My very first SOTA activation! QSO number = ZERO!

Dear SOTA colleges. I am brand new to SOTA and to QRP. Just got myself a FT817ND, small solar panel and the usual 12V Gel/gas tight lead battery, my home brew dipole and a 6 meter fishing pole for center mast.

Nostalgia aside! This SOTA activation did not work! NOBODY answered my 2 hour long CQ call! What a letdown!
Well, I got two choices: One is to forget the whole QRP thing! The other is to take it as a challenge and work at it, (with your help and advice I hope), until I get to know the ropes of this new niche of the hobby.

What went wrong? I have some few topics I would like to highlight, and I am open for any suggestions from you.

• Too short notice?
I posted myself only the night before on as Upcoming Activations. Was that too short notice for chasers to plan with? I see some guys post planed activations many many days in advance.

• Non attractive summit? (Only 1 point!)
I tried to activate the summit: LA/TM-029 As I am new to SOTA, I really do not know… But It sure looks like chasers did not even bother lift the microphone for the “One-Point-Only” summit in Norway! Am I on to something? If so it is a little discouraging for us that are not super-athletes nor mountaineers! I am never going to climb Mount Everest you know! But I enjoy a 2-5 hours hike up a summit. Is that not enough for you?

• Wrong day, and wrong time of the day?
My activation was made on Friday 9’th July 2010 (a workday for those that did do not have summer holidays), and it was in real life from about 11 to 13 UTC.
Maybe on a weekend day more chasers have the opportunity to sit in the shack? All I need is 4 QSO’s! One would think that with whole Europe as play ground there would be four chasers on the air!?

• Wrong frequencies?
I chose 40 and 60 meter bands for their “normal” propagation characteristics during day time. My aim was to be accessible for chasers in northern Europe from my Norwegian summit.

  • 40m frequency I operated: 7.118 MHz LSB, This frequency is above 7.100 MHz which was up to not long ago the upper band-limit. I was wondering if there are a lot of hams out there that still can’t transmit above 100? Would it be smarter to choose a LSB frequency that lies below 7.100 MHz so as to be more accessible to more hams?
  • 60m frequency I operated: 5.3985 MHz USB. This frequency is accessible to Norwegian, UK, Canada, Island, Denmark, Greenland and “almost” Finland. (Finland: 5.3986) OK, what is the deal with 60m band in Europe? I really do not know. One thing I know is that this band is rarely included in any multiband antennas you buy of the shelf! So my point is that if you want to be QRV on this band I guess you have to make some antenna (like a dipole for example) yourself! AND, you need a rig that is open for transmit on the band. How many hams, or chasers have access to this band? I really have no idea! Any suggestions?
  • Too much RF absorption on 60 m band going up and down through the E layer during one skip in day time?
    As we know, the E layer acts as a “dampener” as it absorbs RF energy of low frequencies ( long wave lengths) as they go through on the way up and down from the F layer in the ionosphere. (This is why we do not hear AM stations on 0.5 to 1.6 MHz band during day time!) I really thought that 60 meter band would be OK to use even in the middle of the day (max excitation of the E layer). I know 80 meter is affected, and 160 meter almost useless…. But 60 meter? Am I mistaken? Any suggestions?

• Lousy propagation conditions that day?
The solar flux was around 78 on 9 July 2010. In my opinion, and limited experience, I do believe that this should be enough to comfortably make a one skip QSO during day time on 40 and 60 meter bands. OK, the bands were kind of quiet! It could have been problems with my antenna, and it could also have been the propagation. I did notice some merchant QSB that day on many stations. How about you? What was your experience of these bands that day?

• “Latest SPOTS”, and the concept of SPOTTING… Do I REALLY have to SPOT myself on the web to arise any interest?
OK, now I have to tread VERY carefully to not step on any toes! I definitely do not want to insinuate that anybody is “cheating”! Definitely not!
Maybe I just have to face it that the real world, and the world how we like it to be ideally are two very different things!
I would shortly state that one of the things that attracts me to QRP, HF-pack, HF-wilderness hiking and SOTA is to get away from the grid, the infrastructure, the long arm of internet (be it IP access via cell phone or whatever) and still have a nice QSO with some colleagues of the hobby. All from a summit or from way inside the wilderness.
Do I really have to make sure I bring with me Internet access out there so that I can SPOT myself on the web for anybody to bother talk to me?
I am not stupid, so I do understand that this would help a lot! BUT, I really was hoping that it was not crucial!
Am I too naive if I think that listing myself on upcoming activations on the web is enough to at least get the 4 QSO’s needed?

