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Ham Radio Isn’t Just for Hurricanes: Ham Radio Assists in Rescue of Missing Mariner

Ham Radio Isn’t Just for Hurricanes: Ham Radio Assists in Rescue of Missing Mariner

by Larry Pruss, NP2LP & Fred Kleber, K9VV / NP2X
[St. John, US Virgin Islands, October 3, 2018] It was Thursday night and I was nodding in and out while watching TV. From the other room I heard what sounded like a weak scratchy signal trying to access the local repeater. I ignored it at first, and heard scratchiness again. The “L” in CW at the end of each transmission meant the transmitting station was via the UHF link of the newly installed inter-island repeater system.

Half asleep I stumbled into the other room and transmitted, “This is Fred, NP2X on St. Croix. The station trying to access the repeater, you are very noisy into the system, please try it again.” Again I heard a very scratchy station breaking the squelch of the repeater. Again I responded, “Sorry, you’re still unintelligible into the repeater. If you are using a handheld, please try moving a bit and try again.” On the next transmission I could make out a couple of syllables in a young girl’s voice.” I responded, “OK that location is better and I heard a little bit. Don’t change your location. What is your call sign?”

In a calm voice I heard, “This is Tia”. I immediately recognized the voice as that of Tatiana “Tia” Pruss, NP2RE. Tia is the youngest daughter of St. John hams Larry (NP2LP) & Jennifer (NP2QT) Pruss. Finally my head was becoming clearer and I thought to myself, “Isn’t it a bit late for someone of Tia’s age to be on the radio?” I responded to Tia, “OK Tia, I understand that is you. Is everything OK? Do you need help?” Again the answer was a scratchy uncopiable signal. I responded, “Tia, please give me a yes or no on if you need help.” Tia calmly responded, “No, everything is OK.” I responded, “OK Tia, I will standby on frequency in case you need anything.” What I heard unfold made me proud to be a ham in the USVI.

Unbeknownst to me, Tia’s parents had been attending the monthly meeting of St. John Rescue, a volunteer organization serving the St John, USVI community. Shortly after arriving to the meeting, St. John Rescue received a request for assistance from the VI Police Department. They had received a report of a dingy spotted washed up on the rocks in Reef Bay with no occupant. Larry and Jennifer immediately left the St. John Rescue meeting and headed to Reef Bay. Other members of St. John Rescue headed to the marina to begin conducting the maritime portion of the search.

What follows is Larry’s summary in his own words. “Jennifer and I set about traversing the various shorelines and beaches in the dark in search of the boater. The terrain became too rocky for Jennifer to continue, so she remained behind perched on the rocks providing flood lighting. As the Rescue radio coverage was marginal, Jennifer and I kept in touch with our VHF amateur HAM radios. When the lights of the Rescue boat became visible in the bay, both Jennifer and I found we had unreliable communications with the boat.

I came upon the dingy which had crashed upon the rocks. After finding the dingy and continued traversing the rocky shoreline, I pondered returning due to the jagged rocky shoreline. Just before making a decision to return, I encountered the boater huddled along the shore in a rock crevice. The boater reported his boat hit the reef, was thrown from the dingy, and ended up on the rocky shore. His position was an extremely treacherous spot which the Rescue boat could not reach. We were at the water’s edge at the base of a tall seashore cliff. Besides some minor scratches, the boater was cold and thirsty. I gave him a Mylar blanket for warmth and he gladly drank the water we brought.

With no cell service and having difficulty with our VHF radio, the immediate need was to notify the Rescue boat that we had located the missing person and discuss his evacuation.

Using our Yaesu Ham radios Jennifer called our daughters Tia, NP2RE and Skylar, NP2QS, at our home and requested they relay we had located the missing person to the Rescue boat. Tia and Skylar immediately went about contacting the some other Rescue members that passed along the message that we had found the missing individual.

