Application Note No. 47899.17 Roving Strategies
de W3IY/R ~~~ ...(revised 11/11/03) ~~~
I have had a great opportunity to learn some roving stuff from Brian the Rover, ND3F, and some other experienced guys in my area.. I will try to summarize some of Brian's teachings, and add a few theories of my own, in the interest of helping out prospective rovers. Basically, you sort of have to decide if you are going to compete as a rover, help your local multi-op station, or just go out and have a good time. With a little thought, and some experimenting, you can combine all these things into a great and rewarding experience. Here are some ideas, in no particular order...
1. Where to GO? Plan a rover path which includes some good sites and some rare grids. As Brian stated in his paper at the NEWS conference a few years ago, you will add several dB to your effective SNR if you go to rare grids. Many stations will hunt you down, and try hard to find you. Try to minimize driving time (although, with a partner, and some tailored antennas, you can work lots of good stuff in-flight). Try to pick grid corners so you can work stations 4 times with a small drive. You are probably better off staying at each site for 1hr to 1.5 hrs, depending on activity. Even if the terrain is not optimum, you can do well if you get away from tall trees, buildings, and RFI sources (like power lines, TV transmitters, repeaters, pagers, cell towers, etc.). If there are trees within several hundred feet, you may still do well on the lower bands up through 222 MHz. Look at the maps, and plan ahead. You can probably find lots of good locations along a reasonable straight path, with perhaps, a few strategic curves in it. It's nice to start far away, and finish near home, to minimize a loooooong drive home. I am usually very tired after a big contest roving effort. Try to pick a few good mountains or hills along the way. As an operator, it's nice to work rare grids for yourself, in the direction of your travels, since you will be farther away from those stations later in the trip. In other words, when you rove north, look for the northern stations, since they will be closer. Yes, the southern stations will also want to work you, but you should try to capitalize on your present location, to maximize your score. Work all that you can, but don't forget that some guys will be farther away from you later in the contest, and you could miss them. Coastal paths can be very good in the warmer months for evening ducting along the water. Check your planned rover path in advance to be sure there aren't too many low-hanging tree branches or locked gates to foil your efforts. Avoid no-trespassing signs! If there's time, you should consider asking permission before going on private property. I have had people call the cops on me many times, even when I'm on public property, simply because they didn't understand what I was doing, and it looked like too much fun, I suppose. (Always have your license and some QSL cards with you...they really help establish credibility with people who have no idea what ham radio is all about).
Be mindful of who you want to work. I think you should try to work everyone, but if there are some large single or multi-op super stations in your area, you may want to choose locations that can "see" them on microwaves. It's always good to check activity by reviewing past contest results so you can get an idea of who you should be looking for from your awesome rover-site. Higher frequency bands typically require better sites (no trees!).
Ask your VHF & up friends that you want to work what grids they consider to be rare. Many grids are populated on the lower-4 bands, but you could really be helping some folks out to carry microwave equipment into some of these grids. VHF contesters, and non-contesters, alike, tend to enjoy this, and will try to work you.
If you are going to national parks or state parks, it's probably a good idea to discuss your plans with park rangers ahead of time. Most of the parks in my area know what hams are doing, and they are happy to accommodate us. However, since 9/11 there is much more paranoia surrounding strange vehicles, loaded with antennae so be prepared to do some PR. What you are doing is directly related to emergency communications preparedness, so don't hesitate to mention this.
Remember that in most of the USA, the grid squares are wider than they are tall. This means that you can cover more grids-per-hour driving by going north-south. The quality of your selected sites is probably much more important, but you should consider this, if you plan to hit more than a couple of grids. Of course, you also need to consider the accessibility of your sites, and in particular, the nearness to good roads/highways. Finding a bunch of good sites near major roads is really a bonus, and can save you many hours of searching around, getting lost, etc. One of the goals of my rover expeditions is to try to minimize the drive-time between sites, since I can't work my favorite microwave bands while driving. (I am working on this, but it's a formidable problem).
If you plan to wonder far away, perhaps you should get a place to sleep...ahead of time. The coastal areas get pretty short of rooms during the summer, and you don't want to have a poor night's sleep before the contest even gets going. Sleep is a good thing, and you may want to reserve a comfortable room someplace to recharge your batteries. I try to get a really good rest on the Friday night before the contest, knowing that I may be otherwise occupied on Saturday night. I find that even a few hours of sleep really helps on Saturday night/Sunday morning. The big price you will pay is going back to work on Monday, if you stay up too late...hi. If you are up to it, and activity warrants, you may be able to stay up all night have a ball working lots of other insane VHF & up nuts. Especially during the hot summer weather, this can be very productive, as warm air from the daytime rises at night. You will be doing the other die-hards a great service as you pull into a new grid at oh-dark-thirty, since you will suddenly create lots of potential new activity for them, and help keep them awake at the mic/key. Consider taking Monday off work, if you can. Plan ahead, and don't get stuck out in the remote areas with no place to crash. Sleeping in your car could get you busted, so be cautious. I also pay close attention to my driving, when I am in the sleep-deprivation mode. When your eyes are having any trouble focusing on the road, it's probably time to pull over. Even 20 min rest/sleep will help you to be a safer driver. I also find that listening to good music (not too quiet, or peaceful) helps me to stay alert, when I'm really tired. The human body can usually function surprisingly well, with little or no sleep...for a while. Learn your limits, and don't push it too far. The older you get, the bigger toll this will take on you. My body usually forgives me until the following Monday.
2. 2 Meter Equipment. Try to put together a decent station on 2m. This is really important ,as a rover. Nearly all higher band QSOs are made by rovers by first making contact with stations on 2-meters. This is definitely your best band to find guys on, even it it isn't your best-equipped band. The reason is that most contest activity is on 2m, and nearly everyone searches for activity here as the primary liason band. I would recommend at least a 5el yagi and 100W output minimum. You can have a lot of fun with just a halo (a very good antenna choice, if you plan to work stations while driving), but a 10dBi gain antenna will make a lot of difference when you get away from the population centers. A better antenna than a halo is a Big Wheel. Although larger, they are at least 1dB better than a halo. 2 stacked halos starts to make it possible for you to work some better DX.
Pick a rig with a good noise blanker. Roving on 2m will surely place you near many noise sources. The FT-100 noise blanker does a great job for me. I find power lines to be very noisy on 2m, and the noise blanker even helps with the line noise somewhat (a tall order for an impulse-triggered noise blanker). I would also recommend that you install some high-quality EMI-reducing spark-plug wires. Magnecor sells good ones, but they are slightly over $100 per set. These wires really helped me a lot on 6 and 2 meters. 2m will be your main "bread-and-butter" while roving, for working stations, and coordinating higher band contacts. Try to have a stand-alone 2m rig, if you can swing it, as it really comes in handy for liason on the microwaves, using a separate IF rig. It's really nice to be able to play someone's audio back on 2m to help them aim their dish at you. 2-meters really seems to be the best all-around band to use for maintaining communications on long haul QSOs. It cuts through trees reasonably well, and there are many well-equipped stations on the band. Use it to your advantage. Nowadays, most higher band QSOs are made, by 1st working someone on 2, and then QSY-ing to the other bands. It used to be different, back in the 70s and 80s, but I think it's usually better for rovers to plan on coordinating higher band QSOs on 2-meters. You could waist a lot of valuable time calling CQ on 432, where your chances of having the antenna aligned with another station, are not that good.
Consider working a bit of 2m FM. In some areas, there are many stations lurking on 146.55, 146.58, etc. Some of them may be potential converts to 2m SSB/CW. Lots of guys get into VHF & up via the funny modulation (FM) mode. Encourage them. We need all the help we can get as for activity. I find that I can work lots of FM even with a horizontal antenna. There are lots of objects in the RF path that tend to depolarize signals, especially when you are mobile.
3. How many Grids? More is better, if you are up to the challenge, but just a few can be a box of fun. I think you just have to feel your way into this issue, based on your setup, and your willingness to drive all over the place during a contest. I find that I can (easily?) do 10 grids in a contest, and have plenty of time at each one. My roving style is to stop and operate in each grid for at least 1 hour. There's not much time to screw around. Most of my antennas are in-place, and I only have to push up the rear mast if I want BIG SIGNALs on 2m & 432. It's often nice to just pull in and operate with the 6ft rover yagis, and bypass the set up, all-together. Others have been successful driving continuously, with a 2nd operator running the gear. In the mid-Atlantic region, you can cover more grids-per-mile by going on a north-south path...but finding good sites is probably more important. It is a constant effort to keep myself on schedule, but it makes it easier to find guys, and for them to find me, if I try to stick to an pre-planned itinerary. Sure, you will usually miss a few buddies from some grids (while they were goofing off on another band, or chasing the xyl around the house), but you will be more likely to find friends if you go to lots of new grids. You get a whole new life at each new grid! This is a significant tradeoff, which depends heavily on your setup. If you have lots of work to do at each site for set-up, it will be very tiring, and you might be better off going to fewer-better sites. You should consider bringing a rover partner to share the work. Driving when you are dog tired is a very BAD idea, and accurate logging is just about impossible. Always stop and rest, if you feel the need. No VHF contest is worth risking yours or anyone else's life over. Brian, ND3F tries to stay in a grid for about 100 QSOs, when possible. If activity is good, this can come about in an hour or so, but you have to keep focused on working stations at a high rate, and be quite lucky. 100 QSOs per hour is really smoking for most of us on VHF & above. Don't try to cover too many grids, until you are having fun just doing a few. If you try to hit too may grids, you will have more time driving, and less time doing quality operating.
Note that the current rover rules in ARRL contests do not award you any extra credit for working grids repeatedly from each of your grids. You just get the QSO credit, making it less beneficial to a rover to find previously-worked stations again, and again. Being a nice guy, I usually do this anyway, but if you're really looking for the big score, you should search for new grids all the time, even if it means bypassing the un-needed grids. (It's goes against my grain to even say this, but rules is rules~!). Of course, this is assuming that you are actually finding and working the new grids quickly...it may help your score better to work the loudest stations quickly, regardless of their grid, especially if they have microwave bands. There is some likelihood that the ARRL may return to the old rover scoring rules, which give rovers new multipliers for each grid they work, from each grid they operate from. This makes rover scores disproportionately large, compared to other stations, but so what? We are unique- strange birds anyways, and roving is hard work! Maybe we should get extra points for each gas station we stop at, too....and many extra bonuses for all the police interrogations we succeed in surviving.
4. Site Selection. Pick good sites. There are probably many of them within 10 miles of even your RF hole-QTH. This is one of the most fun challenges as a rover. It's also one of the rover-secret weapons. We have a BIG advantage over base stations in that we can drive to tall mountains with great radio horizons. We can escape the wrath of our KW ham-neighbors with all their 3rd,5th,7th,etc intermod and phase noise, as they blast our noise floor beyond the reasonable. We can find radio-quiet zones, where you can actually hear weak signals on 6m without a 20dB man-made noise floor. We can escape TVI on Superbowl Sunday. We can enjoy contesting despite our neighborhood anti-antenna restrictions. Hell, being portable really has loads of significant advantages. The ideal site is high above sea level, and clear with no obstructions within a mile or so. If you locate on a hilltop, with sloping ground at an angle of 10 degrees or more, you will achieve a very low take off angle. Professional literature has stated that you can gain 10dB of SNR by lowering your take-off angle by 1 degree, on 700Km troposcatter paths. This is really significant, and as a rover, you won't have to spend $10K or more, erecting a 200ft tower (man...that's a lot of feedline...). A low-elevation site can also be surprisingly good, if it is clear in the desired directions. I find many corn fields can be good locations, if I can somehow locate in the middle of several of them, without getting too close to any tree lines. Site selection is related to your rover antenna system, and it's height above the road. If your antennas are low, then you need to find sites with lower trees and other obstacles. If you can hoist your antennas 30 ft in the air, then there will be more sites that will work well, and you won't be as restricted as most of us are. Sometimes I move slightly at a site to enhance a particular direction, avoiding the usual trees and stuff. You can have lots of fun making site surveys in advance, seeing how well you hear your local beacons, and working guys during the non-contest periods. This becomes very important for the higher bands where local terrain has an increasingly major effect on who you can work. Get out and test often. This will help you narrow down the good sites, and let you see if all your apparatus is working well. Plus, your weekend expeditions will help other stations to exercise their apparatus so they can fix things, and try new things. Try to operate from grid corners, where practical. It's really nice to have a short drive, and then to be able to work the same guys again from a new grid. Stay away from obstacles, especially in your direction of greatest activity. Avoid RFI sources, like gas stations, banks, and places likely to have a lot of computers roaring away on 6 and 2 meters. Power lines seem to roar pretty loud on 6/2 meters, from my experience. Avoid setting up too close to a heavily traveled roadway...ignition noise can be a real problem from other vehicles, even if yours is clean. It's always nice to try and find a few mountaintop sites on your journey. There's nothing like pulling up to a 3500ft overlook with a clear view in a busy direction. Hitting a few mountains will add greatly to your grid total, and also make a lot of other stations happy. I would suggest downloading Radio Mobile from http://www.cplus.org/rmw/download.html, and getting familiar with making radio coverage maps. You can easily find where the radio-line-of-sight paths are from any location. This is a BIG help in planning those elusive microwave/mm-wave QSOs. Even on the low bands, it's very helpful to know what your best directions are, and Radio Mobile radio coverage plots show this handily. Also check www.topozone.com to view the USGS maps of the target area (you must have java enabled there...). Remember, though, a good-looking site on the map may be filled with tall trees, or other rover-hostile entities...DO A SITE SURVEY!! It's great to be high and clear, but low and clear can also work out great. The big thing is to avoid trees and blockages. Try to obtain a 1 degree or less take-off angle. This is approximately 100ft trees at a range of 1 mile. Trees can be penetrated to a degree on 6 and 2 meters, but above this, trees will really eat your signals, and the ones you're trying to hear.
Try to avoid cell towers, especially if you have 903 MHz. I find I can operate in urban areas on 903 using a very selective bandpass filter, but even then there are lots of birdies and noise spots that move around in my receiver. You can often find good 900 MHz region filters at hamfests. They usually require some modifications, but it's really worth it to have a good filters on 903. Remember, that small size means lower Q, and either the selectivity of the insertion loss will suffer. The bigger filters are much better performers. The latest model 903 xvtr from DEM is reported to be a vast improvement for interference rejection.
Be aware that many otherwise-good rover sites are littered with FM broadcast, TV, 2-way business, and other radio services. If you want to operate effectively from such locations, you will probably need some serious bandpass filters. The DCI filters sold by DEM, and others seem to be very good at rejecting out-of-band energy. You'll be amazed at all the spurious burps, squeeks, pops, and whistles that can be caused by nearby transmitters. If you've ever thought about receiver single-tone spurious responses, you can appreciate the problem. With many interfering tones coming into your receiver, the situation quickly gets out-of control. The best thing you can do is use a radio with a good 3rd order intercept point (IP3), and use an external high-performance bandpass filter. As a rule, most amateur receiver have a 3rd order intercept point below 0 dBm on VHF es up. If you find VHF receive gear with an IP3 of 0 dBm or greater, this will help. Be careful of using too much preamp gain. Adding 30dB of preamp gain to your receiver will increase the desired signal by 30dB, but will increase the 3rd order spurs by 90 dB!!! Don't over-do it with preamps. I find that a good filter, a single-stage GaAsFET preamp, and a mixer, make a good performing system. You may want to add switchable attenuators to your system. Adding 10dB attenuation in front of your rcvr will degrade the noise figure by 10dB, but it will also reduce 3rd order spurious signals by 30dB...a net gain in dynamic range of 20dB. It's amazing how many guys I hear that accuse each other of transmitting a bad quality-wide SSB signal...but these same finger pointers don't have a clue what their receiver dynamic range is. On VHF, it's usually your receiver that makes signals sound wide and lousy. Many transceivers have excessive phase noise, and poor IP3, and will not work in the presence of a loud local station. Consider using a high dynamic range HF transceiver/transverter combination, with an optimum amount of gain in the VHF receiver converter. You'll be amazed at the difference this can make. The IC756 is a very good performing system on 6 meters...too bad it doesn't include 2m, with the same high performance. Most of the small-portable VHF equipment does not have particularly good strong-signal-handling properties. If you go out roving in kilowatt-alley, you may need a top-notch receiver system. I've noticed a really big difference between my FT-100 and a good HF rig with a transverter, when lots of strong signals are around. The FT-100 is OK, but it can't hold a candle to a DEM xvtr on 2m with a TS-870 IF. The literature I've read tells me that the FT-100 is slightly superior to the IC706 family of radios for strong-signal handling. A 10dB improvement in 3rd order intercept point is a really BIG difference! Of course, if you're going roving, you can easily avoid operating in KW-alley, if you so choose.
