Introduction to Roving de W3IY

Tired of putting up with your usual QTH and all it's associated problems? Maybe you have
TVI on 6-meters, or live in an RF hole. Perhaps you've tried VHF and had a hard time
working DX. Are all your neighborhood computers, cable TV, and other electric appliances
generating a 20dB noise floor in your receiver? Perhaps you live nearby other VHF-active
hams, and you want to see what it's like to operate without super-strong signals and splatter
all over your receiver, for a change. Or, maybe you just need a change of pace in
your radio operating practices, and want to experiment with something new and exciting. Try
roving in the next VHF contest! Even for the beginner, roving is an exciting aspect of VHF
operating, and it can really open your eyes to show you how much fun the higher bands can be.
Have you thought about what VHF propagation might be like from a mountaintop? This brief
article will give you some ideas on how to get started. QRZ contest!

There are at least 4 major VHF contests, which occur at about the same time each year.
Coming up January 24 and 25 this year (just 2 weeks away as I write this…) is the ARRL
January VHF Sweepstakes. This contest is often a challenge from Mother Nature, with less-
than-desired VHF propagation, cold temperatures, and sometimes-difficult driving conditions.
Nevertheless, many VHF operators love this contest, as it's become a magnet for club
competition, and high levels of participation. Other major VHF events include the ARRL June
VHF Contest, The CQ VHF contest in July (major tropo openings in this one in 2003!), and
the ARRL September VHF QSO Party. Even if you're not a competitive contester, these
events are icons of VHF activity, and represent a great opportunity to take advantage of great
activity, add see what kinds of QSO are being made. You will probably be surprised to see
that 500-mile QSOs are common up through 432 MHz, even with a closed band. Your local
radio club may have a significant number of active VHF & above stations…tune in and find

Roving is a growing category during all VHF contests. In this game, you are allowed to work
stations multiple times on each band when you travel into a new Maidenhead grid square. It's
not unusual to find rovers covering 10-12 grids during a contest, and these usually include grids,
which would not be accessible without rovers. This can make you popular…. especially if you
are willing to bring microwave bands (this means more QSOs and more fun!!). Rovers can use
2 operators, which is highly recommended for safety reasons. It's fun to have one guy
operating, and one guy logging…or if you can swing it, bring multiple radios, and both guys can
operate at the same time. (Please be very careful if you operate while driving!) However, we
are just trying to give you an overview of how to get started, so for now, let's assume that you
want to start easy.

The basic rover station that I recommend would consist of a transceiver covering the 6-meter,
2-meter, and 70cm bands. This approach could consist of an FT-100, IC706, FT-857, or a
myriad of other single and multiple band radios. Even a 10-watt SSB/CW station on 2m can
work some exciting stuff…like up into New England, and down to NC with ease. The biggest
obstacle for most rovers is mounting horizontal antennas on their vehicles. Or course, you can
also just drive to your sites, and then erect the antennas, if you don't want to modify the family
vehicle too much. There are some good bumper-mounts available, which will support halo-type
antennas, but you may also want to consider mounting a luggage rack, and using this to hold
some boards, which can support taller masts (maybe guy-wires?). Be careful if you go above
12ft, however, as there are lots of trees and stuff that your antennas may encounter. Don't
forget that you can't go into fast-food drive-troughs with antennas flying above your vehicle! I
would recommend halo antennas, as a minimum, as verticals are just not very effective working
the horizontally polarized base stations (they will still work, and may be worth a try if you don't
have other antennas). One of the big advantages of VHF is that antennas are small, and it's
very possible to also mount rotators and small yagis. The difference between a halo and a 6-ft
yagi on 2m is really big…about 11dBi gain vs. 2dBi for a good halo. This will significantly
extend your working range, and should be considered if you want to rove far away to those rare
grid squares. Of course, if you really want performance, you can easily bring your 24-ft yagi in
pieces, and erect it when you arrive at your favorite mountaintop site. A big advantage of VHF
is that even large antennas can be broken down and packed into your trunk. You can get AC
inverters, which will convert your 12V car battery to the 115VAC required by most rotators, or
you can use your "arm-strong" rotator. Most of these inverters are too RF-noisy, and generate
significant QRM on 6 & 2-meters. The units sold by Astron are supposed to be pretty RF-
quiet. DC rotators are also available, but tend to be more expensive than the AC units that
most of us are familiar with. If you can erect your antennas so that you can drive with them up,
you will be much more capable of hitting lots of grids, working more stations, and not having to
work hard setting up your stuff at each site. This is a big factor if you want to move around a lot
to other grids and sites (which is great fun, and helps you and your VHF-buddies scores