The boater was not able to hike out from our location as he was both exhausted and without shoes. Jennifer hiked to the top of the hill to acquire some shoes from a house to protect the patient’s feet as we moved him from the sharp rocks. Due to the proximity of the reef and large waves, it was also not feasible to land the Rescue boat on the beach. Another Rescue member, Dylan Baird, arrived on scene and managed to reach me. He had taken a 4-wheeler to the site, hiked down the beach, and climbed the dangerous rocks to reach the boater’s location. Dylan had the good idea to try using the dingy to get our Rescue subject to the Rescue boat. In the dark, Dylan and I pulled the dingy off the rocks, bailed enough water out of it to keep it afloat, and started the engine. Dylan made a break for the reef to get the boat further drained of water and to coordinate next steps with the Rescue boat.

I stayed with the boater. Dylan reached the Rescue boat and returned with Brian Grassi, another Rescue member, a short time later. We put a lifejacket on the boater and together they transported him to the Rescue boat. Upon reaching the harbor, he was transported to the local clinic for treatment.”

We felt good about a number of things:

 Within approximately thirty minutes of locating the injured boater, he was transported to the Rescue boat.  Our daughters aged 12 and 13 flawlessly executed the relay of critical information using their newly learned skills. (Note: Tia has been HAM licensed 2 weeks and Skylar 5 months)  The HAM radio and Rescue training our family received and practiced, may have well saved a life

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Larry and Jennifer Pruss have been the sparkplugs of a new generation of hams on St. John. In the last 6 months, and with the support of St John Rescue, they have held two HAM class sessions resulting in 23 new hams on St. John (19) St. Thomas (2) and the BVI (2) have been licensed through their instructional efforts. These new licensees are members of the community, St. John Rescue, the National Park Service, the Fire Department, and include 4 children under 13 years old.

Want to know more about ham radio? Check out http://www.arrl.org/what-is-ham-radio Want to know more about ham radio in the Virgin Islands? Please visit http://www.vihamradio.org Want to know more about St John Rescue? Please visit http://www.stjohnrescue.com/

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November 19, 20180 commentsRead More
YASME FOUNDATION SUPPORTING GRANT TO ARISS AND EXCELLENCE AWARDS

YASME FOUNDATION SUPPORTING GRANT TO ARISS AND EXCELLENCE AWARDS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 25, 2018
St. Charles, MO
YASME FOUNDATION SUPPORTING GRANT TO ARISS AND EXCELLENCE AWARDS
The Board of Directors of The Yasme Foundation announces that it has made a significant grant to ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, www.ariss.org) in support of the Critical Infrastructure Fund. Yasme has supported this important upgrade to the ISS amateur station since the effort began and challenges other organizations and individuals to support it, as well. As of late 2018, ARISS is the only non-commercial entity being considered for NASA’s Deep Space Gateway program, indicating the importance with which the space program views amateur radio. Putting and keeping amateur radio in space is a significant expense and needs the support of the entire amateur community.
The Yasme Excellence Award is presented to individuals and groups who, through their own service, creativity, effort and dedication, have made a significant contribution to amateur radio. The contribution may be in recognition of technical, operating or organizational achievement, as all three are necessary for amateur radio to grow and prosper. The Yasme Excellence Award is in the form of a cash grant and an individually-engraved crystal globe.
The Board of Directors of The Yasme Foundation is pleased to announce the latest recipients of the Yasme Excellence Award:
Brian Machesney, K1LI and Michelle Guenard—in recognition of their extraordinary efforts on behalf of Commonwealth of Dominica communities in the wake of the 2017 hurricane season. Their efforts included fund-raising, delivery of communications supplies, on-site support, and application of amateur radio technologies to support the relief efforts which continue today.
Fred Kleber, K9VV/KP2—in recognition of Fred’s leadership and technical skills that support the Virgin Island’s emergency communications capabilities. Fred has been a key player long before hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the islands. He is hard at work today re-building and extending the inter-island communication systems even after his own station suffered extensive damage.
Zorro Miyazawa, JH1AJT—for his extensive promotion of amateur radio in developing counties. Governments and telecommunications administrators in Bangladesh (S2), Bhutan (A5), Cambodia (XU), Eritrea (E3), and Myanmar (XZ) have benefited from Zorro’s patient and skillful efforts, supporting his own government and his fellow amateurs in Japan and around the world.
Stu Phillips, K6TU— for contributions to amateur radio through his Propagation and DX Strategy website, www.k6tu.net. In particular, his innovative tools, free for amateur use, enhance the use of the High Frequency Terrain Analysis (HFTA) program developed by Dean Straw, N6BV, another Excellence Award recipient in 2012.
Randy Wright, W6CUA—in recognition of his long service to the Yasme Foundation as our Awards Manager. His steady efforts and exacting attention to detail and customer service are greatly appreciated.
The Yasme Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation organized to support scientific and educational projects related to amateur radio, including DXing (long distance communication) and the introduction and promotion of amateur radio in developing countries. For additional information about The Yasme Foundation, visit our website at www.yasme.org.
Ward Silver, NØAX, President
The Yasme Foundation
Board of Directors:
Ward Silver, NØAX, President and Director
Ken Claerbout, K4ZW, Vice-President, Secretary and Director
Rusty Epps, W6OAT, Treasurer and Director
Hans Blondeel Timmerman, PB2T, Director
Martti Laine, OH2BH, Director
Fred Laun, K3ZO, Director
Robert Vallio, W6RGG, Director
Marty Woll, N6VI, Director
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November 5, 20180 commentsRead More
HAMS In Paradise – Fall 2018

