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 3 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.

SITE CHOICE Safety Planning Your
Next Trip

Avoid unnecessary carrying of equipment and take advantage of the 'Brewster Angle' by choosing a location close to the landing site and the water's edge. Ignore suggestions from the "experts" to climb to the highest point. Save yourself a lot of unnecessary effort and time. GM3VLB/P (or /M) has regularly contacted the Pacific area with 50W and a mobile whip, from the sea-shore.

Recently, whilst operating /M from Great Cumbrae (CS17), André beat the European pile-up with a 59/57 to and from FO5QB in the Marquesas (and the next log entry was V31MD in Belize!). What is essential is an efficient (as distinct from expensive) antenna located very close to, or indeed over, the water.


A short operation (perhaps only lasting an hour or two) may sometimes be necessary due to tides, boatmen, ferry timetables, weather etc., but would be unfair to stations outwith the British Isles and Ireland - it is they who form the majority of island chasers.

Given average conditions, 100 contacts with the UK mainland stations on 40m or 80m can be achieved in 45 minutes or less. There is no skill needed to work a Scottish Island from the Scottish mainland, or indeed much of G-land, you only need to "be there". Daytime operations have average propagation, they often favour those Brits who, for whatever reason, are not working, but they can cause much frustration overseas. (This is one of the reasons that a large percentage of contacts outwith the UK and Eire is now required by Activators hoping to meet the SCOTIA conditions).

André is generally against 'list operation' as it basically wastes precious operating time. A classic situation occurred recently when the control station, with a long list of Brits, could not hear the island station - the latter was, however, being heard all over Europe! Lists imply the activator hasn't enough skill to cope with a handful of Brits on 40m. This is the chance to learn.

The worst aspect of lists is the frustration felt by many when they hear the same call-signs always appearing at the top of the list (especially when some of these have not even 'called in'), or certain 'preferred' stations being given multiple attempts to contact an island that they patently cannot hear (with the obligatory "Good Contact" indicating that, at the 5th or 6th guess, working up from "5 and 1 ?", "5 and 2 ?", "5 and 3 ?" etc., a 2-way contact has supposedly been achieved !) What kind of conscience or reputation do they have ? !

The simplest advice is to choose the appropriate band for the time of day the operation is taking place and the prevailing band conditions at that time. All you need is your ears, not the indices from Boulder, Colorado. The conditions will either be good, average, or lousy !!

You need to have some idea of likely openings on different bands to different parts of the world, and be consistent with your operating pattern so that the DX stations know where and when to look for you. Frank (VK7BC) and André knew that they could almost guarantee a rock-solid QSO at around 0600z (if, indeed, they hadn't worked short-path during the previous afternoon). Jim (VK9NS - now s.k.) was frequently romping in soon afterwards, together with W. Samoa and Hawaii (less so in the recent deep and prolonged trough of the solar cycle!).

Under average conditions, the first 100 contacts are pretty easy, even if the island has been activated a dozen times before. To make 500 or 600 contacts takes a bit more dedication, whilst breaking the 1,000 barrier (as André frequently did) is pretty tiring unless there are two of you operating. André and Keith (MM0BPP) made over 2,200 QSOs in just over 24 hours from the Monach Islands (DI22) - and that was despite the fact that they have been well 'thrashed'. (Remember that we are talking here of running 50W into a 4m vertical - not several kilowatts into multi-element beams!).

A 'new island' obviously helps, but remember that most islands are likely to be 'new ones' to the vast majority of overseas chasers. There were over 200 serious UK/EI Scottish Island chasers, so if you worked 100 or so during the day, you had still missed more than half of them! With the latest licensing arrangements, there are also more and more new operators coming onto the HF bands - many subsequently 'chasing' one award on another.

It was sometimes suggested that GM3VLB had high QSO rates because he 'picked' new islands. This suggestion was unfair. At the time, only 30 of the 128 islands he had activated (i.e. less than 25%) were 'new ones'. One suspects that other activators might have somewhat higher 'new one' percentages! André also frequently returns to islands that he has previously activated.

It has also been suggested that André, miraculously, always has "good propagation", Hi, Hi !! In fact he had to return to the Isles of Fleet (CS10), for example, having only made 27 QSOs first time around. And, on the Flannans (DI25), despite their 'rarity', André struggled to break the 1,000 barrier. However, he generally maintained a personal average of well over 400 QSOs per island (excluding repeat visits and multi-station operation).

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