Go out and explore. It can be really amazing what you find by just going to an area, and looking at it from a rover site perspective. There are lots of good sites which aren't up on mountaintops. I'm continually amazed that a low-clear site can perform almost as well as a 3300ft mountaintop site. The difference is mainly on long-range troposcatter paths, where the mountain produces a much lower take-off angle for your antenna. You may find some sites are good in only one direction, but there may be nearby sites which see well in other directions. Keep an open mind. Don't be afraid to ask permission to operate on private property. Many people are very intrigued with amateur radio, and will be glad to cooperate with you. On the other hand, there can be some very hostile people in remote back-woods locations as well. Be nice to everyone, and expect the occasional asshole. They're everywhere. Don't be discouraged by getting shot down. Lots of people value their privacy, especially on remote mountaintops. It's probably best to explain that you are involved in a radio "activity" rather than a contest. Otherwise, they may want you to pay then some of your contest proceeds, which, of course, are non-existant. The word "contest" is not recommended when requesting permission. Don't be afraid to explain that you are practicing for emergency communications readiness. You really are doing this, after all, even if you are not the local civil defense chairperson.
A low-altitude-clear-horizon site is much better than most people think. Altitude doesn't really add as much SNR as people think, if you compare to a low altitude-clear site. Try to get away from the RF-absorbing trees. I had good success recently operating from the middle of a corn field. My antennas were just above the tassels, and there were 100ft trees about 0.5 miles away. It certainly wasn't an optimum site, but I worked lots of stations, including several on 10 GHz at a distance of 100 to 200 miles. You don't need a mountain to do well on microwaves, but being in a clear area really does help.
5. How long should I stay in a grid? I have found that 60-90 minutes is about the right amount of time for me to stay at a site. I have tried less than 60 minutes, but I felt that I was leaving too many stations un-worked that I should have found. If you are roving far away from the populations centers, then you will probably need a little more time to work a given bunch of stations. If your close to them, you can usually work them quickly, and possibly move to another grid sooner. I think it's necessary to be prepared to be a little flexible in this area. If I'm having a good time, and working new stations at least 1 every 2 minutes, I will stay around a little. I usually have several big stations in mind when I go to a site, and I sort of look for them. I will stay around, if I think we have a good chance of working each other, but I won't just wait around on a single frequency. I always keep trying to work as many stations as I can, while hoping for my friends to return to my 2 meter calling frequency. If I can't seem to raise anyone, it's time to hit the bricks. Don't stay too long at a site, even if things are going great. If the QSO rate stinks, move to the next grid. If it's taking you 5min between QSOs, you should probably move on. However, don't leave a big band opening, expecting it to wait for your arrival at the next grid. Improvise, if necessary, or beneficial. Things change as the contest progresses. If activity suddenly skyrockets, you don't want to be stuck out on the highway, where you can't concentrate on operating, especially if you have a long drive to the next site. Of course, you can always pull over somewhere, but DON'T DO IT on the shoulder of the road. You are almost certain to get busted, and maybe even get a ticket, if you are considered a hazard. Find a little-used driveway, or parking lot, or something safe.
I have found that working lots of multipliers can be challenging for rovers. Because of this, I have started trying to spend several hours at my usual last stop in contests, high up on a mountaintop site in FM08. This usually helps my grid total substantially, as it makes it possible to work distant multipliers which I don't seem to hear during the rest of the contest. The QSO rate is always great from this site, but the QRM can be fierce from several nearby multi-op stations. Being my only high-altitude site, I really need time up here to try and collect the distant DX grids to the west and north. 150 grids, total is usually pretty good for me, as I spend most of the contest being dx for other stations, and I usually don't work many grids until I get to the mountain. So in this case, it is worth staying 3-4 hours here. I usually work 100 QSOs per hour, average from this great location.
You will really help your rover score if you can cover a lot of grids. This means you can't stay around and goof-off too much. It's a lot of work, and you need to streamline your rover setup/teardown. Think about what your score would be if you only worked 6 different stations on 10 bands, from 10 grids. Once the big guns have found you, many other stations will be attracted to your new-found pileup. It's nice to have big gun stations working you, as they alert others that you are now in a new grid. Capitalize on your ability to rove. Working the same guy on a bunch of bands from many grids is a BIG boost to both of your scores. It's lots of fun to compare signals with the same station from different sites. Who knows...you may even find better sites doing this. It easier to be lazy, and only rove to a few grids, but if you can light a fire under your butt, your score will be happier if you hit a lot of locations. You can help turn a boring contest with no band openings into an exciting event for other stations, especially if you go to rare grids. You will often work more grids if you stay in one place, but you will have many more QSOs...including microwave ones, if you jump to lots of other grids. Brian also says he had found the optimum duration at a site to be about 90 minutes. I agree,...but don't pull away during the only 6m opening of the contest, and miss all those grids. Sometimes I like to stay around for a while in a rare grid just to try and give it out to more guys. It's all a function of your objectives and your competitiveness. If you want to win a contest, you should probably not stay too long, unless the QSO rate is really good. If band conditions suddenly become fantastic, consider staying a while longer, and work some of the rare DX...it may not be available later in the contest. Also, concentrate on working the rare grids, if you have a choice. You can always work the loud-local stations later-on. The elusive rare grids may be gone in a few seconds. You will have to strike your own balance between all these competing factors. If 6 meters is open, don't forget that the QSOs are only low-pointers compared to 432 & above QSOs.
6. Antenna Aiming. Learn to aim your antenna properly. This is extremely important on 432 & above! You need to aim correctly the first time, so your prospective target doesn't give up on you, and go back to his previous operations. You will become unpopular if you take up lots of valuable time by not aiming your antenna properly. You should use a microwave radio signal to get oriented at a new site. Know where you are!. Calculate his true azimuth, and set your rotor, after peaking him. This is a BIG DEAL on the upper bands. Many guys get stuck in the sidelobes of their antenna, because they don't swing the antenna enough. Many microwave dishes have sidelobes which are only 12dB down...you may think you are peaked, but you could be unnecessarily struggling with a weak signal. Many, many stations have problems with this. Practice, practice, practice!! Don't be afraid to pan your antenna azimuth thru the main lobe a time or two to make sure you are not on a sidelobe. Have the other station send dashes on CW until you have him peaked in your antenna beam. The only correct way to point an antenna is to peak it on the target station. Don't get caught-up in where your calculations say the other guy should be...peak him in your receiver, if you can hear him at all. Radio DF is more important than calculations! By all means, you should get a GPS unit, but you must also master "seat-of-the-pants" operations, just swinging you antenna sometimes. Bring maps, and know where you are (including latitiude/longitude). GPS receivers are invaluable for tracking your position, and determining your vehicle heading. You probably can trust your GPS heading indication, if you have moved at least 20 ft or so in a straight line. (if you turn into a sight, don't trust the GPS any more...break out your compass). Acquire BD or one of the other bearing calculator programs. Try to get a laptop or a Palm Pilot or some other "number-box" to take along. Once you measure/calculate your 6-digit grid, you can easily determine the proper heading to another station, by getting his 6-digit grid. Learn how to use a compass, but beware the pitfalls. On the east coast at my usual latitude, there is typically 10 degrees variation between true north and magnetic north. The magnetic heading is usually 10 degrees greater than the true heading in my area. (the compass will say 100 degrees for a 90 degrees-true-heading). Don't trust a compass, unless you walk at least 20ft or so away from your vehicle and other metal objects. Even then, there are lots of potential problems with compass headings. You could be on top of a steel-reinforced sidewalk, road, or a buried foundation or some kind. Learn to find the North Star, Polaris. It's always within 1 degree of true north, and you can see it from anywhere in the continental USA on a clear nite. You can also get software which will calculate the position of the sun and moon, making these objects useful heading indicators. Once again, the best way to aim your antenna is to find a station or beacon of known location. Calculate the true bearing to this station, peak it up with your antenna, and then set your rotor pointer to the calculated azimuth. Most modern rotors are pretty decent, once calibrated in this way. Beware, however, that many rotors (Yaesu) have alignment pots which can get screwed up, causing you indicator errors as you rotate. Check your rotor, if it has alignment pots. Try to get your antenna/vehicle level. This can give you elevation changes as you rotate, which can cause havoc on 10 GHz. You may need to implement some sort of manual elevation adjustment mechanism, if you find yourself on non-level sites alot. (some skyline drive overlooks are notoriously tilted...I once found an extra 6dB by loosening the u-bolt on my 2ft dish and tweaking the elevation. Put a plumb-bob (string and weight), or other level indicator (carpenter's level?) on your dish so you can eyeball it to have edges parallel with the string. Your eye can usually see 1degree error very easily.
Learn your local beacon frequencies. Memorize the 6-digit grids of loud stations that you can hear. They will probably make a good beacon for you to peak on all weekend. It is a great help to know where to find test signals, particularly when you go out exploring, and there aren't lots of stations on the air. If there aren't any beacons in your area, try to make some. They are really convenient for testing/comparing antennas, radios, and especially rover sites. When I go out roving, I try to find a beacon on 1296, and peak it up on my 55-element loop yagi. The beam width is nice and sharp, and it gives me a nice heading. Then I read my GPS to get my own 6-digit grid square. Then, knowing the beacon's 6-digit grid, I use "BD" by W1GHZ & W3EP to calculate the true bearing from my station to the beacon. Armed with this information, I then change the rotator indicator to read this heading. Now I am ready to look for some DX. It's fairly easy to use the loop yagi as a guide to aim my 2 foot dish for 5.7 & 10 GHz also. It usually helps for me to get out of the vehicle and site along the horizontal H-frame support on my loop yagi array, and find a point along the horizon that matches the support tube's heading. This is 90 degrees away from the antenna heading, but it makes it easier to sight along the face of the dish, and align the dish to the same point on the horizon. After this operation, by dish rotator is also pretty calibrated, and I set the indicator on it's control box. Now I'm ready for some serious microwave operations.
It may also be very useful for you to pre-calculate bearings from your various rover sites to some of your expected-stations-to-work, and print these out on a piece of paper. It will save you precious time in the field, when you want to know where to point your antennas. Don't forget, though, that the best way to point is to peak up the station, on the highest gain antenna. There is no substitute for radio direction finding. There will probably be small azimuth errors in your system, until you have actually peaked up the other guy on your narrowest beamwidth antenna. Trust it more than anything else. Compasses lie, and peaking on 2m, just doesn't have the required accuracy for amateur radio work on 10 GHz.
Don't forget that adding more transmit power will make your antenna heading less-critical, in terms of being heard. Think of it as a "beam widener". It makes your antenna heading less critical, as well as the other guy's. If the other guy also increases his power, it will be easier to find him. More transmit power generally makes antenna aiming easier, for at least one of the stations. Once someone hears you, he will be better able to peak his antenna on you, and the chances for a QSO greatly increase. More power is really helpful, with narrow-beam antennas.
One last suggestion...when you first hear a fresh signal on a band, try to peak him immediately with your antenna positioner. The sooner you perform this function, the more likely you will be to complete a QSO. I work many stations who seem afraid to touch the rotator. Just remember where you started, and you can always return. If you want to run lots of microwave bands with a station, it will really save time if you peak quickly on the lower bands, and continue to fine-tune the azimuth as you go up in frequency. Lots of guys are easy to loose as I QSY up because they failed to peak when they had the chance. Some multi-ops in the VHF contests are famous for this problem...they will pass you up to their 903 operator, who will blindly call you, having no idea where you are. You probably won't hear him, and could loose the QSO, if he doesn't take the time to point at your location. Often times the 903 operator my be inexperienced (just off of the HF banana-boat), and think 903 is like 10m...you just call and work...WRONG! Sometime you have to tell these guys where to point, before QSY-ing up. Having this capability is very helpful, as not all multi-ops have trained-microwave-savvy operators...especially during the more-weird-sublime hours of the contest. Help each other out! On VHF, you need to use the grid square information for more than a log entry...know how to use "BD" or other bearing calculation software, and get your antennas on the other guy fast. Don't wait until you get up on 3cm, where 3 degrees can completely obliterate an otherwise good signal. Every time I hear a new station, I first tune him in, then immediately try to peak the antenna. Compasses can give you bad heading data, and it's more important to peak the guy in your receiver, than to fool around questioning why he isn't where your compass, GPS, maps, computer-software etc. said he should be. The received signal strength doesn't lie...just peak it up! Sometimes there will be propagation anomalies, like reflections off of nearby objects, multipath, etc. Use them to you maximum advantage.
7. Finding Stations in the Spectrum. TUNE AROUND!! Especially on the higher bands, everyone's LO drifts around. Especially since you are crazy enuff to go outside where wind and temperature variations are the norm, you will probably have frequency errors. It's always amazing to me that many hams think their rig is rock-stable, and that I am drifting around. Guess what? We all drift around on 10GHz, and other microwave bands. I usually see 10-20 KHz change on 10 GHz going from hot sun to cool evenings in mild weather...and that's using a +60deg crystal heater! I like to bring along a weak-signal-source of known frequency to verify my receiver and it's frequency. You don't have to be dead-nuts-on...just tune around for folks, and write down what other's think your frequency is. Then you will have a database to go back to, when you find the guy again in the next grid. Try to measure your frequency offsets on different bands, and keep track. Don't forget that on 10 GHz, the sun can easily cause up to 20 KHz errors when it goes from direct-hot to setting-cold on your xvtr enclosure. A good ham radio local oscillator will have about 5ppm stability after warm-up. This is still 50 KHz at 10 GHz!! You have to tune around for guys. I find it very frustrating when stations tell me that I'm drifting...I know that I am, but everyone drifts, unless they are locked to GPS or something better than most stations have. Some guys get cocky about their frequency stability, but even HP frequency counters will age about 1ppm per year (how old is yours?...when was it last calibrated?). The DB6NT xvtrs are famous for drifting, after they get warm from transmitting, but it really isn't that bad. Don't forget the old days on 2m AM where we would call CQ, and then tune the whole band to find someone else's xtal frequency. You should expect to do the same thing on the microwaves. Lots of rigs will fool you...they'll act fairly stable for a while, but then when you get out in the heat of rover-battle, they will drift like mad. I recently discovered my 10 GHz rig drifted 50 KHz off freq on a hot summer day! Making your oscillator enclosure air-tight will really help. It's amazing how very small air currents around your crystal will cause the frequency to fly all over the place. Painting your enclosure white can help, but the air temp still moves around a lot sometimes. Eisch Electronics (see links above) sells a nice ovenized xtal oscillator kit-module designed by DF9LN, that can help a lot with frequency drift. Placing your sensitive crystal oscillator inside the vehicle, away from the elements, will really help. Don't sit it on your 2 meter PA heatsink. Putting your microwave oscillator inside a sealed container, filled with styro-foam can help. I have also heard of good results putting the oscillators inside a Thermos bottle, with a rubber cork to seal the wires.
