Other SOTA sites: SOTAwatch | SOTA Home | Database | Video | Photos | Shop | Mapping | FAQs | Facebook | Contact SOTA

SOTA Activations w/ CW



Being the one who asked the question and a cw newbie I appreciate all the replies. To clarify, I would never try to jump in the fray of a pileup occurring at a faster pace than I, but, when all died down I would jump in and see if I could make the contact. It has been my experience as a chaser, on ssb only so far, that the activations where pileups occur is not the norm. Maybe it is with cw as the low power signal gets out much better. To all, who would welcome a newbie checking in I hope to chase your activation soon. To those who prefer not, I hope to work you when I get better. Just keep activating so I will have something to chase!



Guru has explained the key issues facing the QRS activator very well.

I usually will QRS when activating, if I sense that a chaser needs a slower speed, or if I hear “QRS”. It’s usually quicker to QRS than to repeat an entire transmission. I usually start with increased spacing, but I’ll dial in a slower speed for the chasers who come back seriously slow.

If you activate often, and chasers learn that they can contact you reliably, there often is a pile of chasers to work through! If the weather is challenging, or time is limited for any reason, you may have trouble contacting all your chasers. Since most of us are chasers also, we see both sides of the coin.

The QRS activator needs all the help we can give! He’s often new to radio as well as challenged by CW. Perhaps there are challenges on the peak, wind, rain, etc., and it’s too hard to explain when sending slowly. When I wait in the pile to contact an activator, sometimes I hear a few other chasers sending at almost twice the speed that’s appropriate - and often QRO also. The bewildered activator can’t even get the chaser’s call, he must ask for repeats, and the pile is actually slowed down!

I agree that slower speeds work better through QSB, QRN, and QRM. I really like it when a weak station calls me QRS - even twice - so I can get him without repeats.

I think we just need to remember to be considerate and learn as we go. Sometimes lately I’ve had to do quicker activations because to the short days and limited time on the summits. I seem to have a huge number of loyal chasers - so I try to send short exchanges when the pile is deep.

What’s appropriate for a regular CW QSO may not be OK for SOTA.

Please activate at whatever speed you can go. Most of us chasers want to see more CW activations! Ask chasers to “PSE QRS” if they hit you with machine-gun CW. However, especially if you’re slow, remember that there might be 20 or 30 chasers out there wanting to contact you, so do what you can to make it move faster. This means un-learning some of the things that you were taught about regular CW QSO’s. If you’re QRS, use your time just to work the pile:

  1. Call CQ with your call at the start, and continue your CQ until you get a bunch of chasers, but then don’t call CQ again, until you have no chasers.

  2. Send your call occasionally - but not every contact - PLEASE! Sending your call often serves no one. 99% of your chasers already know your call.

  3. Do send your SOTA REF at the start and very occasionally. However, if you’re got a pile, it’s because you’ve been spotted, so most of your chasers already know your call and your summit. If there’s a question about your REF or call, your chasers will ask “REF?” or “CALL?” or “CAL?” or just “??”.

  4. Never send “YOUR RST IS 599” Just send “UR 599” or “5NN” for short. If you think you’re weak to the chaser, send your RST twice.

  5. Never send “MY SOTA REF IS W0C/FR-031”. Just add it to your call:
    “DE W9BRI ON W0C/FR-031” or something similar.

  6. When the chaser has what he needs, finish up fast - send “TU 73” or similar, and move on.

When a QRS activator sends too much redundant or “friendly” information is that everyone’s problems increase. The activator gets tired and overwhelmed by the piles of chasers calling on top of each other. He may quit and leave the more patient chasers hanging, after some of them have waited a long time to make a contact. The chasers can’t believe that the activator is sending his call and maybe even his SOTA REF every contact, so they get more frustrated and may behave badly as they try to make the contact.

Even worse, the activator isn’t having as much fun as he should be - since he’s sending too much - so being burned-out, he may just activate one band, instead of 2 or 3, leaving over half of his waiting chasers out of the game, with no contact and no points.

If you’re a QRS CW activator, choose your frequency wisely. Avoid the QRP hot-spots like 10.110 and 14.060 MHz where all the newbies call CQ (on top of you). Many of them can’t hear you. Choose frequencies near where you see other activators’ spots. Listen to be sure the frequency is clear, and send “QRL?” before calling CQ. Avoid 40 and 20M during contests - or move up the band away from the QRM.

Try to post an ALERT well before your activation, if you possibly can. This will help your chasers prepare, but more important, if you post an ALERT on SOTAWatch, the RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) will automatically SPOT you within a minute after you call CQ and send your call - if you’re getting out OK. Call “CQ CQ DE W9BRI SOTA” once or twice. Once you have an RBN spot, you will have a pile! Usually there’s no need to self-spot, if you use an ALERT and let the RBN and the “RBN HOLE” create your spot on SOTAWatch.

Activating gets easier after a while, and CW improves the more you do it. Good things take time and patience.

Above all, be safe and have fun. Build carefully on your experience. We all want to hear your QRS CW signals from the peaks!




All, you have provided some very valuable information that will prove beneficial no matter whether activating or chasing. I did want to clarify that I am strictly chasing at this time and I wanted to make sure that all of you activators were willing to give a QRS station a chance. I understand that I should wait until a pile up is close to ending before I jump in so that I do not cause quicker stations to spin the dial because I am taking too much time. You all have been great throughout this thread and I appreciate it very much.


Well said George. As a new CW operator I agree with all of that. Short and Sweet.

Roland K7FOP


Awesome tutorial!
I’ve been a chaser just over 2 years now and really admire the work the activators put in to get OTA and the respect chasers show each other as opposed to DX pileups I’ve worked. Most chasers give their callsigns once, most give complete calls and most do not attempt to be the last caller after a QRZ from the activator.

SOTA is a great facet to amateur radio and it’s where I spend most of my time OTA. Thanks to all the activators and chasers, 73!


Spot on George (KX0R)! After making over 25K CW contacts as an activator and over 4300 CW contacts as a chaser, you can definitely teach many of us a thing or two about good operating practices for SOTA. Thanks for your comprehensive post!

73, Brad


I will gladly slow down for you if I’m activating. Most likely by adding spacing between letters. I’m a new CW op myself. It sure is great to see CW making a comeback!



When I activate either sota or pota I use my Ameco straight key and can only send legibly at around 18 WPM. I try to remember to slow the last mention of my call so that QRS folks can read me. If they answer slow I will try to remember to match their speed. If I don’t just remind me with a “QRS pse” and I’ll certainly apologize and slow down. I’ve experimented with this method and found that I get more QSOs in the long run.

If I hear two stations trying to call me I will pick out the weakest or the slowest first. I’m partial to QRP and one QRP technique is to send QRS. And a QRO station will almost certainly call again without being buried by QRS the next time they try.

Keep practicing and get together with an SKCC op on the old 40m novice band to build up your speed. They will QSO with you even if you use a paddle. You can email me any time for a sked. My email is on my QRZ.com page.

I’ve also found when chasing that sooner or later the pool of callers start to dwindle. That is when I try to push my QRP rig at the end of the line.

Happy Hunting and hope to cu soon.
72/73 Mike Morris