Technical Articles

Ham Radio Outdoor Maintenance Tips (from the Ground Up)

My first Elmer was a laid-back guy. One of his philosophies about Ham equipment was, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” He was lucky most of the time, but you can’t escape Murphy’s Law. Things fail at the least convenient time.

Outdoor components such as antennas, towers, and feedlines are most susceptible to corrosion or damage. Setting aside some time to regularly inspect them will help your gear work when you need it most. Spring and fall are good times to check.

Start by making an install and repair log. Keep records of items purchased and repairs made. Knowing when the coax was last installed or when you last lubricated the tower winch can help you determine when replacements and maintenance will be needed.

Next, begin a regular maintenance routine.

1. Inspect ground connections–ground rods, radials, surge arresters. Clean any existing connections and add some Jet-Lube SS-30 to prevent further oxidation and corrosion. Is the hardware still intact? If not, replace any worn or damaged pieces, including gas discharge tubes. Avoid using metal combinations that may cause galvanic corrosion, such as copper and galvanized steel. Tighten the connections.

2. Examine feedlines and connectors. Look for damage to coax: worn jackets, kinks, and water inside the feedline or corroded connectors. Replace these if needed. Protect connections with coax tape or sealant.

3. Check towers and antenna mounts. Be sure nuts, bolts and clamps are in good shape. Touch up with galvanizing paint to treat rusted areas.

4. Test guy lines and inspect antenna support ropes. Check for guy line tightness and wear.  Be sure antenna support knots are tight and ropes are not rubbing against branches. All it takes is a storm with a few good gusts to take the whole line down. Adjust or replace as needed.

5. Trim those branches. Prune any branches that touch or interfere with your antenna, so you have a clear path from end to end. Also, locate and inspect bigger limbs that could potentially fall on your antenna to make sure they’re healthy.

6. Survey your antenna farm. Use binoculars to check your antennas, or go high tech with a drone and camera. If they’re reasonably accessible, look at them close-up. Do any necessary repairs or refurbishing. Don’t forget to check all your antennas using an antenna analyzer or SWR meter. Unusual readings can indicate tuning or feedline issues.

Staying ahead of potential problems helps minimize the chance that your equipment will fail and cause downtime. Regular maintenance can take some time, but is well worth the effort.

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