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Tips and Strategies for more DX in SOTA Logs?


#1

Hi all,

I am always very impressed by the reports of DX QSOs in SOTA logs, namely SSB contacts (e.g. Ed’s @DD5LP successes into Australia).

After a year of activating, with 18 activations and a few failed attempts, I only had one DX QSO into North America. The main reason is that I often ran out of time before I could switch to 20m. But I think I could do better in general.

Could others please share their advice and experiences?

I do CW-only activations with 5 watts from my Mountain Topper 5B. My main antenna is an end-fed hybrid with traps for 40-30-20m and links for 17 and 15m, typically mounted as an inverted L on a 6m pole.

I would be particularly interested in the following aspects:

1. Timing: I learned that NA contacts often fail if we cannot stay long enough on a summit for the US to wake up. Ed’s successes into Australia seem to have happened all in the early morning, which is difficult for most summits in the alps without an overnight stay in the wilderness.

2. Antenna Orientation: Sometimes, the summit dictates the direction of the long leg of my inverted L, but often, I would have a choice.

3. Band and Frequency: Are there rules of thumb? When is 20m superior to 17m? When does it make sense to try 15m? Are there particular challenges for QRP operation, e.g. tradeoffs between ionization and attenuation? So far I thought that the highest band that is open would likely give me the most distant contacts.

Any help and advice will be very much appreciated!

73 de Martin, DK3IT


#2

If you want to work VK you need to get on the air when the bands are open to VK from your part of the world and use an antenna with a suitable radiation pattern. That is all there is to it. It does help if there are chasers/activators on in VK when you are on too! If you haven’t mobilised people to listen at the other end of the path you may still be heard by non-SOTA people in the target zone but being QRP, you are only making things harder.

Get on the air when the band is open.
Use the right antenna (probably not an inv-L)
Arrange a chasing posse in the target zone.
Pray to propagation gods (as we are near the bottom of the cycle) for enhanced conditions.


#3

I have come to the following conclusions re DX from a SOTA activation:

  1. Focus on the 20m band.

  2. Use a quarterwave vertical with groundplane antenna.

  3. For North (and South) America, use times from 1500z until local sunset.

  4. For Australia & Far East, use times from 0700z to 1000z.

This all works with an FT-817 running 5w, so QRP is fine.


#4

I think that Andy and Tom said it all.

73’s!

Zoran / E70AA


#5

I think 20m offers by far the best options for SOTA DX right now, for these reasons:

  • 30m, 20m and 17m are the best performer bands for DX at current low solar activity levels.
  • There are many, many more chasers having a beam antenna for 20m compared to those having it for 17m or 30m.
  • Chasers reception of a tiny QRP DX signal is far better with a beam compared to a dipole, endfed wire or a vertical antenna, which have less gain and get much more noise. I have a tribander yagi and often switch between the yagi and an inverted vee dipole I have to realize that signals with strengths up to S8 or even S9 on my yagi are often not copyable AT ALL on my dipole.That can give you an idea of the chances that you may have on 17 and 30m, where most of us have just dipoles, endfeds and stuff like that (exception for those rare and priviledged ones having a beam for those 2 mentionned bands)
  • most of people having a beam for 20m, have a tribander so they also have a beam for 15m, but, although 15m used to be a very good band for SOTA DX some 2 or 3 years ago, it’s not in very good shape for QRP DX in this moment.

In summary:

  • rise an alert with your activating intentions
  • use 20m
  • CW preferably
  • Get up early and be on air at about our sunrise for VK-ZL to be in their sunset.
  • Be on air in the begining of the afternoon for North-America and remain as late as you want/can. The later the more in the West of NA you will be potentially heard and chased from.

Good luck.

73,

Guru


#6

Hi Guru,
Thanks - your antenna argument is also support for my lesson learned on OE/TI-104 Pirchkogel that trying to stay on 40m for qualifying a summit is better than escaping into 30m.

73 de Martin, DK3IT


#7

Personally, I would probably be able to copy and chase you on 30m, while 40m would put it harder to me.
But that’s me and I understand you’d probably have far better chances to qualify an activation on 40m, but don’t dismiss 30m because its a great band and it can provide short skip of a few hundreds Km and very long DX like VK-ZL (assuming there are good eared chasers down under)
73,

Guru
73,

Guru


#8

Hi Guru, thanks - yes, I understand - and I actually like 30m a lot. But for a super-short ski activation on a summit with unpleasant winds and others waiting, fighting for a free slot anywhere in the 40m band is likely more successful. Some contest people might rather give me a report quickly to get rid of me :wink:

73 de Martin, DK3IT


#9

Coming to this thread a bit late after being exhausted yesterday (and I suspect had a bit of hyperthermia making it difficult to think 100% clearly - must be careful with that as I get older…).

My set-up for working VK/ZL is a linked dipole or OCF dipole and a 6 metre mast. Nowadays having about 20-25watts and speech compression (mine are all SSB contacts) and getting out at the right time for the long path. There are a couple of stations in ZL that are nearly always there in all but the worst propagation and they tend to start coming in around 0730-0830 UTC at the moment. After that you may get some East Coast VK stations between 0800 and 0900 and further West in Australia following them (at least to South Australia).

