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Best time for mid-week 2m FM activations?

I might be trying to read a bit too deeply into this but I’ve been looking over logs from my previous activations, specifically looking at my 2m FM activations.

Long story short, I’m trying to figure out if there is a “best time of day for mid-week 2m FM activations”.

I’ve been trying to work out why some activations I have struggled to get the 4 contacts to qualify the summit & others I have ended up with a mad pile up. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it!

I realise that there are some variations, for example:-

  • Specifically in the UK, the southern regions are extremely quiet on 2m compared to the Lake District & the Pennines further North.

  • Weekends are likely to have more activity on the bands as more people are off work (most of my activations are mid-week due to working shift patterns).

  • The time of day will play a part.

  • Decent antennas will get out better than inefficient handheld antennas.

…& so on.

Putting aside these variations, there are some summits that I have activated more than once, a year or two apart, using the same antenna system & radio.

Kinder Scout being one of them. In 2019 I struggled to get the 4 contacts required to qualify…that was on a weekend. This year (mid-week at around 11am when I thought that most people would be at work) I had a pile up!

In 2019, I failed to qualify Gun, getting just 1 QSO. This year “a quick pre-dinner stroll to the summit & back including 10 minute play on VHF” (it was a bit of fun, I wasn’t seriously expecting to get 4 QSO’s) resulted in a pile up that took around 30 minutes to clear!

I’m trying to understand some of these variables to plan the timings of my upcoming activations for the greatest chances of success. What am I missing here?

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Avoid Thursdays in Sussex is my contribution. I tried activating Chanctonbury Ring G/SE-009 a few weeks ago on 2m and would have had more replies if I’d just stood on the summit and shouted.

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Hi James,

It may be busier during the day because people are at home working, rather than going into the office. Having SOTA activators to chase certainly breaks my day up, which currently seems to consist of dull Teams and Zoom meetings… :slight_smile:

Hope to catch you soon.
73, Simon

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Hi James

The magic of Sota. Just like fishing, some days you fill the bag and some days you struggle.

I’ve never done 2m only activations apart from very high summits where the light rucksack was the order of the day and 2m was the band to use. I take my hat off to those who only do 2m and even attain Mountain Goat by this method. You have answered some of the questions and no doubt others will chip in later.

For instance today I activated a summit at 10:30am and I had loads of callers on 2m with quite a few s2s although these s2s were rather contrived as many of us work together to be out on summits on the same day or Alerts trigger an activation flurry. Now my summit in the afternoon was a 2m disaster with only a couple of chasers. If I had called long enough maybe I would have had more but I also love HF so I was soon on 60m which gave an almighty pile-up and so good hear that the bands are beginning to pick up and to hear familiar voices once again…a big thanks to everyone who made my log today from a very happy activator.

So what conclusions can be drawn from the lack of activity. Could it be that the morning is the best time for 2m activation as chasers tend to go and do other things in the afternoon. Maybe they couldn’t hear me from my new location with my 5watts and Slim G antenna and maybe more power and/or a beam would have solved the problem. Lots of activators who recently attained Mountain Goat have been using mobile rigs where 25 watts was possible when the going got tough late in the afternoon…you need to be fit for this.

As I said just a couple of points/experiences to add to your list from a VHF/HF activator.

73 Allan GW4VPX

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I had to climb a local hill five times in order to get the points just using a 2m HT. I made one, two and three contacts on occasion, but could never get the fourth! Three were midweek. Two were Sundays.

What kit are you using? A handheld into a whip will be a struggle mid-week.
Push 50 Watts into a yagi from a 2m mobile rig powered by external battery and you’ll get different results.
I’d go for the yagi before the 50 watts, having worked into Wales from Aberdeenshire with my yaesu ft-3d hooked up to a four element beam.
Anyway, my eventual point scoring effort on Presendye GM/ES-047 was the result of my ft-857 and 50w on FM on a Sunday afternoon.

73, Fraser

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I know that feeling. The southern regions of England can be very quiet on 2m.

With the recent rise of people working from home, I did suspect that could be the case.

I wondered that but my activation of Gun was in the afternoon. Looking at my logs, I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that (in the Pennines & Lake District regions) around 10am-midday & around 4pm.

I did wonder how many people did these so called “coordinated activations”. I generally tend to just go for it & see what happens!

I will be in the South Wales region with a friend (M6DOG) next weekend (22nd & 23rd). Our plan is a joint activation on Saturday & then split up & do our own individual summits on Sunday.