HAMS In Paradise – Fall 2018

Wow, hard to believe we’re back in “season”. Here at the peak of hurricane season, the Atlantic looks like a conga-line of storms. The below photo doesn’t show the remnants of hurricane Gordon which has dissipated over CONUS. The seasonal conga line of storms is strewn across the Atlantic like a stormy pearl necklace.

It is hard to believe that one year ago the USVI experienced the rage of Irma & Maria. I look back on the amount of new relief “friends” I have encountered and am humbled. These are people who have come to help the USVI rebuild. FEMA employees, US Army Corps of Engineers, National Guard, US Army, private consultants, linemen, National Park Service, etc. The list goes on-and-on. Some are hams who show up on the local repeater and also at our meetings. The Territory is forever indebted to these individuals and their organizations. They ARE making a HUGE difference!

The USVI is fortunate to be supported by the BILLIONS of federal relief and loan dollars that are pouring into the Territory. The Stafford Act (a disaster funding allocation act allowing only replacement of damaged infrastructure, and the like, to pre-disaster condition), has long been a staple of Federal disaster recovery. Now in certain circumstances, mitigation dollars can be used to improve and harden damaged infrastructure. This is HUGE news for the Territory which has many, many, many maintenance challenges which often come from years of maintenance neglect and fraud.

They say that from bad comes good. I am happy to highlight a couple of good things that happened as a result of the storms. A devastated St. John awoke and realized the value of ham radio. From the tireless efforts of Jennifer Pruss and in coordination with St. John Rescue, the first ham license class yielded 15 new hams, including some from St. Thomas and BVI! Jennifer also passed her Technician and General classes on the first try! Class number two will graduate shortly and many of the students are upgrading from their Technican. Well done Jennifer and new STJ hams!! St. John will now possess a sizeable ham population to assist in future disasters.

The Territory ham repeater network suffered extensive damage. In fact, only a single repeater (NP2VI) remained active in the strom. The 30+ year old discontinued Tait repeater provided hand-held coverage to the helicopter landing zone, and other critical locations. Through one of our new relief friends, who happens to be a ham, we were introduced to a philanthropic opportunity to purchase new repeaters, controllers, link radios, PV panels and batteries. I am happy to say that in the near future the USVI island repeater system will be linked using resilient UHF link radios. The entire system will be powered by PV panels and batteries and will be off grid. Future projects include the addition of Echolink / IRLP on the system, as well as linking to another similar system which has coverage reaching Dominica to the south.