Sorry that this got too long! Hope you find the time to comment! I really would appreciate any advice!
Best regards from LA4CIA, Lewi.

In reply to LA4CIA:

Hi Lewi,

At least, you made the effort :slight_smile:

Others may not agree but I guess that 5W on phone will never be really satisfying. Some are already struggling with 5W and code.

TM is not really that up north and some of the guys around TM49 are showing proof that 5W code works fine. I’ve been there myself and they did a good job.

I guess a bit more than 5W would help considerably to get the phone signal through the noise.

73 Norby

In reply to LA4CIA:

If anyone had heard you then they would have tried to work you. From my experience chasers will chase anything with points! And I love them for being like that :slight_smile:

You don’t have to spot… somebody will spot you if they hear you. The effect is noticeable. You call, nobody answers, you call, somebody answers, you call another answers and they spot you, you call, a pileup ensues. It’s the way it is.

5W SSB on 40m/60m at midday in Northern latitudes in the middle of Summer is asking a lot. I’d place big money on the fact all your RF was absorbed by the D-layer and nobody heard you.

However, don’t give up. Just try again.


In reply to LA4CIA:

I am open for any suggestions from you.

Hi Lewi,

Check the microphone gain settings in FT817ND and the output power first. There is no compressor in this rig. Try to listen your own signal with an other radio from a dummy load. Use higher band (20 m?) for better day light propagation. Check the antenna SWR, cables and connectors. Check the space wx and the contest calendar before the activation. During weekends, holidays and evenings of course more hams are available.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL

In reply to LA4CIA:

Antti, OH6FME and I activated a similar 1 point summit last week here in Finland. It was our first activation. We also had just an FT-817 and a dipole and we only posted an alert on day in advance, no self-spotting. The only major differences were the fact that we operated in the evening, form about 1500 UTC on and that we used the 14 Mhz band on HF. CW was no problem and also SSB worked FB with a little lower reports than on CW. We got about 30 QSOs total on HF.

We had the dipole adjusted for 20 meters, and didn’t try any other HF bands to see if there had been action… Maybe next time then.

As for the exact frequency used, I guess many SOTA activators choose something near the “QRP centre of activity” -spots, as listed in the IARU bandplan and that’s what we also did.

I hope you have better luck on your next attempt! :slight_smile:

Jaakko, OH6FQI

In reply to LA4CIA:

Lewi, your questions concerned much more with QRP than with SOTA. I bet, if you can work QRP at home QTH, you can work QRP from the summit even better. The proper way is to master your FT-817 at home (close field, forest, yard, etc.) first, where you can test (and fix if needed) your equipment easily. When you will have a set of equipment, which does work properly, your SOTA activation will be certainly cuccessful.

In reply to LA4CIA:
Hi Lewi.
I am not very active as an activator, but have been QRV from a few 1-point summits in Rogaland (sw Norway) last year. I used 5 watts and dipoles for 40 and 30 meters (7.032 and 10.188), but mainly in cw. I had not announced my activities but was spottet early and made abt 20 qso’s each time within about 30 minutes (pile up :-). SSB was more difficult.
At present the condx on 40, 30 and 20 meters are very poor in sw Norway. I use from home 700 watts and a doublet, but still I normally must call CQ for a long time before getting an answer for a “normal QSO”. When I call an activator with my QRO, I still need a long time to get thru. The skip on 40 meters seems to be very short. I hear that OK and OE stations get 579 or better from DL, while i read them perhaps 339 or not at all.
Right now, DK1BN/p has been spotted on 10.118. I have worked Walter many times, but I cannot read him now. Few stations are calling him, and they are also very weak here.
As a chaser, I do in these days not copy most of the activators that are beeing spottet. In 2008 and 2009 I worked almost anybody who activated on shortwave. My antenna is ok, since I still normally get 59+ 15-30 from DL at night on 80 meters, and the tuning positions on my Palstar tuner on all bands are still the same like last year.
You should really try testing your qrp rig from home, before going to a summit next time, to get used to it and learn about condx. I do not use /p qrp at present because of the poor condx. I guess things will improve from september.
Good luck

In reply to LA4CIA:
Hello Lewi
I was listening for you but could not hear you at all. I was in Tokke, only about 60km away from the summit. Are you sure your setup is radiating at all?