If you're just starting out in roving, you will probably do fine with halos, and the basic
transceivers. Add power amplifier bricks for better DX working ability. Don't forget that you
may be starting to stress your car battery if you are getting busy working stations, and you may
need to leave the engine running to prevent discharging your battery. Many rovers carry a 2nd
battery for use with the radios. This is a great idea, as it's not hard to forget about running your
main battery into the ground when you're having a great time working stations left-and-right. A
normal lead-acid battery is about 100 Amp-hours, so you can probably expect 5-6 hours of
operation before you need to charge the battery, or change to another one. Be aware that
many transceivers don't work very well at voltage less than 12V (my IC-706 becomes very
distorted on TX). For extended operating all weekend long, you will probably have to leave the
engine running all the time, or install a serious battery charging system that can recharge your
stuff while you drive. A normal car alternator is not rated to charge a discharged battery,
contrary to popular opinion. You can blow the diodes if you run the battery all the way down,
and expect to do a complete recharge from the alternator (assuming you can start your engine!).
Consider upgrading your alternator if you really want to run some juice, and need to recharge
some batteries. Units are available for many common vehicles for around $200, which are
much better than the stock alternators. See for more details on
DC power systems. This is an often-overlooked problem area for prospective rovers. Above
all, observe safety practices when dealing with batteries. Put extra lead-acid batteries in a
protective plastic case, and be careful where you mount them (they can become deadly
projectiles if you're in an accident). Don't ever attach or disconnect the wires to a battery if the
charger is active…sparks can blow stuff up, and spray acid all over the place. Charging
batteries generates explosive hydrogen gas, so you need to make sure you have adequate
ventilation during-and-after charging.

Plan a reasonable and fun rover path for yourself. Don't try to cover too much territory on your
first trip out. Keep things simple and fun for yourself, and slowly feel your way into this exciting
area of VHF-amateur radio. It is very demanding driving and contesting for a whole weekend,
and you may find it to be more rewarding if you start out with just a few grid squares. Talk to
some VHF-active guys in your area and see what grids they think would be good candidates for
some rover activity. It's nice to have a few stations who know where you will be, and look for
you on the bands. Choose some high-altitude sites to really have fun and work better VHF-
DX. Skyline Drive in VA has many great overlooks providing fantastic radio-horizons in most
directions. Being a rover, you can easily move to sites looking in the desired directions. NE is
the most popular direction from the DC area, as there is a great VHF & up population towards
Philadelphia, NY, and CT (FN20, FM29, FN31, etc). Don't forget that it's also productive to
your score (and operating enjoyment) to look in the less populated directions, like NW, SW, &
S. As more rovers hit the trails, you can expect to find stations all over the compass. Mark,
N2MH has put together a collection of prospective rover sites at Check this out for some possible operating

Another tip that may help you get started in roving is learning who to look for. In your
geographical area, there are probably some VHF & up stations who are on-the-air during VHF
contests. Point your beam toward the population centers, and find the activity. The call signs
ending with /R are rovers, and they can be found all over the place, frequently on bands thru
10GHz. Many of these stations have big signals on the lower VHF bands, and you should be
able to hear them with ease when you look their way. A great resource of past VHF activity
can be found at Just click on the FM icon for a list of past activity
in all the grids starting with FM. Learning who is out there can be a big help as you navigate
through the bands searching for weak signals. (This site also shows which grids really need
some rover activity, as well).

One of the issues that confront beginning rovers is that of log keeping. I recommend bringing a
laptop to help with this task, although paper-and-pencil certainly works reliably too. There are
many good (& free) logging programs out there for VHF contesting. Among them are:

1. KM Rover by W3KM (
2. Roverlog by N2MU (
3. VHFTest by WG3E (

To use a laptop effectively, you will need to make a home for it in your vehicle. It’s a little
difficult trying to use it on the seat beside you. Maybe consider building a support table near the
operating position. If you have a truck or a van, you may want to consider making your
operating position in the back where there is more room for tables and radios. Of course, this
approach makes it harder to operating on-the-move, but it may work for you. Fasten your stuff
down so it stays put in the mobile environment. Possible solutions to this problem are Velcro,
bungi-cords, and specially designed brackets. I find that .062 aluminum sheet can be crafted
into suitable equipment support with suitable angle brackets to hold things in-place.

Another big issue for beginning rovers is that of knowing where you are, and aiming your
antennas. A GPS receiver comes in handy, but may not be necessary if you carefully plot your
course (and know your grid!) ahead of time. If you plan to venture into the higher frequencies,
a GPS becomes even more useful as the antennas headings become very critical. Using a
heading calculation program like BD2000, you can compute the true headings from your grid
square to other station locations. (It’s available from ). At any
rate, know your grid square, as you will be passing it out as the primary QSO exchange in the
contest. It helps to become familiar with 6-digit grids as well. Each grid is sub-divided into 576
smaller grids, which are 2.5 arc-minutes square. FM19aa (near Upperville, VA) is the
southwest corner of FM19, and FM19xa is the southeast-most corner (near Ruthsburg, MD).
FM19xx is the northeast corner of the grid, and it's located just west of Philadelphia, PA.
FM19ll is right in the middle. I include this info on 6-digits simply because many VHF
operators ask for it to help them aim their antennas. If you're using a halo, you should still know
this as many other stations are using bigger antennas, and will want to zero-in on your signal.

We have attempted to convey the basics of VHF & up roving in this brief article. There are
many more subtle issues that affect roving, and contesting in general, but we leave these for your
future research. Check out for additional tips, opinions,
observations, and general exhortations about this fascinating aspect of our beloved hobby.
Above all, be safe out there, and remember that this stuff is supposed to be fun. Don’t get
caught up in the competitiveness and forget that lots of VHF operators just want to have some
QSOs and enjoy the activity. There’s a lot fewer signals on the VHF bands compared to HF,
and we all need to help each other out. Since all VHF contests are now club-competition events,
I highly encourage all VHF-capable stations, and rovers in-particular, to get things hooked up,
and participate. Even a few 6 or 2-meter QSOs with your VHF neighbors will be greatly
appreciated. Consider finding a VHF club or group in your area. We can often have more fun
as a group. See you on the bands!

p.s....listen for the weak ones.