Getting Spotted

I went up a 14er last Thursday and had a blast! Gray’s Peak in CO - W0C/FR-002 Remarkable views…meeting a real live mountain goat (the animal, not the salty SOTAteer) lol. Hike wise, it was fantastic.

I had a few issues when it came to the radio/activation part. Possibly due to a lack of oxygen, I was unable to tune my antenna past 2.5-2.8. I think that was based on a few factors at the top of the mtn, but nonetheless I squeezed out 1 Q on FT8. (I’ve been going tunerless lately and I use a sliding coil Super Antenna MP-1C to great effect usually getting 1.2-1.3 SWR manually tuning. This wasn’t the norm for this activation.)

Anyway, what I’m really writing about is getting spotted and letting people know you’re there…on the air!

I’ve been doing some homework and it seems you dit-dah’s have an auto-spotter that will post in SOTAwatch (RBN Hole). I use the app SOTA Goat on my iphone and usually have great success…when I have cell service. I have Sprint as a provider, on a family plan, so I don’t think I can change carriers on a whim if that seems to be the case.

Also of note is that I’m still in the process of learning to receive code with my Mark V Mod 0 brain housing group. I can TX pretty good (~15 wpm), but RX seems to kick my butt. I just get overwhelmed easy and can’t catch up in my noggin. SO…there’s that. It’s been suggested to me that CW would prevail! I believe it. I’m in the process of learning so take it easy on my codelessness.

I also believe posting Alerts would help too but I’m not yet an expert hike time guesser. I tried it on FR-002 but was off about 2 hours! I don’t expect anyone to hang on a freq that long for me lol. I could not get a spot out on SOTA Goat to correct for Alert error…or get a spot out obviously.

I am aware of a SOTA spot texting feature I signed up for but not sure if that even works. Any help there if you know what I’m referring to? So I got stuck calling CQ (which wG0AT and K7PX did hear, S2S wise, but could switch to SSB in time before I QRT’ed).

I guess I just need some spotting pointers. I believe if I would have gotten the spot out there, I would have had a successful activation because I was heard, even with 2.5 SWR on SSB and FT8.

Any help and/or advice will be appreciated and applied next activation with no cell service.

Caleb // W4XEN

P.S. I know there’s nothing wrong with just CQing til heard…but any OTHER pointers appreciated lol

APRS2SOTA is my go to method as I virtually never have cell service. RBN is backup… APRS2SOTA User Guide

Just email Stewart (who runs the service) to get added to the list of users.
Tom - KB9ENS


I concur with @KB9ENS, APRS2SOTA is by far my favorite fallback method for self spotting if I can’t get out a cell phone spot. Once I sorted out how to do it correctly with my handheld radio, I’ve never had it fail to post an activation spot.

Hi Caleb,
SMS texting is your friend if you don’t have APRS gear with you. Yes the dit-dah-ops can get auto-spotted by RBN but on Phone or data you need to do it yourself.
If you have cell phone data coverage using SOTA Goat on your iPhone is the easiest option but even when you don’t have data coverage from your cell phone provider you might have SMS. Take a look and see if SOTA Goat or some other iPhone app can do SMS spotting to SOTA (many, many Android apps do, but that doesn’t help you, you need an iPhone one). Last resort, write down the format of the SMS message so that you can manually enter it.

As for posting an alert - doing so a couple of days before is a good thing - it doesn’t matter if you get the time wrong - it’s not mandatory that you start at the time in the alert however it gives the chasers the information that you intend to be up there, all being well, around that time.

For long walks, make sure you let someone know your plans and importantly when you expect to be back (and call them then). If that could be another local amateur that you could call on a 2m HT even better as he can spot you when you’re ready to transmit (and of course address any problems if you get stuck on the hike).

73 Ed.

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Dr OM Caleb,
I work with my trusted KX1 with around 3 W output into a W3EDP antenna. I do not use my mobile phone other than for an emergency. Not all summits have cell phone coverage.
First I put an Alert. Furthermore I inform some Chasers that I will activate a summit. Times are always approximate.
My record with calling CQ SOTA and no respons is 1.5 hours :grinning:
73 de geert pa7zee


If you want to spot yourself when on a summit you need at least one of the following:

  • use CW and hope the RBN skimmers hear (must have an alert in place as well)
  • use mobile internet to spot yourself (needs viable cell coverage for data)
  • use an SMS to spot yourself (needs cell coverage but often less viable than for data)
  • use APRS (needs APRS capable radio system and APRS gateway in range)
  • use DeLorme InReach 2 way GPS (requires InReach + subscription)
  • call CQ for long enough near the SOTA watering holes and hope you are heard and spotted

Using CW is by far the simplest way and is free. There are 1000s of skimmers, you just need to be in skip range of one of them. If you can’t use CW, just get on and learn.

InReach uses the Iridium satellite network and works everywhere on Earth. Costs money for the InReach unit and you need to pay a subscription to use the system.

