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Wet weather summit activation failure report, FT-817 FT-8900R

My attempt to activate the Old Man of Coniston, G/LD-013 (unlucky for some) early this morning was a wash out due to my transceiver setup. I had taken my backpack FT-8900R for VHF/UHF and a FT-817 for HF. It was clear on reaching the top that HF was going to be out - I was in the cloudbase with driving rain so needed to keep sheltered.

I attempted to use the FT-8900R which is mounted on a chopping board in my rucksack together with a 4S 5AH LiPo, buckconverter (to stabilise voltage to 13.8V) and backpack mounted Watson W627 (connected via a custom built antenna mount direct to the transceiver with an N-type connector). With the FT-8900R I had power problems - the buckconverter kept cutting out. It may have been my revised layout on the board, or issues with dampness.

I switched to the FT-817 but that was also experiencing issues with the built in rubber duck antenna which I have seen before on Snaefell in wet conditions. I transmitted a CQ on 145.500 Mhz but then was met with an S9+ receive on that channel, no audio. Switching channels stopped the RX, but moving back it was there again. On Snaefell I thought it might have been an interaction with the 2m repeater, but that can’t have been the issue on top of the Old Man of Coniston. By this point the FT-817 was soaking and I’d had enough, so no activation.

My question is what folks would recommend to keep transceivers waterproof, other than buying a waterproof transceiver in the first place? Regardless of what I decide to do on VHF/UHF I will need to keep using the FT-817 for HF. There is the issue of keeping the rain out whilst activating, and also during the ascent and descent.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that the backpack antenna just isn’t suitable for summit activation - 9/10 times you want to shelter somewhere out of the elements, which is precisely where you don’t want the antenna. I know what the obvious answer is - a waterproof 5w handheld and a flowerpot antenna to mount on a fishing pole. That, however is more expense.

Here are some interesting photos anyway - the old quarry is definitely worth a visit regardless of SOTA activity or the weather!

So to confirm a couple of things: wet clouds and radios don’t play well together, weather men are liars, waterproof clothes aren’t and as far as I can tell the pirates haven’t hidden the treasure in the old, disused mine shaft :wink:

73, Mark. M6VMS

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Mark
Get a Bothy Bag otherwise known as an emergency shelter, cheap and weigh nothing.
Or better still a lightweight one man tent, more expensive and a little more weight.

73
Neil

For a VHF-FM antenna use a Slim-Jim made of 450 ohm ladder line - that way it will roll up to go in your rucksack. You can hold it up with the usual telescopic fibreglass fishing pole.

For HF use either an inverted V dipole or an End Fed Half Wave (EFHW). The dipole doesn’t need an ATU because it is resonant, the EFHW will need one though and some sort of matching transformer for best efficiency.

Hi Mark

I had been looking out for you on Sotawatch and was disappointed that you had failed to qualify on reaching the top. Knowing where you live I’m sure you’ll be up there again soon. You carried quite a lot of heavy equipment up to the summit and have it malfunction in some way or other was truly disappointing. I hope you can now sit back and review what happened…been there done that but not failed to qualify…yet…

At the moment the Yaesu FT270E is being sold at a discount price £109…this is a robust 2m waterproof hh and has been the workhorse of many an activator over the years. I paid a lot more for mine many years ago.

As Neil has suggested a bothy bag is a must, an item which I and many many others have used on countless activations in adverse weather…a tent is a little more of a hassle. My FT817 sits in a zipped sandwich bag then inside a large dry bag so frequency can be locked and dry bag closed with mic and headphones fed out…

There are various simple 2m/70cms antenna design based on the Multi Function Dipole using simple plastic conduit. I use a very simple one which can be attached to the fishing pole by means of cable ties (used by quite a few activators now…I’ll have to go into production :slight_smile: ) …I have even succesfully attached it to to the outer section of the fishing pole when it was too windy to extend the pole. There are other antennas as you suggested.

Hope this helps…others will have different ideas and that’s what makes SOTA so interesting as you fine tune your equipment etc…and keep the weight down :slight_smile:

I’m up in LD again next month so perhaps we could meet up and share a few ideas. Looking forward to getting you in the log again…maybe s2s.

73 Allan

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Hi Mark

I’ll add my vote for a bothy bag. I use a “2 man” version, others choose larger ones which provide more room, but are obviously a bit heavier and can flap around more in high wind!

I keep all the equipment in dry bags inside the rucksack until I have set up the antenna, then get in the bothy bag and unpack the gear. The antennas, mast, guys, pegs, bungies, etc live in outer pockets of the rucksack so that I don’t have to get everything out in the rain.
When you do this in soaking wet waterproofs, there is still water around inside the bothy, so it is useful to have a bit of towelling or something to wipe the gear with. And the steamed up glasses :wink:

I use these dry bags (the 5l orange ones take an FT817 nicely). They are often on offer in store, and of course other brands and suppliers are available:

As Alan says, you will find out what suits your MO, and that is all part of the fun.

Best 73
Hope to work you before too long

Adrian
G4AZS

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I concur Mark, My plan was to take part in the 2M Backpackers contest today on 2M SSB from G/NP-010 Pen-y-Ghent. I arrived at the summit over an hour early in low cloud, rain, mist and a stiff breeze. No way was I going to wait over an hour in those conditions so a quick 2M FM activation then I left the summit. Annoyingly, when I arrived back at the car the summit looked clear and conditions had improved dramatically!