As the plan currently stands, the schedule is:-

  1. Fan Fawr on Saturday afternoon (probably sometime around 1400 local)

  2. I will activate Fan Nedd on Sunday morning (probably around 10am/11am local)

  3. M6DOG will probably activate Fan Gyhirych at the same time…we plan to coordinate it so that we can get our S2S points!!!

For new people just starting out in the hobby, they may not have any HF gear. I certainly didn’t. I used to activate exclusively on 2m FM.

These days I generally try to activate on 2m FM & 40m SSB. I use an EFHW cut for 40m (which also gives a reasonable SWR on 20m), so I sometimes like to give 20m a blast as well if time allows.

I’ve listened in to a few activations on 80m from home (a bit of a struggle with my high noise floor) & that always seems to drum up activity, so I’ve ordered some more wire to cut myself an EFHW for 80m as I think that would be worth a go.

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Handhelds are a bit hit & miss. They can sometimes surprise you but generally speaking a handheld alone isn’t going to cut it if you want to be certain of a successful activation.

The kit I use depends on a number of factors (primarily how far I have to carry it & what other HF kit I have to carry).

If I’m going VHF only I’ll generally take the FT-290 and a linear amp to take it up to around 20-25 watts.

If I’m taking HF as well then I will typically only take a handheld & an external antenna.

I don’t tend to mess around with beams. The antenna is usually a vertical on a 5-6 meter tall mast. That seems to do very well. I’ve done Pen Y Fan to somebody near Epsom Downs Race Course just outside London. I was only running 2.5 watts from the FT-290 at the time.

I recently held a pile up on Kinder Scout with just 2.5 watts from a handheld (into an external antenna).

I personally find that running high power on a SOTA summit (where you already have a fair bit of altitude) isn’t really that beneficial. You end up eating through batteries which are heavy to carry (admittedly the introduction of lithium batteries has made this less of a problem) & warming up sheep on the adjacent summit!!!

My personal experience is that 2.5 watts up to 5 watts is a very noticeable jump.

Increasing from 5 watts to 10 watts also makes a difference. Beyond that I question whether you are into diminishing returns for SOTA activations. If it wasn’t for lithium batteries I personally wouldn’t bother taking the linear for the FT-290 on my activations.

If the contact is marginal, the extra power may just make the difference but VHF is generally considered “line of sight”. You either make the contact or you don’t.

That’s just my 2 cents worth, I’m sure that a number of people will robustly disagree with me!

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I agree. Except when there’s a lift on.
However, on a recent Cairngorm activation, I heard a station calling CQ SOTA on my HT. They were on The Cheviot. I recall that was 120 miles south of my location. I worked two ops. on their main station, which was QRO. I was told that the third guy was going to try me on his HT. We did work each other but it was very marginal and if i wasn’t expecting him, then I may not have noticed or tried, so I do think a bit more power and a directional aerial helps.
As does a lift.:slightly_smiling_face:

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In the G/SP region, a handheld and rubber duck can generally be used at any hour of the day or night, any day of the week, and you’ll get your four contacts (and probably more).

In recent years, I’ve found that elsewhere around the country is not as bad as it used to be compared with IO83, and contacts can usually be found even with HH+RD.

I almost always activate during the day Monday-Friday and rarely at weekends or evenings. I use a 5W handheld with a Diamond RH770 1/2-wave telescopic or a J-pole [almost never a rubber duck].

I agree with many of the comments made so far. I just reviewed my SOTA logs (since I started activating in 2017) looking for activations where I failed to get four 2m FM QSOs and needed HF contacts to qualify the summit.

About 14% of the qualified summits were ‘2m-FM failures’ but some regions were the worse: G/CE [e.g. 004, 005), G/SE (e.g 001, 002) and GM/SS (e.g. 064, 239, 220, 249).

However, I’ve not activated many UK regions so my ones may be no worse than the others. My ‘2m-FM failures’ were very low in G/NP and G/LD due partly to the active local daytime chasers there and good VHF takeoff to the south and into Wales. The failed G/LD were mostly in the northern Lake District but never on the 6- to 10-pointers.

I can’t see any correlation between time of day and the failure to get 4 2m FM contacts. As others have said, it’s down to chance on the day.

Very true, there are exceptions.

As a quick digression, I was out with Raynet providing communications for a charity event a couple of years ago.

There was one station who’s signal we knew would be very marginal because there was a hill in the way (we weren’t sure if his signal might just squeeze around the hill).

