dipole slightly longer just behind it (called a reflector) and one or more dipoles out front (called directors) that have no electrical connection to the driven element. They work on magnetic harmony- in other words, the reflector reflects the energy from the driven dipole forward, and the directors further pull that energy in the forward direction. The more directors you have, the tighter the beam. In addition, the more directors you have, the higher the decibels of gain you have in that direction- keep in mind that with each 3db of gain, you’ve effectively doubled your radiated power output in that direction. Since gain is in orders of magnitude, for each additional 3db you’re doubling your gain again.

Wait, what? Think about it like this. If you have a three element Yagi antenna, like the one picture above in from the Advanced RTO Course, which has 7.5 decibels of gain, you’ve taken the 4 or 5 watts from a handheld and increased its radiated power to over 20 watts just based on the gain of that antenna, in the direction that antenna is pointed. You’ve taken a very basic tool (the humble handheld) and made a potent communications device while using the same amount of battery power. Not bad. Not bad at all.

But the Yagi also has gain on reception, meaning it hears better in that given direction over a single omnidirectional antenna. That’s why going back to our old over the air TV antenna example above, you’d rotate the antenna towards the direction of the TV station, and why hams use the same antennas on towers to listen in a given direction. Its a heck of a lot of capability in a relatively small package for line of sight (VHF/UHF) use. And since they’re small, they should be part of every patrol loadout.

Moxons

The Moxon is incredibly simple to build.

Similar to the Yagi, a Moxon is a directional antenna that’s wildly simple to build. The best way to describe it is a Yagi with the director removed- a driven element and a reflector. So rather than a tight beam LED flashlight radiation pattern, these are more like a broad maglite. The antenna direction itself is pretty broad compared to the Yagi, but where these really shine is through their simplicity. With just a few pieces of wire and some material for the frame, you can build one in less than an hour and have a directional antenna ready to roll for a team. Check Moxgen for a downloadable program that gives all of the measurements you’ll need for cutting the wires.

Longwire and Resistor

The last directional antenna is known as the Longwire. The Longwire antenna was best known to the Vietnam generation as LRP team members used them for directional communications back to their bases of operations while evading the Signals Intelligence assets of the NVA. As the name would imply, it’s one really long wire that runs to a resistor placed in series with the wire and then driven into the ground. The long wire itself radiates with the ground end running along the earth ground. The resistor works to pull all of the current in its direction and with it most of the radiated energy.

The Longwire antenna rigged up for use. It’s incredibly simple and goes up fast.

Of each of the antennas discussed, the long wire is by far the simplest and most clandestine when used. And it also presents a very low Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) due to the residual energy being pulled to the resistor at the end of the line. Very little gets reflected back to the radio itself, But most of all, it packs up the most compact and is the easiest to build or repair in the field. All you really need is a long run of wire and a high Ohm carbon resistor- just make sure you have a lot of them.

Summing It Up

These three antennas are each fairly easy to build on your own and present a huge advantage over omnidirectional antennas. The security offered through using directional communications is not to be overlooked. For a team of guerrillas communicating critical information, its the only option. But that said it takes a bit of work and training to get right. In part three we’ll be discussing exactly how to do that, covering the basic planning requirements and how to incorporate them into your patrolling equipment.

Here’s a link to Part I if you missed it.

Brushbeater: Directional Antennas for the Small Unit

NC Scout of Brushbeater has an article on Directional Antennas for the Small Unit. Using directional antennas for radio communication can increase the range of communication and decrease signal interception outside the beam path.

One of the biggest misconceptions behind communications security revolves around misunderstanding not just the role of the equipment but also how it functions. A big part of that is the basics of antenna theory. For most radio seems to be a plug and play kinda deal- it either works, or it doesn’t. Antennas are a type of voodoo magic and the solution to security is electronic encryption. Except it isn’t, and doesn’t do anything except mask what you’re saying, but not the fact you’re saying it. Guerrillas must rely on not being detected- and no matter how high tech you think you are, it’ll not solve a tradecraft issue.

