Made my first activation. Now, how can I do better?

Normally by this time in November it’s too cold for ordinary people to climb mountains in northern Maine, but we had a week of unseasonably warm weather and I decided to go for it. I activated W1/AM-022 (Big Jackson Mountain) today using a Xiegu G90 with 20 watts, SSB on 20 meters. Buddistick for the antenna. My signal was getting out pretty good on that band, but I could not for the life of me get anyone to answer back when I called “CQ”. I made my four contacts by calling back to POTA activators, painstakingly waiting my turn in each pileup.

So… how can I do better? Should I have spotted myself before heading for the mountain? Are there certain frequencies where SOTA chasers are typically listening? Are there any other tricks to how to call CQ?


Hi Joe,

You are on the right track there, but sotawatch provides two types of entry. The first which is strongly recommended, is to post an Alert. This tells other activators and chasers that an activation is planned (not promised!) and an approximate time and what bands are planned. The other type of post is a Spot which ideally, is notifying a station actually on the air and calling CQ on a specific frequency and mode.

When you are set up on summit, antennas connected, gamma rays on etc, you can (optionally) post a self-Spot, notifying your actual frequency and mode. This usually brings chasers to your frequency like bees to a honeypot. When you notice on sotawatch that spots include the points value, this is also extra incentive for others to come and find you. You will find that chasers will happilly copy your signal even if it’s in their noise level, because all they need to copy from you is the signal report, once they are sure they are hearing your callsign ok.

Your experience of calling CQ and getting almost zero replies is quite common. This is why most activators post a self-spot when the start their activation and when they make a frequency or mode change. The only time it isn’t necessary is when you’ve just had a contact on one band and you ask the chaser to post a new spot for a certain frequency on your next band. This approach comes in handy when you don’t have cell coverage but your chaser does.

Ideally the POTA stations you worked would also be able to spot you on sotawatch but that depends on them having spotting ability (cell coverage) and knowing how to post to sotawatch and having a user id there. Not always the case, of course.

Well done on your first activation. The first of many to come!

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA


Thanks for the good advice. I also learned that the G90+Buddistick, while effective, gets rather heavy after a few miles on a steep trail. I suppose I will have to work on my CW over the winter as I look forward to activating more summits next spring.


Hi Joe, well done on the first activation.

On my first activation this summer, my initial contact was kind enough to put out a spot for me and I then had a polite queue of chasers to talk to. They were all happy to help me qualify the hill.
I should warn you it gets addictive !
I have refined what I carry up hills now and don’t take all my antennas like I did on the first one.


Joe, welcome and congrats on your first activation!

Definitely check out some of the QRP type antennas: EFHW, EFRW or a dipole. My EFHW weighs around 5 ounces and gets 40, 20, 15 and 10m.


Hello Joe and welcome to the gang :slight_smile:

I’m activator since August and my first activation was a bit disappointing like yours with only 5 contacts within the hour being on the summit. But it was enough to enjoy the SOTA program and to continue. During that first activation I messed with the antenna set-up and didn’t know anything about self-alerting and self-spotting. I used the time till my next activation to improve and stabilize the rig (FT-817 with trapped EFHW for 40/30/20 on a fibre pole) and started self-spotting where possible (cellphone or APRS2SOTA). That was the key experiencing a heavy pile-up when transmitting my 1st CQ SOTA from then on.

gl es 73, Frank


This will help you massively for two reasons. Firstly, CW gets through much better than the same power of SSB. But the big advantage is RBNHole. If you have alerted first then when the Reverse Beacon Network picks up your CQ call it gets automatically converted into a SOTAWatch spot and then you get a pile up! So you don’t need to have phone coverage to get a spot. There is third advantage too - you can be silent on the mountain and not annoy other people as you don’t have to shout into a microphone.

I find every activation is a learning experience. Each time I visit one of my local summits I might find a better operating position (better shelter because the wind is coming from a different direction), or how better to pitch my tarp so my legs don’t fall asleep, or how to hold the pen so I don’t drop it and lose it in the grass. Or decide which band to use at different times, or how to improve the antenna wires so they don’t tangle.

So welcome to the wonderful addictive world of SOTA!


Also when you use CW and have posted an alert: in this case RNBHole posts the spot automatically

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i think it depends on the frequency. Some bands you will find are better than others. In the UK 40m is generally better at getting QSO’s logged than 20m and some hills are good enough to use 2M VHF to qualify the summit. You could check the database for those hills or the next hill to see which band is the most popular for that summit.


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Joe, welcome to the SOTA family. You will find a very keen bunch of chasers looking for you when you go out into the hills and I’m sure from now on you won’t be scrabbling around searching out contacts.

As has been mentioned, the alerting and spotting systems on SOTAwatch are the key to getting plenty of contacts. I have found it very useful to rough out an itinerary for activations, particularly for days where I am planning to activate more than one summit. This prevents time running away so that I realise my goals… each to his own on how accurate you wish to be of course. I certainly try to be on at the times I have alerted for and often find chasers waiting on frequency for me.