Field Day was a great chance to get out & test our capability to operate from well, the FIELD. Thanks to a great promotional effort spearheaded by Daryl, NP2QD, turnout from supporting local agencies was high. VITEMA, the VI National Guard, St. Croix Rescue, American Red Cross, and a few reporters joined in the activity. Nearly all states & provinces were contacted.

“Class photo” at Cramers Park – STX VITEMA Mobile EOC

Well, the Territory continues to recover and rebuild. Keeping our fingers crossed that none of the conga line comes to visit us this year.

73 – Fred, K9VV / NP2X
Section Manger, USVI Section

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September 9, 20180 commentsRead More
Field Day 2018 Highlights

Field Day 2018 Highlights

Highlights of 2018 Field Day include:

  • 504 QSOs (Phone and CW)
  • 69 of 80 participating ARRL Section QSOs (USA and Canada)
  • 1,606 total points (656 QSOs and 950 bonus)
  • 2 HF stations operated on emergency power – generator
  • 1 VHF station operated on emergency power – generator
  • 40 visitors to our site at Cramer’s Park
  • 15 Licensed Amateur Radio Operators participated
  • 9 Non-Licensed individuals signed up for more information
  • 64 Public Service hours logged
  • 256 ARES hours logged

The A3 and 2M yagi antennas used during Field Day were made available due to the generosity of NP2N/George and facility caretaker Chuck/WA0ROI.

Click here for pictures and more information about Field Day 2018

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August 7, 20180 commentsRead More
Weekly ARES Net will be back on the St. Croix NP2VI Repeater starting on 4/30/2018

Weekly ARES Net will be back on the St. Croix NP2VI Repeater starting on 4/30/2018

Effective Monday, 30 April 2018, the 2000hrs (local), St. Croix ARES net call will once again be conducted on the St. Croix repeater; NP2VI – 147.25 MHz (+) offset; 100 Hz tone. The audio on the repeater has been corrected although there still is a odd noise being made at the end of every transmission.  This repeater provides the widest coverage area for the net and we look forward to your participation!

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April 4, 20180 commentsRead More
ARRL 2017 Hurricane Season After Action Report Features STX ARC activities

ARRL 2017 Hurricane Season After Action Report Features STX ARC activities

The ARRL 2017 Hurricane Season After Action Report has been released and features information on the activities conducted by the St. Croix Amateur Radio Club in response to Hurricane’s Irma and Maria.  The summary is presented on page 8 of the report.  The entire report is 2017 ARRL Hurricane After Action Report, check it out!

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March 6, 20180 commentsRead More
Hams In Paradise – MARCH 2018

Hams In Paradise – MARCH 2018

Welcome to Spring! The long season of “Christmas Winds” seems to have drawn to a close and the temperatures are actually starting to warm up a bit! Warm is a relative term, so for readers not located in the VI, the all-time record lows are: St. Thomas: 52F, St. John: 55F and St. Croix: 57F. Anything below 70F is cold to us. The ocean temps rarely go below 79F, even at 70 to 80 feet below the surface.

While some of our Northern friends might think of these warm temperatures as good, in reality the warm ocean surface temperatures provide fuel for hurricanes when the conditions are right. One interesting fact is that the ocean’s surface temperature will drop some ½ degree Fahrenheit following the passing of a large hurricane! Think of the square MILES of energy this represents, and then it’s not hard to understand how storms can be so strong!!

Speaking of hurricanes, there are not many folks who have experienced a pair of category five hurricanes in a span of just under two weeks. Peak winds in Maria lashed St. Croix with gusts in excess of 200 MPH! Irma devastated St. Thomas & St. John. Little wonder that the territory’s infrastructure suffered immense damage. Ham radio was the only method of communication with St. John for a week following Irma.

