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SB-004 Activation (8/6/09)

This was very much a spur of the moment activation, and also a new one for me.

The instructions on the SB website were spot on, and the route very easy to follow - decent forest tracks then waymarkers to the summit - there are however signs of recent forestry activity, so the trees don’t match the map!!. I followed the ‘Kielder Stane’ walk, from about 2 miles west of Kielder village.

I decided to use 2m only, which can be quite difficult in the North East on a week day - it’s usually very quiet.

Stuck the rubber duck on the FT-817, and had a quick listen on FM, just in time to hear a portable station shout “QRZ”… went back to him, but no joy, so hurried to assemble my 4 ele beam. By the time it was sorted he’d gone - I bet it was the activator on Helvellyn… 10 points lost!!

Got 5 contacts on FM in half an hour, and Derek (G1ZJQ) posted a spot for when I switched to SSB at 13.00 UTC. May thanks…

Initially SSB was great, with my first contact Mike (GW0DSP) in North Wales, and quite a few stations calling in. However, this is when I had problems!!

The WX had been OK…cloudy with sunny intervals, but at 13.00 the cloud gathered, and it started to drizzle. I’m a fair weather activator, so wasn’t prepared for rain…big mistake!!

I was finding it more and more difficult to make contacts, so decided to call it a day…that’s when I discovered that the feed and matching capacitors of the driven element were soaked. Then to make matters worse, my feed cable fell out of the BNC socket!! So connections must have been pretty dodgey.

So sorry to all those who were trying to get through on SSB - I knew things were bad when I heard a station calling CQ with a 5/9 signal, but he couldn’t hear me.

NB I should point out that I was well prepared for rain, but the radio equipment wasn’t… should Yaesu offer a gortex FT-817 as an option??

In reply to G1TPO:

Jim’s SB website is a masterpiece. It provides everything you need to run a successful SB activation apart from chasers!

As for the BNC problems. I’m not sure what type of cable you have but most BNC cable clamping methods are not designed for the strain and loading that outdoor 817 activations lead to. I’ve found that I have always needed extensive additional strain relief to ensure the connector stays on the cable if I’m repeatedly attaching a connector. You can probably find some kind of cable gland in the electrical section of B&Q which along with some PVA hot melt glue will make a really durable connection. That’s probably cheaper and simpler than finding a BNC with above average cable clamping.


In reply to MM0FMF:
You can switch the VHF/UHF outputs on the 817 to the rear socket. I know that purists frown on the PL259 but it hardly matters for the short runs of SOTA antennas, and the 259 is much more robust!


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G1TPO:

Sorry to read about the problems with the kit and the rain Rob. Peel Fell is a lovely summit with a most enjoyable walk in - easy tracks followed by a section of forest path and then up the hillside. A bit of everything.

Like Andy says, BNC’s won’t take a significant amount of strain. I always make sure mine are tightly secured and the joint is then waterproofed and supported using self-amalgamating tape. I don’t use glue as it can be a pain trying to remake the connection if it fails. As for the 817, I assume it survived okay - mine didn’t earlier in the year and the ingress of water caused not one, but four separate problems. I now make doubly sure it is protected in wet weather. It’s a pity that Yaesu did not have the foresight to make a rig that was better protected, particularly as the rig was supposedly designed for portable use. Does it not rain in Japan?

73, Gerald

I suspect that SOTA has rather changed the perception of “portable” Gerald. Sure, there have always been people taking radios up mountains, but looking at back issues of magazines over the years, and “portable” is that whole spectrum of sat in a car/caravan/tent as well as the ‘real’ stuff that we do.

I imagine it does rain in Japan (!), but suspect that the assumption always was that if you were takng a radio up a mountain, it would be a VHF handheld - and the VX-7 was designed as such - waterproof and with other capabilities - wx data for instance.

I wonder how waterproof the TFRs are compared to an 817?

I agree though, looking at it through my SOTA-tinted spectacles, a waterproof 817, or indeed a waterproof jacket to buy as an accessory, would be desirable. Whether there would be a feasible market or not is another matter.


In reply to M1EYP:

I … suspect that the assumption
always was that if you were takng a radio up a mountain, it would be a
VHF handheld - and the VX-7 was designed as such - waterproof and with
other capabilities - wx data for instance.

So why do they supply the 817 with a rubber duck if it is not intended to be used in a similar manner to a handheld? Also the r/d splits into two sections making it suitable for putting in a pocket. Half-logic by anyone’s standards. Having said that, it is a truly remarkable little rig.

With regards to waterproofing, mine was inside a plastic case with a hinged cover, but it still got wet as I was packing up - it was impossible to keep the swirling sleet out of the backpack. I don’t think an over-jacket would suffice - the rig would need seals around the screen and the controls and along the panel joints to make it anything like waterproof. Higher production costs would undoubtedly be reason enough for discounting this approach, especially as significantly less than 1% of owners would be expected to use the rig in an exposed environment in bad weather conditions. Just proves we’re crazy, or at the very least unusual!


In reply to G4OIG:

Hi all, thanks for the comments

Just to clarify, I was using the rear SO259 on the FT-817, the BNC was at the antenna. The reason behind that was a failed activation a couple of years back…the story is on my website (via QRZ)… The antenna is a Moonraker 4 ele, which is OK, but it uses a trimmer capacitor to match the dipole (driven element). The original connector was what I called the ‘chocolate box’ type… rubbish really, so I installed a small bit of PCB, with the BNC socket. It works fine but twice now I’ve had the cable pull out.

