How does the activator choses the band he works on?

As I see it, as a chaser newcomer,generally speaking, an activator starts on a low band and goes up from there.
My question is how does the activator makes the choice to move up in the bands?
He cannot find chasers on the chosen band?
He has made a number of contacts and no further chasers respond to his cq calls?
Choice made because of propagation (OWF/MUF) at a given time?

Propagation, experimentation, avoiding contest activity, chances to have a big or a small number of chasers, the type of rig and antenna of the activator…
Very many can be the drivers for an activator to choose band/mode of operation and I think there’s no way to state just one because there are as many as different situations and different hams combinations you can think of. Then, there is the WX…



I think Guru pretty much has the answer there.

I haven’t done any activating for quite a while but this is my take on it…

Everyone has their own preferences, favourite bands and modes. This will heavily influence their decision.

I personally like trying to make local contacts on 2m FM, especially from a summit with a good VHF take off. This also leads to S2S contacts in the busier regions (such as G/LD). 20m SSB can be a lot of fun if you want DX. I’ve had a number of contacts with USA & Canada with a 1/4 wave vertical & around 5-10 watts out of the transmitter. Both setups are light & easy to carry. If I’m planning on being there for a while I will take both. If the weather is looking bad I’ll just take the VHF in the hope of a rapid “smash & grab” activation.

A lot of people like using NVIS for regional contacts around Europe (or the states if you are in the USA). In that case they will likely choose either 40m or 80m. This is more reliable if you want to be sure of a successful activation to claim the points. I’ve had a number of failed 2m FM activations where the band was totally dead & CQ calls went unanswered, but to me it’s not about the points…it’s more about getting out & playing radios from a better location than my home QTH.

Some activators like the challenge of operating other modes under less than ideal circumstances (there are a few people that regularly use FT8 on summits).

There are a number of other factors that come into it:-

  • How long are you planning to be on the summit.

  • How much equipment can you carry and how far have you got to carry it to get to the summit.

  • How much space is there on the summit & how busy is it - some summits have surprisingly little space and a large number of visitors which means that you have to be very careful with guy wires & large antennas. It may not be practical (or sensible) to set up a large antenna on a busy/cramped summit.

  • If there is a contest or the bands are particularly busy then you basically have no chance on the main bands (20m, 40m & 80m) as your little portable QRP station will get wiped out by bigger, more powerful contest stations. It’s not unusual for someone to start transmitting over the top of you mid-activation. For this reason a lot of activators choose to use the quieter non-contest bands (such as 60m or 30m). Another reason why I like 2m FM, because it doesn’t really get used for contests.

Too many reasons to list, but every activator will have their own reasons for choosing a specific band (or set of bands) to activate on.


I usually call CQ SOTA and work the chasers calling me, until there are no replies to my CQ calls for 2-3 minutes (or at least 5 minutes after the last spot). Then I change to the next band and do the same.
After that, depending on how much time i can or want to spend on the summit, I see how many S2S QSO’s I can get when checking the other spots.
I usually start working my way up the bands from 60m, but there is no specific reason for that, just a habit. When there is a lot of contest activity, I often skip 20m and 40m, and only work on 60/30/17 and occasionally 2m. If I don’t have much time, 30m is my favourite.

73 Jens

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Hi Patrick,
I presume you are watching for the self-spot from an activator who has already posted an alert for which bands he would “like” to operate on?

If you only chase on 40 metres and the activator (in SW3) has alerted for 20m & 17m for example - you will be out of luck.

When I approach a summit, I will often check on my Smartphone which other activators are on, who I may be able to contact and that will decide which band I start on (I normally activate on 20m & 40m SSB). A Summit-to-summit contact brings the most points.

If there are no other activators on that I stand a chance of a contact with, the decision may depend on how the summit is - especially if this is the first time that I have activated this summit, I may go for a smaller, simpler antenna first. Ditto if the weather does not look good and my time is limited.

If however I want to try out my new whizz-bang antenna and that’s the main reason for the trip, I will put that up first and operate on its band. When I have finished my tests and if there is still time, I will then put up a different antenna for my other spotted band(s) and try to give some points out there (even if I already have the required 4 contacts on the earlier band).

So you can see there is no easy sequence to be followed, a lot of factors come into the decision.

73 Ed DD5LP.

There are some radio-hobby/related reasons like contest activity, QRM on low bands becase of summer storms, propgation. Or, let’s do 40 and 80m, because I will have great pile-ups on them and then let’s also do 20 and 15m for some DX.