The reality is that we’ll be working with equipment that is common and off the shelf- no matter how much we want those microwave NSA-encrypted troposcatter radios made of unobtanium, a big part of local networking is done via plain old VHF and UHF amateur and commercial gear that’s common. Guerrilla communications have to be harder to detect. And at the strategic level when building an underground network, you have to understand how to plan. Even with the cheap equipment most of you likely have, incorporating a level of planning into your local communications will yield a much higher level of security and success. Knowing and understanding directional antennas becomes a key part of that planning, and as we cover in the Advanced RTO Course, there’s several options that each get the job done.

Directional Antennas such as this Yagi seen here offer security by ‘beaming’ our transmission in the direction its pointed.

Directional antennas accomplish two goals for us. First, generally speaking, if you’re not in the direction of the transmission you’re not going to hear the traffic. Because of this it offers a big advantage in the security department. If two directional antennas are transmitting toward one another, they’ll be able to communicate with the only people hearing the full conversation being in the middle of the two people. The second advantage is that instead of all our energy going in all directional at once, as with an omnidirectional antenna, a directional antenna sends the same amount of radiated energy in one direction- greatly increasing our range and signal strength in that direction, so we won’t need nearly as much power to accomplish to reliably communicate over a distance you might not have thought otherwise possible.

Antenna Theory For Non-Technical People

Radio waves travel at the speed of light. So with that said think about your antenna as a type of lightbulb. The more efficient your antenna, the brighter the light (your signal). The more power plus efficiency, the brighter the light and the more range you get. While we measure light in terms of candle power, we’ll measure our signal strength in decibels (db) and our efficiency in terms of gain. Here’s where it gets tricky, but we’ll break it down simple.

A light in the darkness- it the same visual as you would see if an omnidirectional antenna emitted light. That light is a lot like your signal.

Picture yourself in a dark room with no windows. What most people consider antennas could be thought of like lightbulbs in the center of that room. They light it up, but there’s shadowy corners and nothing is as bright as it could be. Where that light goes is just like your signal. And everyone in that room with a set of eyes will immediately know where the lightbulb is. So maybe you don’t want a bright light in the middle of the room, maybe you just want a flashlight to see one corner- to “see” the person you’re trying to communicate with. You’d want a flashlight- and that light directed in one direction will go much further with the same amount of power (or much less) while not lighting up everyone else in the room. That flashlight is a directional antenna.

The antenna you see here is really only half of the picture- the body of the vehicle serves as its groundplane, otherwise known as a reflector. Being in the center of the roof it provides an equal reflection in all directions.

Now let’s explore antenna theory a bit more, now that we have a frame of reference. What most consider an antenna- that thing sticking out of the top of your HT or off the top of your truck, for example, is actually half of an antenna. It is the radiating element- where the signal energy from the radio actually comes out. You could also call this the “hot” side. That radiating element is exactly one half of your antenna. The other half is what’s called the ground plane, which reflects the radiated signal. This would be the “cold” side. So if you’re looking at a flashlight, you’d see the bulb and the mirror behind the bulb. Just as the mirror is a type of reflector, so is that cold side of your antenna. And now the trick is to get that reflector to reflect in the direction we want the signal to go.

Tying the Concepts Together

A directional antenna’s signal would look like this, versus the lightbulb example above.

So just as our flashlight takes a small amount of radiated light and sends it much further than a simple lightbulb in the center of a room would, so does our directional antenna. A lot of folks frequently ask “how much range will this thing get?” when asking about individual radios, and with line of sight gear such as the basic Baofeng, you’re going to get a heck of a lot more in one direction than you would with omni-directional antennas, while greatly improving your own communications security. If you can master the basics while thinking a little bit outside the box, you’ll be surprised at what can be done.

 

Brushbeater: No Encryption, No Problem – Analog Radio Operations For Guerrilla Units

NC Scout at Brushbeater blog writes about communications security in No Encryption, No Problem: Analog Radio Operations For Guerrilla Units

Since I started the Brushbeater blog project back in late 2015, a constant question I’ve got in emails has been about communications security and very often how to use encryption over the radio. Back when I got into the civilian side of operational communications and I no longer had uncle sugar providing my equipment, I had all those same questions and none of the answers. Encryption and communications security is generally verboten among the old-time Ham crowd. Asking about it immediately can gain a novice the cold shoulder- it’s just one of those things that’s best left unasked, figured out on one’s own, or asked once you’ve got in the good graces of the locals (community building, anyone?). For me it was and is a creative outlet, allowing all the fun stuff I did in the Army to be a useful skill and one I teach others.