If you can implement some sort of panoramic display, it will be a big operating aid. The IC756 has such a display, but the rig is big and heavy. Imagine finding your friend 20 KHz low, and being able to see him there, without excessive tuning around...nice! There are many FFT programs available that run on laptops, but the resulting frequency span is limited to your receiver audio passband (<3.0 KHz) with this approach. Consider building some sort of signal monitor that will operate on your receiver's 1st IF, and cover 20 KHz or so. If you built such a unit, then the 20 KHz frequency span of your laptop FFT would become a very useful tool. FFT programs which support averaging can help you dig down into the noise, and see where someone is located in frequency. FFTs won't let you copy the guy, but it's nice to know he's in there trying, and what frequency he's on. Waterfall FFT displays are really powerful, but your ears are required to dig a weak signal out of the noise, and extract some useful intelligence. (Yes, I know JT44 is possibly better, but we aren't anywhere near stable enough on microwaves...yet).
The best advice on finding the frequency of others is to get out and practice often. This way you'll get a feel for your drift. It's amazing how other's tell me that I'm drifting, when it's usually both of us. Lot's of guys think their rig is rock stable just because they put it on a counter one day, and it didn't jump all over the place. Rovers are allowed to be drifty, so look extra hard for us, as we drift through ur rcvr. Always tune wide when looking for microwave signals. Don't forget the old days using the Heathkit Lunch Boxes...we would call CQ, and then tune 4 MHz of 2 meters for an answer...and we actually worked lots of guys this way. Don't get spoiled, and only tune a few KHz for stations...especially on the higher bands.
Nearly all of the weak-signal activity on 222 & above is centered on xxx.100 MHz. If you are in an area with lots of activity, first of all, consider yourself lucky. Second, you may want to avoid operating too close to xxx.100 MHz, since there will be QRM. This is important in high-density area, where there are many high-power stations calling CQ all weekend. Be mindful of the guy you are trying to work on the other side of the link...if he's in a busy area, he will need for you to be away from the QRM in order to hear you, even though your receiver may be quiet as a mute-mouse.
It's really useful to have a local beacon of known frequency accuracy and azimuth. The higher you go in frequency, the more likely it is that your LO will give you some KHz of frequency error. Try to learn what these errors are, and write them down. Eventually, when you work enough guys with good frequency accuracy, you will learn where you really are, and maybe even get a feeling for your LO drift during hot and cold weather. It's much nicer to have a nice oven-stabilized LO, but you can also do really well by just getting familiar with your offset and drift characteristics.
7.a. Frequency Stability.
Recently, W3IP made me aware of some surplus GPS receivers, which output a GPS-locked 10 MHz signal. Check out this website for details. http://www.realhamradio.com/GPS_Frequency_Standard.htm. This could open up new horizons for us on the microwave bands. Imagine being able to be certain that you are within 10Hz of another station on 10GHz. These "disciplined" oscillators can be as good as 1 part in 10^9 (averaged, per-day)...that's .001 PPM!!! You could run coherent CW, JT44, WSJT, PSK31, and all sorts of modes that can out-perform CW!! Imagine being able to dig down in the noise by another 20dB!! (it probably won't do a lot for EME, since there is so much libration fading, doppler shift, and phase modulation on this mode of communications...at least on the higher bands). If nothing else, you won't have to go searching around the band for guys like me, who drift like mad, after I heat up the PA in the antenna mounted transverter enclosure. (assuming, of course, that I get one of these GPS units running into phase-locked LOs sometime soon). Many hams with test equipment don't realize that even though they have a high-quality HP frequency counter, it is probably several PPM (parts-per-million) off frequency, unless it had been recently calibrated to a primary frequency reference. Even the best 10 MHz ovenized oscillators can age at a rate up to 1ppm, per year. This is 10KHz at 10 GHz, which can be a BIG problem. The bad thing is that guys who have this nice gear, often think they are right-on frequency, when, in-fact, they are off be a few PPM. A good test is to listen to your 10 MHz reference zero-beating with WWV, in an HF receiver. You can easily hear as the beat note gets down to 0.1Hz or so. I'm always amazed at how far off good counters drift with time. There's a reason that people need to send this equipment to a cal lab, occasionally.
To take advantage of a highly stable 10 MHz reference, you will need to lock your microwave LO to it. This can be done, but it will require a little ingenuity. Convert your existing LO into a VCXO, by coupling some varactor diode capacitance into the circuit, and re-center the frequency. This may require that you replace the existing crystal with a unit several KHz higher in frequency. Now you can build a PLL, using an IC like the Analog Devices AD4117, or similar devices made by other companies. You still have to worry about your LO crystal drifting out of the PLL hold-in range, but using heaters, this can be accomplished. There is an upcoming article in Dubus magazine by CT1DMK which may well revolutionize weak signal communications, using DSP techniques with GPS locked microwave LOs. Watch for further details here, and in other amateur radio places. I'll let you know if I get something going, or learn of successful efforts by others.
8. Adding Bands. Try the higher bands. Of course we are all limited in what we can afford...but a new microwave band will really help your score, and the score of others. If you can, try to cover at least the lower 4 bands plus 1296. If you have these covered, consider adding 903. It is a very active band, with good dx potential. There are lots of high power stations out there using nice surplus amplifiers from various cellular providers. The higher bands are also wonderful additions, but make sure you are solid on the lower bands before taking out a 2nd mortgage to add the microwaves. I would suggest adding bands in the following order, as your budget allows...2m, 6m, 432, 222, 1296, 903, 2304, 10 GHz, 5.7 GHz, 3.4 GHz, and beyond. 10GHz is really coming on strong as a favorite, and there are lots of guys who have fun going out with only 2m and 10 GHz. Also worthy of comment is that 3456 is growing as a result of 40-55W amps being available cheap. (check with pyrojoe at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=1365669691 for a very nice unit...the output device in these things is worth the cost, alone!!!)
I love operating the microwaves, and find them more exciting that anything else. It's absolutely amazing how well 1W at 10 GHz can get-out! With 1W and a 2ft dish, you could get 2KW ERP!! You can carry a 2ft dish in your trunk, and set it up fast at your site. It is also possible to leave a 2ft dish erected while driving, if you have a very robust rotor mount, and turn the dish sideways into the wind. (BE CAREFUL...you can be responsible if your falling antennas cause an accident on the highway). I wouldn't recommend 10 GHz mobile, but if you live in a 10 GHz infested area...it may work for you. With no band openings on 10 GHz, you can routinely work out to 400km from a decent site. On the bands 432 es up, you will do well to try and hit the mountains, but over-water paths are known to hold lots of dx potential. K2RIW says that if you are within 200 miles of a large body of water, there is probably a good band opening on 10 GHz at least once every 24 hours. Go out and find it! We worked K1WHS 829km away last Sept on the lower 10 bands from 3 different grids!! This was all from sea-level locations. Mainly, try to get in the clear, away from trees/houses, buildings. Try to achieve a 1 degree take-off angle in your favored directions. You don't have to have mountains to do well, but they certainly do help!!
K1RZ recently added a 200mW 5.7 GHz transverter to his station. Even with this QRP transmit power, he worked 19 QSOs in 8 grids during the June, 2002 contest! He already had a 2ft dish, with a dual-band feed erected, and he was pleasantly surprised at the additional score producing capability of 5760 MHz. If you add a new band, maybe you will attract a swarm of rovers that will give you multiple QSOs from multiple grids! Add a new band, and find out!! We rovers like guys with more bands!
I often find that 1296 & 2304 are among my highest scoring bands. You only need to work 1/4 as many guys on 2304 to equal the score produced on 6 or 2 meters. These bands also do quite well during band openings, and there are more and more well-equipped stations waiting for you. Even if future ARRL contests reduce the extra points for microwave bands, there is still much incentive to work QSOs there, as the additional grid multipliers can really add up. (I hope they don't do this, however).
9. The 6-Meter Effect. 6 meters is a great band, and you can certainly get lots of multipliers during a band-opening. If you are equipped on lots of other bands, you will probably help your score more if you make sure to work lots of guys on 432 es up. This is where the points are. If 6 is open, you may spend excessive time looking for grids which aren't there. Even if you are working lots of guys, you could be hurting your score by not running the higher bands with guys. I usually find guys on 2m, and then move up as far as we can. I try to work guys on 6 meters last, after gathering all their precious points & multipliers on the microwaves. I do keep checking 6m to see if the band is open, but I am careful not to spend too much time there. As a rover, you will probably have just a halo. I find that I can really waste a lot of time trying to crack a pileup, competing with the big base stations with elevendy-seven element moon-raker antenna arrays & 1.5KW. You will not be that loud as a 6m rover, and unless conditions are really great, you may have difficulty keeping up the QSO rate on 6. On the other hand...don't ignore 6m for too long. It's a shame to miss out on a short-lived aurora or Es opening...especially when the band has been dead. Also, ant additional grids that you work on 6m will be multiplied by all your microwave QSO points later on, so lots of grids on 6m can be really beneficial to your bottom line score. When I'm on 6m, I try to keep an eye on the "new-grid" rate. If I stop working new grids fairly quickly, I will go back to surfing for microwave QSOs on 2m. This discussion is highly relative to where you are, and what activity is like. I usually rove in areas where I can keep scaring up 432 QSOs, if I keep trying...(especially if I keep changing grids!!). Sporadic E openings are very common around the June VHF contest time frame, so be sure to check for new grids from time to time in June. If you are going for maximum score, you can always adjust your approach, and hit 6m while it is open, and then collect the higher band grids later, when/if the 6m propagation subsides. Every contest is different. I like trying to find my friends from all grids/all bands, and not concentrating so much on maximizing my score. I have found it pretty difficult to work long-haul QSOs on 6m without a band opening, using just my halo. I have also observed that often times, when 6 is open, the receiver will be full of signals, but frequently, they will only be coming in from a few grids at-a-time. Some openings are very specific to just one area, while others can be coast to coast, with everything in-between. You just have to really think about what you are hearing, and remember that 6m QSOs are only 1 point each.
10. Organize your equipment. Roving is way more fun when everything is tested and ready to go. Avoid pulling an all-niter to kludge together a squirrely rover setup the night before the contest. It's much better to take your time, and not have to troubleshoot stuff in the field. Test, test, test! Go out and try erecting your skyhooks in advance to see how easy it is. Solve your problems before going out to a 6000ft mountain, where you may be battling wind and ice in your eyes. Make your roving experience fun and avoid the frustration. Don't forget to plan a logging location in your vehicle. Either find a way to have a good writing surface, have along a logging partner, or see if you can mount a laptop which you can get to easily while operating. (watch out for laptop RFI, however. I find my laptop external power supply to be very noisy on 6 meters. Cut your coaxes long enough to do the job. You don't want to be searching for a cable extension with a double tri-sexual female Z-connector in the dark. Bring flashlights, extra batteries, food, water, electrical tape, tools, spare gear, cables, nuts & bolts, wires...and last but not least...BRING JUMPER CABLES. Depending on your DC power system, there's always a chance that you will use up your car battery (if you don't have a battery isolator, or spare batteries).
Fasten your rigs down, so they don't bounce around on rough roads. I recently broke my 47 GHz waveguide switch when an errant battery charger fell on it. It was a very tedious repair. This could have been easily avoided if I had just placed the charger in a safe place, before pulling out of the driveway. Bring spare parts. You never know what you will break out there in rover-land, with lots of weird stuff happening, all the time. I keep thinking that I have too much unnecessary crap in my van, but just when I think about cleaning things up, I find that I really need some of the weird tools-parts that I keep packing along. (Things are getting out-of-hand, however, if you start finding the much-needed 17K resistor in the carpet in your back seat!).
One of the biggest areas where being organized will help you is in the area of band switching. It doesn't take too much effort to make up a control panel, and automate your required wiring changes when changing bands. Being able to QSY quickly is a real bonus during high-activity periods of the contests. Many stations will really appreciate your ability to "run the bands" quickly and efficiently. It will also help you to get back on surfing for more QSOs faster. If it takes you more than 1-minute to change bands, then you will probably really be slowing down serious stations. If you are roving, try to figure out a way that you can have all antennas erected simultaneously. This can be difficult, and will require stacking multiple antennas on a common mast, multiple rotators, tripods etc. It will be a lot more fun for you, and for the other station, if you can really "run-the-bands" with him all at once. You will be much more likely to break things, if you try to rush while your unscrewing things, and screwing in new things on-the-fly. Plan a multi-band-simultaneous setup, if you can.
11. Weather. Be prepared for rain. If it's nice, you can be pleasantly amazed. You can still have lots of fun on VHF es up in the rain. If there is lightning, you should shut down, and go hide someplace....but if there's just rain, you can really have a ball on 3456MHz es up. During the recent January VHF SS, I knew the wx was going to be bad, and I brought some extra-heavy-duty trash bags along to cover up my 5.7/10GHz antenna assy/transverter box. I got wet erecting it, but WOW it was worth the effort. The signals really got loud on 3.4 GHz, louder on 5.7, and very loud on 10 GHz during some of the QSOs. Rain scatter is real, and is easy to work in heavy rain. The signal azimuth peaks are very broad, and CW sounds like aurora. Make sure that all your coax connections are up to the task of being waterproof. I recommend a layer of the soft-self-vulcanizing tape (sold at Radio Slack) followed by a layer of electrical tape (Scotch #88 is very good), and I always spray down the whole enchilada with clear krylon spray paint. The paint seeps into the capillary crevasses, and seals out the water, I find. (be careful not to hose up your car finish or your windshield). Contrary to popular opinion, rain does not adversely affect most ham bands below 20 GHz all that much. There is certainly some attenuation caused by shooting through rain on 10 GHz, but there can also be enhancement, depending on your geometry, relative to the storm cells. The weather system that usually comes with rain is usually not conducive to big tropo openings, but rain can really help your coverage on the bands above 2304. Don't be afraid to try difficult paths in rain on the higher bands. It helps to aim at intense storm cells (which can be located on internet wx radar sites), but just shooting through lots of rain seems to cause some enhancement on most paths I have witnessed. Many times, in the rain, 903 & 1296 will be really difficult, with weak signals, while 10 GHz will be significantly louder than normal.
The best weather for tropo openings is usually the trailing edge of a high-pressure system. The famous "Bermuda-high" (not to be confused with a Mexican-high...hihi) is usually responsible for a major opening. Having a hurricane somewhere within 1000 miles (preferable out in the ocean) can really help propagation. The trailing edge of a high usually brings in warm-humid air, which causes diffraction. Hurricanes have a unique ability to "pump" moisture into high altitude regions, where troposcatter takes place High altitude moisture (which is held in warm air) bends radio waves, and forms ducts, where radio waves can travel much farther than normal.. Conversely, a fresh high pressure system is usually bad for propagation. Dry-cool air doesn't diffract very well. You may get a general hint about tropo conditions from Hepurn's website at http://www.iprimus.ca/~hepburnw/tropo.html. The very best way to check for good propagation is to GET ON THE AIR & MAKE SOME NOISE!!!
High winds can be a big problem when your are out roving the mountaintops. This is especially true for solid-dish antenna systems. Don't try to set up your dish on a tripod, unless you have some major weight attached to hold things down to the ground. My tripod got blown over a few months ago, and it landed on my 47 GHz waveguide switch. Ouch! It was a major pain to repair, and there aren't currently any sources for an affordable replacement. Back to the subject... Wind can also be a problem while you're driving. Make sure your antennas are adequately secured to the vehicle. If you are using a rotator, make sure you have things tightened down well enough so your antenna doesn't windmill down the highway. NE8I had found that windy days usually hurt microwave propagation significantly. Wind usually signifies weather changes, and the best propagation usually occurs during stable wx. Plan accordingly.
