Technical Articles

Staying at Home? Now’s a Great Opportunity to Think about Amateur Radio Safety

Read enough emails today and you’ll notice a decided shift in how Hams are ending their correspondences. Of course, the familiar “73” will likely never change, but in the age of the COVID-19 outbreak, Amateur Radio enthusiasts are adding a relevant phrase when bidding adieu to their fellow operators.

Be safe.

It speaks well of our community, as Hams everywhere keep an eye out for each other while so many of us are sheltered at home. But Hams know that “Be safe” extends beyond scrubbing our hands for the requisite 20 seconds (a good opportunity to practice the phonetic alphabet, by the way). It means take every precaution to practice the hobby we love as smartly as possible. Here’s a couple lists of safety tips to remember at a time when safety is foremost on our minds.

Tower Climbing Safety

  • Make sure you have received the proper training from a certified program/instructor before climbing. While we may be “amateur” operators, climbing a tower is not a pursuit for amateurs, without exception.
  • Even if trained and experienced, refrain from climbing if you’re not physically or mentally up to the task on any given day. Didn’t get enough sleep the night before? Think twice. Being alert is critical when you’re on a tower—of any height.
  • Free climbing is never an option. Always wear a combination of fully inspected fall prevention gear (to keep you from falling) and fall arrest gear (to save your life or prevent serious injury in case you do). Tower safety gear includes a helmet with a chinstrap (wear one whether on or beneath a tower), full body harness connected to the tower via lifeline or lanyard, positioning lanyard, and cable grab. Only use safety-rated gear specifically made for climbing towers—not for climbing rocks.
  • Don’t ever climb a tower without a “buddy” on the ground.
  • Scrap plans for climbing if the weather (rain, lightning, ice, high winds, etc.) poses a threat—it’s just not worth the risk.
  • Thoroughly examine every component of the tower first to make sure it’s climb-worthy, checking for missing parts, loose connections, or signs of rust and degrading. Assess the entire structure for stability. Check guy wires for insufficient tensioning, fraying, loose anchors and turnbuckles, and rusty cables.
  • Before erecting, dismantling or climbing a tower, examine the area for the presence of power lines, including the drop line to a house. Make sure none of these power lines could possibly come in contact with the antenna or guy wires. Assume the worst by asking, “What if the antenna were to fall?” A stray power line touching a conductive tower or antenna could cause death by electrocution.
  • Don’t rush. Work slowly and methodically. And know when to abort your mission. The tower (and whatever repair you need to make on your antenna) will be waiting for you tomorrow if conditions aren’t perfect today.

Visit OnAllBands to view DX Engineering’s series of tower safety videos from Amateur Radio operator and tower climbing expert Tim Jellison, W3YQ. Enter “Tower” in the search box.

Field Day Safety

2020 ARRL Field Day is scheduled for June 27-28. Let’s all hope we’ll get the chance to safely gather to put portable Ham Radio operation into action.

  • If you’re in charge of Field Day safety, make sure to remind club members about steps they should follow when setting up, operating, and tearing down camp.
  • Keep the fuel container a safe distance away from the generator and radio equipment.
  • Proper grounding should be provided at each station and for all equipment, including the generator, electrical lines, towers, and support structures.
  • Do not install antennas, towers, and masts near power lines. Take extra care to guarantee that your installations won’t contact power lines if they fall. In case of lightning, antennas should be disconnected. All temporary structures, such as towers, masts, and guy lines, should be properly secured and marked (with cones or flags, for example) to keep people from coming in contact with them.
  • Ignoring protocol when erecting a temporary antenna is one of the most common causes of injury on Field Day. Appoint one person to conduct the project, make sure everyone understands their assigned task, do a walkthrough before attempting the real thing, and wear a hardhat and safety goggles for protection. Find many other tips in this OnAllBands blog, How to Put Up a Field Day Tower Safely, by Ward Silver, N0AX.
  • Bring along a fully charged fire extinguisher and provide instruction to participants on its proper use. Field Day veterans also know the importance of having a well-equipped first-aid kit or two.
  • Keep cables, power cords, and rope out of areas where they could cause injury. Areas that pose risk should be clearly marked to alert participants and visitors. DX Engineering’s new Hi-Visibility 14 AWG and 26 AWG Antenna Wire in bright green, pink, or yellow is a good choice to make curious onlookers aware of your installations—and it’s super easy to work with and keep track of in the field.
  • Make sure everyone in your group knows who is trained in CPR, AED, and first aid.
  • Check ahead to determine where it is safe to insert tent stakes and ground rods to avoid striking pipes and lines.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring plenty of water and make sure club members are taking regular breaks between on-air sessions. Look for these signs of heat-related illness and take appropriate action.

For further Field Day reading, check out this article from OnAllBands blogger Mark Haverstock, K8MSH, on How to Fine-Tune Your EMCOMM Skills During Field Day.

And don’t forget to visit DXEngineering.com for all your Field Day needs, including coaxial cabletool kitswire antenna kits, and triplexer filter combination packages. Also, equip your crew with ARRL Field Day mugsball caps, log books, and patches available from DX Engineering.

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