Since communications in general, like patrolling, like TC3, and like basic survival are all topics woefully misunderstood by civilians, an area as complicated as securing analog transmissions can go way over people’s heads in a hurry. It’s a different skillset than what you’re either used to seeing or doing. It requires a little understanding about radio theory, a little understanding about the planning process, along with some other skills like how to use a compass and basic awareness of your operating environment. Above all, it takes experience; you can’t just talk about it, you gotta do it. That said, we also have to recognize that the equipment we have is the equipment you’re going to be working with when things go sideways. No magic gear fairy is going to drop you a bundle of PRC-152s, much less the working knowledge to use them. So learning to use what you have in hand to its maximum capability is a heck of a lot more important than hanging out in fantasy land with stuff pushed by hobbyists.

Communications Security Begins With You, or, Encryption Won’t Save You

In a recent conversation with a friend and fellow well-seasoned vet, we brought up some of the obstacles facing would-be partisans that many preppers don’t take into account. Logistics being a HUGE one (if I burn through 500 rounds doing “supporting fire” aka just making noise, who resupplies my ammo?) but also the enablers a lot of the contemporary veteran crowd are used to having but cannot expect in the near future. NSA Type 3 AES encryption comes to mind here. We took a lot of resources for granted, especially in the commo department. We had/have an enemy who generally lacked any real electronic warfare (EW) capability, with the result being incredibly sloppy communications practices. The reliance on electronic security left a lot of the old common practices in the dust, many of which are once more very relevant today. Since about 80-90% of the prepping crowd’s electronic signal devices are limited to VHF/UHF dual band analog handhelds, you have to stop thinking in terms of simply press n’ talk if you want to even begin to be secure. The presence of a pattern of signals, even if encrypted, digital, analog or whatever, will give you away if you lack basic discipline. The saying everything that’s old is new again comes to mind, because a lot of the old hand practices developed in Vietnam for rural patrolling are the first place to begin. What was high tech for them is dirt cheap today. And the training value in their blood soaked lessons shouldn’t be lost on you.

But first, why do you need a radio? A lot of folks buy gear just for the sake of buying something. The first thing you should be asking yourself is exactly what your goal is and then work towards that instead of buying a whole bunch of something, because someone told you to, only for it not to be used. If that goal is talking with others in your group on the back forty, that’s one thing. If it’s rural patrolling, that’s another. Electronic communications, of any type, are the least secure method of communication. Messengers are the most secure. When getting started you’ve gotta figure out what it is you need to do. You might find you don’t need as much as you think; keeping it simple goes a long way. And for those of you only concerned with a homestead right now, COMSEC (communications security) is a very real issue for you whether you know it or not. A common surveillance mission for us was called “patterns of life”, where we watched a place for several days. Surveillance means everything, including the signals coming from the target, which in turn can provide a high amount of intelligence value due to shoddy practices. If you’re lazy, someone who learns a few signals intelligence techniques can not only find you very easily but listen to all your voices, get your names, know your timelines, and finally, disrupt you to the point of shutting you down, usually once they’re ready to attack. I know, I’ve done it in real life. So all of you only relying on those walmart FRS radios are very easy prey.

Contras on patrol hunting commies. Notice the handheld radio (HT) on the RPK gunner’s chest. Inter-team radios should be placed among the leaders of maneuver elements, including force multipliers such as your machine gunner / Automatic Rifleman / Support By Fire and Designated Marksman (DM).

It’s important to point out the difference between tactical communications and clandestine communications. Tactical communications require immediate action and either give short orders or brief reports and are local in nature. For preppers, these are for retreat security and short duration patrols; snoop n’ poop around the woodline to make sure nobody is waiting on us to go to sleep. The RTO Basic course focuses almost entirely on tactical communications. Clandestine communications are long term, far more in depth messages that usually use multiple layers of encoding- this is where the One Time Pads come in– and are sent to cells working over a region. These are referred to as cables in the intelligence field. Numbers stations come to mind, and that’s a whole other conversation entirely…(continues)

Off Grid Ham: Discussing Vertical And Wire Antennas

Here’s an article from Chris Warren of Off Grid Ham, writing about options for DIY antennas – Discussing Vertical And Wire Antennas

A topic so deep and wide.