12. QSY Problems. Don't avoid the higher bands, just because you lost someone on a lower band. This is a common problem. Many times I have failed to hear someone on 2304, but later worked them on 10 GHz. If their is rain in the vicinity, consider trying 10 GHz 1st. In the recent Sept 02 contest, conditions were dismal on 903-2304. We lost several guys on these bands. Later, I caught up with one of my friends, and we went to 10 GHz to find much enhanced signal strength. Bad wx can really boost 5.7 & 10 GHz signals!! (& it's not really rain scatter per se...just rain-cloud-humidity enhancement). Establish a liason freq with stations (like on 2m), so you can go back and coordinate the next higher band. This is important! Many times we assume that the next band will be a piece of cake...but the other station doesn't show up. Establish a plan to return to the liason frequency, so your friend can explain that he went out for another 807, and got distracted by a exotic YL on the journey...and this is why you weren't hearing him on the new exotic band. Don't assume that you won't make the QSO on 10 GHz just because 1296 signals were weak. The other guy may have water in his coax, or peanut butter in the ears, or something on 1296. 10 GHz really rocks...especially if you can get a Watt or so RF output. Perhaps you should try your best band first, to maximize the use of your limited time in a given grid.
While on the subject of QSY problems, here's a problem to avoid. I often operate the lower bands while driving. I usually find stations on 2m, and then try to work the other 3 bands. Many guys want to QSY to 6m first. This is a BAD idea...take them to 222 es 432 first! These QSOs are worth more points, and you need them worse than 6m QSOs. I find that roving with a halo on 6m makes it hard to work stations at r =100mi or greater. The low gain halo puts rovers at a big disadvantage, and you could easily lose a station by going to 6m too quickly. Also, the external noise on 6m is really severe in many mobile environments. If something is going to generate RFI, you will be the first to hear it on 6m. Do 6m last, if you have a choice. Of course, if 6m is open, you will have a great time there while mobile.
A microwave QSO is usually worth about 5 minutes of trying, according to ND3F. A microwave QSO that represents a new grid for you make be worth more! However, don't shoot yourself in the foot, and pass up a local microwave-equipped station, just because you already have his grid. Microwave QSOs really add up fast in the points column.
13. Advertise. Sign up for some/all of the many email reflectors at http://mailman.qth.net, and let others know of your planned expedition. Post your planned itinerary on N9RLA's web page (http://www.qsl.net/n9rla/)...lots of guys check there. It's nice to have someone to talk to out there in the sticks...especially if you are operating QRP. I would suggest signing up for the rover, microwave, wsvhf, and packrats mailing lists at the above website. You should also consider going to http://lists.contesting.com/mailman/listinfo/vhfcontesting and signing up for email@example.com, assuming you are into contesting. Even if you don't want to compete, you will find a great deal of VHF, UHF, es microwave action during contests. Another good list is the VHF one at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check them out.
14. Captive Rovers. Don't go out there with the attitude that you will only work one multi-op. Captive rovers who won't work the general ham population are EVIL, and are an insult to this hobby. (Yes, they do exist!!) If you care enough to go out roving, please go out with the attitude that you will share your experience with whoever finds their way into your receiver. Please don't get sucked into the mentality that you will help only certain stations, at the expense of others. We are too small a community to act this way. Help everyone out on the bands. Give out your grid to EVERYONE who wants it, and encourage others to do the same. If you're so competitive that you would consider not working someone else to deprive them of points, then you should go and find an endeavor where you can get rich by acting this way. This is a hobby, and we all want to HAVE FUN doing this. It's great that some of the big multi-op stations on the east coast provide rover equipment to amateurs, with the hope of generating more contest points. It's a bit unfair, however, that some groups that do this sometimes don't seem to be willing to share the wealth, and use this resource to help amateur radio microwave operating grow, as more stations get on the air. There are many documented instances on the east coast, where certain rovers, sponsored by certain overly-competitive multi-operator stations, have refused to provide QSOs to stations and rovers who came across them. The simple question is why? The simple answer is that they have somehow been brain-washed into thinking that their sponsor doesn't want them to help anyone else. This is really poor operating practice, in my opinion, and it should be totally forbidden. (It's not...it's allowed by present rules, if you can believe that!). Anyways, if you're a captive rover...consider how much you could help spread more interest and good-will, if you would try to pass out grids to more stations! We don't expect you to take hours trying to give the competition lots of points, but at least, work the stations in your area...especially on microwaves! If your group keeps beating the pants off everyone, using your "captive-rover" talents, maybe someday, there won't be anyone to compete against, as they all get disillusioned and give up. We need less selfish people, and more rovers who want to help spread the fun and good-will that keeps many guys coming back for more VHF contests. If you are part of a multi-op group who helps to get some rovers on the road, tell them to have some fun and work a few stations other than yourself. Microwave-equipped hams really need the additional activity to keep their spirits up, and to convince themselves that the microwaves are worth-while. Refusing to work someone could end his desire to participate, and then we all suffer the consequences.
15. Be Helpful. We all need some reinforcements in life, and VHF, UHF, microwave life is no different. The more we help each other, the less lonely we all will be on the higher bands! If you can share some unused hardware, please do so, and try to plant the seed for future microwave fun and excitement. Find a new ham, and show him what we are up to. Try not to overwhelm newcomers with your 17 bazillion dollar rover-ship, with the 78foot self-erecting pneumatic mast. Make newcomers aware that they can start small, and have lots of fun with us. Donate/loan-out spare gear to newcomers, if you can. There are lots of IC-706/FT-100 folks out there who would join us if you gave them your old 432 yagi sitting in your basement. We don't want to become a dying breed. There are too many digital bit-jockeys in the world, and we needs more RF-savy folks like you. We are much more powerful as a team (bit-shufflers included). Help out your radio-brothers, and they will help you. "We all need someone we can lean on", according to Mick Jagger. Radio stuff can be challenging, and we all need some occasional encouragement from each other. If you are a hostile-nasty sort, perhaps we can interest you in 75m phone.
16. Band Coverage. Don't hesitate to go out roving if you don't have "all the bands". Forget competing with other stations which may or may not be as well equipped as you are. Just try to have fun, and work a bunch of stuff with what you have, and learn to use it efficiently. You should simply compete with yourself, and not worry about how you fit into the "big picture". You can really have fun with just a 6 or 2m SSB-QRP radio. We all want more hardware, but as resourceful rovers, we need to adopt the attitude to "run what you brung". You don't have to try and win the contest...just have some fun, and make a few other folks happy with some QSOs. If you lose a band or 2, just go with the remaining gear. As long as something works, you can make yourself have fun...it's all about attitude..."it's all in the mind"....(George Harrison...Yellow Submarine). Even if you've already "worked all the grids", earned WAS, have VUCC, etc...consider giving some other guys a break, and GET ON!! Remember you were once a beginner too. Too many old farts don't get on because they have already "worked everything." GET ON THE AIR & MAKE NOISE!!! You should take some enjoyment in helping somebody else work your grid.
17. Schedules. I must admit that, as a rover, I don't like schedules. When you're out in the wilderness, it's not fun to have an alarm clock going off all weekend. It's hard being out there in the stix, keeping the vehicle running, keeping the antennas attached to the fuselage, swatting flies, answering questions from local fuzz and curious onlookers, etc. It's difficult to stay on a preplanned itinerary with all the stuff that happens out in rover-land ("...I was running W5s on 1296, and just couldn't leave the site..."). Skeds really do help stations to find each other, but I often find myself someplace other than where the other guy is expecting me (usually behind schedule...hi). It can be a real pain to have to break off from a 10 GHz pileup to go and work someone on a schedule. (you can lose a hard-to-find beam heading...etc.) On the other hand, however, making skeds, and keeping them with good operators with good equipment can actually be a good idea. You will probably be helping the other guy more than yourself, but hey...that's part of why I go out roving...to help guys get new grids. As a rover, you only need his grid once-per-band. Sure, you get more QSO points by working folks from different grids, but you only add one grid, max per station/band (unless he is also a rover). I have found some Windoze software that does a good job setting alarms, with messages telling me what freq to go to for my schedules. It's intended to interface with the Palm Pilot and can be downloaded from www.palm.com under "software". You don't need a Palm to use it, although they may frown on this. (by the way...the Palm Pilot is very handy during contesting...you can run BD from W1GHZ's web site, and calculate grids, bearings, and other cool stuff...heck you can even download logging software from Paul's site!). Also, KM Rover logging software by Dave, W3KM now includes a feature to let you set up skeds with alarms. Anyways...back to the issue at hand. I think making more than a few schedules is a bad idea, as a rover. They are just too hard to keep as you wind down the highway somewhere, changing tires, gassing your battleship, etc. If activity is sparse where you go, schedules are probably a great idea. I like to check 144.260 for stations wanting to try microwave schedules.
Even though I find schedules to be a pain while roving, and seem to have a hard time keeping them, they really do significantly increase your probability for success on any given band, for a particular QSO. If there's a big band-opening going on, you may be hurting your score to break off, and QSY for a schedule.
18. Frequency Use. Use 2-meters lots. This is where most of the action starts, unless 6-meters is wide-open. I think it's a good idea to try and hang out on a specific freq for calling CQ etc. It will help other stations find you...especially on 6 and 2 meters, where the antenna beamwidths are reasonably wide. You probably need to have fairly good power and a good antenna to make this work, however. Publicize your chosen freq to your friends. Calling CQ diminishes rapidly in effectiveness, if you are far away from population centers, or don't have good ERP. You may have to resort to "search and pounce" many times...But when you are near a bunch of stations, establishing a good "run frequency" can really help you work lots of guys quickly. A good pileup tends to attract more stations, as they tune around the band. The common problem, these days, however is that we all tend to jump off freq and "run the bands" with other stations, and leave guys hanging on the frequency. But wait...there's an answer for this...Brian has taught me how to do it...you try and work several guys at-a-time on your original run freq, and stack them up...that is try to get a whole group set up to QSY to the next band with you, all-at-the-same-time. There can be difficulties, of course, as you frantically swing your beams around trying to sort stations out by azimuth, but in general this idea really works, when lots of guys want to run the bands with you. Make the first stations wait a little while (but not too long!)...then take everybody to the next band at the same time...work them all there...then QSY again...and again...and voila! You just added a baskillion points to your score, and made lots of guys happy doing it. What's not to like? It helps to be in a rare grid to make everyone really hungry to work you. Most competent stations are really listening hard for rovers in those elusive grids. Sure some guys will be stuck back on 2 meters if they don't have the other bands running, but you can go back later, apologize, and catch them again from another grid. It's a brilliant plan, but it takes operating savvy and having a big signal doesn't hurt.
I think you need to be on 2, 222, and 432, most of the time, when you're cruising for QSOs. Most higher band activity is usually coordinated on 2 meters, and this will probably be your best coverage band, unless you have a beam on 6m. Theoretically, 6m has a better coverage area than 2m, but this is not true for rovers using halos, and reasonable power levels. The ambient noise level for most stations is also very high on 6m...like probably 10dB above kTB, if you are lucky. Activity on 2m is really great, and I usually find the guys I'm looking for here first. Don't stay on 2m too long, if your not getting lots of skeds for the upper bands...remember, you really want lots of those multi-point QSOs on 222 MHz and above. It's a lot harder to randomly find stations on 432, with the narrow antenna beamwidths up there, so searching on 2m for them is probably a good plan. But, if your not finding higher band QSY stations, consider looking around on 222 es up. Move your antenna often. It helps to know who to look for. Gather as much apriori intelligence as you can, and know which grids have big stations operating. The more contests you participate in, the better you will get to know the bands and the grids.
Another thing I have found is that on the higher bands, it may help to call CQ on CW more often. With a potential 17dB advantage over SSB, CW may help others to find you, way out in rover-land. On the higher bands, there are more good CW operators as well. On 2 meters, I think there are likely to be more guys that don't do CW, so SSB may be better to use here, when it works.
Always ask other stations if they have other bands. Many guys are just casually operating during the contest, and would prefer to just hang out on one band-at-a-time. I have found that lots of guys will QSY, but you may have to ask them. Most guys will do it for you, since you have been crazy enough to go out roving. I can only recall one station in the past several years who was too lazy to QSY to other bands which he had up and running. He just wanted to cool his heals on 2m, and wouldn't run. His loss, I guess, because I wasn't in that grid again during the contest, and I already had his grid.
It seems to be a standard on the east coast to check on 144.260 for guys looking for microwave contacts. Don't hog this frequency!! Coordinate, and QSY. Just because it's a contest doesn't mean you should be a jerk and prevent others from using a popular coordination freq. Things are already bad enough near 144.200. Spread out!! Good operators will find you, even if you are far away from the popular calling frequencies.
You probably should get used to the idea of running the bands with guys, as soon as you establish contact on the lower bands. You may not hear them later, and you definitely want all the microwave QSOs you can get. Don't be too lazy, and try to stay on one band for extended periods...this technique is pretty much obsolete these days, and is counter-productive to your score. Try to move groups of guys, when you can, and gather all the points you can get. If you get into a real pickle, with multiple stations wanting you to QSY to other bands, I think you really need to take first-come-first-served. It's not always possible to smoothly move lots of guys through the bands at the same time, and you may have to make a choice. Being a rover can make you more popular than you can stand, sometimes...if your lucky. Going to rare grids really increases your popularity, and you can make it fun for everyone, if you master the skills. Sure, there are a few guys that will be upset that you have to make them wait...but just politely explain that you're trying to be fair, and do first-come-1st served, if you can't make him happy instantly.
Another key issue about frequency use is that of being able to switch bands quickly. Brian does this better that anyone else I have seen. Put some thought into your rover station block diagram, and figure out an easy way to "run the bands". I use a SP6T coaxial switch to connect transverters to my microwave IF rig (IC-706), and the switch is controlled by a band-switch box in the cockpit. Using a single DP6T rotary switch from Radio Shack, I simultaneously control the SP6T IF switch, and switch my PTT line to the selected transverter sequencer. It's nice to have a single switch to control band selection, since it reduces cockpit errors, which can become numerous, as you get tired. Don't try to fumble around with jumper cables to do band-switching. When it's dark, and you're tired, you will surely make mistakes with this approach.
Try to have a frequency chart handy reminding you of your transverter LO offsets...this will help you QSY quickly, until you mezmorize the list.
In spite of all my rumblings here, you need to maximize you capabilities, based on your particular installation. Use your best bands to their maximum potential to work guys, and solicit other band QSOs. If you are weak on a band, don't try to use it as your main tool....but don't forget, 2 meters usually rules for best all-around contest activity. 6 meters can be really exciting, but don't get fooled by the fact that a DX grid on 6 is less valuable than a new local grid on 432 to the big picture.
19. Operating Modes. This is an easy one. Use the modes that get you the most QSOs, the fastest. For working weak signals on the microwaves, you will probably have to resort to CW. Lot's of guys just don't realize that CW is way better than SSB for working weak stations. We're talking about an advantage of around 17dB here!! (10log(2500Hz/50Hz)). Your ear is an amazing DSP device (assuming U have the brain properly interfaced...hi). Your ear-brain can concentrate on CW tones to yield an effective bandwidth of around 50 Hz. Your ear-brain can really dig into the noise to listen for a CW carrier on a microwave band. I find it adds a little sensitivity to slowly tune thru the expected frequency. My ear can hear a slowly changing tone frequency pretty well in white noise. If the other station was using SSB, I wouldn't even know he was in there. Once you hear the other station, you get some additional incentive, which can often drive you to make the required adjustments to complete a QSO. On SSB, you need around 2.5 KHz bandwidth, and your brain can't pick out spoken syllables as easily as tones keying on and off. You should be aware, however, that many VHF es above stations don't do CW well, and you will have to just do the best you can with these folks. I usually call CQ on SSB until I hit 2 or 3 calls without answers. If I want to stay on this band, I will usually call CQ on CW once or twice to make sure there are no weak folks in there calling me (it's nice to run some horsepower...hi). A good operator won't hesitate to answer you on SSB if your CW was loud enough.
