three people seated inside a lighthouse, working amateur radio equipment

GVSU crew activates amateur radio at remote lighthouse in Lake Superior

A group from Grand Valley traveled in August to the Upper Peninsula to participate in an amateur radio activation at a remote Lake Superior lighthouse.

The group included Nicholas Baine, associate professor of engineering; Jared Bergeron, lab technician for the School of Engineering; and Dan Mills, Grand Valley graduate and founder of the university's amateur radio club, W8GVU. Mills had the idea of doing what in amateur radio terms is called a "DX-pedition," a journey to a remote location, and connected with Baine and Bergeron.

Their journey to Stannard Rock lighthouse, 20 miles from Au Train, took nearly four hours by boat. 

“We couldn’t take bigger boats out there because of the depth of the water at the lighthouse,” Baine said. “The whole point of the lighthouse being there is that it sits on Stannard Rock, which is like a mountain in the middle of Lake Superior.”

Carl Lindquist, executive director of the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Conservancy, which works to maintain the Stannard lighthouse, stressed the importance of the structure. Not only does the lighthouse mark an area of shallow water, it is also vital for climate research by the United States and Canada, and serves as a historical landmark.

man attaches equipment to the side of a lighthouse
Nicholas Baine, associate professor of engineering, attaches amateur radio equipment to the side of the Stannard lighthouse.
courtesy photo
person inside lighthouse operating an amateur radio
When radio equipment was operational, the crew was able to make 350 contacts with stations in 40 states and eight countries.
courtesy photo
two people attach a GVSU flag to a lighthouse
Nicholas Baine, left, and Jared Bergeron attach a GVSU flag to the lighthouse.
courtesy photo

When the group reached the lighthouse, they had to unload more than 600 pounds of gear, with only the help of a small hoist, and without a dock.

“You had to time your step with the wave that was lifting the boat up to the ladder, all the while someone else is shoving off of the lighthouse to make sure it doesn't damage the boat,” Baine said.

After three hours of unloading the gear, the crew then faced seven flights of stairs. Bergeron said setting up the equipment took twice as long as it normally would.

Putting together the amateur radio took skill and some steps involved considerable risk. Baine said setting up the antennas meant climbing a ladder to the top of the lighthouse, where the only thing under them was a concrete platform 100 feet below.

“We had to climb up and down from the top with the wind blowing. The bottom of the ladder was closer to the lighthouse than the top so you would kind of be hanging back off of it,” Baine said. “We braved that to put the Grand Valley flag up there, too.”

Once connected, the crew was able to make about 350 contacts with stations in 40 states and eight countries. Lindquist said he was grateful for the work they did and the attention they brought to the lighthouse.

“It represents maritime history and part of our Great Lakes history, this is such a unique structure. It was considered an engineering marvel when it was built in the 1880s,” Lindquist said. 

Matt Crehan and Greg Stoike, vice president of the Grand Rapids Amateur Radio Association, also traveled to the lighthouse. 

— written by Camryn Snider, student writer