I messing around with you. There is no such thing as an antenna specifically for off grid radio. But since off grid amateurs tend to be practical, do-it-yourself types, some vertical and wire antennas are more more appealing than others. What are the options, and how well do they work? We can’t possibly cover everything in one article, but we’ll go over the most popular types of antennas for off grid hams and talk about the function of each of them. vertical and wire antennas

Two basic flavors. vertical and wire antennas

There are two basic types of antennas for off grid radio: Vertical and wire. Yes, I am aware that there are many others: Beams, loops, etc. But remember we’re trying to keep it simple, practical, and relevant. A vast majority of hams end up using either a vertical or a wire antenna.

The reasons why are clear. These antennas are easy and inexpensive to build, and (for the most part) really do work. Think about all the advancements in technology. Radios have gone from massive tube farms to computerized communications centers with color displays and features that would have been Star Trek-ish just ten or twelve years ago! But at the other end of the coax, antennas have not fundamentally changed over the entire history of radio. You can compare a 50 year old ARRL Antenna Book to a 2020 edition and find nearly the same content in each of them. vertical and wire antennas

About the ARRL Antenna Book. vertical and wire antennas

It would be worth your while to own a print copy of the ARRL Antenna Book. It can be very technical and deep, maybe more than what the average ham is willing to digest, but wow, what a wealth of information. When you need to answer an obscure antenna question or look up a way-out-there math equation, the Antenna Book will come through. New copies can be quite expensive. I suggest buying an older used edition for a fraction of the cost. It doesn’t really matter because the information essentially never changes. My personal Antenna Book is nine years old and I have no plans to update it.

I don’t have a real high opinion of ARRL books in general, but the Antenna Book is an exception. It’s stellar. Every ham should own one.

The vertical antenna.

My very first antenna was a vertical, a Hy-Gain 14AVQ to be exact. I bought it used because, well, when you’re fourteen years old cobbling birthday & odd job money together for radio gear, that’s how you roll. The 14AVQ has been in production since at least the 1970s and is still available on the market today. I had a blast with that antenna and made many solid contacts on it. vertical and wire antennas

Vertical antennas offer an omnidirectional signal pattern, take up very little space, and are easy to install. They do not necessarily require support structures such as trees and buildings (I mounted my 14AVQ to a pipe pounded into the ground). Functionally they have a low angle of radiation, which is favorable to DX. There is also some evidence that vertically polarized antennas are better for short range (ground wave) communications.

The cons of vertical antennas. vertical and wire antennas

On the negative side, vertical antennas are harder to home-build and tune compared to wire antennas. Complicating that, commercially made verticals can be expensive. The Hy-Gain 14AVQ of my youth sells new for about $230.00. That’s a lot of money for what is essentially just an aluminum pole with some coils in it. The research & development costs, which I acknowledge can be very high, were amortized off the books decades ago. With that debt long paid off, the 14AVQ represents huge profit center for the manufacturer. This pattern can be repeated for almost any commercially made vertical antenna. Once the R&D costs are recovered, these antennas are basically money presses for the manufacturers.

Lastly, vertical antennas usually require ground radials. Where will you put them? If your antenna is mounted at ground level, you can just bury them in the dirt. Roof mounted verticals may be more tricky. There is no absolute rule for how many ground radials are needed, but more is better.

Wire antennas.

vertical and wire antennas

PUBLIC DOMAIN GRAPHIC

There is little to dislike about wire antennas. They can be easily made from materials most hams already have around the shop. Wire antennas done right really do work! The dipole is the “Mother antenna,” the antenna all others are based on. Wire antennas can be bent and shaped to fit your space. If you have to bend or droop a wire, it’s generally not a problem. Horizontal wire antennas also have a low angle of radiation, but it is dependent on elevation from the ground. This is why amateurs interested primarily in NVIS communications should not mount their wire antennas more than 30-50 feet up. There is such a thing as “too high”.

The bad news.

Wire antennas have two main disadvantages. First, they usually require two or more support structures. For a fixed station, this means having buildings or trees in the right places to hold your antennas up. For portable use, it means picking a site with trees or other tie points, or bringing a support system with you. By the way, many public parks prohibit affixing anything to natural features, even temporarily. Be respectful and verify what you’re allowed to do before you start tossing wire up in the trees.

