Getting Started with BOTA, Beaches on the Air

If you thought Parks on the Air (POTA) was the only portable operation event in town, meet BOTA.

Beaches on the Air promotes ham radio portable operation from beaches. BOTA has awards for activators (those who operate at the beaches) and chasers (those who contact them). Radio amateurs can participate from any beach, country, or region around the world. The program brings together thousands of hams from six continents, and new ones are joining every day.

beaches on the air BOTO logo
(Image/Beaches on the Air – BOTA)

BOTA now lists more than 30,000 beaches and they’re constantly adding new beaches as they become active. You may activate the same beach as many times as you like, gaining additional points each time. There are no restrictions on how you travel to the activation location or the power source you use for your station. BOTA invites you to submit your beach activation images and videos.

Besides promoting fun amateur radio practices, the program offers other benefits as well. It encourages participants to get out of their shacks, do mild exercise, increase their vitamin D levels, and work on their tans. It’s also relaxing to sit on the beach and sip your favorite beverage. Kick back, chill, and leisurely log those contacts. Don’t forget to tell everyone what a wonderful time you’re having during your QSOs.

Beach Operation

Conditions at the beach are quite different from POTA, IOTA, SOTA, and other ‘OTA activations. Be aware of tide schedules, high winds, and changes in weather. Locate yourself where you won’t have to constantly move away from an incoming high tide.

You’ll likely be inclined to bring more things: beach chairs, umbrellas, coolers, and other items. After all, it’s also a trip to the beach. Be realistic about what you can comfortably carry—sometimes it’s a long walk.

Five-gallon utility buckets are great for carrying coax, antenna parts, tools, and other supplies. After you’ve emptied it, the bucket can be flipped over and used as a stand for the radio. A pack seat will also fit in the bucket and give you a place to sit or set up additional equipment. Tote bags or backpacks will help keep your radios protected.

Securing your antenna properly is important. Most operators prefer a lightweight telescoping pole at the beach, like those from DX Commander or SOTAbeams, to hold a 1/4 wave of wire. These poles have a minimal wind load and those <31 feet will generally not need guys. To make them freestanding, you’ll need a sand spike—a tube for holding fishing rods or beach umbrella holder that screws into the sand. Be sure the bottom of the pole will fit inside before you invest in one.

The beach’s biggest draw for hams is the “saltwater amplifier,” nature’s reflector for your signals. Forget burying a batch of radials in the sand because you only need one. Run it toward the water at the edge of the waves or tie a fishing weight to the end and give it a toss into the waves. Add a quarter-wave wire vertical and you’re good to go. Using the saltwater ocean as counterpoise can give you up to a 10 dB gain. A 10W QRP signal becomes a 100W signal with a very simple antenna system—really awesome!

Getting Started with BOTA

Interested? First, create an account at While you’re waiting for your registration to be processed, search for activators listed on the website. Listen to a few QSOs, then call when they’re on the air. The activating station will provide you with a code during the exchange.

After you receive the code over the air from the activator, sign into the BOTA site. Under the user menu, select “Add chaser report redeem code.” Enter the code. If you have just made the QSO, click yes and add the frequency and mode so a spot is placed on the BOTA home page.

You can also keep a log and enter it all later. You have one month to enter the code. If for some reason you have forgotten the code, you can enter the activator’s call sign and then choose the activation site. Activators and chasers are not required to submit logs.

When you’re ready, plan to become an activator. You’ll go to the BOTA website and choose “Announce activation, Generate code.” Search for your beach and complete the information required. Once saved, the Admin will review the beach. If there are no issues, it will be added to the system.

There’s also a Beaches on the Air Facebook group where you can find additional information.

BOTA Operation Procedures

Here’s a basic summary of the definitions, rules, and procedures:

Beach Activation Boundary: Defined as the area between the water and the road that runs parallel to the beach. This usually includes beach car parks and may include grassed areas, paths, etc. Keep in mind the program is “Beaches on the Air,” not “Across the road from a beach on the air.”

  • Setup Location: Activators can set up a portable station or activate from a vehicle. Activators should abide by local laws regarding the setup of a portable station and obey any directives given by local authorities regarding station setup. Activators need to be aware of other beach users around them and always make sure that their setup is safe for themselves and others.
  • Operating Frequencies and Modes: Any amateur radio frequency can be used and all modes are permitted where the activation code can be clearly transmitted. Repeater contacts don’t count.
  • Multi-Person Activations: When two or more stations are activating from the same beach at the same time, all activators need to individually set up their information on the system and use their individual activation code over the air with their chasers. Each activator should take their own photo of the activation site and later upload it. There is no club/team scoring.
  • Repeat Activations: It is possible to activate two or more different beaches on the same day using different codes, but you must physically move your entire setup from one activation to the other. There’s a minimum one-hour break between the end of an activation and the start of a different one on a different beach.
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