Technical Articles

Ham Radio Tips: Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Your Station on the Air

Having entered my seventh decade, I know I can’t do all the stuff I used to do when I was in my 30s. Climbing trees, towers, and extension ladders or making my way through attics and crawl spaces are quickly moving from the “can do” category to the “can’t do.”

However, my ham activity hasn’t decreased a bit. So how do I continue to make repairs and keep everything in working order now—or ten years from now—while keeping most things within reach?

The Pulley is Your Friend

Wire antennas are an effective, inexpensive solution for getting on the air. About half my antenna farm for HF involves some type of wire antenna, ranging from simple dipoles to the inverted L. When you put up an antenna, install a pulley to raise the center/feedpoint and pulleys for the ends. Buy good quality ones that will stand up to the weather and function smoothly.

If you need to tweak the tuning or make repairs, a pulley system will help you get the antenna within reach with minimal effort. Pulleys at each end in combination with a spring or weight can also help minimize stress on the wire.

Extend Your Reach

Say the pulley worked until one of the wires got caught in the tree–and it’s about 15 feet out of your reach. Make yourself an antenna grabber tool.

Attach a plastic J-hook PVC pipe hanger to a fiberglass telescoping pole–avoid using the smallest diameter top section. The pipe hanger can be found at your favorite big box or hardware store. If you want extra reach, the WiMo Heavy Duty Fiberglass Telescoping Mast will give you about 33+ feet.

Use caution and stay away from power lines. Keep the pole perpendicular to the ground as much as possible to avoid losing control. One trick I use is to lean it against a tree rather than picking it up off the ground. Try doing some practice runs at low heights before you attempt to go higher.

Tilt Over

Got a vertical antenna? With tilt bases, you can raise or lower your vertical antenna in seconds, while leaving the base plate securely attached at ground level. This makes servicing your antenna a one-person job—no more climbing ladders or removing brackets from support posts.

Tilt-over bases for towers are available, but maneuvering them is a bit trickier. Ten-foot standard sections of Rohn 25 tip the scales at about 40 pounds each. That’s about 120 pounds for a 30-foot tower, not including the antennas, rotors, gravity, and other forces at play. When I installed mine, we had five people: two on guy lines and three doing the walk-up.

Though a tilting tower base does give you ground access to the antennas without climbing, at this point I’ll leave it to the professionals to get it on the ground and up again—or a group of young, fearless hams.


Heavy-duty telescoping fiberglass masts can be a good solution for light VHF/UHF Yagis and wire antennas such as end-fed and inverted V dipoles. They’re generally intended for temporary installations, but they can be an option for a more permanent installation with a good base and proper guying. I have one installed in Arizona and it has survived three years of intense sun. It’s supported by a painted section of PVC pipe anchored with cement, a bracket attached to a sturdy fence, and several guys.

The nice thing is you can get it in the air using just a sturdy step stool to help reach the clamps easily. Move it up a section at a time starting with the top piece (smallest diameter) and work your way up, locking clamps in place. Need to bring the antenna down? Reverse the process, loosening clamps one at a time and guiding each fiberglass section down.

Galvanized push-up masts will take heavier loads but weigh 35 pounds. It can be walked up from ground level but will require some help to install and a ladder to reach and extend the remaining sections. A house bracket and guys are highly recommended.

Remote Switches and Enclosures

Remote switches are operated by a control box and allow antenna switching to be performed electromechanically from a remote location. Another advantage of remote switches is reducing the number of coax runs from the shack to the various antenna locations, eliminating coax clutter. Only one inbound cable to your shack is required for multiple antennas. When it’s placed in a central location outside the house or on a tower, all the lines become easily accessible.

It’s also easier to experiment with new or temporary antennas since you can connect to a spare connector at the remote switch. Rather than run a temporary coax line all the way back to your radio, use one of the existing lines. My Hamplus AS-61WL Remote Antenna Switch is mounted on a wall near the tower, using a painted cutting board as a backing.

Hamplus Remote Switch mounted on house.

Utility enclosures are a perfect choice for the outdoor mounting of lightning protectors, single point grounding, or organizing your coax. The DXE-UE-2P Utility Enclosure Kit is made from weather-resistant, high-impact thermoplastic material that protects the inside components against rain and moisture. It also gives you complete access to antenna cables, grounds, and other connections.

With a Little Bit of Help from My Friends

I’ve been involved with a local group of amateurs for many years. When it comes to antenna projects, problem solving and advice, we’ve always been there for each other. A few phone calls and we can get a crew together in short order.

Always keep safety in mind. Have the proper gear available for the job. Hard hats, safety belts, protective glasses, proper tools, and other necessities are important to prevent injuries. Use common sense—if there’s any question at all that the project may be too hazardous or you’re getting in too deep, have a plan B. Maybe you’ll need to call out the professionals.


I’ve saved the most important for last. Doing it right the first time will save a lot of headaches later. Choose weather-resistant materials such as aluminum, fiberglass, and stainless steel. UV resistance is a plus. Make mechanical connections strong and durable—it’s less likely they’ll fail and require replacement in the future. 

With electrical items, be sure the connections are secure and water-resistant. Waterlogged coaxial cable or corroded connections can mess with your ability to operate. Use weatherproofing materials such as Temflex, Super 88 electrical tape, or coax seal.

Do some preventative maintenance at least twice a year. Inspect what you can now reach and see during the spring and fall when the weather is still good.

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