I agree that the PL259 is a much more robust connector - I’d even taped the cable to the boom to take the strain off the BNC, but no good…

I think I’ll either change it for an SO259 (if there’s room), or use an adaptor…checked it with the adaptor today and it works fine.

Regarding the rig…it did get a bit damp, but it seems to be OK… I must have been lucky Gerald - or you were unlucky…you’d think a poly bag or plastic case would be enough.

My logbook however was well and truly sodden… put it under the heater on the way home… the car ended up like a sauna, but it dried things out.

73 Rob

In reply to G1TPO:

Hi Rob,

I think I was unfortunate to be caught out in very bad weather. In hindsight I should have battened down the hatches and sat tight until the worst was over, but you know how it is in the heat (or wet) of the moment. I was fine while the rain was rushing past my sheltered position in a linear horizontal fashion, then suddenly someone switched the fan to oscillating and dropped the temperature and hey presto, swirling sleet everywhere with no hiding place. Since that experience, I now take a plastic tarpaulin out with me and have even bought a second double the size of the original. I’m still learning how best to rig it, but it is well worth having it in the backpack. In fact it got wet last Saturday and I just bundled it up and set off down the hill with it in my hands - no problem carrying it and no need to stuff it wet into the backpack.

I use the type of plastic box you can buy to hold paper to house the rig - the latest version is two A5 size back to back with the 817 in one and the Microset dual band linear in the other. HF is routed from the PL259 on the rear of the rig to a BNC on the front face of the box housing the linear. I used to use A4 size boxes and had the mic lead coming out the front of the box and stored the mic inside the box. That was not ideal as the box lid had to be swung back to slip the mic inside - despite taking care, that must have been when the sleet got inside. Now the mic plugs into the rig through the side of the box, so there is no need to have the lid open for long - just long enough to press the off switch.

With regards to logging, I use two types. At A6 size, the SOTAbeams Waterlog is small enough to slip in the back of my map pocket and light enough to have it there all the time. I generally use an A5 size paper log which sits in the front pocket with the map as this takes 20 contacts before a new sheet has to be selected. I find I usually make between 10 and 20 contacts on VHF/UHF, so a single sheet works well. The only issue with the Waterlog is that it is too small and a real hassle to change the sheets over when they are wet and sticking to one another.

As for saunas within the car - it happens every time I do a wet activation… and ask Mike G4BLH how many of those I’ve done!

73, Gerald

We seem to have less tolerance for getting wet these days, and take more care to avoid wet weather days in the hills! The SB region is badly needing our attention, as we’ve done only one of them (nearly three years ago on the Pennine Way). I’m looking forward to getting back up there for a little camping holiday with J & L, as Jim G0CQK’s fantastic region website makes it all sound wonderful! (In nice weather…)


In reply to M1EYP:

We seem to have less tolerance for getting wet these days

I have to agree. When I first started playing SOTA I’d go out whatever the WX. 100+ activations later, some in fairly extreme cold and snowy conditions, many in dreik and a few in torrents (Dun Rig springs to mind) I find that if the forecast is too dire then I do something else. I don’t mind getting wet if I’m already on the way to or from a summit but I find it just about impossible to start a walk if it’s already raining.

Fair weather activator? Probably. When I started SOTA the walk and climb was the chore to be done so I could play radio. Now the walk and climb has to be enjoyable as the bonus is radio. Radio is no longer the raison d’etre to going out. So if the WX is rubbish the walk will be less enjoyable.

I’m not alone. If you look at the stats John GW4BVE puts together on Summitsbase you can see the number of activations is heavily influenced by the WX. A long wet spell does result in less activations. Hardly surprising really. Of course that’s not the only influence but you can see the WX having an effect.

Unlike you, I’ve not tried any SB’s yet and Jim’s website does make them look so inviting. I might have to come down on a raid this summer!


In reply to M1EYP:
Hi Tom, I’m sure when I worked you on Cheviot, you were in a ‘bivvy’ avoiding the rain!!

I was out yesterday in the SB area… ‘dry run’ for PW contest…it rained…

Seriously though , the sun does shine in the SB region sometimes.

Quite correct:


That was in August though; we’ll come in summer next time.

Happy days,


In reply to G1TPO:
Hi All,
I pointed out (a month ago) that i got my 817 wet and it was OK… WRONG!!

Should have kept my mouth shut…I’m about to send it for repair, but before I do, does anyone have any ideas???

HF is fine…

2m VHF is bizzare!!!

Connected it to my home 2m beam (rear connector), and on TX it lights up ALL of the SWR meter, and flashes the high SWR reading… my 897, on the same antenna is fine!! The antenna is giving an SWR of about 1:1.7 (on a meter and antenna analyser), which is higher than I’d like, but not THAT bad…weird thing is that I only get 1 bar of the SWR meter, if I connect to the BNC on the front!!

Weirder still, if I use a dummy load (a Made From Junk 260C - 1:1.6 swr at 144MHz), I get 1 bar of SWR whichever socket I use…

Like I said…weird… I’m fairly sure its something to do with the front/back switching, orSWR detection… I don’t think it’s the antenna

any advice…before I spend £££££ !!!

In reply to G1TPO:


I had the same problem a couple of months ago, a full CPU master reset (“HOME” + POWER on) solved the issue.

Carolyn (G6WRW)

In reply to G6WRW:
Great thanks…

That did the trick

I’m still getting a slightly high reading…

But it’s the same for antenna and dummy load + no HSWR warning!

saved a few bob!!

A fine example of me thinking the worst!!!