Winter POTA Activations? No Problem!

Southern Ontario had a long, balmy Indian Summer this year. Indian Summer is defined as a warm period following the first frost. It was quite unusual to be able to continue Parks On The Air activations right into mid-November using exactly the same kit I used in the summer.

But then winter came suddenly and hard. The first big winter storm slammed into us with 50cm of snow in a couple of days. I knew it was time to get serious about protecting my radio gear from the cold and damp.


There are two ways to continue outdoor radio operations when the mercury plummets and snow and freezing rain storms replace the summer challenges of heat, humidity and man-eating bugs. When it is too cold to operate outside and shivering hands turn every CW “E” into “I” and “S” into “H”, it is time to set up the shack-in-a-truck.

My Ram 1500 truck is a crew cab model with plenty of room in the back seat area to operate. To make it ergonomically efficient I separate the Yaesu FT-891 head, CW paddle and DIY FH-2 remote keypad from the manpack and mount them on a legal size modified clipboard carried inside a laptop computer bag. The laptop bag helps keep the control head, key and FH-2 protected if I close (or partially close) the bag. The radio body has a built-in heater – yes its PA finals get nice and warm during a POTA activation!

Mounting the FT-891 head to the lapboard presented a challenge. I could have made a custom bracket for it but then I saw that others have used the large clip, found on many clipboards, for this purpose. I experimented but found that didn’t quite work for me.

A little more tinkering in the workshop gave me an idea. I took one of those oversize clips and hacked it down, removing all the extraneous bits. I then removed the powerful spring and replaced it with a long, thin bolt secured with a simple nut. Now the head sits snugly on the lapboard. A search of the contents of my junk box revealed a bolt with a large plastic knob suitable for making removal of the head unit a tool-less operation in the field.

Magnetic Force Be With You

Mounting the magnetic paddle key was a simple matter of attaching a large steel washer to the lapboard with epoxy glue. The same glue was used to attach two very strong rare earth magnets to the lapboard for mounting my DIY FH2 remote keypad. These magnets are so strong it is nearly impossible to separate them if they touch each other. They probably rival the terrestrial magnetic field of some small planets!

The FT-891 head unit can be separated from the body using a standard RJ-12 (6-pin) straight-through cable. I placed a ferrite on each end because there is no shielding on this type of cable. The key and FH-2 clone are connected using standard shielded audio cables – with a ferrite at the radio end. The three cables are bundled together to form an umbilical with short pieces of shrink wrap every few inches to hold them together.

Vade Mecum

In the picture you can see the cribsheet (my POTA “vade mecum”) identifying the function of each of the buttons on the FH2 clone – in case I forget! The FH2 clone certainly relieves the muscle strain of having to key repetitive exchanges during a POTA activation QSO.

I don’t like to keep the truck idling for too long and as soon as I turn off the engine the temperature inside starts to drop precipitously. Fortunately, POTA has become extremely popular and it takes as little as 10 minutes to get the ten contacts necessary for a valid activation. I usually find I have worked all the available hunters within 30 to 45 minutes. Although I could carry on calling CQ and dig out some more QSOs, if the temperature is very low it is time to call QRT.

Way Down South

Winter here lasts from November until April. Southern Ontario benefits a little from being further south than the rest of Canada and even thirty percent of the lower 48 states. My own home QTH is at 43.9 degrees latitude. So we do get an occasional respite from the cruelest of winter’s anger. And that’s when I can drag my radio sled out and truly operate out-of-doors.

It takes a little self-discipline to abandon a nice, warm shack but the reward is well worth it. I can’t activate a park sitting in the shack and the feeling of achievement gained from doing an activation when weather conditions are challenging makes the effort so worthwhile. So outdoor radio operations in winter – not a problem!

2 thoughts on “Winter POTA Activations? No Problem!

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