1st SOTA Expedition a complete failure!

Hello All,
First time SOTA and HF operator!

I go hiking every weekend, so this weekend I brought all my gear and it was a total failure.
I had several equipment failures including some very weird antenna and transmission line behavior.

When I eventually got it all to work I tried sending a few spot SMS to SMS_NA but I don’t think that worked either.

I was on W1/AM-381 on 20m but got nobody to talk to me…

Very very said :frowning:

Maybe I should start fishing again…

Chris (KC1BGK)

Hello Chris,

Hang in there!


  1. Post an alert, so big-time chasers will be ready to pounce on you if you manage to radiate anything.
  2. In your back yard, nearby park, etc. set up, and sort out issues. Try just working ordinary or QRP frequencies until things are working.
    3.There may be some experienced SOTA activators near you who would be able to help. Look for activators in your area on SOTAWATCH2, then look at their calls on the QRZ website to see where they live, and what their e-mail addresses are.

Listening for you on the bands!

Ken, K6HPX

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Hang in there, Chris. It happens. At least you didn’t have to hike in a couple of hours! 73 Frandy

Thank you guys for the support. I’ll try again.

I forgot about the alerts! I am new to this and thought I would spot when ready. But alerts seem like a better way to gather a crowd. Thank you.

I had tried the antennas in the backyard and tuned them for the frequencies I was planning to use, but the all setup just did not work, like the antennas grew or shrunk and all the parameters (swr, tuned frequencies, etc) were all off.

Thank you again, I will follow your advices. I should be out again in a week or two.

Chris KC1BGK

Fishing is an alright pass time too but I think you should give SOTA another go before you end up on a pier waiting for the fish to bite.
Checking your photo I would firstly trade in the tripod for a fishing pole and make a link dipole for 20/40m give yourself a better chance of some one hearing you. Now with the downturn in propagation all these fancy end feds and other types of antennas can not beat a simple dipole up at about 8 metres I know because I have worked through that phase of living the dream making contacts with “other antennas”. I often chase SOTA activators from my back yard using my SOTA kit that way I can tell if its going to work when out on a summit. Keep in touch with your local ham friends they might chase you and keep those Alerts and Spots up to date so they know you are out and about.
Good luck
Regards Ian vk5cz …


Agreed, those hamsticks dipoles are not fullfilling my expectations at all.
Simple dipole it is! That is my new task for this week.

Thank you

Keep your antenna set up simple. And don’t forget that FM can save the day. Good luck!

Roland KG7FOP

Hi Christian,

You are not the first to have a first activation failure. The experienced folk make it look easy, because they have experience, usually including some failures. But often the gear they use today is not what they started out with.

Some suggestions:

Check the FAQ about activations. There is a lot of handy info there.
See if there is a smartphone app for your phone. These make it easier to post spots and to see who else is on and where.
Look up how to post a spot via SMS - you need to register your own cell number with the spotting service before it will be accepted. Prepare your SMS beforehand, using the specified format and save it in your text editor on your phone, then just copy and paste when it’s time to send it.
Learn about Alerts and Spots. An alert is a plan, not a promise. Don’t worry if you are late. Chasers are in comfortable shacks while you are hard at it. A spot is supposed to be for a station actually on the air.
Watch where other people operate. There’s no point calling CQ in the middle of prime DX territory on some bands - there are better strategies. Choose the best part of the band for low power portables.
Use vhf/uhf fm to advantage - even using a repeater to set up a sked for simplex contacts.

Re HF antennas, if you are new to HF there is a lot to learn. Sadly, the promise of instant success with compact antennas rarely produces the results you want. Full size dipole antennas or linked antennas for multiple bands are the simplest and most effective. There is a reason why most activators have wire, coax cable and a fishing pole on their back.

Find other activators in your area to get hints and tips, but also go on activations with them, watch and learn.

Hope this helps.

73 Andrew VK1DA VK2UH

Eventually think about trimming down that pack weight if you’re actually hiking to a summit - wow, that looks heavy!

If you’re new to hf ssb qrp, make sure you use sufficient mic gain and compression so you’re driving the audio hard enough (I’m assuming you’re qrp, maybe you’re not).

hang in there!

73, Barry N1EU

Andrew, thank you for the helpful suggestions. Today was a hard lesson, but one well learned and more…
Barry, I brought up an FT-857D and I tried both qrp and full power today, but I still sucked.
Major review necessary!!!

Thank you all again for the support and help, I was about to close shop after this experience.
I have just moved in this area and I am waiting the local club sessions to restart after the summer break to meet fellow operators and learn more.

