Sunday, June 30, 2024

Want to operate from Iceland?

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Operating from Iceland was easy and fun. Since returning home, several emails have trickled in from people who are either going or want to go to Iceland, all generally asking the same questions regarding travel to the country with radio gear.

Here are my answers to those questions.

Are American hams allowed to operate in Iceland?

Yes, and easily. This page contains all you need to know. Americans do not need a Visa.

Did you meet any Icelandic hams?

A few days before our trip I received a very nice email from Yngvi TF3Y.

Yngvi told me that Reykjavik area hams meet on Thursday evenings at their club station and invited me to attend if I was in the area on a Thursday. Unfortunately, our itinerary was such that this was not possible. It would have been very enjoyable to meet the group (several members of whom I've worked) but I was not able to do so.

What radio & antenna do you recommend for easy travel?

My antenna was an MFJ-1979 telescoping whip. It extends to 5m/17 feet in length, making it a full size 1/4-wave vertical on any band between 10-20 meters. Retracted, and threaded into a magnetic base (to which 20 feet of RG-58 was attached), it fit diagonally into our suitcase. This antenna is my go-to antenna for mobile POTA activations - and for air travel as well, due to its compactness and performance.

I sort of wanted to take my FT-891 with me but this would have required a bigger battery. My 12AH

Click for larger

LiFePO4 has a 144 WH rating. Icelandair allows travel with up to 100WH. Batteries bigger than 100WH need prior approval. This made QRP so much easier.

My KX2 (with its internal battery) went into my camera bag along with my camera, drone and laptop. Also in the bag were three camera batteries and three drone batteries. No airport officials from either Icelandair or JetBlue showed even the least bit of concern. Evidently, they've seen it all before and none of it merited a second thought.

And here's a hint: A QRP rig (especially a black one) in a camera bag looks like a camera accessory. Hey, neat intervalometer!

And, although I had the means to do so, I never had to recharged the KX2's. All four activations and 90 contacts were completed on one battery charge with a full 10 watts out. The radio and CW are efficient and effective.

Was there any difficulty in making contacts with 10 watts? How about QRN at those always-daytime-during-summer latitudes?

Much to my surprise, there was no QRN, even on the outskirts of Reykjavik.

Making contacts was simple - every CQ resulted in multiple replies once my call was spotted to the DX cluster, POTA site or WWFF site. I put a bit of effort into where I parked, taking into account the terrain and the intended path. This seems to have not been worth the effort - even with a mountain between me and NA, I worked plenty of US stations, including some I believe to have been QRP. Same for mainland Europeans.

I used CW exclusively.

Are POTA sites accessible?

All of my attempts were successful.

Prior to the trip, I worried that many of Iceland's POTA sites might be off-limits for one reason or another since so few have ever been activated. I was the first activator for every site I operated from!

The fact that Iceland's parks are largely unactivated is due to a lack of desire to activate them, not restricted accessibility. Evidently, just getting on the air with a TF prefix generates more than enough activity for the local hams...doing so from a park just doesn't provide anything additional in that regard as it does for those of us from more common countries.

Any handy apps to share?

I found POTA sites near me by using To make it work for Iceland, you'll have to select 'Iceland' from the menu on the left, then 'Rebuild map'.

For logging, I used hamrs on my phone.

Is Iceland expensive? How much cash should I carry?

At first glance, yes - it's expensive. A simple lunch of soup and sandwiches (and water to drink) for my lovely bride and I cost $56. This is typical of prices throughout the country. Gasoline is $8.50/gallon equivalent. This is for 95 octane which is all that was available at many gas stations outside the capital.

But if you take into account the diversity of landscapes you'll see, Iceland is a bargain. On one island, we saw geysers, geothermal areas (including an infinity pool we had to ourselves), iceberg-laden lagoons, an active volcano, lava fields, snow on the roadside, fishing villages, rocky beaches, sandy beaches, arctic terns and puffins, seals, reindeer and waterfalls too numerous to count. To see that variety elsewhere would require several destinations and the expenses associated with that.