You may want to try FM, depending on activity in your particular area. I personally don't like FM, because it's just far worse than SSB/CW for communications effectiveness...but don't shoot yourself in the foot...If it works, by all means do it!! Even FM operators enjoy working rovers in rare grids. The big tradeoff you must make as a rover is that of antennas. It's probably not worth setting up extra vertical beams for 2m FM, but I really haven't tried it, and I don't want to. I'd like to think that the stations who really like contesting are already on SSB/CW. I have heard tales from others about folks getting up to 125 additional QSOs on 2m FM. Don't forget that there are many 2m operators who are only on 2m FM. It's worth the effort to work these guys, and let them in on how much fun your having, and what you're working on SSB/CW. We shouldn't be snobs, and thumb our noses at FM guys. There are probably more of them (representing a potential untapped resource) than there are of us. It's fun to work DX (albeit harder) on FM simplex, when possible.
I hear some guys making noise about using meteor scatter modes like HSCW, WSJT, FSK441, and JT44 whilst roving. I haven't tried it, but I think it's great stuff...but it typically takes 15 minutes or so for a meteor scatter QSO. Yes, you will work many new grids this way, but you will be sacrificing a lot of precious time. (remember all those new stations firing up on 432...with big points??) If you have a young-energetic rover partner, who can't sleep when you've knocked it off for the nite, it might be cool to put him/her to work on WSJT. Wouldn't it be nice to wake up and find your partner has nailed 15 additional grids, which you wouldn't have worked otherwise? Personally, I don't think it's worth it if you want to maximize your score...but then again, you may enjoy being a rare-grid-ping-jockey-rover-machine, more than you enjoy hard-core contesting. I'm sure you will make some folks happy.
Recently, I have been reading more about JT44. There is a goldmine in this mode, waiting to be discovered by UHF & up operators. This mode is intended for steady-signals (non-burst), and can get you an additional 10 dB processing gain! This is really a load of dBs! Imagine being able to work tropo stations with 10dB more transmit power, and a receiver that's 10dB more sensitive! This would really extend your working range, and enable previously impossible microwave paths. There is a price to be paid, however (as usual), and it comes in the area of requiring good frequency accuracy and stability. Fortunately, there are some nice 10 MHz ovenized oscillators available, and even some GPS-locked 10 MHz references that are affordable. You will have to add a varactor to your microwave crystal LO, and phase-lock it to the reference. More details are forthcoming on how to do this. It is now possible to be within 10Hz of the correct frequency on 10 GHz, using these techniques. JT44 only requires an accuracy of 150 Hz or so, which is even more achievable. I think we'll be seeing more of this mode in the near future. It shouldn't take nearly as long for a QSO using JT44 on tropo as FSK441 does, waiting for meteors to fall. Imagine being able to switch over to your computer under difficult conditions, and completing a previously unworkable QSO in less than 2 minutes. I think the time has come where this is possible. I've got to get busy setting up my rover for this mode.
Then there is PSK31...another mode I haven't personally tried. It looks really cool, and it's supposed to rival CW for weak-signal performance. If you can find others to work, go for it. I don't think there's enough activity to make it worthwhile, however, in a contest. I don't know if it degrades much when you get QRMed by other nearby stations, but this may be a consideration. Don't forget that many of these digital modes demand precise frequency accuracy, which is not easy to achieve on the higher bands.
20. Site Sharing. As we scout around, and find good rover locations, there is always the chance that someone else will have arrived there first, and be hosing down the bands with RF. Try to avoid areas near known multi-ops, except to work them. Try to share your site with others, to the extent possible. Better yet, publicize your plans, and try to avoid conflicts with other rovers. Maybe you can agree to both operate together for a while, where each new station works you both, as you move around the bands. This seems to be an accepted technique in New England, where there are some really good mountaintop locations. It can be a lot of fun to operate microwaves side-by-side with another station, and compare signals. This can also be a good incentive for you to ad more bands. It's easier to avoid QRMing close-in stations if you can QSY to another band for a while. If you both are intent on serious operation, calling CQ, running high power, etc, you will probably have to put some space between stations, and respect the guy that got there first. Talk to them, and see if they are willing to share the location, perhaps on different bands or something. Be reasonable, and try to cooperate with each other. Respect the guy who got there first. It's not much fun having your receiver clobbered by a close-in station, but that's why we have lots of different bands. One of the advantages of being a rover is that if you don't like the way things are going at a particular site, you can just drive off to another one. (a lot of base stations wish they could do this trick...) The best idea is to publish your plans on the internet, and try to stay out of each other's hair. I think the bottom line is that we should observe the 1st come...1st served rule. Let the 1st guy there have priority, and respect his being there first.
There's another interesting aspect of site sharing...if you and several other rovers all go to a grid corner, you are sitting on a goldmine of contest points. Let's say there are 4 guys at a corner with 10 bands...Smoley hokes! Think about it. If you take turns, one-at-a-time, and go to each grid (I think you are supposed to move 100ft or something according to ARRL rules), that's 40 QSOs from just one guy moving around to 4 grids. After the other 2 guys do this, you will have 120 QSOs. Then, you can move around to the other 3 grids, with the other guys stationary, and get another 30 QSOs. And if you're really insane, and not yet dizzy, you can get the other guys to rotate again, while your in the 2nd grid. YIPES!! Another 90 QSOs. I personally think this whole idea is crazy, and I get dizzy just thinking about it. To me, this is not what contests are about. It takes alot of time, generates a lot of local QRM, and sort of shuts out the rest of the world. The biggest downside to me is that it's not much fun, and is sort of an artificial way to get a big score without working guys over distance, which is what radio was invented for. If it rings your chimes, great. Don't fall down after all that spinning around. I think you could get 480 QSOs this way, if you are so inclined. I tried this once, and worked a lot of QSOs, but we all got tired of it, and drove off to better sites to work real dx, before coming anywhere close to the maximum points possible. If you really want to solve a brain-twister, think about 10 guys, with 10 bands, going to the North Pole. Smoley Hokes!! Now that's a helluva lot of points at the ultimate grid corner. I don't think grid-circling is real ham radio...it's just an artificial way to create a ridiculously high score, without really working anyone over real distance. I think if you care enough to go roving, you should care enough to work some real QSOs, and not get sucked into this ego-boosting big score generation thing. Sure, it's OK to make a few rover-to-rover QSOs at grid corners, but why not actually try to give out the grids to the single-ops, who are looking for rovers. To hell with the score...have some fun working some guys!
One last note about site sharing. If you go to a really good site, and other signals sound distorted and wide, don't assume that it's the other guy's problem. Most VHF receivers have far less dynamic range than their HF counterparts, and it's common to falsely think the other guy is at fault. You may need some switchable attenuation in the front-end, or perhaps you can turn off the preamp. Conversely, if you are operating close to another station, maybe you should turn off your power amplifier so that both of you can operate simultaneously without making too much QRM for each other. QRP really makes sense, if you get out on a mountain, and find another close-by station.
In summary, you should probably advertise your plans in advance, and hope that others going to your locations will do the same. This way you have a good chance at working around each-other. Check Dan's website at http://www.qsl.net/n9rla/ to see the latest plans. Also check the VHF & microwave email reflectors.
21. MM-waves. I really love operating on the millimeter-wave bands, but they can be challenging during contest- roving. Working guys, even with high quality mm-wave gear on 24/47 GHz takes a lot of time, especially with a tripod antenna set-up. It's very hard, if not impossible to get your vehicle level enough to mount your high-gain/narrow beamwidth antennas on the rover vehicle. I'm sure the Winnebago folks could disagree, and talk about their leveling jacks and such, but it would be very time-consuming for a contest...unless this is your main goal. You don't want to drive with any mm-wave antennas exposed, cause 1 bug in the wrong place will cost you many dBs. (I'm still peeling the bug juice off my 10 GHz dish assy!). It is worth, I think, working a few well equipped stations over known paths, but it may be difficult to find radio LOS paths to work. There are certainly some, but 47 GHz at affordable power levels doesn't scatter very well over trees and stuff, and you probably need to find radio LOS paths. Even from the 6400ft mountains, there are few paths over 100km that are workable without much planning. 24 GHz is probably more forgiving in this regard, but few amateurs have sufficient power to work any long range obstructed paths. In the winter, you will probably do better without the leaves, but I have seen trouble while shooting through non-leafed tree branches on 10 GHz. I got lots more attenuation than I expected. I think the multipath really hurts you in this environment. MM-waves will provide nice additional grids, and memorable FB QSOs, but you will be eating up precious time making them during a contest. If it takes more than 5-10 minutes, you will probably be hurting your score. I don't think the present scoring scheme offers enough incentive for mm-wave operation. By all means, work what you can, but plan ahead, and set up skeds to coordinate locations and times. Brian says it's worth about 5min per QSO on the microwaves. (remember, you could be knocking them dead at 5-10 stations per minute on the low bands). This makes sense, but long-haul 24/47/76 GHz QSOs will probably take a lot longer than this...assuming the humidity is low enough to make the path at all. If you have the opportunity, go for it...have fun, and practice ahead of time, if possible. You don't want to be calibrating someone's new LO frequency drift for the first time in the heat of battle. If you can get to someplace like Pike's Peak, you could probably set the world on fire with mm-wave rover QSOs.
WARNING...don't set up your mm-wave dishes in the wind. If the wind is 10mph or greater, you can bust your equipment very easily, by assuming that a tripod will support your dish. I recently had an expensive lesson in this. I was on a mountain during the Sept contest, and I got some arm-twisting from a friend, who really wanted to work me on 24 GHz. Well...I thought maybe I could hide behind the van, and shield myself from the 35mph gusty wind. Wrong! The tripod blew over, and caused severe damage to 24 & 47 GHz (and I use a nice heavy tripod!!). I'm now out-of-business on those bands until further notice. Even small dishes have a potentially very large wind cross-section. Don't risk it! Even with a heavy counterweight on your tripod, your dish could get ripped off it's mount by a passing breeze.
22. Calling CQ vs Search & Pounce (S&P). I think the best advice about CQing is that from W3ZZ. Do it as long as it works. Unless you really are running some heavy juice, you probably won't be able to run lots of stations by CQ-ing all weekend, as a rover, and you will beat the hell out of your batteries. Don't be like some guys who call CQ incessantly, and never take the time to give a good listen for weak responses. If you call CQ 4 or 5 times without a response, you should probably try something different...like LISTENING!! Non-productive CQs really cause a lot of needless QRM, especially in high activity areas.
Unlike HF contesting, you can quickly work the band dry on VHF es above calling CQ, and you will have to eventually resort to S&P. Move your beams around lots while you are CQ-ing. Move in increments corresponding to your antenna beamwidth, and cover the entire compass. Of course you want to concentrate on the population centers, but it's a tough tradeoff to decide when to beam outward to those rare grids. I usually find that I don't do this enough, and frequently miss rare grids in strange directions. As a rover, you need to keep your rover flight-path in mind. At the southern most part of your rove, make sure you collect as many southern grids as you can. They will be a lot weaker after you travel farther north. Likewise, when you are at your farthest point north, get the northern stations. Capitalize on the best directions of each of your sites. If you have a mountaintop site with an amazing take-off angle to the west, make sure you get the most out of it while you are there. (This is not as easy as it sounds...you may get a big stream of local stations, hungry to work you in that new grid you're now in). You may not get a good opportunity in that direction later-on. Of course, it also helps immensely to know the stations to look for. The more contests you work, you will learn this, but you can also check QST contest results, and the VE2PIJ website, and see who was on in past contests from each grid. Make sure to look in the directions of those elusive grids. When you finally work someone there, his signal/QSO will help you to attract some more bizniss. Don't hop off the frequency too quickly, as there may be lots of weak stations in there who overheard your previous QSO. You need to spend some time looking for dx on 2 meters, so don't be too fast at jumping off the frequency, if there are weak stations calling you in there. I usually try to clean-out a 2m freq before QSY-ing, but as rovers, we have to band-hop a lot. Just don't leave weak stations in rare grids calling you on 2m as you're QSY-ing off to 10 GHz with a local station.
As mentioned above, there's another down-side to CQ-ing too much. Some stations really pollute the airwaves by calling excessively. You gotta listen some, to find out what's happenning on the band! We all should be mindful of others in the area, and not overdo it too much. It's not fun to make everyone in a crowded area mad, and convince everyone to go out and get a 1500W amplifier. No one will hear much of anything when this happens. Try to share the airwaves, and try a different band, if your neighbor is hosing down the a band with his megaWatt rig calling CQ. Calling CQ on CW can help permit others to hear stuff on the band. SSB is usually too wideband with the solid-state amplifiers common today. (lots of modern amps have terrible 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. intermodulation specs). As previously mentioned...excessive CQ-ing can also drain your batteries unnecessarily, if your not getting answers. I find that the best rover-contesters are those who know how to listen well.
23. Finding Rare Grids. For me, finding grids is one of the most challenging aspects of roving in contests. Perhaps this is because I tend to rove in rare grids, way out in the sticks, and I'm simply not that close to many good spots that have a wonderful view into distant activity centers. As a rover, I like to answer everyone that I hear, and give each guy all the bands that we can make contact on. I think this is keeping within the spirit of roving, and it's a large part of why I go out, in the first place. If I wanted to try to win, I would venture up into KW alley, and bring serious power and antennas. However, if you are desirous of being highly competitive as a rover, you don't need to work all the grids over and over again. It will help your QSO total, and it is probably a good idea to work everyone, at least up to a point. As you start to search for specific grids, though, especially late in the contest, you can be more selective, and focus on certain areas. I think it is a good idea to keep track of what you need, and try to aim your antennas in those directions, call CQ, listen hard, etc. On my recent rove experience in the September 2002 contest, I finished up at Hogback mountain, 3650ft ASL. The QSOs were really pouring in, and the rate was high, but it was almost all the same guys I had been working all weekend, who just wanted to run the bands from my latest grid. Had I been more competitive, I would have ignored many of the calling stations, and kept calling CQ with my antenna to the NW. I'm sure there were some 8-landers out there, calling in the pileups, but all I could hear was the loud FM19,29,FN20 stations. Being a nice guy, I went and worked everyone that I heard. It really cost me, however, and I never got a single 8-land station. My grid total really suffered, but I was happy with a big QSO total. I also find it very enjoyable to pass out my grid to guys who need it. It doesn't take a winning score for me to be happy. I would like to try harder to locate at least a few stations with microwave bands out in the W/NW areas, to help my grids totals. I think it really helps to know who to look for. Making schedules also helps, but it is really hard to keep schedules as a rover. I always seem to be in the middle of a critical antenna aiming situation, running bands with someone when the schedule alarm goes off.
Study past contest results, and determine which stations you most need, in rare grids. Try hard to find these guys by tuning around 2 meters, or asking them about their operating habits, in advance. You can make skeds if you want, but I would rather just let these guys know before the contest that I will be looking for them from a specific grid, at a general time frame. Hopefully they will want to work you also, and will try hard to find you. Knowing their usual operating frequency, and establishing one of your own can be a big help. I think the most important thing about trying to work specific grids or grid areas is just to keep your antenna aimed out that way for significant amounts of time. This will probably require that you sacrifice some of your buddies in another direction, but with skill and practice, you will learn to accomplish your desired result. Personally, I think it's wrong not to work someone who wants you, even if you don't need his grid. If you spend enough time looking in desired directions, you will probably find the sought-after station, if he's active, and he may be looking for you also. Try to find a balance, and keep everyone happy, including yourself.
Competition is healthy, but don't get too carried away with it. Work your friends, and pass out your grid on the bands you have working. Don't forget to aim in the rare grid directions, and hopefully you will find everyone you are looking for.
