Going “portable” with your Ham kit should be enjoyable and productive – There are several advantages to venturing outside the confines of your Shack:
- A chance to operate at a noise-free location
- An opportunity to use either salt-water or a high spot to your advantage
- Room for large(r) aerials than you may be allowed at home
- The social (ie: club/local) aspect
The main reason, for many, is simply to enjoy some good weather and a bit of radio – with a bit of sun, some favourable band conditions and some luck when spinning the VFO, you may find it so addictive that you find yourself packing the car up with kit (and a flask of tea) in early January for some Passenger-Seat Portable!
Are there any big secrets to /P’ing? Not really – so long as you’re safe and know how to get the most/best from your equipment. Often, this comes from experience; making the odd mistake or finding out which of your aerials performs better *most* of the time on a given band. The social side to /P can help with this as different people means different ideas, equipment and experience.
A radio, an aerial and a power-source – that’s all you need. Sounds easy, dunnit?
The answer to that question could indeed be another question: “How long is a piece of wet string?” but it really depends upon what you’re interested in and what the conditions are like. With a decent amount of space to put up your aerial, you should be able to have fun on 3.5MHz to 28MHz without any trouble. Using a 10m fishing pole, I’ve had lots of success on all HF bands 80m-10m with Inverted-Vees, Dipoles and Verticals. If the location is particularly high up, then 2m (FM or SSB) is worth a try.
Here are some ideas for bands to use:
80m/40m : Great for inter-G contacts – If you’re putting on a special event (perhaps with a GB callsign), these bands will probably give you the most QSOs. Stations from the UK will also be more familiar with your city/town/village and the event/place you are commemorating.
30m to 10m : For some DX and perhaps some CW. A special event station can also give those with a Foundation (or Intermediate) licence the chance to make some long-distance contacts using a much more efficient (and powerful) station than they may have at home.
2m FM : For fairly local contacts (within 50 miles) – Typically calling on 145.500 (S20) and then using a normal simplex frequency for your QSOs. A “Slim-Jim” is a must-have aerial for VHF /P.
The bands and conditions will also dictate the QSO format: On 80m/40m you may end up having longer QSOs with “locals” than you would on a DX band like 20m. If you’re on the higher-bands, you will probably find that the average Polish station doesn’t know (or care) much about the Bogtrotter Steam Museum but only that you’re “near London”.
A good operator will keep an ear on caller numbers so that, if things do get a little hectic, they can pick-up the pace a little and revert to rubber-stamp QSOs for a while – there really is no need to give the same information on every successive QSO when it’s clear there are a large number of callers.
Alongside the obvious like a radio, aerial and a power-source – There are some other goodies that you may need: My own /P kit-bag includes a number of small, cheap and very useful items such as velcro cable-ties, dipole centres, dog-bone insulators, spare pens, nylon support cord, ground pegs and a few coax adapters.
- Earphones or Headset : It’s easy to get distracted so monitoring with headphones can help greatly. If members of the public are nearby and asking questions it helps keep your mind focused on the radio – A splitter running to a small speaker may be useful to give visitors a chance to hear both sides of the QSO.
- Logging : If you’re logging on paper, ensure you have a properly-formatted logbook and a plentiful supply of pens! You may wish to scribble-down callsigns on a notepad and write them out neater afterwards. Either method works so long as the information is accurately recorded – especially if you plan to QSL.
- Spares : Sometimes, things go wrong, a fuse blows or the battery runs out. Try to have spares just in case – A small tool-kit can be very useful, particularly if you’re putting aerials together. A spare coaxial cable is a good idea – Ensure that it’s long enough to be used with your aerial and run (safely) to where you are operating. Both my coax and balanced feeders have a tape marker on them to signify the distance from the feed-point to the bottom of my 10m pole: The remainder makes it easy to plan where (and how far) the operating position will be.
- 2m/70cm Handheld : Keeping in touch either en-route or during the event can be useful and you may need to call on the assistance of a local perhaps via a repeater. A mobile phone (for emergencies and a few pictures of the day) is a must – Ensure that you have them fully-charged before you set off! If you need to charge you phone “in the field”, you can find lots of cheap charger/powerpacks for mobile phones and tablets on Amazon.
Operating outside the confines of your comfy Shack may put you under a bit of stress – particularly if you’re doing it as part of a special event or perhaps on bands/modes that you don’t normally operate. Like driving, operating a radio tends to reduce your temper threshold and distractions can be annoying, particularly in the form of back-seat operators!
- The person in front of the radio is in charge – Unless there’s an urgent problem, do not distract the operator unless they ask for assistance. If they’re under supervision, then you can take a more pro-active approach to helping them, especially if it’s a new licensee struggling with QSO protocol or a large pile-up.
- Food and Drink : For a large’ish /P event, operators tend to work best for an hour or so depending upon band conditions and whether it’s CW, SSB or Digimodes. If there’s lots of talking to be done, a convenient drinking vessel is a welcome addition – Screw-top bottles (water, juice etc) are best, especially if they are to be within reach of the operator and near anything electrical. Mugs, if used, should be wide and short – reducing the chances of them being knocked-over. Sealable thermos-style mugs are also good here, if they are knocked-over, the contents stay inside. A bottle of water is useful, not just for drinking but you may need to clean your hands after laying-out all those ground radials. No matter how tempting, avoid chocolate (and biscuits) if you’re operating FM/SSB – the sugar content will thicken your saliva making speech quite tricky. Fruit is best, but a sugary-treat like an energy-bar is fine once you’re off the mic.
- Light and Shade : If you’re outdoors, will the equipment be in direct sunlight? Can you see the laptop screen or radio display without getting glare from the sun? Ah, UV rays: It’s easy to forget about being in the sun all day, so remember to top-up on the Factor 15!
- Where Ham I? If you’re at a special location or one that’s some distance from your home QTH, print yourself a small label with location details like Locator+WAB Squares, distance from the nearest large city/town plus website/QSL manager etc. For a major special event, an A4 information sheet that your operators can read from is a must – It’s nice to give out some facts+figures every few QSOs. A more generic A4 “fact sheet” should be nearby for the public to read – perhaps even a few A5 leaflets that can be given to interested visitors: The nearest club, how to get licensed etc.
A fun and productive session is the aim, but safety is a priority not just for you but also for casual observers and visitors:
- Wires and Cables : Keep these as short and as tidy as possible. If you have wires coming down to the ground (perhaps a 40m Inverted-V), ensure that there’s sufficient warning to pedestrians or an exclusion zone – This is especially important if you have a ground-mounted vertical/dipole that can be touched by somebody (especially children).
- First-Aid : A suitable first-aid kit is essential, and certainly critical for insurance purposes if you’re putting on a club event. The stock should be checked before and after the event and any missing items replaced promptly.
- Cleaning-Up : If you’re in a public area such as a park, field or beach – ensure that you collect any rubbish and leave the area as you found it.
Often, the biggest let-down in /P can be the weather, followed by poor band conditions so be sure to check the forecasts of both before you set-off – The Met Office website offers an easy look at forthcoming weather and N0NBH’s HF Propagation and Solar Data website is good for checking band conditions.
Happy /P ‘ing!