I have used qrp ssb on all my activations and although I usually self spot I have no problems getting the needed qso’s. The problem with hf ssb is that there is no common “calling frequency” on 40m like 7.032MHz is on cw. I usually start on 7.125MHz myself.

Your choice of bands might be the problem. The last activations I have had huge problems raising any qso’s on 40m and I tend to choose 20m (14.285MHz) during the summer.

The fact that you activated a 1 point summit is not an issue. The chasers are listening for you anyway!

Please don’t give up activating with qrp ssb. You’ll make it next time!

72/73 Mads, LA1TPA

To all of you that took the time to answer:

TNX very much! It did help to get my spirit up and going again! And no, I am not giving up SOTA!  Reading that somebody actually listened for me was a great motivation booster.

Some of the lessons I have learned: As suggested, I will definitely do some test runs in the yard first! That way I will be able to fix any antenna problems, fetch forgotten items (like headphones as I forgot) from the shack etc. Maybe putting together a “SOTA” kit would be a good idea for me. That way every item would have its place in some particular pocket, and it is easy to check if I did remember to bring it along.

I have built many dipoles over the years, but the one I brought up to the summit was too long for the intended frequency. As I read here on the SOTA web page, this is because the dipole often is too close to the ground. Putting up a 7MHz dipole 40 meters up in the air is just not going to happen on a SOTA trip! Anyway, it did catch me by surprise how much shorter the dipole really needed to be! All this will be fixed and trimmed on my next “yard QRP outing.”

Playing around with the rig: Well, the FT817ND really does not have many bells and whistles when it comes to compressors, filters etc. The little thing is menu driven, and I must say that it was easy to find everything if you read the user manual, which I did. There are a couple of things that was lacking explanation in the user manual. When displaying SWR, there is a bar running from left to right, made up of “little squares”. OK, so if I have 2 “squares” on the bar, is that 2 in SWR? Probably, but it does not say anything about it in the book! That was kind of strange! Anybody out there with a desktop SWR meter that can compare the internal FT817ND measurement with the desktop SWR meter to give me a hint of what the scale is?

I have my mike gain on 50%, as it came from the factory. Has anybody played around with this FT817ND to know of a better setting? Earlier I had it on 75% and had a QSO with Ukraine using just a walkabout whip from MFJ. I’m going to have to do some experimenting here….

I had to laugh when one of you were wondering if I did put out any RF at all! Well, to tell you the truth…. I was wondering about the same myself! But I had gotten the SWR down to an acceptable level, and the Power meter was jogging nicely across the display with my voice…. So I guess it did produce RF. My antenna performed lousy, and I did have an extra coupling in the antenna lead that I am going to get rid of! The sun is lingering over our ionosphere for many many hours up here in the north now in the summer! Most probably I should have opted for the 20 meter band.

Yes, I know that SSB phone is inferior to CW! And that is also one of the reasons I am working on my CW skills! I use “Just Learn Morse Code” software which utilizes the Koch’s method. I am up to 26 characters at 20 words per minute now. I hope in some months I’ll have it all in my brain! Looking forward to that first "comeback CW QSO!"
Comeback? Yes, 19 years ago I was pretty fluent at CW. It was back then when you had to have the code to get into the hobby. It was a lot of fun, and I really do want to master CW again!

Well my summer vacation here at home in Norway is closing to an end. I am a Norwegian with my work place in Helsinki Finland. Over there I have the call OH4CIA. Not many summits in the Helsinki! I’ll do my homework and see if there is some summit I can activate over there.

OK thanks again for all the support and encouragement! I will definitely try again!