I wish I had… 500+ summits and I’m still reviewing what I take with me! That’s my excuse for having plenty of kit. :grinning:

73, Gerald

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…though that cuts both ways on a popular summit. Folks wonder why you’re just sitting there beside a fishing pole, and wander over to ask questions, usually whilst you’re in the middle of a QSO… :wink:


You forgot to mention that a CW-only rig would probably weigh a lot less than my G90!

Tell me more about RBNHole… are these like automated receivers that people are running? Do I need to know a list of specific frequencies to reach the network?

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What’s an EFRW? I have an EFHW at home but am not entirely pleased with its performance. I’m going to look into making myself a few dipoles this winter. I guess I would deploy them in inverted-V fashion on a summit. What do you use to hoist your EFHW? Fishing pole?

The Reverse Beacon Network is a network of receivers around the world that has nothing to do with SOTA. If you call CQ you can see where your signal is heard. RBNHole takes a feed from the Reverse Beacon Network. When it sees a CQ that matches a SOTA alert it creates the spot.

To get a SOTA spot you must use the exact callsign in the alert and the time must be no more than 1 hour early or 3 hours late, although you can override these defaults. There are instructions on the reflector somewhere. You don’t have to use any specific frequency or even use the same band that you have alerted for. The only thing compared is the callsign and the time. There are a few other details such as it only creates one spot every ten minutes unless you change frequency by at least 1kHz (I think).

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Joe, Maine is perfect throw line territory. Ditch the mast.

I switched to throw lines a couple years ago. Way less hassle on the summit, antenna is higher off the ground and less to pack.

EFRW refers to the “Random Wire” antenna type which uses your built-in tuner, a la G90. You can easily make a wire of non-resonant length and use you tuner to get almost any HF amateur band you want with 1:1 SWR. The G90s tuner does the work.

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Welcome Joe!
And yes, arborist throw line and weight, with one of the preferred “random” lengths. We use 71 ft. when able.

Ken and Kay, KE7BGM

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Hi again Joe

There is a preference for using the top end of 20m for low power operation. It is better than competing in kilowatt alley from 200-300 and sometimes there is high power and wide band QRM above 300, but you may find it better to operate up there. In VK/ZL most activators use frequencies in that part of the band on SSB.

I didn’t comment earlier on CW as your post said you were using SSB. For CW the QRP watering hole is around 14.060-065 and at 20w it isn’t strictly QRP, but that’s where a lot of the SOTA activity occurs. Watching sotawatch and noting the frequencies used by others will inform you best for all bands, not just 20m. In fact chasing is a good way to find out what other activators do, how they call CQ, the frequencies, the info in their calls, etc.

You’ll also find that often a SOTA activation is combined with an activation of an associated WWFF or POTA park or nature reserve. WWFF has been world wide for many years, POTA is just getting going, having been triggered by an ARRL program in 2016. Generally every WWFF reference (like KFF-0123) has a corresponding POTA reference (like K-0654) but the serial numbers are different. WWFF park codes are extremely popular in Europe and being spotted in one of those references will bring Europeans to your frequency. Again operating as a chaser reveals a lot of these programs to you and helps you know what’s happening when you are out somewhere yourself. After an activation of a summit that’s in one of these other references, you need to submit separate logs to each program, eg. One for sotadata and one for whatever system is used by the parks program. I use ADIF as much as possible for my log transfers. It’s a universal amateur radio log transfer format.

If you do use CW and want the RBN/RBNHOLE combination to spot you, your callsign on air must match the callsign in your alert on sotawatch. Eg. If you use /P in your CQs it will match your alert only if you include /P in the alert.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA

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Joe - Congrats on the activation. First one for me took 3 tries before I got a true activation. Look into the self spotting & SMS spotting, a real help for letting people know you are hiking and activating whether you are SSB or CW, then once you get 1 call back give them the mountain info and have them spot you if they are in the shak as chasers are generally really helpful with spotting if you ask for help. There are several end fed antenna kits on the market, easy to make, reasonably priced and work very good especially if you have an ATU. Dipoles work very good but found for myself setup with a EFRW making a lazy L with a collapsible fishing pole is my go to. Keep working on CW, just takes time and most of all have fun.


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Well done on your first activation, you did better than me - I gave up after three contacts! Since then I’ve never failed to qualify a summit but I’m sure it will happen… Despite the effort I still don’t enjoy CW so all my activations are on SSB or 2m FM. Spotting is key - there is a text gateway so providing you can get some sort of mobile phone signal that works. As a solo walker I also carry a Garmin inReach Mini - which is mostly as insurance so that if I get stuck somewhere with no mobile phone signal I can get help, but it can also be used for spotting… The time of the day and the day of the week makes a big difference, There are definitely more chasers at a weekend here. Finally conditions on the bands vary - more so on HF and it has more impact with SSB, and it is changing as sunspot cycle 25 gets going so I tend to look at what bands people were spotting on the previous day as a starter. I change bands if I put out a spot and a few calls and nothing happens… I have no where near the number of summits under my belt as Gerald but like Gerald I change what I take with me depending on the length of the walk, the weather and what worked last time. Sometimes I don’t make the final selection until I have my boots on and have picked up the rucksack and decided it’s too heavy. The biggest difference (other than forgetting the battery or antenna) is spotting.

73 and hope that 20w makes it across here! Paul

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