24. Antennas. As you can see elsewhere on this website, I advocate BIG antennas. I think 12ft yagis can be safely used on rovers, with care. If it stayed up through the last contest, it wasn't BIG enough. (...beware...this is not true for rovers! If it comes down while you are driving, you could really be in BIG trouble!!). There no better place in your station where a 1 dB enhancement in performance will pay off so well (although using low-loss coax is also important). If you add 3dB gain to your antenna, you will sound like you doubled your transmit power, and better, yet, YOU WILL HEAR WEAK STATIONS MUCH BETTER. Even a 1dB change in antenna gain really makes a very noticeable difference when you are copying weak station. VHF is great because antennas and wavelengths are small. You have to strike a balance, of course, between set-up difficulty, and antenna size. You don't want to create a 3-hr assembly effort for yourself, unless your only going to a few grids. I find that 12-foot yagis can fly pretty well down the highway, but you have to keep them pointed straight ahead while driving. Do a good job designing your antenna supports, since this can be a BIG safety issue. Test drive your array, and plan extra strength to keep it flying safely. Don't forget about the weight added by nice large (low-loss) feedlines. Have a fellow ham watch your antennas as you soar down the highway at warp-speed. It is often easy to spot a mechanical weakness doing this.
I like using 6ft yagis for 2, 222, and 432 for use while driving. If these short yagis are close to the center axis of your vehicle, you can safely rotate them while driving. 11dBi on 2m is much more effective than a halo, but you will have to rotate it while you are navigating through the cloverleaf highway interchanges to maintain copy on a weak signal. You can do a good job as a rover with small beam antennas. You don't need huge antenna arrays to be effective as a rover (but every dB counts). Use heavy masts, and consider using safety wires/ropes to keep your antenna parts from falling off the vehicle while in flight. My main support masts are double thickness-steel. I use telescoping masts, which can go up to about 18 ft or so when I stop and extend them. This is a great way to get better performance on the higher bands. It helps you clear low trees and other blockages in the near-field, helping you achieve the desired low take-off angle. It's amazing how rover sites tend to get more and more cluttered with foliage every year. You can also stack several yagis very close together on the telescoping mast, and then spread them out when you stop to operate, as you extend the mast. Make sure to cut your cables long enough. Test it all out before going roving. I find it necessary to tie my extra length cables down with guy-wire to keep them from flopping all over the place while driving. The light-duty guy wire is easily removed when you stop to extend the masts.
Consider stacking short yagis for enhanced performance. A long yagi can be harder to support, and may not be best for your planned band coverage. This is highly dependent on your vehicle, and your ability to support a long yagi safely, while driving down the highway. Check your turning radii to be sure you won't have antennas bumping into others on your roof. Be especially careful of hitting power lines, or trees with your antennas. Try to set the antennas at different heights, to they will interleave, and not collide when rotated. Be sure to try all combinations of multiple antenna systems, cause there may be azimuth combinations where trouble awaits you. Also. be mindful of the fact that a dish antenna makes a significant aperture blockage for other antennas. Figure out which direction will be your least-blocked direction, and try to park the rover-vehicle to optimize this direction. It will costs you lots of dBs, if you try shooting thru a 10ft dish on 432. You probably don't want to stack a solid dish for 10 GHz closer than about 3ft from a nearby 432 yagi. If you do, you will degrade the 432 antenna significantly. Yagis for different bands can be stacked pretty close, but dishes will block all passing electromagnetic waves. I have noticed that antennas looking "through" other antennas does cause noticeable attenuation. Try to get the desired paths in the clear...place antennas at different elevations, etc. Design your vehicle antenna positions to allow you to achieve a known good-coverage direction. You probably cannot eliminate some degradation, but with some thought ahead of time, you can really work out well in your desired direction (usually sideways to the vehicle direction-of-travel). When you pull into a rover site, park the vehicle with the optimum "look" direction in the direction of the most suspected activity. If you're really lucky, this will be hard, and you'll be working guys all over the compass.
You can drive with a 2ft dish mounted on the roof, but you have to be extra careful to have a robust rotor mount, and make sure things are super-tight so the dish doesn't windmill around and catch the 65MPH breeze on the highway. Turn the dish sideways into the wind. I find that driving with my 2ft dish erected causes many thing to come loose on it. The extra vibration is really severe, and I always have to tighten connectors and bolts. Make it a habit to check cables and bolts at every stop...it could save your expensive power amplifier. Most amps don't like being keyed into an open or short circuit. Don't forget that if a thunderstorm comes along while your driving, you could have the high winds of the storm added to your highway speed!! This can be a very destructive situation. Don't drive with antennas erected in high winds. Expect accumulation of various bug juices on these antennas!
Don't overlook the use of halos on 6m-432MHz. Even though I am crazy for more antenna gain, I had a lot of fun when I went out with just halo antennas on a few bands. I recall working K1UHF one contest on 432 while driving on Rt66 in VA, going 65 mph...using a single halo on the band! It was awesome!...I didn't think he would hear me, but we had a nice chat! Halos will relieve you from the problem of fooling around with rotators while you are driving. This can be a good thing, for the sane. Stacked halos are even better. Bring along a rover partner to mess with fancy machinery while you concentrate on driving...or visa versa. If you upgrade to bigger directional antennas, consider bring the halos along as well. The omni-directional coverage can really come in handy for the occasional CQ, or just for checking for new grids. They are also really nice while driving through clover-leaf highway interchanges. Don't forget to switch back to the other antennas, for higher gain.
Learn how to home-brew your antennas. You can build a super performing antenna, if you take time, and get good info...like the K1FO stuff in the ARRL handbooks, or the DL6WU design info. Aluminum is not as expensive as many commercial antenna suppliers would have you believe. You can really save some $$, and use the money for another band transverter!! Yo!
Lastly, check your antenna system bolts for tightness often. Use lockwashers. Driving creates lots of vibration, and stuff gets loose. Try to get stainless-steel hardware. It is very strong, and won't corrode and become a pain-in-the-ass later. Check your array at each stop, and make sure it's ready, before you return to warp-speed out on to the highway. Use a safety wire on items that have any chance of falling off the battleship.
Consider using rod-type yagis for better tree-immunity. Loop yagis are great, and are easy to get working, but they really get clobbered easily by low trees. Rod-element yagis are more robust, and are easier to optimize for more gain-per-boom length. I find that a well designed 12 foot rod yagi can produce 21.5dBi on 1296, where a 12 ft looper is usually closer to 20 dBi. C3i makes nice 903/1296 12ft yagis with mucho grande gain. I had to stop about 6 times in a recent contest to repair damaged loopers. There are lots of low-hanging tree branches everywhere. In-fact, I always seem to find parking areas where I can drive in, but I can't get out, without hitting something. It's embarrassing (and difficult) to have to back out of places with people looking at you so strangely. Don't put your loopers up at 12.5ft without expecting trouble. Bring extra elements, and repair parts, if you can. It's really easy to bust antennas when you're exploring for that new rover site with 3dB more SNR. Be especially careful when backing up...your antennas may stick out further than you think in the back! Steve from DEM once told me that stacking loopers is great for rovers...this way you'll always have a spare antenna...hi. Personally, I don't like stacked antennas as a rover...it's just another reliability compromise, where water can get into the additional connectors, and screw things up.
If your antennas are up high, be ever-mindful of your height, and learn which roads you can and CANNOT drive down. There are several roads near my house that I have to avoid due to low tree branches. If you are worried about this, you can always take the upper antennas off, while driving. Usually it's easy to fasten the yagi-with- coax attached to the luggage rack, and quickly erect it on-site. Also...if you have long-boom yagis...learn to always return to the 0-degrees-straight ahead heading for these long-boomers, before you head out on the road. I forgot a few times, and was alerted by the panic-stricken faces of nearby motorists. Fortunately, I had only driven a few hundred feet, when I noticed the strangely different wind-whistling sounds from my sideways loopers...hi. It's amazing how people wont pass you, when you have a bunch of 12-foot loopers straddling a couple lanes of the roadway!
25. Feedlines. One of the great advantages of roving is that you can probably keep your feedlines short. I like using LMR-400 coax for all my runs up through 3456 MHz. I since graduated to LMR-600 on 2.3 & 3.4 GHz. It's flexible enough to wrap around the rotator interface, and it's much lower loss than the old RG-8/RG-213 type cable. You can easily loose up to 2dB of signal, however, on 3456 using LMR-400 (or even 1/2-inch superflex) in a rover set-up. Consider installing a preamp close to the antenna, with the appropriate T/R switching relays (and sequencers). Consider the slightly more expensive LMR-600 cable. You can certainly benefit by using lower-loss coax, but I would think it's not worth spending a lot of $$ for less than 1dB improvement. If you really are worried about that 1dB loss, consider a bigger antenna, or a lower noise-figure preamp system near the antenna. Of course another advantage of roving is that you can find a better site that will be several dB better than average sites where the non-rovers are stuck. One stop at a tall mountain will really boost your hearing and talking capabilities. Your noise figure and power output will be the same, but the RF paths will be many dB better. Typically, you can add up to 12dB of signal for each 1-degree lowering of your take-off angle on long troposcatter paths. Mountaintop sites help you to achieve a very low take-off angle.
Make sure that your cable connections are water-tight. I like to use the soft rubber stuff called coax-seal, and then cover it with Scotch brand 88 type electrical tape. Then I spray the whole enchilada with clear Krylon or Rustoleum clear-spray paint to seal the leakage paths into the connector. Professionals use stuff called "Skotch-Coat" to cover the completed-taped assembly, but this stuff is rather difficult to remove, once applied. Remember, no cable interface will last forever in wet weather. Moisture gets pumped into tiny crevasses by temperature changes, as air expands and contracts. You should check your cables for loss and VSWR at least once per year, and replace lossy interfaces. (the best way to do this is by being active, and being familiar with your station, so you can notice when something has gone astray). When water does get in, it tends to travel down the coax for a ways, and you will probably have to cut off 3 or 4 feet to eliminate the wet stuff. It's usually better to discard any cable that has gotten water inside. Capilliary action carries the water much farther than you and I think. Once water gets in, it don't come out...replace the RF hose. One drop of water in the wrong place can cause 60dB insertion loss at 432. It is normal to discover a few bad cables each season, if you are out roving in the elements. Check insertion loss and VSWR early and often. Sometimes, water in the coax will show up as a VSWR degradation, but now always. Test for insertion loss. Keep track of the s-meter readings of your local beacons. Roving in the rain can really drive water into all sorts of places. A good way to check for water is to measure the resistance of the coax center conductor to ground. It should be at least 100K Ohms, or preferably higher. Of course, you need a non-shorted antenna to do this. If you measure less than 100K, you should start looking for water in the hose.
On the subject of feedlines, you should think about your coaxial vehicle penetrations. I used to think I would just run the coaxes thru a crack in my folding rear windows...BAD IDEA. When you try to force a window closed over a mess of cables, the window can shatter! I found this out the hard way, and I'm still finding all sorts of little glass pellets all over the place (it was also a pain to find replacement glass and parts for my old bag of bolts). Consider punching holes and installing feed-through N-connectors. This has saved me a lot of problems. It helps to have an old workhorse vehicle that you can modify without invoking the wrath of an irate XYL. K6LEW also showed me another good solution...marine supply houses (West-Marine is one such place) sell nice feed-though grommets, which can be installed in side panels, roofs, etc. They are designed to keep water out, which is highly desirable. You do have to feed the cable through the grommets before putting on the RF connectors, and then the cables are captive. This approach is probably cheaper than the extra connectors required for the bulkhead-N penetrations that I use. If you shop around, there are usually a lot of good deals on used coax feed-throughs at flea markets. If you use the bulkhead-N approach, you may need to add a stiffener panel, as my Astrovan roof is only .030in steel. It is sort of a pain to use a Greenlee chassis punch, unless you have a friend helping you on the other side of the panel being punched. (I couldn't reach both sides of my installation). Don't forget to waterproof your connections, and make sure the N-feedthru connectors have gaskets, and that the nuts are tight. I once discovered a waterfall coming in around a loose connector, and just caught it in time to save my precious afterburners from getting soaked. Water is very unhealthy to your gear, and it will run down your cables and into your stuff real well.
26. Receiver Sensitivity. It is very important to have a low noise figure, so you can hear the weak ones. It's better to hear a few stations that you can't work than to have everyone hear you, and wonder why you didn't answer. Don't be an alligator, and use a poor sensitivity receiver and a big power amplifier. Try to achieve some balance in your system, and make sure you can hear stuff well. You don't need a noise figure meter to check things out. Any decent signal generator that can produce -150 dBm will be adequate. Add attenuation to a signal generator RF output, if necessary, and see if you can hear -150 dBm OK. If you can, than you probably have a good noise figure...at least sufficient for working lots of weak stations. Theoretically, you should be able to detect a tone at -156 dBm if you have really good ears, and a 1dB noise figure. (Your ear can have an effective bandwidth of just 50 Hz, using the processing power of your brain...mileage may vary...hi). I usually don't hear much below -150 dBm, and my receivers are working pretty well.
Don't add too much preamplifier gain in front of your system. Not only will you decrease your dynamic range (by being more susceptable to strong interference), but you will almost certainly push your receiver well into the AGC range on thermal noise. The best receivers are ones which don't begin turning down the receiver gain with AGC until the signal is 6dB or so out of the noise. If your radio is operating with excess gain, and the AGC is already active on noise, you will notice a significant S-meter reading with no received signal. This makes the job or your ears a little harder to detect a weak signal, since it won't rise above the noise...it will just effectively turn down the noise a little, with signals present. Your ear would like to hear something a little louder than the noise for optimum sensitivity. Unfortunately, most modern portable receivers do not permit disabling the AGC. If your receiver does let you turn AGC off, try it, and experiment with weak signal detection. Beware, however, that when a strong signal does arrive in the passband, it may be too loud. This suggestion only applies to the case where you are trying to copy a threshold signal.
Another AGC observation I have made using the IC706MKII on 903 is that I get better results switching to fast-AGC. I usually hear lots of pulsing cell phone noise in my area, and this makes it very difficult to copy weak CW or SSB, since the interference is always turning down the receiver gain. By switching to fast-AGC. I notice that I am more likely to hear some desired signal in between the noise pulses. With Slow (normal) AGC, the gain gets turned down, and I never even notice the weak CW beacon in my area.
Be aware that external noise is probably limiting what you can hear on 6 and 2 meters. Unless you live out in the country, and have a very low-noise environment, you probably have a 10dB or so noise figure caused by external noise on 6 meters. Galactic noise can be significant at certain times, but on 6 meters, you just don't need that 0.5 dB NF preamp. This is not EME. You will probably hear everything, even with a 10 dB NF receiver. Leaving off the preamp will give you much better dynamic range, and strong signal immunity. 2 meters is a little different, but there is usually plenty of external noise here also, for most of us. If you're aiming at the horizon, your antenna temperature is probably at least 400deg K. This means that a 3 or 4 dB noise figure is probably acceptable. It's always nice to have a preamp that you can switch in or out, so you can optimize for the situation at hand. I find external noise to be a real problem on 2m, which means that my receiver is not limited by it's noise figure. If you really want to get some sensitivity, go to a larger antenna, which will let you aim away from the noise source, and optimize the desired signal. Getting a better signal-to-noise ratio os the goal. This is another great reason to go roving...you can probably find some places away from the population centers, where the ambient noise levels are nice and low. You can really hear well when you get out of the city on 6m thru 432 MHz. Above 903 MHz, external man-made noise becomes less of a problem. (except for the occasional radar on 1296, etc). Recently, I've noticed that there is lots of external noise, even on 432, as I swing my antenna around. This is bad, and indicates that I need better RFI-free operating locations.
27. Rigs & Equipment. This is a pretty controversial topic among VHF/UHF hams, but here's my humble opinion. I like the FT-100 as my primary 6,2,& 432 radio. It seems to have all the dynamic range I need, and the noise blanker is exceptional. I hear that the IC-706MKIIG noise blanker is good, but I know that the 706MKII noise blanker is NOT so hot. I need a noise blanker that will tackle line noise, and ignition noise. This is a big challenge for noise blankers, as line noise is not as easy to "blank" as pulse noise like spark plugs, and ignition systems. Any time you turn on your noise blanker, however, you will become much more susceptable to strong signals. When your noise blanker is punching holes in the received signal passband, and a strong signal shows up at the same time, your noise blanker will be pules-modulating the strong signal, causing it to appear broad. Don't blame the big-signal station...it's your receiver. You need to adjust your equipment for best performance in real time. Maybe turning your antenna will decrease the strong signal, without hurting the desired weak-signal too badly...experiment, and find the best set of equipment settings for different situations.