In principal a vertical as Mike 2E0YYY uses (Solarcon A-99) should be better for DX given it’s lower take-off angle and indeed I have actually bought a second hand one of the same model that Mike uses to try out. Mike tends to have more success than me so there could indeed be something in the lower take off angle. I have always used the Inverted-V dipole however.

The time of day is the real point I think, you need to be out on the summit early in the morning to catch the Long Path window. I have tried for the time that the short path should be good acording to the propagation predictions, the problem with that is that the majority of Amateurs in VK/ZL are asleep in bed at that time!

Summit to Summit contacts are a lot more difficult than summit to home station contacts of course. Indeed those really need to be planned and scheduled. Something that Mike, Andrew and I used to do.

73 and good luck with some very early starts… Ed.


#10

Thanks Ed - so if you make it with 25 W SSB, 5W CW should do. Will try.
73 de Martin, DK3IT


#11

I have managed S2S contacts between DL and VK with just 5 watts of SSB from the FT-817 but that was back in 2014-15 when propagation was better.

Yes 5 watts of CW or 0.5 watts of digital data modes such as FT-8 could also get through when conditions are right. There is an element of luck to it, so it’s good to advertise on this reflector - and on the SOTA Australia YahooGroup that you intend to be out and would very much welcome ZL and VK contacts.

As for other DX I think the vertical better than horizontal rule still applies and looking to North America on 15, 17 or 20m in an afternoon (Short path) may give you the best chance in that direction.

Another lightweight option (when the A-99 is too cumbersome) is a HF J-pole on a fibreglass pole as a vertical. Although they don’t refer to them as J-Poles, LambdaHalbe make these and for a price, I couldn’t make such a good product for (i.e. they’re cheap price but not cheap quality). These are single band antennas but I have heard of them being used on multiple bands.
http://www.lambdahalbe.de/drahtantennen/kw-amateur-monoband/index.html

Actually my compact 6m fibreglass pole also comes from lambdaHalbe. So I’m happy with them as a supplier.

73 Ed.


#12

or just use FT-8…

Compton


#13

Yes I mentioned FT-8 but some would say that’s too easy Compton! It’s not easy to find an activator in Europe using FT-8 yet though…

There’s no FT-8 Android/iOS Smartphone/tablet app yet is there? Only WSJT-X on a PC right?

73 Ed.


#14

I beleive this is true.


#15

I think you a good opportunity at the VK JA ZL - EU S2S 10 March 2018

In the past I worked ZL and VK in this events using 5W /CW and a trapped dipole (20/30/40) or a EFLW, either with a KX-2 or an MTR-3B.

Just keep trying. :slight_smile:

GL ES 73

Pedro, CT1DBS


#16

Great thread topic. I’ll be in the UK in mid-April, and one of my goals is DX from there. All of the advice is exactly what I’m looking for. If anyone has any propagation comments for mid-April, I’d appreciate it.


#17

By April, early morning Long Path propagation to VK/ZL “ought” to be better. My favourite month for it is May. I’ve had the most success including S2S SSB contacts.

Good luck Kevin.

73 Ed.

P.S. which part of the UK are you heading to? There may be some suggestions from the G, 2E and M amateurs as to nearby summits for you.


#18

Thanks for the response Ed, that helps.

I don’t have a plan yet, just some general thoughts about what I want to do. Unless my wife decides to come with me, I’ll have a whole week (14-21 Apr) to devote just to SOTA activations! I’m thinking I’d like to drive around and go to as many different regions as I can get to, maybe a different one each day. At some point I’ll study the SOTA maps and plan it out because I’ll have to set up some Airbnb reservations. I expect to pick out 1 or 2 point summits that are “doable” to avoid mountain weather issues with bigger peaks. Plus, on a personal note, I’m limited physically because I have blood clots in my lungs and get winded easily (hopefully that’ll be better by April). Although it seldom works out, I prefer to stay on a summit and operate for many hours (as opposed to doing many peaks in a day). I plan to start operating at dawn to try for VK/ZL. For the NA/EU S2S event on the 21st I’ll operate later in the day.


#19

Well if you get up into the Yorkshire / Lincolnshire area G/TW-005 Normandby Top (not far from Humberside Airport) is a very large plateau with no climbing at all. Also G/TW-004 Bishop Wilton Wold - the car park there IS the summit (or vey close to it). These two are VERY EASY summits. Several other summits in the north of england require some hill walking to get to (but only limited cimbing - no rock climbing HI).

It’s depends upon which part of the country you are in. If you have a few days spare and don’t mind a flight or ferry ride, the summits on the Isle of Man (GD) are quite sought after and it’s a nice Island to vist - about half way between England and Ireland in the Irish Sea. As well as beautiful scenary, it’s famous for the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races, so make sure you avoid those dates otherwise you wont get a room!

73 Ed.


#20

There are plenty of summits in the UK where the car park is in the activation zone (or very close to it). If you visit Crowborough in Sussex the town centre is the summit!