Loaner rigs… why and how? Getting started with ham radio can be overwhelming for many new licensees! HF especially can be hard to step into, even for those that have worked with VHF/UHF for some time. Not only is HF complex and intimidating, but the price entry can be a barrier for anyone to take their first steps.
Amateur Radio clubs can help their members take these first steps with loaner rigs, HF, and VHF rigs owned by the club that can be lent to new operators to get started. This practice is tried and true and a great way to get folks interested in HF and ham radio.
Credit to the WB1GOF PART of Westford club for introducing this concept to them. The pictured loaner rig kit is the one they offer for their members, and is what inspired this post!
What to Include and NOT Include
Loaner rig kits should include more than just the radio. The idea is to give the new operator (or the operator in need) most of what they need to get started. It should include:
- The radio (duh)
- Mic & morse code Key
- Power supply
- Computer interface
- Tuner if one is not built-in
- Speaker if needed (depends on the rig)
You’ll notice that I didn’t include the antenna or coax. That’s right, your loaner kit should NOT include an antenna or coax. That might sound off at first, but every QTH is different. The space and height of the operating area will differ widely depending on the person, so having an antenna in the kit is just asking for trouble.
Plus, remember: this kit is designed to get people into ham radio. By making the operator supply their own coax and antenna we’re accomplishing two things. First, they have skin in the game. By spending some money on coax and antenna parts (should be less than $60), and spending the time putting the antenna together, the recipient of the loaner rig has invested something into the hobby. Plus, once the loaner rig goes back to the club and the operator wants to get a new radio, all they’ll have to do with the new rig is plug it in, thus lowering the barrier to re-entry once the loaner rig is gone!
Choosing a Rig
Picking out a rig can be intimidating at first. What do you want in your loaner rig, what don’t you want? Any rig is better than no rig. Don’t get too picky. However, it’s best to keep an eye out for rigs following the following general specifications:
- 100W HF – In general, 100W is the best power level to start out new operators with. Sure, you can work the world with 10W of power, but it requires experience, patience, and unique tactics that new ops might find frustrating. Anything above 100W would likely require more equipment, has the potential to spoil a new operator, and will be preventatively expensive for the club.
- All Band All Mode – An all-band, all-mode radio is a great way to let operators play with different bands and modes to get their feet wet and earn experience. It can be great adding VHF/UHF into the mix, too!
- Not the Latest & Greatest – You don’t teach your kid to drive in a Ferrari. At least, most people don’t. A complex radio with all the latest features and complex functionality might be overwhelming, and again, can spoil the fun for a new operator once they get their own station going.
- SWR Rollback – We all make mistakes. Having a radio that will detect high SWR and rollback power is great for keeping the rig safe.
Another tip is to include a VHF/UHF Mobile radio for an operator’s car or secondary station. Something simple and cheap is usually best.
Bundling and Storage
You want to make it easy to hand over the loaner rig kit and for it to be stored safely and consistently. Visit your local Target, Walmart, or Container Store and grab a decent-sized box. You can also use a Pelican case if you want to make sure everything stays extra secure (plus, let’s face it, Pelican cases just make things cooler).
You’ll also want to include all the manuals printed and ready for quick reference, as well as perhaps some extra writeups for how to set them up together.
Leasing out the Rig
So you have your loaner rig set up and ready to go. How do you handle loaning it to members of your club? One recommended approach is to offer it on loan to any member for 3 months. After that 3 months, if nobody else is requesting the loaner rig set, it can be leased one month at a time.
Some clubs might also want to charge members a small fee for each month after the first three to incentivize the operator to buy their own setup and earn the club some extra cash, but this really depends on the club.
Having the loaner rig’s buildup and status posted on the website with clear instructions on how to request it can also be beneficial to clubs.
Another great way to help hams get into the hobby is to offer support when they need it. Officially offer help when they need it for general troubleshooting, antenna building, setup, and assembly, and help them to learn how to use the radio. Have links ready to helpful videos and guides, and be understanding and patient. We were all new to this at one point or another!
A loaner rig is an excellent feature for any club, big or small. If your club doesn’t have a loaner rig consider donating a radio or accessories for your club to put one together! These kits can really jumpstart a new operator into a lifetime of ham radio, so in the long run, it’s worth it.
If you’re a club looking for components to make your loaner rigs kit, reach out to your club! You’d be surprised how generous members can be when it’s to benefit the Amateur Radio cause.