Often it comes down to more real-life, practical things like:

  • I can’t be bothered to deploy that 40m dipole here, let’s just use the 20m section
  • If I keep my friends waiting for me playing radio for one more minute, it’s probably the last time they went on a trip with me
  • my fingers are frostbitten to a point where I can hardly press the PTT button
  • a half of my butt and my nuts are numb because I’ve been squatting by a tree with nowhere to sit. I’ll just finish this pileup and go

Yeah, in my case it’s usually a matter of starting at the low end and progressively opening links to work higher bands as I go, unless there’s a good reason for starting somewhere else. I sometimes tune up and down a band a bit to see whether I can hear anyone, and skip it if it sounds seriously dead or crazily busy. Yesterday I started on 80 metres (1 QSO, but it was really a bit late in the day for the band), then 60 (8 QSOs), then 30 (5 QSOs), then 17 (no takers), then down to 20 (where my battery went flat, but I managed 1 S2S QSO at reduced power). Had the battery survived longer I’d have spent some time on 20 and then maybe tried 40.

Thank you for all the answers.
Seems there is no real pattern or rule to follow.
What I have observed on sotawatch is that I see for example an activator from somewhere in Eastern Europe being on 20m relatively early in the morning, but, OWF and MUF (No Es)in Western Europe are still below 20m because not enough daylight hours to build up F layer for 20m ???

I often experience that problem too. It’s the problem with living in the West of Europe. They will possibly be able to work DX towards the East at that time, just the same way we work Northamerican stations late in our afternoon-evening while they, Eastern Europeans, will probably be switching on lights because it’s getting dark there or even going to bed for a sleep.



The Eastern European station could also be working the greyline early morning.

73 Ed.

There is no definite answer, there are too many influencing factors:

  • time of day
  • time at your disposal
  • others

If I go to one summit, I try to stay longer and CQ on more bands, also use FM & SSB.
If I have more summits to activate during the day I have to split my time between them - then I usually choose 1 band per summit unless it goes poorly …

73, Jarek

I can speak only for myself.

  • I self-spot and work 20 meters SSB until I get several minutes with no chasers. I start with 20m because I get most of my DX contacts there and I enjoy working new countries.
  • I self-spot and work 40 meters SSB until I get several minutes with no chasers. I work 40m because 20m skips over nearby chasers. (When I first started, I activated only 20m.)
  • I then work 20 or 40 on CW. My CW skill is mediocre, at best, so anyone who calls me on CW is doing so because he chose not to call me on voice. That way, nobody has to listen to my CW unless he prefers it. I work this band until I make several CQ with no reply.
  • I then work the ‘other’ of 20/40 on CW until I make several CQ with no reply.
  • Every once in a while, I’ll try 2 meter FM - usually because I know someone is on a nearby hill.

I’m typically on each band+mode for about 15 minutes. Some activators like to ‘make a day of it’ on a single summit, spending some time on the air, some time sightseeing, and then more time on the air. I know at least one activator who sets up a hammock and can nap! I usually plan multiple activations for an outing, so I need to keep moving so as not to be out after dark. But I’m getting older and slower. I can imagine changing my style to spend longer on a single summit.

If I can’t find a free frequency on 20m, I’ll often try 17m. If I can’t find a free spot on 40, sometimes I try 30m.

I have a 10 meter length of wire suspended vertically. I have another 10 meter length of wire I run horizontally. When I work 20m, I run the 10m wire through an EFHW transformer and it’s a half-wave. When I work 40m, I connect both wires to a binding-post-to-BNC connector and I have a dipole with 1/4 wave elements. If I have to go to 17/30, I use the wire I brought and make do.

When I first spot, if I get no reply quickly, I inspect my setup to see if I forgot to connect something. I’ll call for 10 minutes from my spot before giving up and blaming propagation or TV programming for distracting chasers.

So the frequencies are determined by the wire I carry, and I move on when there’s no one replying. I don’t get as many contacts as do activators who spend the day on a hill. Unless there’s thunder, I’ll work all chasers in queue. Once I hear thunder, I flee!
73 DE K4KPK / Kevin


When I did my first SOTA activation in 2012, 7 MHz was the choice band for portable QSOs within VK3. Good NVIS propagation from a dipole at about 7 m above ground.

Although this is no longer true, due to changing sun spot activity, I still start on 40m then move to other bands as time permits.

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There are some of us that usually team up with another to activate summits, in my case with Paul G4MD. We split the bands between us according to our particular interests. I usually start on 2m SSB and then move to 30m CW followed by 20m CW. Paul starts on 60m SSB, moves to 80m SSB and then finishes on 40m SSB if there is sufficient time. This way we serve a mix of chasers across the UK and Europe and sometimes beyond.

