For those who have extra time on their hands and wish to put it to good use — such as training and preparing to help others in an emergency — amateur radio may be just the thing.
Members of the West Volusia Amateur Radio Society spent much of the weekend June 22-23 testing their communication skills and reaching out to fellow ham enthusiasts far and near.
“It is one of two occasions when our club does, one in January and the other in June, to demonstrate our ability to communicate locally and worldwide,” Ken Peck, president of the group, said.
Peck and other club members gathered behind the Elks Lodge in DeLand for Amateur Radio Field Day, a 24-hour exercise testing their ability to set up equipment, use off-grid electrical power, and make contact with ham radio operators throughout North America, including Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
The group tried a portable generator, solar power and batteries to send and receive.
“We have a 50-foot mast [antenna] that we put up in 4-foot sections of fiberglass,” Peck said.
Ham radio operators have access to a variety of frequency bands. Some bands are mainly used to communicate with other local hams, while others are better for reaching stations around the world.
Some ham signals may be picked up on shortwave receivers.
In times of emergencies, such as hurricanes, ham radio operators interact with the Volusia County Emergency Operations Center in Daytona Beach.
Peck said the group had hoped to make contact with ham operators in Australia this year, but was unsuccessful.
“Atmospheric conditions are not good. We’re at the low of the 11-year cycle of sunspots,” he said.
Sunspots are storms on the sun’s surface that often emit powerful radiation and energy that interfere with radio waves on and around Earth.
When ham operators are not using their radio sets, Peck said, they often safeguard them from more common electrical dangers.
“We keep our communication equipment disconnected because of lightning,” he said.
The Federal Communications Commission regulates ham radio, including licensing ham broadcasters.
As hobbies go, Peck said, ham radio is relatively inexpensive.
“You can get a set for $50 on Amazon,” he said.
Enthusiasts often invest hundreds of dollars in their equipment, he added.