HF Operation in Hawaii vs. the Mainland
* It is all DX from Here *

Mainland operators will be surprised when they first turn on an HF rig in Hawaii. They will be amazed by what is missing.

Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, something easily overlooked. A small community of Hams occupy the Hawaiian Islands, but outside of a few miles away, in most cases, is empty water.

On the mainland hams are used to having bands full of signals from just down the street via line of sight, 50 miles away on ground wave, a couple of hundred miles away on NVI or Troposcater, 500-700 miles away on first skip, and then the little bit of DX on two and three skip F, F2 or E in some combination.

Here you have the Hawaii hams just down the street and sometimes on the next Island over, but after that it is all DX from here, all multiskip and 3000 mile paths or further. Also it is tropical, Hawaii is several degrees inside the tropics. Modes often talked about on the Mainland like transequitorial hardly apply here. From Kansas you have a nice north/south path into South America. In Hawaii you have a very long path eventually to Australia to the South West. The sun here is different and so is the ionosphere above.

So, it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because all the local and regional stations that fill up bands for Mainland Hams are just not there! A curse for much the same reason when you want to show off with QRPp rigs running milliwatts or have loads of fun making hundreds of contacts using some bedsprings and a cold water pipe for an antenna system. It is well worthwhile to check out propagation sites, solar numbers and other information on propagation. Also well designed antenna systems are even more important in Hawaii.

Band Plans and the World Around Hawaii

It is worthwhile to note that band plans, what types of operation such as CW, RTTY, SSB, are appropriate for each segment of the band, are not universal, particularly from one ITU area to another.

What is standard in the US Mainland is not standard in many other countries. Bands themselves can be different. This is especially true in Japan on bands like 160 meters where they get packed into a tiny frequency range compared to our US 160 meter band. Knowing the foreign band plans really helps.

Of all the Ham bands, 40 meters seems to be the most non-standard. As a result, you hear a lot of signals other than CW in the low section of the 40 meter band in areas that the ARRL band plans identify as "CW only". In many countries the entire 40 meter band only goes from 7.000 to 7.100 Mhz.

From 7.000 to 7.030 can generally be expected to be CW populated, but lots of SSB appears above that along with slow scan, FAX, RTTY, PACTOR etc. In the evening listening to 40 meters between 7.000 and 7.100, you would swear you were in Japan. During a recent RTTY contest, the chaos was particularly bad when Japan propagation was in, with CW signals buried in every kind of digital hash, plus SSB etc. up and down the band from 7.025 to 7.100. A very advanced digital signal processessing unit and good filters are a big plus on any receiver.

In Hawaii, on 40 meters, it really pays to have that Extra Class ticket if you like to work CW. Access to the bottom 25 Khz of this particular band is a real benefit, since so many other modes fill up the frequencies above 7.030 Mhz.

On the plus side, Hawaii hams can operate LSB in the so called DX window from about 7.075 to 7.100 Mhz. Mainland visitors are often surprised to find HF nets and other LSB activity on 40 meters in this frequency range.


Jim, KH7M, quotes from the ARRL version of the FCC Rule Book:

"Stations in Hawaii, Alaska, and other areas in Region 2 west of 130 degrees West longitude .....may operate phone on 7075 to 7100 kHz." (Hawaii is 158 degress West, give or take. In fact, the 158 West longitude line runs right through the center of Oahu)


Jim also points out that stations in Guam and other US islands OUTSIDE ITU Region 2 do NOT have access to the 7100 to 7300 kHz. portion of the 40 meter band. They usually work the mainland split frequency, like many DX stations; transmitting below 7100, and "listening up", between Short Wave AM Broadcast stations, above 7150.

Another interesting inhabitant of 40 meters heard in Hawaii is the "F" beacon. This is a very slow CW signal repeating the letter "F" in Morse Code over and over again on 7.039 Mhz. It is a propagation beacon, one of a dozen or so. This one is located in Asiatic Russia. Each of the beacons around the world uses a different letter. The "F" beacon is the one most often heard in Hawaii. Another band that seems highly variable from country to country is 160 meters. 160 has its own unique local inhabitants, fishing floats. Attached to drift nets, they are used to find and retrieve the nets. They operate in the 160 band sending slow speed CW id's, usually three letters and a long dash.