On St. Croix some 90-95% of all utility poles were destroyed. Many places in the Territory experienced power outages in excess of 100 days! Landline telephone service still isn’t restored in the majority of businesses, and residences are even farther out on the restoration schedule. In true island spirit, one creative local musician wrote a song called “My Generator” sang to the tune of “My Generation” by The Who. Here’s another creative example of the lengths people would go to have their power restored:

The linemen who came from the States to restore power are folk heroes in the island. Personally, there was no better Christmas present we could have received than having our power restored on Christmas Day. Even some 5 months after the storm, there are still several hundred linemen performing cleanup of the hasty power restoration steeple chase. Thank you linemen!!! You are our true heroes.

PROPAGATION

In a word propagation has been AWFUL! Smoothed sun spot numbers have hovered near 70, and now frequently dip below 70 with multiple days of zero sunspot sightings. (It’s the sunspots that create the solar winds that excite the atmosphere, which facilitates HF propagation)

The contesters are in the Spring doldrums and fixing their hurricane damaged antenna systems in preparation for the Fall contest season which is right around the corner. The continuance of extremely low solar activity means contesters will have to work harder for DX and contacts.

MEDIA

The St. Croix ARC migrated the www.vihamradio.org domain to a new host service (thanks Sean, WP2SC!) and also a new format – WordPress. We hope you like the new format and will contribute news & other interesting content to keep our website interesting and lively.

The old Yahoo Group which served our reflector needs for several years has been retired in favor of groups.io. This new service does not require a Yahoo login, which hopefully will bring more folks in touch with our VI ham radio activities.

OPEATING ACTIVITIES

On the heels of the wildly successful ARRL’s NPOTA & W1AW/* operations comes a new challenge for 2018. The National Grid Chase challenges participants to work as many grid squares in 2018 as possible. The band & mode of QSOs matters not. Just the total number of grids confirmed in the logbook of the world. LoTW. Information is available at http://www.arrl.org/international-grid-chase-2018

Digital modes have taken the hobby by storm and allow for sub-audible QSOs, thus further increasing our RF ‘reach’ in challenging conditions. Brad, WP2B worked Kuwait (9K2) on 6m JT-65 as well as Western Australia on 80m 1.5 hours BEFORE local sunset. I don’t care how many years you’ve been licensed, that’s pretty cool stuff! Now the FT-8 digital format accounts for 58% of all uploads to ClubLog, a popular online QSO confirmation utility.

Digital mobile radio (DMR), and other digital formats, have also become very popular. Planning is in the early stages to revive the club’s interest in ‘mesh networks’ www.broadbandhamnet.net interest to link a planned intra-island repeater system.

In the aftermath of Irma and Maria, amateurs on all three islands volunteered over 2,200 man-hours of service supporting VITEMA, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency, and other Federal & Territorial agencies, both governmental & non-governental. Numerous lives were saved and volumes of critical message traffic was passed on behalf of our supported agencies. The ARRL recognized this effort by both VI & PR hams and subsequently bestowed the annual International Humanitarian Award to those who selfishly gave of themselves during our homeland’s time of need. A HUGE thank you to all who assisted in this worthwhile effort. This is one of the cornerstones of our hobby.

SUMMARY

As we look forward, we must prepare both on a personal survivability and communications fronts. Family first certainly applies when preparing for, and in the aftermath, of hurricanes. The better prepared we are personally, the better we can support our served agencies. We continuously analyze our performance and recognize our strengths and also strive to make improvements to fulfill our public service role.

Well, that’s all for now. Stay R A D I O A C T I V E ! !

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March 5, 20180 commentsRead More
Multiple Demonstrations featured at March 2018 meeting of St. Croix Amateur Radio Club

Multiple Demonstrations featured at March 2018 meeting of St. Croix Amateur Radio Club

In addition to the normal discussion, the monthly meeting of the St. Croix Amateur Radio Club that occurred on Saturday March 3 featured three exciting demonstrations to further the knowledge of Ham radio operators in attendance.