Although wire antennas can sometimes be bent and shaped to fit a defined space, doing so may affect performance. Antennas are designed to be a certain shape for a reason. Anything that messes with the physics of an antenna is going to change the way it works. Changing the original shape of a wire antenna does not necessarily degrade performance, but it may result in a situation not favorable to your operating needs, such as when the radiation pattern is altered. Many hams have no choice and must do some antenna gymnastics to make their stations work. Although imperfect, these alterations are usually tolerable.

What about store-bought wire antennas?

I generally advise against buying commercially-made wire antennas. They do work well, but with a few exceptions they are not a good value for the money. One well known company is offering a portable “tactical dipole” for $400.00. Granted, it’s very well planned with a slick carry case and other handy features, but in the end it’s still just a dipole. A four-hundred dollar dipole! This illustrates a trend in the prepper/survivalist community where including the word “tactical” in a product name makes that product cost 3-5 times as much as it should.

The “Hail Mary” random wire antenna.

Wire antennas have one more big plus. A “Hail Mary” antenna can be any available length of wire. In more formal language, they’re called random wire antennas and they are exactly what the name implies. In an emergency, you can literally toss a random length of wire out the window, correct it to 50 ohms as best you can with an antenna tuner, and go. It won’t be very efficient, but you will get a signal out.

I have a random wire antenna as part of my go-kit. It works surprisingly well with my 5 watt FT-817. It would never be my first choice, but I’d be very happy to have it as a last choice.

Resources.

QSL.net has this amazing wire antenna reference that lists nearly 400 different wire antennas and diagrams on how to make them. Some of the designs are kind of way out there and I’m not sure they would work, but experimenting is part of the fun. The website cuts out complicated math and lengthy explanations; it just gives short & simple recipes on how to make some great antennas.

WA2OOO has a very cool calculator to determine the size of several popular wire antennas.

American Partisan: Three Avenues Of Approach – Baofeng’s BF-R3

NC Scout at American Partisan has a brief article on the inexpensive Chinese radio Baofeng BF-R3 and its increased utility over the UV5R model. Besides signal intelligence value, having a third band can make a difference operationally as well. In an RTO class that I attended, we found that one of the bands did not work reliability in the terrain and among the structures where we were operating, but switching to the alternate band worked fine.

As I tell students in the the RTO and Signals Intelligence Courses, its not necessarily what can be monitored (everything has the capacity to be monitored) but rather, how your adversary can exploit it. This in turn points to the criticality of the ability to plan and act based on that plan. And often enough, the difficulty lay not just in detecting an adversary to monitor, which can be hard enough, but taking that a step further into implementing tools that are outside his capabilities.

In the last RTO Course out West, a couple of the students had brought in a new model of Baofeng- a triband model called the BF-R3– a tri-band radio that matches all of the functions of the old UV-5R but with an additional spread of transmitting capability on 220-260mHz. This enables users a whole third option for receiving and transmitting in a vastly under-utilized frequency spread.

It is backwards compatible with all of the standard Baofeng UV-5R cables, batteries and accessories, including my favorite, the H-250 dogbone mic. On top of that, its fully Chirp supported for all of you that use that software. At about the same price as the standard two band Baofeng but with expanded capabilities, its hard to see why you wouldn’t want to have a few.

Get ’em while you can and while you’re at it, come get training on using it in a tactical environment. Might be important here soon.

ARRL: Hurricane Watch Net Re-Activating as Isaias Approaches Carolinas

Update 8/3/20 from ARRL: Hurricane Watch Net Reactivates as Hurricane Warning Posted for the Carolinas

With the National Hurricane Center (NHC) expecting Tropical Storm Isaias to become a hurricane again later today and make landfall this evening, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) reactivated at 1600 UTC on 14.325 MHz. HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said the net will shift operations at 2300 UTC to 7.268 MHz, where it will remain until no longer needed by the NHC. A hurricane warning is in effect from the South Santee River in South Carolina to Surf City, North Carolina.

