I introduced myself here last week in this thread and explained I was new not only SOTA but also to Ham radio itself - although in a previous century I used radio in the military but I’m not sure that counts.
My new 2m handheld is due to arrive tomorrow and weather permitting I will give it a try soon afterwards.
Now for mind-numbingly-dim-newbie-question #1. I understand 145.500 MHz is the commonly used calling frequency on 2m and after establishing contact with a CQ call you are supposed to find an unused frequency nearby and change to that. But for a quick SOTA QSO do people change frequency or just stick on the calling frequency?
Or is another technique employed?
Warning: MNDNQ #2 will no doubt follow later. As might #3…
You should have covered this in your training but operating on the calling frequency is considered to be extremely poor operating style. It’s not illegal but people wont like you for doing it. So call on .500 (and don’t be afraid to keep calling on .500) and then if someone replies to your call tell them the QSY frequency. Both of you QSY and continue there.
Andy’s advice is sound - what I’ve put below is just my own spin on the same process. Joe is right - a spot put up with as long a lead time as possible helps to ensure that chasers are listening out for you.
I like to get on to the summit plenty early. I’ll set up, and pour a cup of coffee from the flask. While I’m drinking that I’ll have a flick around the band I’m about to use to judge what activity levels are like. If I spot a frequency I think I might QSY (change frequency) to I’ll listen for a bit to make sure it’s clear. If I don’t hear anything hear anything I’ll ask “Is the frequency in use, please? M0MYA portable”. Then I’ll listen for a few seconds more. At that point I’ll nip up to 145.500 (often called “S20”) and put out a CQ call. I’ll tend to make it fairly long so that people get a chance to hear me (e.g. if they are the other side of the shack, or perhaps they might have their radio scanning many channels, etc). It’s pretty rare not to get an answer on S20 from a not-too-remote summit, so once it comes in I’ll call the station who’s callsign was easiest to copy. If a lot come back, I’ll make mention of the fact so that people know that it’s going to be a bit busy, and hopefully they will choose to be patient. I’ll then ask the other station to QSY to my “working frequency”. Once there, I’ll ask again if the frequency is in use. Most times the other station will as well. Once you’ve both asked and both heard nothing then you can call the other station and start your QSO.
It sounds a lot, but that mostly just because it’s written down. It boils down to a few short “overs”. Once you’ve done it a handful of times if will become a simple process.
Incidentally (and its probably more for your other thread), I think the handheld is an excellent move. I started my time in SOTA (and the hobby as a whole) with a Yaesu VX6E dual bander. For my first couple of summits I used a dipole made to a design by Roger @MW0IDX (a quick google shows that its still out there on the web). I did a poor job of building it and it failed me very early on. A station in the Forest of Dean (I wish I could remember the name/call) enthusiastically suggested that I make a roll-up slim jim from 300Ohm feeder. This is when things really kicked into gear! With the VX6 and slim jim on a cheap 5m fishing pole I felt unstoppable! I’d often do two big Welsh summits on a winter’s day, making contacts far and wide on my tiny handheld.
You may find that the front-end filtering on your handie is not the tightest. Consequently handhelds can be a bit “deaf” on summits that have masts with lots of antennas poking off them. Pagers were the worst on my little VX6! Make it easy on yourself for your first go by picking a summit with no such features.
I remember my time with just a handheld in the mountains with great fondness. I have bigger, shinier (and heavier!) kit now, and I love it, but I don’t love it any more than those early days and the wonderful sense of discovery.
Edit: I just went back through the database and it was Ian @G4WUH (Golf Four Wake Up Happy) that put me onto the slim jim. Thanks Ian - what a tip!
I’ve only just come across the Slim Jim but descriptions I read talked about hanging them from trees - which are generally a bit absent on my local hills. A fishing pole sounds like a good substitute for a tree.
Is a fairy on the tip of the pole obligatory at Christmas?
On my first few activation I also used a handheld. Even now when my primary equipment is an ft818 I carry a handheld as backup.
On my first few activations I was so surprised to hear someone responding to my CQ that I forgot to QSY…the other station tactfully reminded me by asking “have you got a frequency in mind to QSY to”. It is still easy to forget occasionally, in the excitement of getting a response. Searching for a free frequency before you cq generally helps.
Slim Jim is great, also look for a rh770 telescopic half wave antenna for when it is too windy for the pole. These can be bought for around £15…make sure you choose the right gender sma connector.
I have to keep my equipment as light as possible so I only allow a self-supporting fairy to decorate my dipole at Christmas - I suggest you weigh any before you allow them to accompany you.
Everyone else on the thread seems to have moved on to heavier radios but I am still ONLY using a handheld with dipole on 2m and 70cm fm and usually having no diffculty in qualifying on 2m unless it is the wrong time of day (Sunday lunchtime, 15 -1600 and 1800+, oh and when the Welsh are playing rugby!!) I tried the slimjim approach but find a high fishing pole rather unwieldy and am still a novice at getting the pegs in the right place so the dipole is much quicker. I did a series of tests on Bredon Hill comparing the dipole and slimjim some years ago and the chasers voted for the dipole (possibly there should have been a recount??) Another test up on Waun Rhydd showed that the answer depended on which side of the hill the chasers lived so was considered a draw.
