QRP is the Q code for low power operating. QRP is a subset of HAM radio that some people love and some people laugh at. Those that laugh now will not be laughing later…. If the grid goes down those “big guns” will be silent.
Running 100 watts plus is great but……What if you had no stable, store bought power? Maybe your generator was ticking along but now, outta gas? You could be on the move and have no way to carry a generator. All these things are realistic scenarios to think of when designing a communication plan. The solution: QRP. To keep a 100 watt transceiver on the air you will need a significant amount of current (18-20 amps). Without a generator or a running vehicle, you are going to be hard pressed to deliver that kind of current. QRP radio equipment can run off as little as 1-2 amps (maybe less depending on the rig) of current. Now, yes, QRP means 5 watts or less RF output. This is where those arm chair operator’s will laugh. Let them laugh. Those high power transmitters will be used for parts. Those that are “in the know”, understand that you can work the world with QRP. People do it every day. 5 watts will not break DX pile ups but it will get the message through. Many things will depend on your QRP success. Your antenna will make all the difference, practice now with different types of antennas and see what works for you. Something else to keep in mind when operating low power is, patience. You are not going to get 5-9 signal reports all the time. That being said, sometimes you have to wait your turn. Let the high power stations fight it out then make your call. Most of these problems will be non-existent if the grid goes down. You will not be working DX, you will also not have to compete with those high power stations (remember, we parted them out). You will be talking (and listening) to comms relevant to your situation. Maybe you will be working NVIS HF (if you don’t know what this is, Google it and learn. We will discuss that later.) or just trying to keep your VHF/UHF comms up. You will be on the air with other QRP stations and there will be a different way of conduct. The trick is to do it now so you know what works. Low power operating is much different and more difficult than you may think. All these things said, the gear is lighter and can be less expensive. If you are into CW, aka morse code, (and you need to be) you will have more luck with QRP. CW contacts are easier then voice when operating QRP. CW gets through when nothing else will. It’s a dying art and it will be needed again. Learn it now. To power your QRP equipment you can use the techniques learned in the Grid Down…Power Up post. Also something to keep in mind when considering solar power, QRP is the best, realistic option. Unlike large deep cycle batteries, the small batteries used in QRP can be changed from solar power.
Yes, you can charge deep cycle batteries from solar but you will need a much larger and much more expensive solar set-up. Small batteries equals small solar panels.
As far as equipment requirements goes, they are similar to a high power stations. You need a radio, antenna, power source and probably a tuner.
One big difference is QRP gear is smaller and more packable. You can use lighter gauge wire for antennas because your power level is much lower. If you have set frequencies you plan on using, you can cut a resonant dipole and ditch the tuner. There are many ways to cut fat and lighten the load. QRP also offers HF action to those stuck in antenna restricted areas. You can set up in the park or any outdoor area. The easier it is to set-up the more likely you will be to practice. Remember, we are not necessarily looking for DX here. We want to listen and communicate with things that affect us.
There are many daily HF nets you can check into and make sure your gear is working. Spend a while tuning around and listen to all the action. Now, start sharpening your low power operating skills! This post is not a comprehensive article on QRP, I want to get you thinking about realistic communications options. This stuff works. It’s a fading skill and we need to know how to work with what we have . As we go along, there will be more detailed post about QRP but for now we need to develop a “mind set”. Go outside in the field and operate. Get your hands dirty here.