I hope to get back on the air soon!


tough trial by fire Chris. It would be great if you could partner up with an experienced activator in your neck of the woods for a few activations.

Perhaps post an inquiry to the NASota Yahoo Group at Yahoo | Mail, Weather, Search, Politics, News, Finance, Sports & Videos

Barry N1EU

Hi Chris,

I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment, but please give it another go. It it were all easy and worked every time some of us might get bored!

Conditions are poor at present. 4 years ago you would have done OK I suspect.

Anyway welcome to the “missed it” club.

  • I’ve failed to reach the summit - fitness problem
  • I’ve failed to get 4 contacts - not alerting or spotting was the major factor
  • Spent too long setting up and missed 10 points at the end of the year rollover. Not watching the time.

Some activations have been salvaged by having VHF and being in range of a couple of activity centres.

Others were recovered by the use of a sharp pocket knife. BNC connectors on the feedline can be trouble. Some UHF connectors don’t screw up properly. Some batteries aren’t charged. The squid pole can break. An officious personage can instruct you to move on. Many are the impediments to a trouble free activation. I used to fish a lot and there are many parallels.

If you don’t want an occasional challenge then maybe SOTA isn’t for you, but like fishing, it’s better if you keep trying.

Here operating in the middle of the day is less productive - people go for lunch and propagation is generally near the minimum for the day. Check out what bands and times are likely to be best for your next activation.

Good luck with the next one. Alert and Spot. Ask your first contact to spot you - helps a lot especially if the phone network isn’t working.



Wow, I did nail a few of those fails today! Got to be proud to be in the “missed it” club.

I am feelling better now that the fatigue and disappointment are fading with the help of some tylenol. I’ll be back on the horse and definitely will try to get more help.

I just bought the radio few month ago and only played in the backyard for a few times but I live in a restricted HOA and the hamsticks were the only solution, though poor. They are just not working out. I can basically only operate portable, with little time at the moment. So hiking and operating on that one day off seemed awesome.
I will see if I can also practice on some nearby school fields.


Forgot to mention…if u have an HT with APRS, you can use it to spot yourself if all else fails.

Roland KG7FOP

Hang in there Chris.
A simple inverted V dipole I think will work better than Hamsticks. Higher the better but not mandatory. I started this year using an inverted v with an avi probe (8’ 6" high) as my mast. I made contacts with 10 watts, not always good but still contacts. The lower it is the more of a NVIS the antenna is, so keep that in mind. For spotting I use SOTA Spotter which works OK for me. Good luck.



Been there, done that, and learned a few lessons along the way, myself…

Spotting yourself when you’re ready is great, but relies on phone connectivity, and it’s surprising how often summits seem to lack mobile coverage, one way or another. Posting an alert ahead of time means there’s something to send chasers your way even if you can’t self-spot.

It’s worth having more than one band you can use; if one is closed you can try another. Try to keep your band options as open as reasonably practical.

The less there is to go wrong with your rig and antenna, the better. Avoid antennas that need on-site twiddling. Something simple, resonant and pre-tuned will save time and effort. Dipoles are about as simple as you can get. Add links, and band changes become simple. Ground-plane verticals are also pretty simple, but not quite so easy to make multi-band. End-fed antennas may need a bit of matching effort, but can work well. Things needing loading coils usually waste power you can’t afford to waste if you’re QRP, and they may need fiddly on-site twiddling too…

Better luck with your next attempt.

It’s not a failure just a learning curve. when you get your first activation you will smile all the way back down the hill, keep going!

Tony g7sbw

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I find that an end fed wire with an unun works for me for an hf antenna. Light weight, easy to carry and easy to set up, I agree with the suggestion to find a local SOTA buddy - jolint activations are a great way to get SOTA experience, SOTA with a friend is more fun, and on remote peaks it is safer! And, there are days when you get exercise but no contacts; every expedition is an opportunity to learn how to do better.

On my first attempt at a 6 pointer I ran into this washed out road, I went back another day better prepared to navigate my way around problems. Hang in there and have great radio fun!

Thank you! Wow you guys are great.
I am already working on a new dipole this morning :slight_smile:

Chris, KC1BGK

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I have found it is pretty hard to rely on using just 20 meters. Cannot rely on that band. I have had many days where if I did not also use 40 meters, it would have been a very discouraging activation. A 40/20 linked dipole works best for me, but I have also used various end fed wire antennas.

Jody - K3JZD