Limited Space Antennas and Life in Condos

A decent antenna is a definite bonus, anyplace, anytime. QRP operation (low power operation with less than 5 watts) in Hawaii is going to be harder than the mainland, unless like "Always Very Friendly" you can sport a large Rhombic into which to put your few watts. It does not mean that QRP operation with limited space antennas does not work, but it does mean it is a real challenge. It is hard to compete with those lucky enough to have room for a real antenna farm.

Also the facts of life in Honolulu and other Hawaii urban areas often results in Hawaii hams residing in condos or other areas which sharply limit what sort of outside antennas they can physically erect, or at least get caught with!

On the Mainland, indoor HF antennas, metallic tape on walls, wire on curtain rods and all sorts of such kludges are touted as workable, and around here they may sometimes work as well. But remember they have lots of Hams within a 500 mile circle. We get to have lots of sea water. Trying to force a signal from inside a reinforced concrete condo, starting from 20 feet of random wire, with a lousy ground system, to a station in California is going to be a challenge.

The high density urban areas come complete with a zillion RF noise sources to roar about, often picking specific bands and times to harass receivers, like 15 meters on a Sunday morning for some strange reason. On the other hand 160 meters is often very quite compared to the mainland because of the lack of multiple surrounding lightning storms.Coffee Table Station

Some mornings it seems like every washing machine, blender, vacuum cleaner, wed whacker, etc, wants to do ham radio, and all the real hams are asleep. After a long dry spell, power line insulators coat with salt deposits just waiting for the first damp morning to start arcing over, and such power lines lace back and forth through every neighborhood. Other noise sources are video games, fax machines and computers found in just about every household.

In spite of unique problems, solutions are found. Lanai antennas have been made in all sorts of designs. Indoor antennas have been made to work. Random near invisible stealth wires and disguised verticals have been made to work.

However, when you experience a full size, 40 meter, 3 element Yagi beam on a 100 foot tower in a great location, after a year of struggling along with a pair of Hustler whips on your concrete Lanai, you discover just how much of a handicap limited space antennas in lousy urban locations really are.

That certainly does not mean you should give up, but talk to as many local Hams as you can who have wrestled with similar situations to your own and experiment, experiment, experiment.

One Effective Lanai Antenna Design

For over four years I have struggled with an upper floor, concrete balcony.

House Rules are:

By far the best has been two Hustler mobile whips mounted in an upright "V" configuration like giant rabbit ears. They are on a special, home made, super strong, center support with 3/8 inch threaded sockets to accept the whips. It is fed with RG8 and a balun, and mounted on a concrete block. In use it is the top block of a stack of concrete blocks designed to expose it as well as possible in the gap between the concrete parapet wall and metal railing at the edge of my lanai and the concrete floor of the lanai above, only a five foot vertical gap.

Two things I have discovered. Get whatever you build as high and clear of grounded objects and reinforced concrete as possible, AND make it resonant at the antenna. I still use a tuner to increase bandwidth and deal with proximity effects that on some bands make the best SWR something like 3:1. I have a collection of Hustler resonators all carefully tuned for resonance with the antenna in a specific spot on the lanai. Moving it a few feet can retune it.

Lanai antenna, Punchbowl in background

It outperforms by a long margin all other attempts at wrapping wire about, feeding it with coax or twin lead and forcing resonance with a good tuner. Unfortunately, the condo is between me and the USA so I hear more DX stations than US stations. It does quite well on 10 and 15 meters, OK on 20 and gets good statewide reports on 40 from the high angle radiation.

On 10 meters I install a pair of Radio Shack 102 inch SS whips. The V angle makes them resonant just about 28.1 Mhz. They swan out like bird wings in a graceful arc, have huge bandwidth compared to the Hustler whips with 10 meter elements and do quite well.

The center angle on the pair of Hustler whips is about 100 degrees and the strain on the center construction is tremendous, especially if there is any wind. Overbuilding in this area is just about impossible.

