Swift Current Scouts Do JOTA
This article was published Nov. 1/18 in the Prairie Post. We wish to thank Ryan Dahlman and Matthew Liebenburg for letting us put this on our website.
Swift Current scouts were able to communicate with scouts around the world during the annual Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) with the help of local amateur radio enthusiasts.
Members of the the Swift Current Group 2 Scouts spent time at Gowan's Grove, south of Swift Current, from Oct. 19-21, where they had the opportunity to use the radio equipment of Southwest Amateur Radio Club member Ray Gowan to talk to other scouts.
Gowan and other local amateur radio enthusiasts have been teaming up with the Swift Current scouts for about 20 years to participate in this international event.
“We started out just in different people's houses that had stations and then we did a couple or three at the airport at a club station we had there,” Gowan recalled. “Then probably for 15 years we've been doing them here.”
Gowan's Grove, which is located next to the Swift Current Creek, is a great location for the scouts to have an outdoor experience while they also learn about amateur radio and technology.
“They seem to have a lot of fun doing things besides radio,” he said.
JOTA started in 1958 and takes place on the third weekend of October each year. The development of the internet resulted in the addition of the Jamboree on the Internet (JOTI) in 1997. Both activities are sanctioned by the World Organization of the Scouting Movement.
JOTA-JOTI is the largest scouting event in the world. In 2017 more than 1.5 million scouts in over 160 countries participated in JOTA-JOTI events and the goal was to have two million young people take part in the 2018 event.
Southwest Amateur Radio Club member Lloyd Fehr, who has been involved with the scout movement for about 30 years, said the Swift Current Group 2 Scouts was the only scout group in the province that specifically participated in the JOTA event this year through the use of radio equipment.
“We want to do all the ham radio gear and grow the program, because it's a tie-in between ham radio and scouts,” he mentioned. “So you can get people interested into electronics and STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields.”
During their time at Gowan's Grove the scouts participated in a radio direction finding exercise and learned about morse code.
“We're teaching them morse code, we're teaching them how to do effective communication, we're teaching them how to do triangulation and tracking so that they can find things, communicate well and be more well-rounded scouts,” he said.
During the transmitter hunting or fox hunting exercise the scouts used hand-held radio receivers to find a beacon.
“There is a beacon sitting somewhere at Gowan's Grove and they are are going to try and find it using triangulation,” he explained. “So everybody has radios, they're listening for the signal strength, the stronger it gets the closer you are, and then using a little bit of math they can find the beacon and win a prize.”
The radio equipment that were used for JOTA is set up inside a cabin at Gowan's Grove. The scouts gathered around the table and they took turns to talk to other scouts whenever Southwest Amateur Radio Club members made contact with another group.
Fehr noted that the scouts talked about a variety of things of interest to them, such as their scouting activities, their favourite classes at school or their favourite sports teams, and the weather. Scouts in Dallas, Texas, were surprised to hear how low the temperature already was at the location where the Swift Current scouts were talking from.
The interaction helped the scouts to gain a wider perspective on the world and to also develop an understanding of the shared experiences between them and scouts in another part of the world as they talk about common interests.
“So it's kind of eye opening experience,” he said. “They're camping on a beach in Mexico. ... Here we're camping in a little grove. So getting to think outside of our little local area.”
According to Gowan they made contact with over 80 stations over the weekend. The Swift Current scouts connected with scouts in Germany, Denmark, French Guiana, Brazil, Hawaii and various other stations in the United States.
“It's just very interesting to reach out and you never know where you're going to find the next group,” he said. “It could be anywhere in the States or over in Europe. It's kind of exciting. It's interesting to see how, as the sun moves throughout the day, the stations come in from different areas.”
He noted that the reception was good, even though the solar cycle is currently at a low point. On Saturday morning the connection with a station in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, was very clear and it was also good when they talked to a station in Hawaii on Friday night.
“It was just like he was sitting on the hill over here, it was so clear,” he said about the Hawaii call. “It's been very good.”
They had two different options to try to connect with jamboree stations during the weekend when making a CQ or general call.
“Hundreds of jamboree stations are calling CQ and so you can just tune around and talk to the stations that are calling, and you could be quite successful just doing that,” he said. “If you can find an open space on the band, we'll start calling CQ and stations will start coming back to us. So there's people that move around and there's other stations that tend to sort of stay in certain places.”
They have access to thousands of different frequencies, but they have to hunt around to find a useful one, because frequency strength will vary with conditions.
“As the conditions change, some bands start to get better, some fade right out,” he said. “So you have to know which bands are active and watch. When the sun goes down this evening, the band that we're using right now will just completely disappear. Then other bands will open up in the evening. We have such a range of frequencies that you can usually find something that's open.”
Gowan is hoping that their experiences during the JOTA-JOTI weekend will interest some scouts to become more involved with amateur radio.
“We've had some young people, some of the scouts, actually get their license after they came out two or three times,” he said. “It's a good hobby. There's so many different areas that you can explore and whether you want to build antennas or build equipment or just buy stuff and get on the air with it, you can do lots of different things.”