Concerning choosing a frequency, I usually listen round, pick a frequency and ask if it is free and - if no reply- go to the calling frequency and give a quite long ‘shout’. Once I have a reply or two I identify those that I have heard and then announce where I am going. On reaching the chosen frequency I then check again before starting the activation. However, eventhough you have checked and asked it is interesting to find how often people suddenly wake up a few minutes and announce that the frequency is in use and you have to find somewhere else. When this happens I ask my chasers to wait, go find another slot then return and ask the chasers to QSY to the new one (with fingers crossed). Sometimes, on a busy day, it can be the 3rd or 4th frequency where we finally end up but it is good to see how agile most chasers are!
When settled it is up to you whether you just exchange the bare essentials - call signs and signal reports - or ask for name and location as well (I do as I like to see how far my 5w has got) and once the vital 4 are in the bag then you can have a slightly longer discussion (rig that is being used, weather) or range further but you have to bear in mind that if you chat for too long then others in the queue may give up and go and make that cup of tea so get those 4 first. How do you curtail the chaser who does not understand SOTA and wants a long lazy natter while you are getting colder and still haven’t qualified and you can’t get a word in edgeways …(answers on a postcard please)? Once you can get in I find ‘imminent battery failure’ concetrates quite a few minds but not all. Let us know how you get on.
I’m really tactful and try to leave people to complete what they want to say. Most of the time I’m keen to listen to be honest… but sometimes when it’s cold and wet I do resort to saying that “another 20 mins and I won’t be able to operate the radio because my teeth will be chattering”
Very sound advice. A decent 5W handheld with a reasonable antenna is often “good enough” to get 4 contacts. It’s served me well on hundreds of activations. I use HF too occasionally, but it is usually secondary to the 2M FM contacts.
Back to the original question. Always do this except in one circumstance. If I get stuck on 2 or 3 contacts and there is no traffic at all (usually somewhere with very limited 2M activity) I will sometimes say in my CQ call “any callsign with a signal report, you don’t have to be a SOTA chaser”.
In those circumstances sometimes someone then pops up and just replies with what is needed and we quickly exchange and I move on.
Sometimes I think people are fed up of hearing me call CQ on 145.500 for 5 mins and think if they just give we what I need I will shut up
… and if no-one has said it before have a practice first in the garden, and even put a test spot on Sotawatch (Making sure it says TEST!). You will probably have good 4G coverage on southern hills so adding a spot should be easy. Network coverage is patchy further north and then you may need to use an SMS gateway ( send a text message to spot yourself Andy FMF manages that amongst other things… ). Some people make a checklist as it can frustrating ( insert other appropriate language here ) to have driven for a couple of hours and slogged up the hillside to find the widget that connects the wotsit to the doodah is in the car… I specialse in forgetting something, but at least now I can usually manage the activation despite the missing item. Forgetting a logbook is particularly frustrating ( I use either waterproof paper (rite in the rain) and a pencil or a log on my phone, but the paper solution is the easiest - but even forgetting a pencil can spoil the afternoon! PS - enjoy it - getting that buzz ( no not an RF burn ) from the contacts at the top of a hill is probably why we do it.
hi john , welcome to the hobby and sota , the common frequency used all over the uk is 145.400 for sota when the call channel is not used , here in scotland both are used with the qsy from .500 of course , enjoy , ray
All good information above John and I also subscribe to other activators thoughts on using a VHF/UHF handheld and an external antenna, like a dipole or slim jim.
One thing to be careful of though in Cornwall is to be aware there aren’t many of us hams monitoring the 2m / 70cms band like there are in the conurbations of Wales, Lancs and Yorks (GW/NW-SW, G/NP-SP G/LD areas etc) so you cannot be sure of making the necessary 4 contacts when operating down south. Some of us carry a more powerful FM mobile transciever (in my case an old secondhand Yaesu FT-1500M bought years ago for £60) or a linear amplifier, however, if I were doing Devon and Cornwall again after the long drive down there I would use HF if I had it.
If you haven’t got the long drive then its worth the gamble of just the handheld and hopefully you will get your points and establish yourself in the database! If not you can go back again on another day without too much imconvenience and costs in fuel and accommodation.
Its always worth looking at the activators logs in the database from recent activations to see what bands they used in qualifying the summit and the number of contacts made. Weekend to weekdays can see a difference in number of QSOs.
I think so too when I’m driving my car in the area of Pamplona and call CQ on the local frequency and the local R2 but I don’t have any single call back. Sometimes I say to the apparently unexisting audience: “please, just one at a time”
John, congrats on the license. I’m literally about two months ahead of you, having just attained my Technician in August and my General in October. I started with a 2m HT, Yaesu FT-60 and the Slim Jim for SOTA activations. The Slim Jim recommended to me came from N9TAX here in the states, a very rugged design. I watched a bunch of YouTube vids from others doing SOTA activations but otherwise I’m self-taught.
I also use our 2m calling freq, 146.52 and I’ve often wondered the same as you. A couple things have helped out:
I downloaded the SOTA Goat application on the phone which allows me to post Alerts and Spots, thus minimizing the time spent calling for Chasers. SOTA is not very popular in my region.
I also will go over to the repeaters in the area and announce an advertisement of my SOTA attempt and ask people to come over to my frequency for a quick contact. Most are happy to oblige even if they are not familiar with SOTA.