Getting Started: Step-by-Step Instructions
By Jim Wasson (KO4MNB), Tom Valencia (W4ID), and John Satterfield (KK4JS)
Parks on the Air® (POTA) started in early 2017 when the ARRL’s National Parks on the Air special event ended. A group of volunteers wanted to continue the fun beyond the one-year event, and thus, POTA was born. General information about the program is available on the POTA website at https://parksontheair.com Click on the “Getting Started” tab to review the rules, download the guides, and watch the informative videos. Below is a screen shot.
As explained on the POTA web site, activators are those amateurs who operate portable from within POTA designated parks. Hunters are those amateurs who make contact with Activators who are operating portable from within POTA designated parks. Awards can be earned for both activators and hunters, for example: Bronze Award is obtained by activating or hunting 10 different parks, Silver Award is 20 different parks, Gold Award is 30 different parks, etc.
Once you have reviewed the POTA website, we highly recommend that you go out to a park with a club member to do an activation, and then sit down with that club member to review and discuss the following step-by-step instructions that we prepared to cover everything from finding a park to submitting your log to get credit for your activation and to view your awards.
Step #1. Find a POTA park at https://parksontheair.com “Map of Entities” tab. Write down the park number (K-XXXX). Copy and paste the coordinates into your GPS. Research the park at https://www2.dnr.sc.gov/ManagedLands or https://southcarolinaparks.com/park-finder to determine the days and hours of operation and if there are any restrictions. Print out the park map, if one is available, to find your way around. In addition, you may want to print out a satellite view from Goggle Earth to find a clearing to set up a table, chairs and an antenna.
Regarding restrictions, some parks, such as National Historical Monuments (NHM), will not allow you to put stakes in the ground or wires in the trees. Other parks, such as Wildlife Management Areas, will not allow visitors during hunting season. In addition, if you are planning to activate at Fort Moultrie NHM, Fort Sumpter NHM, or at Charles Pinckney NHM it is advisable to contact Tim Sveum, the Chief Park Ranger, to let him know as a courtesy that you intend to activate. Tim can be reached at email@example.com or 843-277-4503. If not, be prepared for the Park Rangers to pay you a visit as they often think our vertical whip antenna on a tripod is a rocket launcher, which is of course, prohibited.
Special RaDAR (Rapid Deployment) awards are given for transitioning between multiple entities during a 24-hour period. If you plan to activate multiple parks in 24-hour UTC period to qualify for a RaDAR award, it is suggested that you make a flight plan, such as the one below. You can earn a RaDAR Rhino award for activating 3 parks in one day, which is quite easy to accomplish.
Step #2. Spot an Activation on your cell phone after you arrive at https://pota.app/#/ with a clear frequency that you found by asking if anyone is using that frequency. Enter your operating mode in the comments section. Stay in the General portion of the bands for best results and stay off the even frequencies. Repost “QSY” in comments when changing frequencies. Enter a comment such as ATNO (All Time New One) if it’s the first time that this park has ever been activated by anyone. You need a minimum of 10 QSOs to count as an activation – go for at least 12 QSOs in case one or two are not valid. When you have made all the contacts you wish, repost with “QRT” in the comments sections, to let everyone know that you are done.
Step #3. Download free HAMRS logging software at https://www.hamrs.app/ and create your profile. If you have a QRZ logbook subscription (https://www.qrz.com), enter your QRZ password in to your profile so that HAMRS will display the name and address of each of your QSOs as you log them in to HAMRS.
Once your profile is completed, click on the top right corner to create a new logbook. Create a filename “CallSign@ParkNumber-YearMonthDay” (Example: KO4MNB@K-2895-20211023). Select the template labeled “Parks on the Air” and hit enter. A new page appears as shown below. Enter on the right side of the page your call sign, the frequency and mode, and your park number. Enter information concerning each QSO on the left side, including their call sign, RST they sent, RST you received, their park number (if park to park), and current date and UTC time.
If you log in real-time while activating, HAMRS will keep track of the UTC time for you. Hit save when done and the information will appear in the logbook shown below. You can make corrections by clicking on the gear icon next to each entry.
Step #4. Create ADI format file: Select Logbooks at the top of the page and you should see your logbook appear. Click on the gear symbol on the right side of the page next to your logbook and select “Export.ADI” to your desktop. Go to the POTA app https://pota.app/#/ and underneath where your call sign appears click on “My Log Uploads”. You will see a box to upload your ADI file. Answer the questions and hit submit and it will appear as shown below. You can go to “My Activations” and “View” on the right side of the page to review your POTA logbooks.
You can also import your HAMRS ADI files (ADIF) directly into your QRZ logbook with a paid QRZ subscription so that you don’t have re-enter the data. Go to your QRZ logbook and click on “Settings” on the top right of the screen and the following page will appear. Click on “ADIF Import” and select the same file that you uploaded in to the POTA.app and your QRZ logbook will be updated to show all your POTA QSOs. Note that QRZ will reject the file if it has the club call sign (used for club events), so create a duplicate ADI file that does not contain the club call sign but contains your call sign instead.
We hope you found this article to be helpful. Any one of us would be glad to go out with you on your first activation or invite you to one of our activations as well. Most amateurs are hooked on POTA once they experience their first activation – it’s a great way to enjoy nature and have some fun in the park. We hope to hunt you down someday. Enjoy!