APRS is good if there are gateways in your chosen area. You don’t necessarily need an APRS handheld. There are mobile TNCs to use with any radio that you can control from a mobile phone. Or you can roll your own gizmo.

SMS spotting on a GSM (2g) phone will work when 3g/4g and data coverage is sketchy. SMS on 3g/4g requires more viable cell coverage. Mobile data needs quite a robust cell signal. But most people have a phone that can send SMS and they tend to carry them everywhere. There are plenty of places in US/VK where cell coverage will be non-existent, less so in Europe.

Alerting is uber-important. If people know you will be out and about they’#ll make an effort to listen for you. So you may not be able to guess times, well you can use Naismith’s rules and add a bit of slop on the time. Nobody expects you to be minute perfect. But if you alert and activate regularly, the top chasers will soon work out how good your alerts are and adjust their listening accordingly.

Use walking 1km on good level ground takes 12mins and every 10m of ascent adds 1min. So 4km walk plus 300m of ascent = 4*12 +30 = 78mins = 1hr20 approx. So put 1hr30 onto the time you think you will arrive at the parking place. If the ground is bad then add on extra. You will have to convert these values to whatever units you use, you probably want the time for 1/2mile and 50ft ascent. Don’t forget steep descents slow you down too!

Most importantly, alert and get out and play radio.


or just use a sat phone…

I’d only suggest using a sat phone if someone else is paying for the data/air time. They are painfully expensive too use.

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Precisely… and how! Several times I’ve had a phone call when I have been late on parade with chasers wondering whether I was in trouble. It is great to know the guys really care. I usually aim to be on a summit earlier than I have alerted and allow plenty of time for the ascent. Developing your own parameters for Naismith’s will come with experience.

As for back up spotting, I take a second “pay as you go” phone on a different network to my main phone. This is a simple inexpensive solution and I believe good practice for safety reasons.

73, Gerald G4OIG


A Sat Phone is an option so worth mentioning. For some the 50p to send a spot is 50p well spent.

I’ve never been picked up by a RBN, hope my CW is not that bad, I know its not great. I’ve got a feeling its to do with my Alerts as I might alert something like this ( 7-10-14-18 CW & SSB looking Europe Lp) .

Keep hearing the RBN will pick up your alerts but take it that it needs to be more specific like 14.062 CW.

Can someone show how an alert that an RBN will pick up should be formatted for multiple bands and say if you are doing CW and SSB.


John VK6NU

Hi John,

The alert text is not important, but you must alert for exactly the same callsign that you will use on the activation, including any prefix / suffix. and also the specified time of the alert needs to be within the limits (which you can extend if you choose to) See note below -

“RBNHole does not require registration with RBNHole, although you will need to create an account on SOTAWatch, and post an alert for your activation. RBNHole will spot you if your callsign (as posted in the alert) is seen on the RBN, within a window of 1 hour before your alerted time, and 3 hours afterwards”.

Details from the RBNHolemeister here:



My alerts always show up with VK6NU/P same as I’m using during the activation. I’ve worked Europe quite a few times but don’t ever remember getting picked up by the RBN.

Pretty isolated over here in VK6 maybe just not getting picked up.


John VK6NU

If I may add one to the list - if in range of a 2m/70cm repeater and you have a HT with you call there and ask someone to spot you (if you can find someone who knows SOTA). QSOs via the repeater are not valid for SOTA but such actions are fine.

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Yes. Run a skimmer at your QTH so you and other VK6’s can be spotted.

May have to get working on that Andy, see a Club project coming up. What do you suggest as a Receiver.

John VK6NU

Er… now you are asking! I think you can use simple things like SoftRocks. I think it’s more down to the power of the PC and how many bands you want to scan. If you think about where the skimmer radio will be then what bands do you need to cover so you can be picked up yourself from a summit. That might mean you need several LF bands as well as HF.

Of course the best thing is if you can place the skimmer hardware far enough away from where you will operate so it can hear you. But then you have fun with remote stations needing maintenance, reboots, internet connections. This is when you persuade someone to run it who isn’t in to radio but does have a good net connection and is far enough away for whatever definition of “far enough” you need.

See there has to be a downside to living in VK6, sparse local population to run a skimmer being one of them!

I use the SMS path a lot. I have found, with my phone and provider, that I lose data long before I lose SMS. Now, sometimes I have to stand on my toes and stick my tongue out to get the text to go, but a the same place, spotting on data would be hopeless.

I also have what I need to do APRS spotting, but I need to finish setting it up and get the last few bugs worked out. I did build one of the tape measure yagi antennas, and it is awesome on FM voice with the 2m HT. I think it will be a nice help with APRS spotting as well. That is if I choose to carry it too.

Sprint is a real limitation…not that great of coverage in the Colorado backcountry.
I use Verizon and only occasionally don’t have just enough coverage to use SOTAGoat.
AT&T is good, too.

73, Bob K0NR

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Don’t forget that you don’t have to call CQ or be spotted to qualify a summit. Any 4 QSOs will do. You can just answer somebody else’s CQ call.