“The center of Isaias will then approach the coast of northeastern South Carolina and southern North Carolina within the hurricane warning area later today,” the NHC said. The center will then move inland over eastern North Carolina tonight, and move along the coast of the mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday and into the northeastern United States by Tuesday night.”

The HWN initially activated on July 31 at 1500 UTC, when Isaias was about 245 miles southeast of Nassau. “During the next 41 hours, we relayed the latest advisories to those in the Bahamas, south Florida, as well as mariners and shortwave listeners, Graves said. “Because Isaias was forecast to regain strength to a Category 1 hurricane, and hurricane watches and warnings remained in effect for the Florida coast as well as areas in the Bahamas, the Net remained activated.” After the NHC dropped all hurricane watches and warnings on Sunday morning, and the storm was no longer believed to become a hurricane, the HWN secured operations on Sunday, August 1.

“During the course of 41 hours, we never received any reports from the Bahamas,” Graves said. “We did hear from many south Florida stations, but the storm was not yet close enough at the time for [that area] to be adversely affected.

As of 1500 UTC, Isaias is forecast to make landfall tonight as a Category 1 hurricane and is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rainfall from the eastern Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic coast tonight and Tuesday. The storm was some 90 miles east-southeast of Brunswick, Georgia, and some 220 miles southwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Maximum sustained winds are 70 MPH, just a shade below Category 1 hurricane strength.

“We are slowly moving into the heart of the 2020 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season, so, please do not drop your guard,” Graves advised. “If you haven’t done so already, now would be a good time to review your Family Emergency Plan and review your Emergency Supply Checklist. We have links to download both on our website.”

South Carolina Amateur Radio Volunteers Ready

Although Isaias hasn’t turned into a monster hurricane, radio amateurs from all over South Carolina have been preparing for days as the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center geared up for the storm. Isaias was predicted to make landfall on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina.

“We have been in direct communication with our emergency support function (EFS-2) partners along with many other organizations to ensure our level of readiness is sufficient. Radio checks have been performed at SCEMD (South Carolina Emergency Management Division) and more conference calls among ARES leadership are planned,” said ARRL South Carolina Section Emergency Coordinator Billy Irwin, K9OH. Irwin said information about frequencies in use may be found in the Tactical Guide on the South Carolina ARES website.

From the American Radio Relay League on 7/31/20, Hurricane Watch Net Activating as Hurricane Isaias Approaches US East Coast:

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) activated on 14.325 MHz on July 31 at 1500 UTC as Hurricane Isaias [pronounced: ees-ah-EE-ahs] heads toward the US on an uncertain trajectory.  The Volusia County, Florida, and State emergency operations centers were reported at a Level 3 (Monitoring) status.

“For years I’ve said, ‘Just when you think you have Mother Nature figured out, she changes her mind,’” HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, said. “Shortly after Advisory 11 for then-Tropical Storm Isaias was issued [at 0300 UTC], an Air Force Reserve hurricane hunter aircraft found that the tropical storm had strengthened to a hurricane. The maximum winds had increased to 80 MPH with higher gusts making the storm a Category 1 hurricane.”

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast for 0900 UTC called for Isaias to strengthen into a Category 2 hurricane during the next 24 hours.

“Unfortunately, Isaias appears to be taking a somewhat similar track along the US east coastline, such as Matthew in 2016 and Dorian in 2019,” Graves said. “Interests throughout the Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and farther north need to keep a close watch on Isaias. This means the Hurricane Watch Net could be running another marathon activation.”

An NHC Advisory issued at 1500 UTC included a Hurricane Watch for portions of the Florida east coast from north of Deerfield Beach northward to the Volusia-Brevard County Line. A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for portions of the Florida east coast from north of Ocean Reef northward to Sebastian Inlet and for Lake Okeechobee.

As of 1500 UTC, the NHC said the center of Hurricane Isaias was located near latitude 21.7 N, longitude 74.5 W, moving toward the northwest near 16 mph (26 km/h), and a general northwestward motion with some decrease in forward speed is expected for the day or so followed by a turn toward the north-northwest.  On the forecast track, the center of Isaias will continue to move near or over the Southeastern Bahamas today. Isaias is forecast to be near the Central Bahamas tonight, and move near or over the Northwestern Bahamas Saturday and near the east coast of the Florida peninsula Saturday afternoon through Sunday.