73 Chris M0RSF

I use a laptop tent. I folds up well for carrying, but when set up it has lots of room for radio and some accessories:

The picture was taken in the winter, but it serves just as well to keep the rain off in the summer.
73, Malcolm E2DDZ

The bothy bag looks sweet. So, is your antenna inside or outside the bothy bag? I’d want mine outside so - Is there a way to have a cable get into the bothy bag, other than underneath & in the mud?

So far, I’ve been using a Tarp Poncho - I have only dealt with drizzle & sleet, not driving rain. I wear the poncho over my normal rain gear and unsnap the sides & drape it over the radio. I have pulled the poncho above my head & cinched the neck hole closed so I can have a view of the radio. (I could tie out the corners if need be.) I’m not in love with this solution yet. But I like that when I’m done, I leave it on for the hike out. Yesterday, I was rained on during my activations and decided I would make a crude rain jacket for my radio when I got home. My plan is to use two small pieces of plastic sheeting, a simple fold/scrap canvas reinforcing of the edges & snaps from the fabric store. We’ll see it that helps. But the bothy bag is now under consideration.

Hi Chris. Your experience matches mine almost exactly. The cat woke me up at 5:15 so I got up earlier than planned. I had revised my summit time to 9am local at the base from 10am then got up there just after 8am!

Lots of great info here thanks. First thing to sort out is a suitable summit antenna and try and get a setup where I can operate using just the ft-817 without getting wet.

I may try an evening activation this week. I do have a one man tent on order which may help some situations. More dry bags needed too!

I think my jacket has just about dried out. Felt sorry for folk going up as I left although it probably did impove later in the day.

Cheers Mark

Thanks Allan, yes feel free to drop me a note next month that would be great. Somehow I missed the SOTA stand at Blackpool this year, caught up in too much other stuff I guess!

I’ve been given the nod for an evening activation on Wednesday, the weather this week looks to be very good, so hopefully we’ll get it done sooner rather than later!

Watch out for the alert!

Cheers, Mark,

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Hi Adrian. Thanks for the advice re: sportsdirect. We are always there with the eldest daughter who plays hockey for Cumbria - I have not yet been in with my hiking/sota interest, I suspect it will be a much more interesting experience!

Hi Jill,

Antenna outside, there wouldn’t be room inside for anything practical.

The cable has to come in under the edge, but I try to avoid mud! It doesn’t have a “floor”, so the cable isn’t pressed against the ground.

I like your use of the poncho which you can keep on as you walk, that sounds great if you are not staying on the summit for too long.

73
Adrian

Oh, I also meant to say, whilst on the computer yesterday I came across the ‘panaromas’ website which is exactly what I’d been looking for - for various hills and mountains a computer-generated panorama shows details of the surrounding summits. I’d tried a couple of apps on my phone, but I’ll take a bit of paper any day!

Still have so many summit names to remember in the Lakes, but I’m definitely getting there slowly.

I find plastic bags work exceptionally well at keeping things dry. I do have a bothy bag bought for a specific expedition that never happened. I keep forgetting to take it as I could have done with it yesterday. However, despite strong winds and driving rain I managed to sit outside with an 817 and a transverter and keep it dry. Just plastic bags, strong ones that don’t rip or stretch. I do have some proper dry-bags that clothing goes in. Over the years I have become a somewhat fair-weather activator and that minimises the problem but I realise that’s not always the option.

There’s detail is missing but I’m assuming you have some groundplane/counterpoise arrangement for the Watson antenna or that will probably explain the issues with the PSU. Normally there’s a ton of metal car on the end of the antenna! That antenna will work but you can probably fabricate a “bits of wire” job that packs away better.

Anyway, you have discovered a truism of SOTA activating, if money was no problem, then we could all have exactly the most perfect equipment for activating regardless of the weather. But we don’t and part of the fun is trying to improve the setup for as little expense as possible. You’re right to be concerned about the 817 and water, they don’t mix. The 817 microphone is quite sensitive to excess water so ensuring you let them dry out out when you get back is important. Something to look out for is a small VHF PA and use that with the 817 rather than the 8900. MM 25/30W VHF PAs come up on eBay all the time and don’t command big money.

As Allan said, the FT-270 handheld and its predecessor the VX-170 are 2 fantastic workhorse handhelds for SOTA. They’re very similar but have several points to recommend them. They’re fully waterproof (1m depth), the batteries last forever, the audio is loud, they don’t de-sense too easily by other transmitters and they’re built like battleships. I think my VX-170 is the best £85 I ever spent on radio gear.

Jonathan’s panorama’s web site is excellent. I’ve used with great effect on many occasions to find LOS or near LOS paths for VHF and up.

Of course the best thing is that once you have dried out all your gear, you can plan your next activation. And maybe it will be dry!

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Thanks for the comments. The antenna works really well normally - it has two counterpoises for 2m and 70cm and a common mode choke. On Friday up Gummers How it was pulling in a repeater 85 miles away at S9+40.

However this doesn’t address the issue of needing to be out of the weather so I’ve ordered a lightweight slim Jim that will hang from the HF antenna support.

Back up tomorrow evening :+1:t2:

If you are into camping/backpacking or want more of a structure, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo Explorer. It is a very roomy 2 person tent that sets up with trekking poles, is lightweight (41oz - 1100g), compact when packed, and protects from the weather incredibly well. Even though it is not classically a 4-season tent, I think it would do well for a temporary shelter from snow and wind. I have one for backpacking and love love love it. It would be pricey for just an occasional radio shelter, but it is worth it as a tent too.

Link: https://www.sixmoondesigns.com/products/lunar-duo-explorer

I have no affiliation with them…just an insanely happy customer.

-Steve

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