My FT8 SOTA setup

Thanks Ron, I was waiting for some one to answer how it would work. Personally Js8 call is far better suited to SOTA;

  • Ft8 speed for sending
  • ft8 sensitivity for rx decodes
  • keyboard chat
  • ability to modifiy the cq message say “CQ SOTA” etc
  • any tx station can send hf aprs, any rx station (with reporting on) can become an igate

When it’s not so “warm” in VK I plan on doing an activation purely to allow chasers to see how it works.

Strongly suggest ops wanting to know more or see how it looks head over to YouTube OH8STN has some good videos.

I run an android tab for @VK3ZPF’s vkportalog, which I also use via VNC to connect to a raspberry pi, who connects to the 817 using an Xgg tiny audio interface.

VK1MIC .com

Sunday 6th January 2019 - Gun G/SP-013 & The Cloud G/SP-015

Really good activations this morning, and I might just have got the hang of this FT8 business. Even so, in my entirely personal opinion, it’s harder/more fiddly to operate than CW or phone modes, and this is indicated by the significantly slower QSO rates. Good fun nonetheless!

I’m putting the report in this topic because I took photos of my FT8 set up. That activation probably went well, as much as anything, because preparation was solid. I’d been chancing a few outings on a damaged 20m GP antenna, cobbling together the increasingly frequently required fixes in the field. Saturday night, I sacrificed Match of the Day to repair it properly. I’d checked the charging on my tablet a couple of times since the failure earlier in the week, and all seemed well.

I got up at 5am and was QRV on Gun summit just before 7am. It was a bit nippy and I spent most of the activation inside my bothy bag. The tablet had full charge and the antenna was working perfectly - hurray! (I knew the antenna was in good shape when ZL1BYZ came back to my first CW CQ call…!)

I made a total of 53 QSOs:

20m FT8: 34
20m JT65: 1
20m CW: 13
2m FM: 5
S2S with MW0XRT/P on Moel y Gamelin GW/NW-042, and later on Cyrn-y-Brain GW/NW-043.

An amusing moment came when I decided to emerge from the bothy bag for “a breath of fresh air”. When I got back in the shelter I discovered that I’d just made a QSO with a Russian station :smiley: !

Following descent and a warm-up in the car, I couldn’t resist popping over to The Cloud G/SP-015 on the way home. This time however, I left the rucksack and main portable gear in the car and just took a quick stroll up to the summit with the Yaesu FT70D handheld.

First up was a S2W with Mark M0NOM/P who was on a subsidiary top of Top o’Selside (but not G/LD-048 itself, which he had done earlier). This had WOTA reference LDO-106. In total, 9 stations were worked, all 2m FM. SOTA from Cloud summit is pretty easy, I must admit!


Fantastic. I would love to read more about how it went from a practical level - be keen to use on the quieter days.


Sure, no problem. Any questions - fire away…

ok whats the callsign you use in WSJTX 2.0 just /p? How do you call CQ SOTA and how to you pass the summit ref?
how do S2S work?

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I have my callsign set in the Settings page as M1EYP/P

It isn’t possible to call “CQ SOTA M1EYP/P IO83” - though I wish it was.

It is possible to call “CQ SO M1EYP/P IO83”. You set this in the appropriate line in one of the message tabs. Though I wonder how many might get confused by “CQ SO”, so usually I just call “CQ M1EYP/P IO83”.

After the station being worked has sent “73”, I then check the Free msg radio button (and have to click the ‘Enable TX’ button, which will have just gone off) which I have set to “SOTA G/SP-015” (etc).

After I’ve sent that SOTA ref on the Free msg, I might get a follow up caller, but usually nothing - so then it’s back to CQ again.

So a typical exchange might be:


…and start again.

I’ve not had a FT8 S2S yet, but I presume the other station could also send the ref as a Free msg after I’ve sent mine (or vice versa depending on who was running).

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The after the 73 bit worries me. I would be TXing again as the other station and might not see it… hmm Would be interested on your experience of use in the field of pasting the summit ref, use on a tablet etc.

Well they might not see it after the 73 if they’re in a rush to get away. But they might have seen it just before I called CQ. SOTA chasers will use the Free msg line to ask if they’re not sure. Non-SOTA chasers probably aren’t that bothered. Most SOTA chasers will already have that information down and in their logs from the SOTAwatch Spots even before trying to call me…

Wade. I’ll be in VK1 in the next month or so on my way to and from the VK3 Hotham S2S extravaganza. I’ll bring the FT8 setup. We can have a play around and S2S from a couple of local VK1/AC-XX ones.

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I’d be VERY keen to attempt some DX S2S on FT8 with you guys. We’ve also got BX2AFU who is using FT8 portable on his SOTA activations.

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Wade and I are also going to be at Hotham. Your challenge is to convince me it’s worth lugging all the stuff up to a summit to work ft8.
But I’d like to have a look, out of curiousity. I have had an ft8 contact from home and it left me somewhat uninspired.
Will be happy to try for a contact during the weekend (1-2-3 Feb) from one or more summits. I will have conventional modes, at least.
73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH

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Hi Tom,

Have you tried entering your call as M1EYP/P in the setup screen and then editing the TX message 6 to include SOTA. Version 2.0 allows 4 characters to be added to TX6. The only downside is this message is reset to normal after completing a contact. I just set a macro for W7A MN145 73 to transmit in message 5. This macro can be selected while the other elements are being sent. This will still contain the 73 to help end the sequence. Depending on the sequence you may have to send the TX 5 manually. Chasers will understand and non SOTA operators will often be confused even if you include SOTA.

