Saturday, January 13, 2018

Ham Radio Ops In the Cold

So a week later than I planned on, I finally made it out on to the ice of the Eastern Irrigation prairie reservoir that I had been wanting to visit for some time, the reservoir located northeast of Bassano Alberta. Once on the ice I planned on operating portable HF with my manpack that is equipped with a Yaesu FT-897D and a 10-40 meter MagLoop antenna. While operating on 20 meters and running some tests in regards to how the transceiver batteries survive in the cold, I also planned on doing some fishing through hard water, so I had my ice-fishing equipment along as well.

Earlier in the morning before leaving Calgary, I had checked on the forecast for the Bassano area, and found the temperature was sitting at -20 Celsius. As I cleared the outskirts of Calgary, the temperature on my truck thermometer was indicating -7 Celsius, but started falling as I headed east on the TransCanada highway. 

Not taking any chances as to where the temperature might go, or if I ran in to problems, I had my truck loaded with the survival gear that I felt I should have with me, including my heavy winter sleeping bag, as you never know what could happen, and it is better to be prepared for the unexpected than not.
I enjoyed the drive east on highway 1 in the pre-dawn darkness, as I had good company along in the form of the radios mounted in the radio stack of my mobile, the transceivers tuned to the various frequencies of interest to me.

The temperatures over the last week had been recorded as low as -30 Celsius, making it too cold for either ice fishing or working HF with my manpack that I don't leave home without.
You could say...."what a pansy, what's a little cold if your dressed for it!"
Your right, what's a little cold if your dressed for it, and I have spent a lot of time tramping around in the winter when the temperature has been in the -30 Celsius range and colder.

Problem is that when it comes to operating an HF transceiver like the Yaesu FT-897D as seen in the photo, you need to have use of your fingers at times, and that means removing your mitts or gloves, and at that point one's fingers don't necessarily want to work properly for some reason!
Of course there are other challenges while operating HF with a portable setup such as I was using on this day, the batteries being the big one. During the time that I've been spending out in the extreme cold lately operating HF, I am finding that when it comes to the type of batteries that perform best at below freezing temperatures, the Metal Nickel Hydride (NiMH) batteries that are located in the battery tray of my 897D, are not the best choice for cold weather performance.

The batteries that were being subjected to the -17 Celsius temperatures on this day, and after several hours out on the ice, were complaining bitterly!
Of course its easy to figure out why when you do the research on the various types of batteries that you may find yourself using.
If you were to operate the FT-897D with the NiMH batteries at approximately -27 Celsius temperatures, the batteries lose 50% of their AH capacity decreasing the performance of the transceiver tremendously!

Interestingly enough, I also have an external battery pack for the FT-897D that contains gel batteries, and I find that the gel batteries perform better under similar extreme cold temperature operating conditions, when compared to the internal batteries located in the battery tray of the FT-897D, both types of battery packs identical in their AH ratings.

While experimenting with different ways of retaining the performance of the batteries under extreme cold conditions, I found an interesting way of keeping the external battery pack with its gel batteries performing the way I wished for. It was as simple as placing the battery pack inside one of my extra day-packs with a 1/2 doz chemical hand warmers that are activated. With the power cord routed through the partially open zipper of the day-pack, and connected up to the FT-897D, the performance increase on this -17 Celsius day was a joy to behold!

On the other hand, the lithium-ion battery packs being used with my DSLR camera bodies are proving to perform better than comparably sized NiMH batteries while being subjected to extreme cold temperatures for hours on end. Of course I don't think I'm prepared to pony up the price of lithium-ion battery packs that are capable of powering my FT-897D at this time.

Ice fishing has its challenges as well, as even with the temperatures that I was experiencing on this day, I was kept busy removing ice forming in the holes that I had cut through the ice, as the ice forming around the line, kept freezing the line in place, creating problems with strikes from fish.

When I needed a break from making contacts on 20 meters with my manpack, or possibly because I needed some hot liquids inside of me,  I kept my pack stove handy for brewing a cup of tea that I laced with lots of milk and honey making for a delicious brew. Of course a cup of homemade soup hit the spot also!

All in all it was an interesting and fun day out playing radio on frozen water, and I again came away with good information in regards to operating portable radio under extreme conditions.

Far Shores 

NOTE..... All photos expand.


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