Reynaldo Boss, WP2RB brought in several PC power supplies that were converted for HAM radio use.  PC power supplies feature high amperage ratings along with 12v, 5v, and 3.3v DC outputs.  The 12v output is perfect for running VHF rigs while the 5v output can be wired in for USB powered devices.  Reynaldo went through how to short the power connectors to ensure the supply turns on to the colors of the wires and what they mean.  Here is a link to a similar project for anyone interested: http://www.instructables.com/id/ATX–%3E-Lab-Bench-Power-Supply-Conversion/

Chris Millette, NP2EL, demonstrated a 2m Yagi constructed affordably out of pieces of tape measure and PVC pipe.  These kinds  of projects prove especially useful in disaster situations where supplies are limited and you have to make due with what is on hand.  The antenna tuned up nicely as demonstrated on an MFJ-259b antenna analyzer with an SWR of around 1.2.

Bob Wakefield, WP2E did a demonstration on building a cheap HDTV antenna based on an article he found in popular communications located at http://www.wa5vjb.com/references/CheapYagi4HDTV.pdf.

Bob Wakefield demonstration

Bob Wakefield, WP2E, demonstrates his EZ HDTV Antenna

Sean Cullinan, WP2SC demonstrated the SharkRF openSpot along with a Baofeng DM5R radio for DMR and an ICOM ID-51A Plus 2 that he uses for DStar.  The demonstration featured a 20,100 Anker power bank, an AT&T phone configured as a mobile hotspot, and a Vonets Wifi-Ethernet Repeater bridge to provide the openSpot with internet connectivity from the phone.  A QSO with a station in Texas was successfully completed on DMR talkgroup 3100 showing how very cheap radios can use this technology to talk not only locally but also globally as long as basic internet infrastructure was present.  The club is going to investigate linking this to Ham Mesh networking in the future.

The St. Croix Amateur Radio club meets monthly starting around noon on the first Saturday of each month at the Deep End Bar and Grill.  If you are interested please join us!  If you would like to join the club annual dues are just $5 giving access to a wealth of knowledge in the collective minds of members to tap and a great community of Hams that are committed to ensuring reliable communications in our territory.

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March 4, 20180 commentsRead More
VI Hams encouraged to take ICS Classes ahead of storm season

VI Hams encouraged to take ICS Classes ahead of storm season

The VI Ham Radio club would like to encourage local Amateur Radio Operators who are interested in providing assistance after disasters to take the following Incident Command System (ICS) classes.  Successful passing of these classes is a MUST for anyone who desires to work in the VITEMA EOC.

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February 27, 20180 commentsRead More
Puerto Rico, US Virgin Island Amateurs are International Humanitarian Award Winners

Puerto Rico, US Virgin Island Amateurs are International Humanitarian Award Winners

The St. Croix Amateur Radio Club is honored to announce that the ARRL has conferred the 2018 International Humanitarian Award jointly on the Amateur Radio population of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands!

Members of the St. Croix Amateur Radio club provided vital communication links during Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The following members served their community either at the St. Croix VITEMA EOC or in the field during the emergency:

  • Fred Kleber, K9VV
  • George Riedell, N1EZZ
  • Lu Sudek, KP2AD
  • Wess Tester, K2AHU
  • Daryl Jaschen, NP2QD
  • Sean Cullinan, WP2SC
  • Mike Shuman, NP2PZ
  • Bob Wakefield, WP2E
  • Lisa Kleber, W4LIS
  • Chris Millette, NP2EL

Here’s a link to the full ARRL article detailing this wonderful honor: http://www.arrl.org/news/puerto-rico-us-virgin-island-amateurs-are-international-humanitarian-award-winners.

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January 30, 20180 commentsRead More