"With that in mind, Iceland is a bargain" he said, as he paid his post-trip VISA bill.

Hotels for 9 nights (free breakfast at each) and a rental car with unlimited miles cost $3150.

We never needed cash, either in dollars, euros or krona. Credit card all the way. That's what they want and it's the easiest way to do it.

Are the sites crowded?

Not yet. But IMO, the best time to visit Iceland is soon. We had many spectacular views, mostly to ourselves - especially once we got away from the capital. But even close to Reykjavik & Keflavik, there were usually only a handful of visitors although there were a few exceptions to this.

Also important to note is that every epic waterfall we saw (including a few not on the list - we found them just by driving by), the geothermal areas, geysers, etc. were all free; no admission charges as there would be in the US.

I believe all of this will change as tourism becomes more and more popular. If you've ever wanted to see Iceland, do it soon.

Electrical power

AC power in Iceland is 220VAC at 50Hz. To use US appliances they first must have a wide range of AC input voltages. Most wall-warts, battery chargers and laptop AC cords fit this description. Hair dryers do not.

To fit in the plug, you'll need an adapter like this one. It adapts only the physical configuration of the prongs - it does not alter the voltage from the plug!

How's the food?

Young horse steak or cow burger?
If you're "so hungry you could eat a horse" or if you have "a whale of an appetite", you're in luck. Both of those items can be found on the dinner menu. I could never eat a horse but would have tried whale if it were served at wherever we happened to be for dinner. We always saw it in passing, before or after lunch.

Fish and chips are everywhere and the best IMO is at Harry's in Reykjavik. Fish and lamb are the staples throughout the country.

If you find yourself in Hofn, have lunch or dinner at Heppa Restaurant. The Grilled Pork Belly with Polenta will rock your world.

And speaking of restaurants:

There are more tourists in Iceland than the local population can seasonally support. The need for restaurant workers is such that Iceland advertises in Europe for young people to come to Iceland and work from June to August. They are paid well and provided housing. We met and had extended conversations with waitstaff from Spain, Latvia, Poland and Holland - all excited to be summering in Iceland and eager to tell us about it. What a fantastic opportunity for a person in their 20's!

Should I take an Icelandic phrase book?

Good luck with your pronunciation! Seriously, everyone speaks English fluently. And Icelandic people are quite friendly.

Can you share your itinerary and a description of the places you saw?

Downloadable here (1MB pdf).

There are various types of tours one can take to see Iceland. Group tours, self-driving tours (like ours) or even rental RV's.

Group tours are not my thing as they don't allow individual variation from day to day. RV's are neat - we saw Class C's and SUV/trailers being used. Camping is $15 per night but the camping sites are not the awesome places one might expect. They were typically grassy lots adjacent to a road.

We loved our method and would do it again. Each night, we looked over the next day's agenda. The only thing we were locked into was where we needed to be to spend the next night. If something on the agenda didn't appeal, we'd skip it and have more time for the other things. There was no way to see everything, every day, on our agenda so we had to pick & choose and it was nice to be able to do so.

It gave us time to take photos, have picnics and fly my drone. Flexibility (and the ability to change plans on the fly) is a valuable thing not possible with a group tour.

If I had it to do again...?

I would go during a time of year that includes a sunrise and sunset.

For photography, I like golden light - the beginning and end of daylight is a beautiful time for making the most of landscape photography. As it was in June, it's always broad daylight. Plus, I like sleeping in a dark room. We were never able to make any of our rooms anything even close to dark. Waking up at 2 in the morning, the room is as light as if it were 9 in the morning, even with curtains drawn.

What kind of drone do you use?

I used a DJI Mini 4 Pro. Drone rules in Iceland are quite similar to those in the US: don't fly higher than 120m/400ft and the drone can't weigh more than 250 grams. I did see two other people flying heavier drones (DJI Mavic Air).

Below is the drone-only version of a video I posted earlier (no radio).

I was surprised to see a brick & mortar DJI store just off the main drag in Reykjavik.



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