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 2 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.

PLANNING YOUR NEXT TRIP Safety Site Choice and
Operating Procedure

The winter months are the ideal time to do one's homework. Apart from tracking down island owners (or their agents), possible means of transport need to be investigated. Backup plans should be looked at and evaluated. Study local maps (the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger maps are a basic minimum, the 1:25,000 Pathfinder maps may be needed for ‘new islands’), and look for likely fishing villages or marinas. (Bear in mind marinas are expensive places, and relying on transport from a marina is likely to be reflected in the boat-owner’s costs!)

Remember that fishermen don’t tend to keep boats on coasts exposed to the prevailing winds. For example, try and locate a boat moored anywhere on the Atlantic coast of the Uists!

Most boat owners have a normal daily job to attend to, and cannot be expected to ‘down tools’ at a moment’s notice. Transporting a “CB’er, playing with their radio” is not going to be top of their priority list.

Avoid what comes over as ‘mainland / incomer’ arrogance. A great deal of humility is needed. Island folk do not need advice from anyone, especially not about the weather or the state of the sea. It is vital to get over the point that you are not engaged professionally in propagation tests for a big commercial outfit, who might be paying you vast travelling expenses and per diem allowances. Convince them that you are not a rich city-dweller with thousands of pounds of expensive radio gear, who is making money out of the hundreds of hams you are going to contact. They will soon see through your lies and pretences, and their grapevines will soon spread the word about you.

Avoid displaying designer labels (but wear good weatherproof clothing nonetheless), wear your finest 'car-boot sale' wellington boots, and keep the number of items of baggage to an absolute minimum. On the subject of luggage, make sure each item is protected against possible immersion by waves - they don’t have to be in watertight containers - just don’t expect to be invited to clutter up what is often a one-man wheelhouse with your baggage (a couple of tarpaulins can be extremely useful in these cases).

Most importantly, be seen to bring back ALL your rubbish to the mainland. TREAD LIGHTLY, and try to leave NO indication of EVER having been on the island. You have been awarded the privilege to operate from some of the most beautiful locations in the world and it is up to you to keep them that way. Break that rule and you can rightly expect your reputation, both with the boat owners and your fellow hams, to be tarnished accordingly.

Most boatmen are familiar with radio communication, but may never have heard of our hobby. The older amongst them may remember ‘Tony Hancock’! Take time to explain what Amateur Radio is about, avoiding all our usual jargon (such as “…we worked Samoa this morning” or “our antenna is an inverted-vee” or “we had 500 QSOs” or “the rig is a TS50”)

Don’t assume that they are all whisky drinkers, or that a bottle will be adequate payment for their time. Remember that time costs money and that, these days, their running costs are quite high. Ask yourself what your local garage charges per hour for their labour - that should be your starting point, not considering fuel etc., for the boat itself.

Most important, show an interest in their life, their work, and their families. You will be rewarded by warm friendship and generous hospitality. One boatman, previously unknown to André, but who took him over to Gruinard (CN30), the ‘anthrax island’, showed enough interest in our hobby to make a mental note of the ‘14.260 MHz USB’ frequency. Several months later, André heard a strange call-sign in the pile-up. It turned out to be his Gruinard boatman, doing his day-job as Captain of an ocean-going tug, and calling him ('illegally', of course) from somewhere in the Indian Ocean. André and he have since become good friends.

Safety Site Choice and
Operating Procedure
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