Have you ever wanted to attend an international Scouting event, but were unable to make it to one of the World Jamborees, a camporee in another country, or even a local event?
How about attending a Jamboree that literally could be as close as your own backyard, or practically so?
Scouts and Scouters around the world will soon have that opportunity as we are approaching the weekend of Jamboree On The Air, an annual worldwide gathering via amateur radio, sponsored by the World Organization of the Scouting Movement.
This year’s JOTA, the 54th, takes place the weekend of October 15 and 16. It’s always the third full weekend of October, which coincides nicely with many outdoor events in Scouting here in the US, including Webelos outings and Boy Scout camporees.
JOTA takes place through the participation of amateur, or “ham,” radio operators around the world, many of whom are also Scouters (your author included). In the US, it’s not just for the BSA, either, as the Girl Scouts also have JOTA events as well (and of course, Scouting is co-ed in many parts of the world). During JOTA, Scouts and Scouters talk to one another on the radio, learn about each other and their activities, and make new friends. Contacts can be local, with other Scouts in town or nearby; they can span the country, or even go international, depending on radio conditions and the station and equipment setup. It can take many forms: Local radio clubs or individual hams invite troops and packs in their area to visit their stations; Scout camps with amateur radio installations open their doors; even individual hams may set up a station in their back yard so the Scouts can enjoy the outdoors while taking part in a typically indoor activity.
Every fall, several of us Scouter-hams set up our equipment and antennas and operate under our club callsign WB8BSA at our district fall camporee, where many hundreds of Scouts can stop by and participate. We have had conversations with other Scouts and Scouters across the country and around the world. It’s fascinating for our young men to converse with another Scout with a German, British or Spanish accent. If we are lucky, we’ll snag a contact with the Boy Scouts of America’s official amateur radio station, K2BSA, or one of the stations of Scouting organizations around the world, like HB9S at the World Scout headquarters in Switzerland, or GB3GP at Gilwell Park in England.
Besides making voice contacts (or “phone,” as hams call it, short for radiotelephone), we also use Morse Code (or “CW”). Far from an outmoded method of communicating, tens of thousands of hams enjoy making contacts by this fun method. I’ve contacted many fellow Scouters that way and had enjoyable conversations using the dots and dashes. More modern means of communicating come into play, with instant-messaging-like keyboard modes, in which a message, typed on a keyboard, is converted to digital signals that are sent by radio, where the Scout at the other end reads it from a computer screen or digital device, with no worries for messaging limits, data plans, or cellphone coverage. Television is also popular, as is satellite communications. Even the International Space Station gets into the game, making many contacts with Scout stations during the weekend, as their schedules permit.
What does it take to enjoy the fun of JOTA? Well, for starters, the BSA website’s JOTA section has a list of stations planning to participate in JOTA. See if there’s one near you, and make plans to go there or contact the station’s sponsor. In the first column of the list are the call letters of the station; you can look up that station’s information using websites like QRZ.com by typing in the call letters. (Keep in mind that the QRZ database lists the amateur operator’s licensed address, which may or may not be where he or she will be actually operating from on JOTA weekend.) If there isn’t an operation listed nearby, ask around your council or district. Go to Roundtable and ask, or check with your district’s activities and civic service committee (to find out who to contact, ask your unit commissioner). If you are a licensed amateur radio operator or know someone who is, just get on the air! The BSA’s JOTA site has full information on frequencies and operating guidelines. If you’re a ham but you don’t have a station setup, find another ham and borrow his station.
Then, invite your Scouts to join in on the fun! Most activity takes place on Saturday morning and afternoon, but there should be some activity on the HF (shortwave) bands pretty much any time during daylight hours – and remember, daylight in Europe is earlier than it is in the US, so check those early morning times, and even well into the evening while it’s still day in Japan, Australia or New Zealand.
Participants can get a temporary patch to commemorate this year’s event, but order early, as patches do tend to sell out.
Get your Scouts out and experience the fun of radio communication during JOTA weekend! Who knows, some of them may get hooked on a new hobby that’s as old as our own movement and closely parallels its development and principles. And, as us hams would say: HPE CU JOTA ES 73 (Hope to see you at JOTA and best wishes!)