the GM3VLB page

offering informal information on Amateur Radio operation from Scottish Islands
(specifically the SCOTIA, IOTA, WAB, WLH and CIsA programmes - and other schemes involving Scottish Islands)

Published by GM3VLB

Hints and Tips for Prospective Activators (Page 1 of 3)

Having made over 150,000 QSO's in the course of 270 separate Scottish island expeditions, having sailed in a wide variety of craft and having camped in some horrendous weather conditions, André feels able to pass on a few suggestions to those perhaps considering activating a remote island for the first time. No doubt though, even the more experienced activators may also be able to glean a few tips.

SAFETY Planning Your
Next Trip
Site Choice and
Operating Procedure

Safety has to be of the utmost importance.

As they say, "the only heroes are dead heroes". As a young lad, rowing and fishing on Loch Lomond rapidly taught André how treacherous even Scotland's inland waters can be. He learned how fast a gentle breeze can turn into a howling gale. Conditions on inland waters can be scaled up many times when dealing with the seas around many of the SCOTIA islands.

Returning from their trip to activate the Monachs (DI22), André and Keith (MM0BPP) had over two hours to consider what their chances would be if they were forced to swim the mile or so to the coast - wearing several layers of weatherproof gear, Wellington boots, apart from also carrying the TS50, the generator etc.! Making it across the water might have been one thing, but getting out of the waves that were crashing 40 feet up the vertical cliffs would have been trickier. The answer to the question was . . . NONE !

The problems (heart attack) which Eddie (GM0KVI) suffered on his expedition to the Treshnish Islands (DI09) showed how wise it was to have emergency communications. There exists an anxious period, especially if alone on an uninhabited island, once the boatman has disappeared back into the mist, and before you get your antennae or shelter up. During this period, usually one of intense activity on unknown terrain, it is very easy to over-exert yourself. Lugging heavy generators, batteries, camping gear etc. up steep slippery rocks could result in a fall, breaking bones or worse. Nausea due to the exertion (and a recently negotiated heavy sea) could leave you incapacitated. And either scenario could put your body under mental and physical strain which would ideally require outside help.

André has found that the ability to contact the local Coastguard on the Marine band is highly desirable, especially during this critical phase of the expedition. He considers that the £100 spent on his 5W 2m/Marine Band handheld was money well spent. The Radio Communication Agency once indicated to him that they would "turn a blind eye" to such "illegal" emergency use, and André has in fact called Stornoway Coastguard many times - most recently during a horrendous storm on the Shiants (DI24) - to let them know of his location, and to get weather forecasts. Marine Band contact is also possible with passing ships and/or your boatman.

Mobile Phones can also serve a useful purpose, but you should always bear in mind that the major cellular providers consider coverage of remote Scottish Islands to be at the absolute bottom of their list of priorities.

Whatever emergency communication system you rely on, make sure that you have the ability to recharge it's batteries - that should go without saying!!

Recommended Safety Equipment
(a full and complete list of expedition equipment used by GM3VLB is posted here)

There is obviously a limit to the total amount of backup or safety equipment one can carry on an expedition. If the trip is only likely to last a few hours, and if the boatman is standing by (or access to the island is otherwise just as easy) - then it is simple. However, if you are going to be dropped off on a remote island, perhaps for several days, you would be well advised to carry some, or all, of the following:-

a) At least twice the amount of food and water (especially water) that you estimate will be needed for your planned stay. Ultra-lightweight 'survival rations' can be useful, as can be water purification tablets - but it is worthwhile noting that MANY of the islands do NOT have any sources of fresh water on them (you might only be able to rely on rainwater in such instances). Try do keep food, fuel and water well separated, and using several containers for your water avoids total loss or contamination.
b) Have at least one complete change of dry clothing and footwear (preferably taped up and fully waterproofed in a large plastic bag.
c) A reasonably comprehensive First-Aid kit, and the knowledge of how to use it. This has to be more than a 'home' kit, and should include wide elasticated bandages that can help support strains and sprains.
d) One, or more, emergency 'space' blankets (made from aluminised 'Mylar' film) and a lightweight 'poncho' (a large garden refuse sack, suitably modified, will keep you dry in heavy rain).
e) As much generator fuel as you can reasonably carry (not necessarily 'safety equipment' - but ensuring that fuel is in multiple containers of 10L or 25L capacities can help avoid 'disaster' if one container is lost, spilled, or contaminated during an expedition). Moreover, the ability to continue operating at least gives you something to do whilst you wait for your recovery transport to arrive.
f) Spare fuel canisters for your cooker. Always work on the assumption that the one fitted to the cooker is 'empty' and about to run out. It is worth repeating here that extreme care is needed when using any 'naked flame' inside a tent. It is inadvisable, although GM3VLB has often relied on even the smallest of stoves to provide warmth (and hot food) in his tent - especially in severe weather conditions (often the 'norm' in Scotland, in summer!) - and has enjoyed the resulting boost to morale, perhaps otherwise at a low ebb.
g) A large, lightweight, tarpaulin (say 4m x 4m). This is useful as an emergency shelter, a groundsheet, or as a means of covering equipment.
h) About 25m of good, quality, polypropylene rope - 10mm diameter or so. Used with a couple of 'karabiner' type hooks, this can be used to lift/lower equipment (or even personnel !!), as well as to secure items in camp.
i) A basic sewing kit, especially useful in conjunction with strong (button, or 'sailors') thread. You never know what might get damaged during an expedition.
j) Midge Repellent. This, on some notorious islands, may be the single most desirable item to have with you, along with suitable clothing to help avoid the sensation of being 'eaten alive' !!!!

Essential Backup Equipment
(a full and complete list of expedition equipment used by GM3VLB is posted here)

As far as backup 'equipment' is concerned, it is not practical to carry 'two of everything' (although two rigs are a 'must'). You must be able to carry out running repairs to antennae, the tent, the generator, and the multitude of leads you will be carrying (leads that only ever break during an expedition, never when in the drawer back home!). All of your equipment should be designed such that it is all but impossible to connect anything 'the wrong way round' - use 'polarised' connectors where possible, and brightly coloured 'mating marks' on all junctions.

Travel Insurance
Finally, make sure that you have valid and appropriate Travel Insurance. There may always be a possibility that an island owner, justifiably, may make a claim against you (for example, if you accidentally started a fire). You may also find yourself being recovered by the Air/Sea Rescue services, and it will be your insurance that has to meet those costs when you are 'choppered off'.

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