Indeed, roll on the next solar cycle when we can get back to working DX chasers on bands like 15m and 12m. :grinning:

I’m no expert, but here;s the (Il-)logical path of my thinking:-

  1. Current conditions mean I use a linked dipole for 7mhz, 10mhz & 14mhz.

  2. If I arrive well before midday, then I’ll probably start on 7mhz as that will get me plenty of ‘Local’ QSOs and some perhaps from other activators in eastern europe who have been up longer than us in the UK due to the time difference. Then on to 10mhz, wait until that slows down or stops for 5 or 10 mins, then 14mhz until that dies down

  3. If I arrive after midday then I may well start on 14mhz as that tends to be the ‘best’ frequency during the middle of the day. and work down wards to 7mhz. giving chasers a chance by using all the available bands I can operate on.


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There are so many different activators, there really are no general patterns. Some of the most frequent activators have regular routines, and some of them indicate the order of their bands and modes in their alerts. This is often helpful.

Many others vary their routines from one peak to the next. There is much to be said for variety, and SOTA activations are often more interesting when we try a new band first, or a different mode.

I often start on 40M CW, then 30M CW, then 20M CW, and sometimes other bands. For an early morning activation, 40M offers really good conditions with low QRN and long skip, while later in the day it is not so much fun, with the QRN and absorption. On the other hand, 20M often gets better later in the morning, and there may be more short skip as the sun’s effects improve the band.

Sometimes I change the order of the bands because of contests, time of day, or just a wish for a different activation. I do a lot of S2S contacts, and often I QSY and chase other activators, while still doing runs on various bands for the chasers. Sometimes it’s like rolling dice to decide where to be.

When activating with another operator, we must share the bands, so we usually agree on a plan. Some operators who have regular partners use the same plan each time, while others change the game often.

Depending on the antenna(s) and matching systems, band selection is often driven by how easy it is to QSY, or which bands work well with our gear. I use a homemade manual tuner to change bands, and this takes only a few seconds, so I QSY often as I look for S2S contacts. Once experienced, this becomes an essential part of the activation. I remember in the old days when I would get up and change links and then stay on one band…no more.

I sometimes work a pile of chasers on 30M, then they stop calling, and I QSY to 20M and catch an S2S who just popped up, then I go back to 30M and call CQ again, get some more, etc.

I like using the RBN Hole because it will spot me as I QSY from one CW frequency to another, without using precious time to self-spot. All I have to do is call CQ!

Many times I really don’t want to work more chasers…I already have 50 or more logged, and I want to get more S2S contacts - then I don’t call CQ, so there is no new spot, but I hunt for the S2S guys to pop up and call CQ. I tune quickly between 40-30-20 CW, looking for activators, and sometimes even SSB freqs, looking for the new ones. I try to get them before they have a pile of chasers. Often I am working on more than one S2S at the same time, even on different bands. This is totally different from running the piles on each band.

I almost never use the Internet to find S2S contacts - I just QSY a lot and hunt. I miss some good ones, but I also don’t waste precious time trying to get contacts with people I can’t hear. I find this type of operating very challenging and very addictive.

The point here is that there are many factors that drive activators to choose their bands and modes. What works well in the beginning of our SOTA experience may not be what we choose to do later on, when we want more of a challenge.

There are even a few very experienced activators who limit their regular bands and modes to just one or two bands, maybe CW only, and then they do more summits in a day, etc.

No two activators are alike. We are a group of idealistic, driven operators, and we don’t conform with each other or to our chasers in the same ways. I do know that some of the better activators and top chasers are some of the best CW operators in the world. Sometimes I listen to other activators running their piles, and they are truly working the world, all kinds of chasers all over the place, with minimal gear and incredibly low power.

A lot of what makes SOTA fun is the variety and unpredictability of the people and the experience.




And that explains why George is an expert And consistent S2S activator and can be difficult to find For me while activating. He’s so nimble at changing bands that by the time I change my Portable antenna To the correct band and get to his last frequency he’s gone.

A lot of good answers and as said, it is so individualistic I don’t think there is a typical pattern. I also like that about this hobby; do what works for you. I almost always start on 20 meters because in West Texas very few are missed by using 20 as opposed to 40 but the range of 20 has so much greater coverage. 40 can be extremely short during the day This far south. Also in the morning I want to be on 20 if the window to EU is open. Late activations I arrange it to try to reach West when propagation is favorable. But I know many activators in the US Often start on lower bands and from the posts above looks like that is common in EU as well.