Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I don't have time to operate portable

Many people say they have no time to operate portable. In our busy schedules radio time often has to be put in between other activities. A station that's bulky to carry and takes too long to put up will hardly be taken or used.

The solution is to do all you can to make your station so light and quick to set up that it will be used even if you have an hour or less to spare.

Light to carry

Don't take stuff you don't need. Economise the station to save on separate items. Fewer things means less left at home or behind.

Use end-feds not dipoles to save feedline bulk. Build an L-match inside the transceiver to save taking a seperate antenna coupler for the same length of wire. Ditch the SWR meter if you're can tune up on receiver noise. Use antenna insulators, wire and support rope. Lightweight keys, microphones, headphones likewise save room.

A simple QRP rig on a popular band like 40 metres can keep you talking for most of the time. 4 amp hours of battery capacity is enough for several hours on air, especially with low-drain homebrew rigs. I use nickel metal hydride battery packs but others do well with lithium ion or lithium polymer (note charging and safety due to high maximum currents).

Then there's the non-radio stuff. Some people seem to clutch bottled water or a can of carbonated sugar even on the shortest of errands. Similarly, ask yourself if you really need food, drink and extra clothing if the location's near home and you're not out long? Neither is it a crime to leave the mobile phone behind occasionally. After all it's not an Antarctic expedition! Though bear in mind the Ten Essentials if going bush.

a minimum QRP portable station that takes just minutes to set up

I'm attracted to taking as little as possible; the photo above is a typical summer beach outing near home. There is refinement in the sense that nothing taken will be unused. One less thing taken is one step towards perfection provided good contacts are made. I'm holding a 'Beach 40' 7 MHz DSB transceiver capable of contacts up to 1000km or more (details elsewhere on this site). The 9 metre squid pole typically supports an end-fed half wavelength of wire. The only other items include a 12 volt battery pack, antenna coupler and a small zippered case holding the earphone, microphone, velcro straps for the pole, pen and paper.

Setting up

Most set up time is in the antenna. Antennas that require hammered stakes or lots of radials can take an hour or more to set up and adjust which is too long. Antennas should not need nuts and bolts to erect. Especially if they are easily dropped (which will happen) or need screwdrivers or pliers to tighten (which will be forgotten). For speed you can't go past a half wave end-fed wire supported on a squid pole.

The big reward

The big reward when operating portable is the lack of noise and clarity of received signals. Here's some examples. Compare the signals here with what you might experience at home. This is what makes it worth the effort!


The weather

There are times when you might almost be motivated to go portable but the weather's looking a bit iffy. You might be in front of the computer and, seeing it's only 10 or 15 degrees outside, give up on the idea of going portable. However temperature isn't the only factor that affects operator comfort. Wind and rain are equally if not more important. If it's windless and sunny then portable operating can still be enjoyable, even if temperature readings imply otherwise. Of course weather can change and it pays to be aware of approaching electrical storms before you feel the tingle (or worse) on your antenna lead. Get to know nearby sheltered public locations in case a sudden change forces you to close at short notice.

Light passing drizzle isn't so objectionable if it's reasonably warm and not windy. Equipment protection though is desirable. Plastic bags aren't always good because they lack openings for leads coming out of the transceiver. However you may be able to make your own, fitted to suit the equipment in use, from thick clear plastic (eg clothing or blanket storage bags) and adhesive velcro straps. Both are available from discount variety stores. If worried about damaging accessories, construct ruggedised microphones, keys, headphones and antenna couplers for use in inclement weather.
There are few things more pleasant than being in cold sodden clothes in driving wind. Wear natural fibres in the heat and synthetic clothing in the cold and wet. A wetsuit may also be a good choice, especially if pedestrian mobile near (or in!) water. Wetsuits can be expensive new but are sometimes cheaply available from charity shops.
If the worst comes to the worst and the weather is so bad that you can't operate, little time is lost if the station is quick to set up. And you'll be particularly grateful if its dismantle time is even less, especially if a storm is coming.


Taking as little as possible, or 'minimum QRP' is challenging, satisfying and practical. There is a sense of achievement through simplifying a station yet maintaining sufficient performance to reliably get contacts. And you'll probably use it more as it's not so much trouble to carry and set up. So I'd encourage you to look carefully over what you need and don't need in a quest to save both kilograms and time.

PS: Interested in antennas? Consider this selection of antenna books. They are affiliate links meaning that I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you decide to purchase.


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