Best regards from LA4CIA/OH4CIA, Lewi

In reply to LA4CIA:

The Finnish SOTA-list was greatly expanded recently, so you might want to check the current status. The closest summit to Helsinki is now OH/JS-037 Tiirismaa, which is near the city of Lahti. I haven’t been on the hill, but according to maps there is a broadcast radio mast on top with fences around it. However, the activation zone should extend well outside the fence, so it should be ok. There are also plenty of summits around the lake Päijänne and near the city of Jyväskylä if you don’t mind going a bit more to the north.

Regarding the “SWR-meter” on the FT-817, I hear that it does not really measure SWR, but reflected power instead. Of course high SWR also means a lot of reflected power, which means not much of your precious 5 W goes out… But anyway, the amount of bars is kind of indicative and does not give you exact values. I usually try to reach the situation when no bars appear at all.

Jaakko, OH6FQI

In reply to LA4CIA:

Hi Lewi… as you may have read on my thread “Silence on Walbury Hill”, SOTA can be a frustrating hobby.

But, if nothing else, it teaches patience and perseverence. And to appreciate the wilderness around.

Echoing the others, check your kit. But enjoy the walk… :slight_smile:


In reply to LA4CI

This happens, Lewi. Too bad that it happened on your first activation. Please don’t let it put you off.

By the way, the SWR indicator on the FT-817 is notoriously inaccurate, so don’t rely on it. Have a look at these measurements: The KA7OEI FT-817 pages - VSWR metering

73 and hope to QSO with you soon.


In reply to LA4CIA:
I will definitly listen to you in the future,i am myself more chaser than activator.
We had a gang up to treriksröset for a week ago, and they used 40m but… not in daytime, between 20,00 and 23.00 local time we had them in the speaker here in Uppsala with good sigs, it was some qsb and qrn up there, thunder and lightning arround the ears one op. said. So i think your idéas abt operate on 20m and 30m is much better on daytime. Have you used “Black Widow” vertical antenna? See on I-net, easy to build and works. For 20, 30, and 40m. Else 1/2 vavlength wire slooping. You can definitly raise mic gain to 60, maybee 70%.

In reply to LA4CIA:
I will definitly listen to you in the future,i am myself more chaser than activator.
We had a gang up to treriksröset for a week ago, and they used 40m but… not in daytime, between 20,00 and 23.00 local time we had them in the speaker here in Uppsala with good sigs, it was some qsb and qrn up there, thunder and lightning arround the ears one op. said. So i think your idéas abt operate on 20m and 30m is much better on daytime. Have you used “Black Widow” vertical antenna? See on I-net, easy to build and works. For 20, 30, and 40m. Else 1/2 vavelength wire slooping. You can definitly raise mic gain to 60, maybee 70%.

In reply to SM5MEK:

You can definitly raise mic gain to 60, maybee 70%.

I’m absolutely not a phone operator, but the mic gain is not ‘the more, the better’! One need the extra RX to control the signal while playing with the mic level, if there is no other control EQ like a spectrum analyzer. Signal just should be NICE to ears, without noticeable distortions. If one have a too low mic level, the signal will be low. If one have too high mic level, the signal will be BAD. So, it is worth to play with the menu #05, 29, 46 depending on mode, and #56, 57 (extended, T LSB CAR , T USB CAR).

In reply to LA4CIA:

Hi Lewi,

I certainly hope you stick at it. I am more of a Chaser than an Activator and us Chasers need all the Activators we can get.

I have to say as a Chaser I do refer to the Alerts and Spots a lot and think it good to post Alerts as soon as you can but don’t worry too much about accuracy (just say that it may not be too acurate) and if need be update them as the activation gets closer. Spots are good also, I find it a lot easier to hear someone if I have a frequency to listen around. When activating I self spot as a last resort, perhaps that is why I only have 1 point for my 2 SOTA activations so far (although to be fair I do tend to go for WOTA activations since I live in the English Lake District).

Having said the above I am particularly bad at advance alerts when I am activating but I do see my activations more as Walks with Radios (& normally Dogs) and if I have a few QSO’s from the Summit that is good, if I activate the hill it is even better. But it is more important to enjoy the walk up a hill.

I hope to work you on HF soon (once I have sorted out my Shack & some HF antennas).