“On the forecast track, the center of Isaias will continue to move near or over the Southeastern Bahamas today. Isaias is forecast to be near the central Bahamas tonight, and move near or over the northwestern Bahamas on Saturday and near the east coast of the Florida peninsula Saturday afternoon through Sunday.

“Tropical storm conditions are possible along portions of the Florida east coast beginning Saturday, and a tropical storm watch remains in effect. While storm surge watches are not currently needed for this area, they may be required later today, if the forecast track shifts closer to the coast. Heavy rains associated with Isaias may begin to affect south and east-central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas. Isolated minor river flooding is possible in the Carolinas early next week,” the NHC said. “Hurricane conditions and dangerous storm surges are expected in portions of the Bahamas today and Saturday, and hurricane warnings are in effect for these areas. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

The HWN seeks “observed ground-truth data from those in the affected area,” including wind velocity and gusting, wind direction, barometric pressure, and, if available, rainfall, damage, and storm surge. “Measured weather data is always appreciated, but we do accept estimated,” Graves noted.

QSO Today Virtual Ham Radio Expo, Aug. 8-9, 2020

QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo

Participate in this ground breaking, virtual international amateur radio expo. Packed with world renowned speakers, exhibitors, and special conference rooms built on a virtual reality platform. Attend from the convenience of your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
Coming to your laptop, tablet, and smartphone on:
​ August 8 and 9, 2020
Hours
August 8th, 0100 Zulu (GMT) – Keynote by Dr. Scott Wright, K0MD
August 8th and 9th,  1500 Zulu USA Speaker Tracks Start
Check individual Exhibitor Booths for their hours – most will open a 1500 Zulu on Saturday and Sunday.

Despite the current Covid-19 situation, ham radio operators are more active than ever and want to continue to learn and engage with their community.  To meet this need, we’ve organized the first of its kind, virtual ham radio expo designed to allow everyone interested in amateur radio to engage with amazing speakers, leading suppliers of equipment, parts and services, and fellow attendees.  Our virtual expo platform provides a visually captivating and easy to navigate user experience that recreates the look and feel of a physical amateur radio convention.

Attendees have the opportunity to:  

  • Listen to and engage with 70+ internationally recognized ham radio luminaries that have committed to lead expo sessions. Click here for the speaker list.
  • Walk through our virtual exhibit hall filled with popular amateur radio suppliers. Watch new product demos, interact directly with booth staff using video, audio, or text conferencing.
  • Engage with fellow hams without leaving your home ham shack. And save thousands of dollars since you don’t have to worry about travel, food, and lodging!
  • Return over the next 30 days to re-visit, explore, and re-engage exhibitor offerings.

Continue reading “QSO Today Virtual Ham Radio Expo, Aug. 8-9, 2020”

Off Grid Magazine: Emergency Communications – Handheld Radios

Off Grid Magazine has an article up on Emergency Communications: Handheld Radios

What’s the key factor that has made humans the dominant species on Earth? Many would say it all comes down to our ability to use tools, dating back to the first time our cave-dwelling ancestors crafted a blade or smacked two rocks together to spark a fire. But that claim overlooks a much greater advantage: our ability to work together through sophisticated methods of communication. Enter the world of handheld radios.

As the English poet John Donne put it, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We have succeeded through collaborating to build societies, and none of that would be possible if we hadn’t developed spoken and written methods to communicate with each other. Although television shows and movies often portray the quintessential survivalist as a grizzled lone wolf, totally independent of the crumbling ruins of humanity, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Alone, we’re vulnerable; together, we can support one another.

It’s critical to have a plan for emergency communication if something goes wrong, especially for those of us who venture out into the wilderness and distance ourselves from society. We’ve all heard the stories of lost hikers who wandered off-course or got injured in a remote location, nearly dying because they were unable to call for help. The irony behind these stories is that long-range communication these days is easier than ever before — our ancestors would be astonished by the capabilities of the cell phones we carry in our pockets. However, those same cell phones can lull us into a false sense of security. If your phone’s battery dies, its screen is smashed, it’s out of range of the nearest cell tower, or a widespread disaster has disabled or overloaded local infrastructure, is your only backup plan to start sending smoke signals?

Click here to continue reading at Off Grid Magazine.