On the day his signal was all over the place. One minute he was a 59 & then his signal plummeted & became unreadable (not even opening the squelch on the radio).

It seemed that he was going through a constant cycle of approximately 2 minutes. He was readable for about 30 seconds, then unreadable for about 1.5 minutes.

The other adjacent checkpoints could hear him fine without any fluctuations. It was only in control that his signal was variable.

Suffice to say that this had everyone really confused. We were all scratching our heads trying to work out what was changing. None of us understood what was going on.

It was about an hour or two into the event that the penny dropped & I suddenly realised what was happening.

I noticed that we were directly under the flight path of a fairly major London airport & aircraft were flying reasonably high over our heads (probably several thousand feet above the ground) at very regular intervals.

His signal would get stronger every time an aircraft flew over the top of us, then fade away as the aircraft went. His signal strength correlated with the aircraft flying overhead!

It turns out that the hill was indeed blocking his signal & we were inadvertently bouncing our signals off of aircraft as they flew overhead!

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That’s the conclusion that I think I’m slowly coming to.

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After a chance QSO, with a non-chaser on fm, I’ve often emailed them to thank them. They generally don’t mind me dropping them a line next time I’m out, or may point me in the direction of local nets that may be of help.
Worth a try!

Brilliant story! A friend who lived under the flightpath of Edinburgh Airport used this to his advantage at times too…

We’ll use aircraft scatter tomorrow to work a few stations in IO87/88 squares on 2m from IO74. The ground rises to 360m to the North within 2-5km. Whilst we can brute force our way to Glasgow/Edinburgh, further North requires help.

Only if you have low sensitivity modes such as FM and low power. As soon as you move to a small beam,no more than 5 ele and 25W SSB you can normally work 300-400km with no much of a struggle because you can use troposcatter. Of course, more ERP makes it much easier but you can exchange ERP by climbing a hill to some extent.

The big problem is the general lack of activity nowadays. When I was 1st licenced in 1990, 2m SSB was fairly busy in the evenings with local and not so local nattering. Now it can be very quiet. But there are the UKAC evenings which should let you work plenty of contacts. You need to be on when there is activity.
Your 290 and linear is actually rather good as the 290 current consumption on RX is 1/4 to 1/6 of what an 817 will draw. So yes you may need the 25W amp but it’s still a reasonable setup. It benefits from a preamp. My 290 Mk1 is an 1987 vintage ISTR and it is noticeably deafer than my 817 (290 + whip vs 817 + rubber duck.) A 290 is not as sensitive but I think 34 years of ageing probably means mine could do with a tweak.

Don’t underestimate 60M - at the moment it seems to be performing very well for inter G when 80 has died. I have also been chasing from “The office” between teams meetings and this week have had some stunning signals on 60, and when the activator changed to either 40 or 80 their signal was loads weaker - if I could hear it! (Unless you have a very good memory take a laminated band plan for 60…) Paul

Fair comment. Unfortunately my Icom 705 doesn’t do 60m.I think that my old Icom 703 can though. I’ll have to have a look at that one.

… and 80m from a hill is a bit different - as the noise floor will be so low you will need to check the antenna is connected!

Had that before when I’ve operated portable from the caravan at a remote campsite. Also noticed it when operating 40m from a SOTA summit (my noise floor is around S6-S7 at home).

I suggest having a huge number of folk at home during the “working” week due to a certain public health emergency will distort your comparisons of 2020/2021 with any previous year.

I agree with the suggestions of using real antennas rather than the compact leaky dummy loads normally supplied with HTs. Making yourself a flowerpot half wave vertical or a rectangular loop antenna will make the world of difference to your results on 2m FM, or 70cm FM or any fm. Using ssb instead of FM would make longer distance contacts feasible but won’t magically force ops at those longer distances to find their way to the radio, or remember how to use it.

If you can tie your shoelaces, you can make antennas.

Prior notice, using alerts or emailing local and distant clubs via reflectors, mailing lists, group.io groups, etc are the best way I’ve found to drum up business. Using an exotic band like 1296 is usually a way to a boring contactless activation, unless you have drummed up interest in the previous week and sent a reminder the night before. Then they come out of the woodwork and express genuine surprise at hearing others on the radio. How they expect others to be on when they don’t regularly use the radio themselves, is just one of those odd human behaviour things.

If I was in your position, finding 2m FM unproductive, I would try to drum up contacts using the methods above. If that fails, just go to HF.

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