I do most of my Amateur Radio operation and for the most part I use the digital mode JS8CALL picking a spot to set up somewhere in the great outdoors and spend a couple of hours on the radio.
But sometimes its nice to have a purpose on a radio day and also check out how well our equipment works and also how how the site selected affects what propagation we get on the bands we use, this is very useful in general but also great for those of you who plan to use your station for Emergency Communications (EMCOMM). You could enter a contest if thats your thing but that doesn’t really interest me, but that does leave us with a couple of options.
All of the options involve the activity of “Activating” something. By that I mean you pick one of the schemes set up to operate your radio from something, that may be an annual event such as Mills on the Air, Railways on the Air or SOS Radio week (which is now a month) but you need to wait for the date of those activities to come around however there are more options, SOTA (Summits on the Air) is the one I have heard most about but we only have one summit nearby and its quite popular with walkers and tourists running about enjoying themselves so not the best location to set up.
Fairly new to England is Parks On The Air (POTA) this is quite popular in the USA but its new enough here that operators hearing your calls sometimes assume its a special event, which is good in a way because many will respond to get you in the log. The best thing about POTA for me is that I live right in the centre of a huge (by English park standards) park – Exmoor National Park and, especially as I’m currently enjoying 2M, it also has quite a few easily accessible high points of around 500M ASL with views in all directions.
Getting Started with POTA
You can go out and happily call CQ POTA and have a great day on the radio, but you can also register on the POTA site to have your log and activation recorded.
This is a simple process, go to POTA.app click the sign up button top right and enter your details. You will get the confirm email and with that you are ready to go.
Find a Park
So now you need to decide where you are going to carry out your first Activation. Use the search box at the top of the POTA landing page to enter the name of the park if you know it or use the map, select DXCC and then search for a county name and see the parks (yellow dots) that are registered.
Click or tap on a yellow marker to see the Park and most importantly its reference. In the case of Exmoor Nartional Park its G-0236
There are not many rules for POTA but first and foremost is that you must operate from within the boundaries of the Park and you must operate in a public place, if like me you live in the park you can’t operate from your back garden you must be in the park on public land so technically I could set up at the side of the road that leads to the house, however that wouldn’t be wise as the roads aren’t very wide here 🙂
Before you set off you can schedule your activation on the site and once there you can spot yourself. I found this didn’t really help here in England as its not so popular as in the USA but maybe that will change as more operators get interested in this.
On the day
Now that you are ready to go, making sure you have packed everything you need, Radio, CoAx, Antenna, power supply and notebook, head out to your chosen location and setup on your favourite band.
In the case of 2M I started on the calling channel (145.500MHz for FM and 144.300MHz for SSB here in the UK)
I’m sure I dont need to tell you how to call CQ but there is an example ‘format’ on the POTA website and I used similar
CQ CQ CQ this is M0IAX/P, M0IAX/P Calling CQ Parks on the Air in Exmoor National Park and standing by for any calls
Top tip here from me is that If your radio has a voice record facility like my Icom IC-705 record the call for the day and use the playback function to call CQ – it can get very repetitive if there are long gaps between callers 😉
Once contact is established QSY to another channel to keep the calling channel clear and once you complete your QSO remember to call QRZ on the channel you are on, you may find other operators that heard your call are waiting to have a QSO with you.
Submit your Log
In order to get your log and activation on to the POTA website you need to create an ADIF file (all logging software has the option to export an ADIF file of selected QSOs). When operating Phone I tend to log in a notepad (this is currently the only time I EVER use a pencil and paper these days!) and enter the QSOs in my log when I get home.
Once you have exported your log you need to rename the file to the format:
So for my activation yesterday it was
You then need to email the file to the POTA admin there is more info here but in a nutshell if you have a zero in your call sign you send to K0@parksontheair.com, if you had a 1 then K1@parksontheair.com etc
Remember to include the County you activated from in the case of parks that cover more than one county, for example Exmoor extends from Somerset to Devon so I specified that I was in the Somerset part.
I found this a great way to add something more to my usual portable operation. It give me a reason to go a bit further into the country side with all my gear which is not only a great way to make sure my setup works as I want, its also a great way of getting some exercise and seeing some great views.
The one overriding piece of advice I can give (and this counts for all aspects of amateur radio) is dont give up you may find yourself calling CQ for quite some time particularly on 2M here in England as its not well used, certainly not where I have been. But with a bit of persistence you Can have a great day out and easily get the 10 QSOs you need for the Activation.