Diving into Parks on the Air (POTA)

Editor’s Note: Troy Blair, KE8DRR, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist, enjoys sharing personal stories about his involvement in amateur radio so others can learn from his experiences in the true spirit of being an Elmer. Check out Troy’s recent article, “Building a Field Expedient Amateur Radio Kit” and look for more of his posts in the days ahead.

Now that I had built this really cool portable operating system, I needed to put it to use and become extremely efficient with it. I had to be able to deploy it rapidly and use all the features necessary to assist my local Emergency Management Agency. I had also been hearing a lot about Parks on the Air (POTA), so I went to their website where I found a plethora of information. 

I began reading and learning about becoming eligible to participate in the program. Before participating in POTA, there is some basic online training you must complete and a registration process. Once you have been acclimated to POTA and are registered, you can participate as an activator, hunter, or both.

The activator is what everyone thinks of when they think of POTA. This is the operator who packs up their equipment and heads out to one of the registered parks listed here. The activator sets up a station and begins making contacts. Here is a screen shot showing my recent POTA activations:

As an activator, you must make ten good contacts in order to have a successful activation. That is where the hunters come in.

The hunters are typically at home or at another fixed location. They are seeking out activators to make contact with. Hunters can use resources like the POTA site and DX spot sites to see where others have made contact with activators. POTA organizers have done a great job of making the experience interesting for both activators and hunters. There are levels and awards that can be earned by both.

I rapidly completed the training and registration and could not wait to get out there with my new go-kit. Grabbing the go-kit and power box, I headed out. Once I arrived at the park, I got the kit set up quickly and started making contacts. This was truly fun. It was like having your own mini contest. I can’t emphasize enough how much the activators appreciate the hunters. After you go to the effort of setting up a portable station and need that tenthcontact to make it official, the hunter that took the initiative to seek you out is priceless. Below is a screen shot of my Hunter Log:

For me, the really cool thing about POTA is that my wife (not a ham) and I have made it something we do together. We are blessed here on the North Shore of Ohio to be riddled with POTA sites. We have lived here for years and never taken advantage of these parks and wildlife areas. So now we pick a POTA site and go together. We hike around and explore for a while. Then I set up and activate the park and she, being an amateur photographer, takes pictures of the sites the park has to offer.

Like any other hobby, POTA really is its own subculture. There is a whole language you begin to speak as you interact with other POTA folks. There are websites and social media sites, both official and unofficial, dedicated to POTA. There are YouTube channels dedicated to it as well. It is up to you how deeply you wish to immerse yourself. There are those like me who use it as just another tool and there are others who make POTA their exclusive ham radio activity, with plenty of other operators falling somewhere in the middle. But it is a blast no matter how much you become involved.

The go-kit was working great and I was getting very proficient at deploying it. Then the wheels started turning again. What if I had an even more portable kit for POTA—something I could have in the Jeep all the time and, if I had some spare time and was near a POTA site, could deploy for a quick activation? Sounds like another article!

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