Additionally from the user manual it is recommended to avoid using “/” in your free text message.

" 7.2. Free-Text Messages

Users often add some friendly chit-chat at the end of a QSO. Free-format messages such as “TNX ROBERT 73” or “5W VERT 73 GL” are supported, up to a maximum of 13 characters, including spaces. In general you should avoid the character / in free-text messages, as the program may then try to interpret your construction as part of a compound callsign. It should be obvious that the JT4, JT9, and JT65 protocols are not designed or well suited for extensive conversations or rag-chewing."

The following is from the quick start manual.

" Details Concerning the New Message Formats

  1. CQ messages may contain an optional second word with up to four letters — “CQ TEST”, “CQ FD”, etc. —

followed by a standard callsign and 4-character grid locator, or a nonstandard callsign and no locator."

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Excellent!! bring your IC910 then. A 23cm FT8 S2S would have to be a first I reckon.
See you guys down there.

Hello Tom
I tried to receive any signal from you but nothing.
I only saw you callsign from the others stations (russian)
Today, i will be QRV FT8 from F/CR-209
73 Roger


Personally, I don’t like not having my correct callsign in play on the initial call. 2.0 has offered a very significant leap forward that allows me to be M1EYP/P throughout each QSO. I’m not going to give that up lightly!

I shall probably continue to use a mix of CQ SO M1EYP/P IO83 and CQ M1EYP/P IO83 depending on what I feel is most appropriate at the time.

Having the SOTA ref as the final message, even after the 73, seems to be working well, and attracting new callers to the next CQ call.


In this case “SOTA” guides chasers to recognise that the final 4-digit ref is a SOTA ref rather than a locator. The initial Association code can be inferred from the callsign. I don’t know if there is capacity to handle 3-figure reference numbers?

The locator isn’t really required then as the position is identifiable from the SOTA ref.

I’m an FT8 novice so please correct me if that wouldn’t work

Hi Andy,

There are several problems with that approach. First the grid locator is not transmitted as text it is encoded so not all combinations will encode because they are not valid grids. Second the association can not be identified by the call sign since in the USA there are 39 associations associated with the US callsigns. In W7A MN region where I live there are 148 summits requiring a 3 digit reference. That region only covers half of the Phoenix metropolitan area and the MS region has another 158 summits for the south half of Phoenix. The short coming of my approach above is the TX 6 message needs to be be edited to add “SOTA” to the TX6 message after completing a contact. After the first few contacts or being spotted on sotawatch the chasers will be calling you (tail ending) your last QSO with no need to call CQ. When operating FT8 most people do not call the station on his frequency. The normal procedure is to call on a different frequency because the decoder looks for his call sign in all messages. The CQing station can see all of the stations calling on the various frequencies since they are highlighted in red even while he is working another station. In addition your original CQ and reference designation may still be displayed on their screen as they monitored your previous QSO.

Here is a great FT8 operating guide by Gary Hinson ZL2iFB.

73 Burke

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Perhaps there is no need to send the reference at all? Yes, I know the rules say it should be sent but we are trying to fit what we want to send into what is allowed by the software.

Tom’s calling style “CQ SO …” should be enough for SOTA chasers to know it’s a SOTA operation. It may confuse non-SOTA operators much as you hear CQ CONTEST and then don’t know what magic numbers are often exchanged. (Obviously 59KW but I digress.) The reference in this case can be found from SOTAwatch. Perhaps it’s enough for FT8 SOTA QSOs to change the rules so the reference does not need to be sent at all. And yes, this means chasers will need to have access to SOTAwatch to know which summit was being activated but I’d be surprised if there were many FT8 operators who do not have an internet connection. SOTAwatch spots persist for a long time after they have dropped off the screen and you can easily go back several days to find out which summit was being activated at a certain time.

Just my £0.02 worth…

The rules don’t need to be changed. Stations on FM or CW (for instance) working a steady stream of chasers probably don’t send the reference every QSO - every few QSOs is sufficient.

Similarly, every few QSOs (probably every 2 or 3), I send the SOTA ref in the Free msg in between my “73” and my next “CQ” tx.

The “CQ SO…” isn’t targeted at the SOTA chasers BTW - they will already know from the Spots. By the time they come looking for me on the FT8 QRG, they know I’m activating a summit! It’s really more for the non-chasers - but is the “SO” enough for them to deduce or research that it might stand for SOTA?

Anyway, in yesterday’s activation I didn’t use “SO” at all, but worked 34 stations on FT8, including some that were chasers.

The full word “SOTA” appears when I send the ref in the Free msg: “SOTA G/SP-015” - so hopefully those unaware or confused will be able to work out fairly quickly that “SO” is short for SOTA - or if not used, that I am doing SOTA (with the /P call and the Free msg being the clues).

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