Public Park operation is also something worth investigating. Hawaii parks and beaches are about as good as it gets as year-round pleasant locations for some outdoor time. The come equipped with water pipes and fire hydrants for grounds and lots of trees begging to have antennas temporarily installed. Trade winds dare you to fly kites to loft wires, and picnic tables are often available for operating positions. All you need is a portable station with battery power and a worked-out plan for your antenna/tuner/ground system.

Adapt and Overcome!

If you possibly can get up an outside antenna DO SO! The skyhook is just about everything in HF DX communication. Regardless of how fancy your receiver is, how many gee haws like DSP units it sports or how much power you can crank out, if the antenna ain't happening, you will not be getting out. You may be changing channels on your neighbor's TV, raising and lowering garage doors down the street and making the lights dim all up and down the block, but you won't be "communicating" otherwise.Center Support

Running more power is often exactly the wrong thing to do. The press of surrounding neighbors will soon be at your door as a lynch mob. Much can be said for keeping power below 50 watts, especially for maintaining a low profile in a condo. RFI problems go up very fast as power output rises above 10 watts. Don't forget precautions like a standard low pass filter on your transmitter.

Low Pass Filters May Help on Receive as Well as Transmit

One trick the often helps is to put in a low pass filter, the standard type sold to Hams to reduce TVI. In fact these low pass filters, which cut off about 34 Mhz or so, work both ways. They block all the FM, TV, BEEPER and other VHF/UHF garbage that tries to sneak down any antenna feed line from the HF antenna system into your receiver front end.

True this is way outside the frequency range of a receiver tuned to 21 Mhz, but modern receiver front ends are broad banded and often benefit from not having all this very high level RF bias on them. They will often show less birdies, images and desensitization if an inexpensive low pass filter is in your feedline. How obvious this help will be depends on the exact receiver. Besides, such a filter cuts down on your chances of bothering the neighbors.

I have a TenTec transceiver on which a low pass filter eliminated about 80% of the mysterious birdies it was generating on some bands. The total RF power density in parts of urban areas like Honolulu is exceptional. From your lanai you can often see five TV/FM antennas, all running 100 KW, and dozens of beeper/cellular antennas on the surrounding buildings.

Antenna/Rig Grounds Both Real and Imaginary

Grounds in condos are just fiction. Many modern houses use plastic pipes so do not count on a cold water pipe for a ground unless you have checked that such pipes are in fact metal. If you can use an outside ground rod you certainly should. There are tuners specifically made to tune "counterpoise" wires laid about on the floor, around the walls, and you can cut such wires for resonance on your favorite band. However, unless you can be assured of a decent ground, you should try to use a symmetrical antenna like a dipole which does not rely on a ground like an end fed wire does.

The back and front yards in Hawaii are often so tiny that verticals are a natural choice. Remember, however, that most such antennas are going to demand a ground, a good ground. They will only be as good as their ground. You may need to put in a fairly extensive system of buried radials and rapidly discover that radials of any reasonable length won't fit in the yard. A system of ground stakes may help, and connecting to everything metal, such as metal hurricane fencing and the metal fence posts, can also help.

One trick that works at frequencies of 20 meters and above is a vertical dipole, a dipole stood on its end. It does not demand a high quality ground to work well and can be installed in a very small area.

It isn't All Negative!!

On the plus side, however, Hawaii Hams do not have to dig through hundreds of local signals to find the DX, nearly everything you hear on the HF bands is DX! Most Mainland Hams would turn green with envy at your logs full of Pacific Island contacts and you can work as many JA's as there are stars in the Universe. QRP DX operation is largely a matter of antenna design and exposure, plus some luck at the more congested receiving end.

If you can farm decent, well exposed beam antennas, Hawaii is a fantastic place for DX work.

Even if you are restricted to "invisible" antennas or antennas smothered on concrete lanais, shrunk to 1/20th the recommended size by huge loading coils, there is operation to be found, stations to work, and DX to score. Seek out local Hams who have already fought and won over the types of problems your specific operating site presents.

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08/99