I think all mobile/rover rigs require an external speaker. You can position the speaker for good hearing, even when you have lots of road noise in motion. There are some nice amplified speakers, which may help with readability. Headphones are great, too, but you can get busted wearing them while driving.
If you live in KW-alley, or insist on roving in places infested with strong signals, you should consider using a good HF transceiver with a good transverter. The FT-100 and IC-706 class radios are nice and compact, but they do not have high-dynamic range receivers. Being a rover, these rigs work well for me...I just don't go to places with strong signals too often. Maybe someday, a company will market a radio optimized for VHF/UHF, but I don't think there is a really high-dynamic range VHF radio out there as yet. The closest you can come is to use a good HF rig with a good transverter, without too much gain. You don't need preamps on 6 or 2 meters, unless you are really out in an extremely radio-quiet location. Even then, there will probably be 10 dB (at least) of external noise on 6m, and 3-4dB (or more) on 2m (galactic noise, etc.). Preamps can really hurt your receiver performance in the presence of strong signals, and you should make sure that you can disable them, if required. You may even want to consider adding some switchable attenuation. I think one of the best rig set ups you can achieve on the lower 4 bands is a Elecraft HF transceiver, and some of the newer DEM transverters, using high dynamic range mixers. The Elecraft K2 is definitely one of the best dynamic range radios on the market, and it is surprisingly affordable. It is also much smaller than other high dynamic range radios. You usually don't need such high dynamic range performance on the higher bands, above 432, since the antenna beamwidths are narrow, and the activity is lower. But there are ways to use a 10m IF (like the Elecraft) on the higher bands also. One of the keys to good dynamic range is to use transverters with just enough (but not too much) gain. The modern 6m-70cm units from DEM support this requirement. Their newer transverters for 903 and 1296 have also made great leaps in dynamic range performance, as compared to older units. With a setup like this, you can probably survive, and do well up in KW-alley (of course you may want to bring several KW of your own up there, to fit-in).
On the microwaves, there are many options. The DEM transverters, especially the newer ones, are great units, and it's not too hard to build them from kits. Steve will be glad to talk to you, and help you get the options that you need for your IF radio, etc. Lot's of talented engineers contributed to many of the DEM designs. The DB6NT transverters are also very high quality. They are smaller then their DEM equivalents, and are also a bit harder to build from kits. Michael Kuhne (DB6NT) has really put a lot of engineering talent into these units. This is the only place that you can purchase ready-to-roll 24 & 47 GHz equipment. Presently, DB6NT equipment is only available from SSB Electronics in the USA, but rumor has it that they will be available direct from Germany in 2003.
28. Vehicle Configuration. There are lots of good ways to outfit your chosen vehicle for roving. It really helps if you can dedicate an old reliable van or something to rover-service, as this will greatly reduce your preparation time, and probably result in your getting out more often. Maybe you can leave your equipment set up in the van, and be able to do year-round roving. It's really fun for me to find some free time, and wonder out to my favorite 3650ft overlook, just to see who I can work. I always have some success on 2m, almost anytime, and many of the guys I work are equipped on higher bands, adding even more fun to my mini-expeditions. Not all of us can do this, however, so there are other ways to get yourself on the road to roving. Even if you are borrowing the XYL's vehicle, there are ways to set it up, without any permanent scars.
For antenna mounts, consider getting a canoe carrier or luggage rack. These things can fasten on easily, and allow you to install a 2 x 6 board along the length of the vehicle. You can probably find a bumper mount or trailer hitch, which can support a rotator, and then run the mast through a hole in the 2 x 6. This will allow you to support many VHF, UHF, SHF, and even EHF antennae. I find that the 2 x 6 board nicely supports a rotatable mast on the rear and front bumpers simultaneously. It looks a little wild, and turns lots of heads with puzzled expressions on their faces, but hey...it works nicely. I have installed my longer yagis on the rear, and some short 6ft ones on the front mast for use "in-transit". Both of my masts will telescope up to about 20ft, when I park and extend them upwards. I think this represents a fairly efficient-achievable configuration for many prospective rovers. It can even be done in a sedan, provided you make room for all the radio gear somewhere, like in the back seat. Be careful about the strength of the luggage rack/canoe carrier, and carefully evaluate it's ability to support side-to-side loads of the mast. Chances are, you can come up with a rotator arrangement that will support some really nice yagis-while driving, which will make your setup very easy. Thule makes some nice non-intrusive canoe carrier racks.
There also several ways to use a canoe/luggage rack to support a rotator and mast, off the side of the vehicle. You can attach 2 boards to the rack, running fore and aft of the vehicle, and then run some boards off of these sideways. Use bolts through the boards for extra strength. Use a good counter-weight at the bottom, and then a board coming off the rack can become a thrust bearing for the mast. Perhaps you can find a slick way to carry the mast on the rack, and then stop, fasten antennae, and hoist the array up. It really helps to have a partner for these type of operations.
One of the first important considerations is where to mount the radios. I like to have them available from the drivers seat for obvious reasons. Other operators like to have a nice operating table in the back of the vehicle (almost always vans or trucks) where they can feel more comfortable, and spread out while operating. Make sure you have room to perform convenient logging functions. I like using my laptop for logging, and I installed a small aluminum table near the FM tuner in the center of the dashboard. If you don't want to drill holes in the vehicle, you can invent some nice shelves, which will sit in the passenger seat, and hold your equipment. K9OYD/R has a nice arrangement like this a few years ago. It was custom tailored to rest on the dashboard, and on the seat. He had a nice bunch of gear in there. He is also very lucky to have an awesome XYL who is willing to ride in the back seat, and keep his log during contests. Now, that's livin large!
There's lots of options for locating your transverters, amplifiers, etc. It's a good idea to think about accessing the gear for the inevitable servicing that always seems to be needed. Don't build your stuff into a corner where it's difficult to work on. Using modern radios with removable control panels, you can mount all the radio gear in the trunk, and just have a remote panel in the driver's area. You could also put a bunch of transverters in the trunk, and just have a small control panel in the cockpit.
The biggest problem for most rovers is antenna mounting. I think the biggest factor here is that of trading off the need for quick set-up time vs antenna size/performance. It's really nice to rove with an antenna system that is always erected. You just cruise into your rover-site and start working DX. It can really save you a lot of precious time. Very nice, indeed, but not everyone can do this on their vehicle. If you have a vehicle with a luggage rack, consider mounting some horizontal boards across the rack, and fasten a long "diving board" along the axis of the vehicle travel. This board can be drilled to support some pretty nice mast systems, with rotators. The board makes a good thrust bearing, capable of supporting many VHF & up antennas. It's pretty practical to have antennas extending up to 12ft, but you must always be on the lookout for low hanging tree (and fast-food drive- thrus) parts at this height. Also, make sure that you don't have your antennas sticking out too far to be illegal. Maybe you can drive with the mast erected, and bolt on the antennas after getting to your operating site. It's not hard to tie down lots of antennas, nested on your roof, using small gauge guy-wire. It unravels easily, and is pretty robust. You can probably figure out how to do this with all the coaxes remaining connected to the antennas. Then, you just put antennas up in the correct sequence, and store them properly during take-down. I have done this approach, and it worked well. It is necessary to take extra care, however with the fragile loop-yagis, which can get crushed if you aren't careful.
Using the diving board approach, you can also mount a rotator on the front bumper, if your board is long enough. A hose clamp can be installed to keep the board from flopping up and down on your mast. Whatever you do, make sure it is safe and rugged enough to withstand driving. Consider road testing your antenna installation at a time when there is no other traffic. Have a friend observe the vibrations, scintillation, gyration, and shimmying of your structure "in-flight" to assess it's road-worthiness. Don't go out dropping parts all over the road, and give people a bad taste for radio amateurs.
You can also get "drive-on" boots, which will serve as a robust support for a mast base plate. You can install a thrust bearing on your horizontal boards, and support some nice antennas up to 20ft or so with relative ease. There are also lots of hinge-tricks you can come up with to make antenna erection easy and trouble-free. Try out different approaches, and you'll find something that works for you. If it doesn't feel safe...DON'T DO IT. A seemingly easy-to-erect mast can become very dangerous when you add antennas, a rotator, cables, etc. I once knew a guy who lost his tower, because he never calculated in the weight of the coax cable.
Think about using a van with vertical doors on the rear. This will permit you to mount a fixed antenna mast on one side or the other, and still let you access the other door for rover supplies, radios, scatter powder, microwave grease, etc. The more common hatch-back designs for vans will prevent you from tapping the resource of a rear antenna mast mount.
If you're really crazy, you can probably get away with a 30ft hinged tower mounted on a large van. These scare me a little, but it's really nice to be able to operate in those rover sites with 25ft trees all over the place. Be really careful with your winch system, and always be mindful of driving especially careful with large antennas. If you have an accident, it will be difficult to convince others, that it wasn't your fault. DRIVE EXTREMELY SAFELY when you are roving.
Be sure to find a safe place for your batteries, preferably inside of acid-proof plastic boxes. Charging batteries emit explosive gas, so be sure to adequately ventilate them. Use fuses on everything to protect your valuable gear.
29. DC Power Considerations. If you are running 100W or more on the bands, you will need good batteries, and a good battery charging system. It's nice to be able to turn off the vehicle engine when you are parked, to reduce RFI, save gas, and give your horses a rest. Most normal vehicle batteries will give you an hour or 2 (at most) of operating, without the engine running. A typical battery is about 100 Amp-hours capacity. If you use QRP transmitters, of course, the battery will last longer, but beware the risk of running your battery down, and being stranded out in the boondocks. You can leave your engine running, for indefinite operating time, assuming your rigs don't draw 50 Amps or more, but this can be inconvenient and noisy (both acoustically and RFI-wise). I like to be able to shut down the engine, at least some of the time, and enjoy a quiet time, with only the radios making a racket. Much of this topic of DC power is covered in other-dedicated areas on this website.
From a strategic point of view, the thing I wanted to mention here is that of possibly using 2 battery banks, and switching off from one to the other occasionally. It's much better on your batteries to avoid severe discharges, and alternately hit them up for your rover operations. If you switch battery banks often, you can start recharging the spent one sooner, which will keep the batteries much happier. When you pull into a new site, you can fire up a generator, and start recharging one battery bank while you use the other. You can also install a good heavy-duty alternator, which will allow you to charge one string while driving. I find my heavy-duty alternator allows me to both charge, and operate from a battery string, while driving...very nice! The point is to limit the amount of discharge you expose the batteries to, by switching often. It just make good sense. Try to install real battery switches for this. It's very easy to make sparks with jumper cables, and you could blow yourself up doing this, with hydrogen gas all over the rovermobile. If you charge batteries...make sure you have good ventilation...and avoid sparking anything!! A diagram of my DC power system is shown at http://users.adelphia.net/~w3iy/images/DCPower.pdf.
30. AC Power. Most rovers that I know use an AC inverter for their antenna rotators. There are DC rotators available, but they are expensive. I've been told that the Yaesu rotators use DC motors, but they aren't 12V motors...more like 40V, I believe. It may be possible to harness this feature, but I just take the easy route, and use a simple readily-available AC inverter. There are rather nasty RFI problems with these beasts, and I have to live with noise on 6m & 2m, which seems to swish through the receiver passband every now and again. All of my attempts to add RF bypassing to these cheap inverters has resulted in the inverters shutting down. There's just too much high frequency energy in these "modified sine-wave" (interpreted as SQUARE_WAVE) inverter outputs. I have just been living with this problem, but I would really like to solve it. If you have any recommendations on better quality AC inverters, please email me. There are true sine-wave AC inverters available from several sources, but they are rather expensive...like over $500. These units may also require filtering and shielding (I haven't tried one yet), but at least with a true sine-wave AC output, you will be able to apply standard RFI filtering techniques (like bypassing).
I have heard from K5UHF that the DC-AC converters sold by Astron (the same guys that make amateur DC power supplies) are RFI-quiet. I haven't confirmed this, but several reports are that these units are quiet.
Some guys use gasoline generators for the rotator power requirement. This can be a good way to go, but it may be difficult to rig your generator so that you can run it in-transit, as I would want to do. I usually try to operate 6m through 432 MHz while "in-flight", and my generator doesn't seem to work too well as I drive and shake-rattle-and-roll down the highway. I am using a Honda EU-1000i generator, and it seems to have lots of protective circuits that want to shut it down while I'm driving (perhaps the oil-level sensor). Even if it were able to survive my highway driving, it has other problems. It incorporates a built-in inverter which allows the engine to run at slow speed (saving fuel), and still provide a perfect 60 Hz output line frequency. This is nice, except that the inverter generates (you guessed it) RFI on 6 & 2 meters. I thought it was conducted RFI coming out of the AC output, so I built a nice RF filter box to clean it up. The noise was still there, and remained, even when I disconnected the AC cord from the generator. Well, as you may have surmised, the generator inverter was transmitting noise, all by itself. It wasn't severe, but definitely enough to affect my desired weak-signal capabilities on 2m. The FT-100 noise blanker was not able to remove all of this noise, but it helped nicely. The moral of this story is that you should consider a generator which doesn't have this (otherwise wonderful) fuel-saving feature. I think the older Honda generators are still very quiet, and do not have the inverter built-in. The noises mentioned above from inverters and generators is almost non-existant at 432 and above. Here's yet-another reason to try the microwaves...hihi.
So, if you need AC power for your rover, beware the pitfalls mentioned, and test your approach before going out into the nice radio-quiet site that you are thursting after. Until I come up with a better solution, I plan to just use the noisy inverters, and switch it off, when I need to dig down into the noise.
I have read that some of the commonly available UPS power supplies for PCs use sine wave AC inverters. The drawback is that most of them require 24 or 48V battery systems, and probably won't be happy running off of 12VDC. We need to look at these puppies, as they are probably available surplus, at a much cheaper price than the "true sine-wave" unit thats I have seen.
I bought an Exeltech 1100W true sine-wave inverter, and while it was RF-quiet on 6 & 2 meters, it produced loads of RF noise on 222. I would up using this unit, after placing it inside of an RF-tight enclosure, and adding 100 Amp feedthrough filters, which I found at a flea market. This really solved my AC power problem, but it was kind of expensive, and required lots of work to make the box. Maybe you should investigate the Astron DC to AC converters.
Some amateurs have reported to me that they have made standard-noisy AC inverters quiet by carefully grounding them to the vehicle chassis. I don't think this will work for all of our VHF bands, but good grounding usually helps most RFI situations.
Of course, you can always use the "armstrong" rotator method, and not worry about this issue at all.
31. Dual-Operator Ideas. Many rovers fail to
realize the advantages of using 2 operators to increase their effectiveness. The
present rules for ARRL contests permit 2 operators, as long as there is only one
signal-per-band at any given time. This means that you can have your rover
partner calling CQ and cleaning up on 6m, while you are busy racking up the
points on the microwaves. Perhaps more significantly, you can have one operator
constantly combing 2 meters for needed stations much of the time. Of course this
isn't as easy as it sounds. Most multi-operator VHF contest stations have lots
of cross-band QRM problems, and the situation is far worse when all the antennas
of a rover station are on the same vehicle. In general, these problems are
solveable, but not without some thinking and expense. First of all, you should
plan to have 2 radios, and a robust DC power system that can support both guys
transmitting at the same time. You will consume twice as much DC power, so you
will have to either double your battery stack, plan to operate half as long, or
otherwise increase your capacity to supply both operators with adequate DC
power. In my case, I added a 2nd Jacobs DC-DC converter, and fed it off of the
existing battery string. I can get away with this, as I also have a heavy-duty
alternator installed, which can supply 170 Amps when I leave the engine running.
