New England Forest Rally – Radio Equipment

NEFR

New England Forest Rally | This is what you see if you’re the radio operator at the start of each stage. Copyright 2019 Tim Carter W3ATB

New England Forest Rally – Radio Equipment

The radio equipment you bring to the New England Forest Rally (NEFR) is of the utmost importance. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Your radio equipment may save someone’s life
  • You need to be able to communicate with all other operators in case something happens at or near your position
  • You need to be able to hear all other operators who are part of your team

What Are The Two Most Important Things?

The two most important things that will ensure your transmission will be heard and you will hear others are:

  • Power
  • Antenna

After the 2018 NEFR, I had a phone call with Dale Clement – AF1T, one of the top New England experts in 2-meter communications. Dale spent his entire career working for Cushcraft designing VHF and UHF antennas.

Once I described the challenges of the rally, the hilly terrain, and the remoteness, he said, “Tim, it’s all about power and having the best antenna. Power can force the ground wave up and over most hills, but not all. The higher up a vertical antenna is, the better.”

What Dale is saying is a 5-watt HT with a rubber duck stubby antenna is the worst primary radio setup.

A 50-watt mobile radio connected to a portable j-pole antenna suspended from a nearby tree would be your best setup. Watch this video about roll-up j-pole antennas:

If your 50-watt mobile radio has crossband repeat capability you’ve got the ultimate radio setup.

What is Crossband Repeat and Why Is It Useful?

Crossband repeat is a function some radios possess. The radio can simultaneously receive and re-transmit a signal on two different frequencies. CLICK or TAP HERE to read more about crossband repeat.

Crossband repeat is a game changer.

In simple terms, you can have a low-powered HT set at 1 watt and on a 440 MHz frequency. Your higher-powered 50-watt mobile radio in your car or truck can be set to hear anything on that frequency and re-transmit it on the 2M frequency your other team members are using at that stage.

It works exactly the same in reverse. If some other operator on the 2M stage frequency transmits, your mobile radio receives the signal and re-transmits to your HT on the 440 MHz frequency.

This setup allows you to be away from your car or truck so you can wander around your position. If there is an incident NEAR your position and it’s SAFE to go there, you can be right where help is needed to communicate back to the stage captain. Being at the scene of an incident is so much better than relying on second or third-hand information screamed back at you should you be tethered to your vehicle.

What’s the Best HT Antenna?

You’ll discover a 1/4-wave antenna attached to your HT will increase its performance. Bring one to the rally. Remember, a rubber duck antenna is pretty much worthless.

Should my HT have a Tiger Tail?

Yes, a tiger tail is recommended. CLICK or TAP HERE to discover what a tiger tail is and how to make one in minutes.

What About Portable Mast Antennas?

A portable mast antenna is a great idea. The mast can be supported with a simple patio umbrella stand or you can make one using plywood and pipe.

CLICK or TAP HERE to see a few designs used by a ham at a winter rally. You’ll also see a copper 2M j-pole antenna at the top of the mast.

CLICK or TAP HERE to see the portable mast support made from steel by a friend of mine. I use surplus military aluminum tubing for the mast. Here’s a photo of the drive-on stand that supports the mast:

What Else Do I Need?

Here’s a short list of other things you need or you may find enhance your experience:

  • your radio(s) manuals – download the PDFs to your smartphone at the very least
  • extra batteries
  • radio battery charger
  • extra antenna(s)
  • lapel microphone
  • earbuds to help you hear transmissions if you’re in a noisy area
  • string and weights to create a halyard to get your portable j-pole antenna up in a nearby tree

If you have other helpful suggestions about radio equipment, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS below. My comments are set for approval, so they don’t automatically appear.