Gibraltar Amateur Radio Society (GARS) activated Europa Point Lighthouse ZB2LGT (GI 001) for the International Lighthouse Lightship Weekend (ILLW) on the 21st & 22nd August this year. This annual 48 hour amateur radio event is held on the third full weekend in August and involves participants setting up portable stations at, or as close as possible to, lighthouses and lightships around the world. Amateur Radio started in Gibraltar shortly after the Second World War and today GARS is a small but active society representing the interests of Amateur Radio both locally and internationally as a full IARU member society and the club is also affiliated to the Radio society of Great Britain.
Secretary of GARS, John King, explains that the club has been going since the late sixties. “In those days radio was quite popular because there was no such thing as Skype or WhatsApp and it was the only way to be able to talk to people without having to pick up a phone.”
Amateur radio (often called Ham Radio) is gaining in popularity throughout the world now, and year to year the number of licenses issued is increasing, which is not what most people would tend to expect in the age of smartphones which makes communicating with others much easier. Once thought of as a ‘geeky hobby’, John explains that it involves radio operators (called ‘hams’) talking to each other over HF/VHF and UHF frequencies.
“It used to be quite difficult to get involved,” John says. “Before 2003, to get a full UK amateur radio licence, you had to take the City & Guilds RAE exam, but from 2004 it became much easier with the dropping of the Morse code part and a new three way examination system – Foundation, Intermediate & Full – and since then a lot more people have taken up this hobby.” This was evident in around the world during the lockdowns when people were stuck at home and looking for things to do.
The ILLW takes place as close to the Europa Point Lighthouse as members of GARS can get. “This year we operated from an old bird watching shack and over the course of the two days we managed to talk to about one thousand five hundred different stations around the world, including approximately thirty lighthouses who were taking part in the same event,” John states. Countries that made contact with Gibraltar were from most of Europe and the UK and included places further afield such as Uruguay, Canary Islands, Barbados, Zambia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Chile, Algeria, South Africa, Eswatini, Tunisia, Israel, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Lebanon, Bonaire, Brazil, America, and Canada.
GARS has been involved in the Lighthouse event for the past twenty years and Gibraltar is unusual amongst the other countries taking part because there aren’t that many stations that are actually licensed here. “There are probably about fifty,” John says, “but of those there are only a handful that are actually active, so this means that when we call out everyone wants to talk to Gibraltar and we have to be very disciplined in how we operate.”
Something that ‘hams’ enjoying doing is collecting QSL cards which is a written confirmation of a two-way radio communication between two amateur radio or citizens band stations. A typical QSL card is the same size and made from the same material as a postcard, and most are sent through the mail. “If someone talks to us we will send them a QSL card with the station name on the front,” John comments. “The particular station for the lighthouse is ZB2LGT and this call is issued every year.”
A lot of people don’t understand amateur radio but it can be an incredibly social activity. “People see us down at Europa Point, sat on a chair, talking into a box and they have no idea what we are doing,” John laughs. As it says on the club website: “There is no better way to explore the fascinating world of radio communications than by becoming a radio amateur, and Gibraltar is a great place to do it from.” Amateur radio can be fun, social, and educational and there are many reasons why people become involved in the activity. These include being able to contact people all over the world by radio, to compete in international competitions, to engage in technical experimentation, to communicate through amateur space satellites or with the International Space Station and to act as a lifeline and to provide communications at times of emergencies.
GARS is situated on Coaling Island and the club meet every Wednesday at 8 o’clock until 9.30 pm. John is keen to attract new members as well as welcoming any visiting radio amateurs. “If you are interested in learning about amateur radio and obtaining a Gibraltar licence, please pop down and have a chat with us and listen in and hopefully you will find a new hobby.”
Find out more about GARS from their Facebook page: Gibraltar Amateur Radio Society or from their website: www.gibradio.net or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org