I think the basic step to dual-operator station design centers around adding
filtering to allow 6 and 2 meters to run simultaneously. This requires a good
low-pass filter on 6m and a band-pass filter on 2m. If properly installed, this
set-up will allow either station to transmit without significant QRM to the
other station. In my case, I had to add switching to bypass the 2m filter when
transmitting, as the filter is only rated for 200W, and my tx power on 2 is
close to 400W. 2m doesn't bother 6m at all. There are still some issues with my
6m tx causing some QRM on 2m, but I think these problems are related to some
loose hardware on the antennas. My 6m halo is only 2ft above my mobile 5el 2m
yagi. Loose metal-to-metal contacts on your vehicle or antennas will create
non-linear junctions, and cause a large transmit signal to generate spurs and
garbage, which can't be filtered out. Make sure all coaxes are tight, and that
there is no loose hardware anywhere near the transmit antenna.
Another consideration for dual-operator work is that of your microwave IF frequencies. I find significant QRM on the microwave receiver (144.1 MHz IF) when transmitting on 2m (usually 144.247 MHz or so). I plan to change the microwave IF frequency to 145 MHz. I don't hear any 2m interference when the microwave IF receiver is tuned up to 145 MHz. Of course, this will require changing out all my microwave LO crystals, but it should solve the problem.
Another feature which we have found highly useful is to add a band-sharing capability to the 2 radios. This means to add switching which will permit either operator to take over any of the lower-4 bands. We found this capability very useful in the Sept 2003 VHF contest. Both the antenna, and PA/preamp are shared by the 2 radios. I switch RF and PTT control to the appropriate exciter, using DP3T toggle switches. LEDs indicate which op has the band. It is necessary to switch the unselected rig into a 50 Ohm load, to prevent possible disaster if the wrong rig is accidentally keyed, when not selected. A group of 4 transfer relays, and 4 50-Ohm loads were used to implement this capability. It all fits into a die-cast aluminum box about 8 x 8 x 3 inches in size. It would be nice to also share the microwave equipment, but this is something I haven't had the luxury of thinking about yet. I'll be happy to get the lower 4-bands under control for now. Don't forget that both operators will need access to the rotator controls.
For most VHF contests, it is extremely important to find stations on 2m. Having 2 operators really makes this easier. Perhaps one guy can stay back on 2m, while the other op is running bands with the last customer. This technique was very successful for us in Sept 03. My rover partner had a large number of stations calling in with requests for higher bands, and he effectively queued them up, and kept them posted with the status of the microwave operations. This held alot of guys around, who would normally have gone back to searching for QSOs on 2m. I think this example is one of the best reasons to consider dual-op methods.
I have installed a miniature aluminum table on the passenger side of my van. It's not big, but there's just enough space for my partner to sit his laptop, and have a little writing spave. This is essential, if you want to capitalize on dual-operator techniques. Logging is important, and you gotta give both operators the ability to do it conveniently. His FT-100 control panel is "velcroed" onto the dashboard, and the aluminum angle brackets for the table are screwed into the trim with wood-screws. It helps to have a dedicated vehicle to do this...hi. My partner uses a headset with a boom-mic to help keep my loud voice out of his ears. This works well.
With some study of past contest results, and some experience, you will learn which stations have multiple bands,and which stations you can expect to work from various locations. This information is vital to effective contesting, as you can hunt these guys down, and work them on other bands for a large point-return in the contest (also fun-points). I'm not suggesting that you pass anyone else by in your search for these big-gun stations...just suggesting that you learn which other stations have the capability to give you the big points, and hunt these guys down! The more you operate, the easier this will become. Many guys lament about the problems of hearing a desired station as he was just QSYing off to another band, where he couldn't be copied any more. This is part of the life of a VHF contester, and you just have to do the best you can. If you are on 2m, and getting ready to QSY with someone else, I suggest that you stick around on 2 for a few more possible calls. Most other stations won't mind waiting a minute or so for you to clean-up the 2m stations. If you're really lucky, you can talk the other guys into QSYing with you, and then work the whole pileup again on
the higher bands. Of course this may require more adept antenna manipulations, as you go higher in frequency. It usually works pretty well on the lower 4 bands, though. Having 2 operators makes finding stations on 2m much easier. It's amazing how many guys we still miss, but now, at least, with 2-guys, we are much less likely to miss them. ("I never heard you from FM15...where were you?").
Having a rover partner is very helpful with speeding up your set-up and take-down operations. You can consider larger, more effective antennas if you have a crew of 2 installing things. You will also find that you make less mistakes with a co-pilot participating in things with you. A 2nd operator is extremely valuable with logging, as well. Sometimes we go to locations where many guys are looking for us, and it's necessary to work them all quickly to keep everyone happy. It's great to have one guy concentrating on logging, while the other guys works stations at a rapid pace...not worrying about the paperwork.
Perhaps the best reason of all to consider dual-operator techniques is that of safety. Especially on long expeditions, rovers get tired. Having a buddy along to talk with, and discuss things is really helpful in staying awake. It's also a lot more fun to share something that you enjoy with a like-minded person. 2 heads are definitely better than one in the roving bizniss.
32. Grid Circling. Some rovers indulge in the practice of going to grid-corners with others, and making all sorts of "artificial" QSOs. I know it sounds attractive to always be able to work the rare grids that you have traveled so far to, but really now...Are you just trying to run up a big score, or do you want to have fun making the rest of your VHF & up friends happy? If 4 stations go to a grid corner, and each has 10 bands with them, it's true, that each station can come away with 160 QSOs, and loads of contest points. However...if this is done within the ARRL rules, it's necessary to move at least 300ft between locations, and it will take hours, hours, and hours to complete this selfish operation. Think about all the real QSOs with distant stations you will be missing as you're out there working some guys just 300ft away, generating untold amounts of QRM amongst yourselves. You could even damage your equipment, if you operate too close to another rover station. I can understand that grid circling may be the only way to make lots of microwave QSOs in certain areas, but please don't spend lots of time depriving distant stations of the chance to work you. I have tried grid circling, and it's just not fun, to me, at least. I would rather make other stations happy, who are searching the bands for distant rovers, wanting to make real QSOs. Grid circling has been used in the past, by stations desirous of making a big club score in the January VHF SS, and other times by stations who just want to win the rover-class, without doing all the hard work of working lots of distant stations. Any time you see rover contest scores bigger than about 350K, there's a good chance that grid circling was used to achieve the score. (Grid circling tends to generate scores where the microwave bands all show 4, 8, or 16 grids worked on each band, with QSO totals of about 4 times the number of grids worked). Of course, I'm a little disappointed after busting my butt all weekend in a contest, searching for QSOs all over the east coast, and racking up a good score...only to find that someone else kicked my butt in the contest by grid circling. It makes my efforts seem fruitless, and it provides a significant negative-incentive for me to keep passing out rare grids to all my VHF & up friends. So, my advice is to avoid this artificial QSO-generation practice (even though it's within the rules), and concentrate on working distant stations who will really appreciate your efforts. This, I think, is what it takes to spread more interest in VHF & up operating, and there is a bigger benefit to ham-radio, as a whole. I think it's just a bit too self-serving to go out with the attitude that you're going to run up the biggest score possible making short-range QSOs, which are not representative of your equipment's capabilities. It's great to run into another rover at a site, and collect all the QSOs that you can, but doing the grid corner "shuffle" (as it's been called) with a group of co-conspirators is really kind of silly. Imagine what you could do at the north pole, where there are 180 grid squares, all nested together! Imagine how much of a pain this would be, while you could be providing really rare grids to other stations! Now you know where all those 500K+ rover scores come from in the January contest.
33 Operating Etiquette. Try to be nice to folks, even if you are tired and cranky. Be thankful for new QSOs & grids. Everyone wants to have fun in the contests and during expeditions, and a sour attitude should be fixed, or diverted to something that makes you happier (try 75m phone). One issue that I think is important is that of dealing with pileups. If you are doing things right, you should be pretty popular, and will have many stations calling you at the same time...and many will want to run the bands with you. This can get frustrating. Handling pileups during VHF-microwave roving is much more difficult than working pileups on HF...at least there you are staying on the same freq for a while, and the antenna beam headings are much much less critical. This is a great opportunity for you to build good operating skills, and have fun doing it. I think it's important to try to practice the ideas under "Frequency Use", and also to work first-come-first-served. Many guys are disappointed when you QSY off into the sunset without working them first. Try to clean up things on 2m before QSYing, if you can. (it's harder than it sounds...as your microwave buddy is already calling you on 10 GHz). You may not be able to work everyone who wants your grid, but try to be fair, and service the first guy first, if you can't get everyone to QSY together. It is hard on microwaves especially, to get back to your 2 meter "run frequency" quickly, if you are going to be listening for a weak wisp of a signal, and tweaking your dish heading, etc, etc as you work guys up the bands. It's normal for many stations to lose you as you do this, but try to tell them when you expect to return to the 2m freq, and maybe you can get them again. Don't forget to set up a liason frequency to come back to, in the event of failure. This way, the stations who missed you will know where to look for you after you are done running the bands. Practice these techniques, and you will have more fun, and make more fellow VHF-microwave freaks very happy.
I have been fairly successful by getting a bunch of stations on 2m all on the freq at the same time. Then I try to tell everyone to go up to 222.117, then 432.117, etc. When you are on a good location, or when band conditions are good, you can get many stations to move with you through the bands. This gives everyone a fair chance, and lets you rake in the QSOs at a fast pace. Of course, once I get to 432 & above, I have to start getting smart with the antenna, and pointing where I know some of the guys are located. Using a good logging program is very handy here, as it will give you the bearing to each station, as you type them in the logging computer.
My attitude towards roving is to try an pass out my grids to as many people as possible. I am not so competitive that I will skip stations on purpose, that I don't need so badly. I try to work everyone, and find this very satisfying. If I were really trying to compete, I would ignore stations whose grid I don't need, and concentrate on the needed stations. I think this is a bit over-the-edge, especially on the microwave bands. I feel a personal obligation to all microwavers to try and give them as many QSOs as I can. I want others to enjoy this stuff as much as I do, and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I usually compete with myself, and I am learning how to enjoy roving more and more, as time goes on. I think it's all about having fun with radio, and trying to help others discover why I like this hobby so much.
34. Safety First. BE CAREFUL out there!! Leave the beer, etc at home. Drive gently...if you get behind schedule (gee...I didn't think it would take so long to dismantle the antennas...). Don't climb on your roof if it's too slippery. Be aware of the weather conditions. Don't operate while driving, if you are tired. For that matter, don't drive at all when you're too tired. I find that a short nap really helps me. Sometimes, removing yourself totally from radio and radio thoughts can recharge your brain when your out there contesting and getting dog tired. Maybe turn off the wireless set for a while and listen to your favorite music, grab a meal, or do something relaxing (maybe jump into the ocean?). When you return to action, you will be mentally sharper, and ready to resume battle. Watch out for trees, wires, etc, if you are toting a big antenna array. I think 12.5ft is about the maximum height your stuff should stick up...but even this can get you into trouble. It's road-legal, but lots of low-hanging branches are not. Pay close attention when you strap on tall antennas! You don't want to have to buy a new neon sign, or roof for a drive-thru someplace. Avoid drive -through fast food places...they are almost always very low clearance, and if you're tired, you won't notice the warning signs. It's also no fun to have to take time out and do antenna repairs during prime operating time.
Be careful in sleezy areas late at night. I had a crazy guy try to carjack me once, and now I always LOCK THE DOOR driving through suspicious places. Some people get weird late on Saturday nite...leave them alone, and stay clear.
Tighten your antenna bolts often. You will become a major hazard on the highway if your super-loooooong yagi suddenly turns sideways across 3 lanes of traffic. People freak out at such things, and become a hazard themselves. (yes, I have seen this, and it ain't pretty...). I find the vibrations of driving frequently loosen certain bolts and connectors. If you work with tools up on the roof, be sure to retrieve them before driving off. Make a check list to execute, and post it in a prominent visible place. I've lost many a 7/16" wrench this way (they're hard to find after you hear them tinkling down the highway, and it's dangerous for those behind you). Be sure to fasten stuff down to your vehicle very securely. I carry a 6ft ladder, and it has become airborne once or twice. These things have a lot of wind load, and I now use 2ea steel guy wires on the front, and 2 more on the rear for this missile. This stuff (from Radio Slack) is easily wound and unwound for multiple installations. Likewise for any spare antennas on your roof (yes, spare antennas can be a good idea if you rove in the tree infested hills of the mid-Atlantic area). I'm convinced that loop yagis are magnets for tree branches.
Be especially careful with your lead-acid batteries! Make sure to have good ventilation, and avoid sparks anywhere near them! Use fuses on stuff.
Become familiar with RF radiation hazards. Don't let people walk in front of your 10KW EIRP system on microwave bands! Being portable, we rovers are exempt from many ERP restrictions, since we don't radiate a continuous stream of RF in any single place for too long. You can still hurt people (especially the eyes) with high RF fields. Don't irradiate your partner when he's up on the roof trying to untangle your moonraker arrays from a gagle of wild geese. The effects of RF radiation on humans are not well understood. Be conservative, and don't come anywhere close to irradiating anyone with 10mW/cm^2. You probably shouldn't put a "Rad-Haz" sticker on your rover, either, or you may attract other kinds of trouble.
35. Public Relations. Remember that lots of curious people will not be able to resist the temptation of asking you what-the-hell you are doing. This always seems to happen when I am really busy trying to dig out a weak signal on CW someplace. Be polite, and explain that you will be with your new visitors in a moment. When you get the chance, take a minute and explain what amateur radios is, and what you are doing. I find it to be a better policy not to mention that I am in a contest. I simply explain that I am participating in a VHF & above radio activity, and that hams all over the country are participating. I also add that we are making contacts which help us to be prepared for emergency communications, when we are needed. This is a true statement! VHF & above contesting is preparing you for possible assistance to the authorities, in the event of a national emergency. Always be prepared to help government officials. Please try especially hard to make a good impression on local police officials. Many of them are not "ham-radio aware", and they may appear to be hostile to you. Please understand that not all police are knowledgeable about what we do, and you can make a really big difference if you politely explain to them what you are doing. Some police actually think that you are encroaching on their radio frequencies with all your wild antennas. Forgive their ignorance, and try to educate them a little. Many young cops have no idea what this hobby is about. Eventually, they will learn that we are good people, willing to help, when asked, provided you are friendly and helpful. It is very rewarding to meet police officers who are curious, and want to learn more about microwave communications. Offer more information, and give them a QSL card, if you can. It is also a good idea to have a copy of your license with you, to show that you have some federal authority to do what you're doing. I like to hand out my email address to encourage further communications. We are all PR-folks for this wonderful hobby. Leave a good impression. Maybe someday well-informed law enforcement officers will look at us in a positive light.
Whatever you do, don't break the law! Trespassing can be a serious charge, and you'll have to take time off work to go to court, pay fines, etc. The worst thing about it is that it screws up the chance that other hams can receive permission to use a particular site in the future. Always ask permission. Always say thank you.
36. Have fun. This is the whole idea...remember? Don't make things into too much work. Find out what your threshold is, and find a good compromise for yourself. The more you get out roving, the better you will become at finding your groove. I learn things every time I go out, and it's really a great experience to build on past mistakes and successes. Try to get a good night's sleep before an expedition.
Don't forget to bring water, sun-screen, swimming trunks, insect repellent, and a first-aid kit (...snake-bite-kit?) :(
A cell-fone is also nice to let the XYL know you are still alive out in the extreme reaches of rover-land. It may also come in handy to call the battery charging fairies.
Maybe you could bring a tree-pruning tool to help "groom" your favorite site for a future visit. Be careful about this, however, since you could get busted cutting down stuff in a public place.
You don't have to be crazy to be a rover, but it helps!
That's it. Good luck, good hunting, and see you on the bands....SAFETY FIRST!!
Keep your batteries charged...and keep your powder dry!
listen for the weak ones!
Happiness is a warm coax...
73..._._ de W3IY/R