Pileups: When to Bow Out

As a new chaser, I will often send my callsign immediately after the last dit dit. Since I am operating full-breakin, I can hear the pileup decend on me as I proceed through my callsign. Usually I’ll quit sending at my first letter when I hear that happen as I don’t want be causing QRM and making it difficult for the activator to sort out who’s who. I’m also new to pileups.
Recently under these circumstances I got to about WB7W without completing the remaining UQ of my callsign, when with mixed feelings I hear the activator coming back to me with my incomplete callsign. That means I had to correct him or her regarding my full callsign adding to the QSO time and disrupting the rhythm.
Often I’ll just wait the pileup out and then call, but sometimes then the activator will call CQ SOTA before I call, which takes even longer.
Last night I reviewed recommendations from “The ARRL Operating Manual” (1987) regarding pileup management. Of course, at the top of the list was operating split frequency. I’ve heard a variation of that method recently when someone called slightly off-frequency and repeated their callsign three times.
73, Malcolm

1 Like

Having operated a few times as 3D2IZ in Fiji, and dealing with big pileups, I would recommend that once you start your call complete it. Often the DX/SOTA will hear portions of your call and will be glad to have picked up most of it. Split operation can work from the chaser side if you just go off frequency a bit,and experienced chasers are quite good at this, at least in DX chasing. You don’t want to drop out of the pass band of the DX/SOTA station. Another fun thing to do is match the frequency of the last station to complete a contact, and jump as you have been doing after the close. Tail ending like that works. On the DX stations end, you often have to deal with the loudest callers first just so your receiver isn’t being overloaded by their repeated calling. I don’t know if any SOTA activators really run a split channel, meaning they run duplex, but that is an awesome solution to a really big pile up.


I have heard some hams complaining about split operation in the QRP sections. So if you are going to try split, I think it would be wise to move down the band.
73 de OE6FEG

1 Like

Hello and Welcome Malcolm -
One thing about SOTA activators is that many (most) stick around until the well is dry - they do their best to work everyone that shows up. So patience may also work for your long call. As suggested, sending your entire call is a good idea.
Another thing that we can hope for here in the PNW is that folks will give 60m a try for the Chasers within the region. You’ll be one of just a few callers and will have an easy time working a ‘local’ summit.
You might check out http://www.pnwsota.org/ as a regional resource and register for the PNW Newsletter.
73, Etienne-K7ATN


It doesn’t matter whether it is phone or CW, you have as much right to call as any other station, so don’t be diffident. Remember that the SOTA station wants to contact you, the more contacts he gets, the more satisfaction he gets, so you are offering satisfaction as well as hoping for it yourself. Follow good procedure and let the SOTA station do the sorting out.


Hey Malcolm, welcome to SOTA and Thanks for the recent chases. As a pretty frequent activator I too have to deal with the pile-ups from that end. Usually the severe pile-ups are just the first few minutes and then it slows down enough to be easier and fun. Sometimes I just copy the loudest signals first or just pick out a partial callsign and work them. One hint that helps me copy better is if a station is off frequency slightly, high or low so the cw tone is much higher or lower than the main crowd. It makes it easier to pick out one person. Again Welcome and just keep trying. You will be a pro in no time.
Tim - K5DEZ


Hi Malcom

I only do CW and I do much the same as Tim K5DEZ.

Also if several call at once and I can’t pick an obvious ‘clue’ out from the pile I wait a second and invariably one chaser repeats their call - and I QSO with him first. (I learnt this from my 1st activation when I was unexpectedly faced with a small pile up. Not knowing what to do I did nothing - until one chaser repeated their callsign in the following silence whilst I was puzzling out what to do!!).

I too go after the loudest quite often. This at least prevents them from blotting the rest of the quieter calls out!

If I can’t get the whole callsign then I’ll just send the portion I did hear followed by a question mark. eg WB7? or WUQ? followed by KN to indicate that only that C/S is to reply. This always seems to work OK. Sometimes there are a couple of prefixes shared with one or two chasers but this cuts the rest out and makes it easier for you.

On the question of you stopping sending because of the other chasers; remember that the activator won’t necessarily be hearing the same ‘QRM’ as you and not at the same level. I may not hear you at all, or you may be the loudest. So if you have stopped sending your call I may believe I’ve got it all OK!!

I have yet to give up on a pile up - or clear off when there are still chasers calling. When it gets quiet, perhaps after 20 or 30 minutes or whatever, I will always call CQ SOTA DE M6GYU/P again or QRZ? de M6GYU/P K for a few more minutes before either changing bands or going home.

Most of my summit activations probably last an hour or more unless I’m absolutely frozen cold, but that would be an exception and most likely in winter.

Keep chasing and good luck next time!

David Perry


Hi Malcolm-
I remember working you a few days ago when I was activating a peak in central Utah. I also recall messing-up your call sign. That was not your fault, but mine. It only took a moment to get it worked out and I remember thinking “that is a really cool call” and “that fellow is a good operator”. I worked quite a few stations and the pile-up was rather lively.
I was working the big signals first and trying to listen for the requests to do S2S. I worked a few S2S, but there were others calling that I did not get back to. There were chasers calling that I was not able to get to before they found a better watering hole. I have to improve my crisis-management skills and routines.
When the weather is good, I try to work everybody that is calling me before I stop. I think many operators will wait to see what happens when it settles down a bit and I can hear them better. I think it is all a blast!
Sometimes, working through a pile-up is like feeding pigs in a trough. It is a bit messy, but in the end, everyone is happy and satisfied, if not somewhat bruised.
The other responses to your post are written by experienced SOTA-ites and are good advice.

73 and see you on the next one-

Greg Allen, W7GA



All good advice posted. Actually you have somewhat of an advantage in that by sending your entire call the activator is likely to get the “UQ” part because many of us have short calls and we QRM ourselves then you get the last bit with the end of your call. Definitely jump in the fray as was said you may be louder to the activator than you think. On my DXpeditions I found that the loudest wasn’t always who I heard best, sometimes it is the beat tone or the rhythm of the code that catches my attention. One problem I have experienced with waiting is that the activator fades away into the ether and no QSO at all. Good Luck and enjoy SOTA. Tom NQ7R

1 Like

I would agree that once you start, to send your full call. No reason to not put your call in with others I’d say. Just not multiple times unless a repeat is requested. I more often than not try to catch the first callsign, not necessarily the loudest, and concentrate on the tone, speed, etc. to get the end of it. Being off frequency a bit can often be the trick to being heard first as the tone is distinct from all the others, or being at a different speed than the majority of the pileup. (To be honest in a larger pileup I tend to answer someone who’s fast before a slower caller finishes their callsign–it simply gets the pileup reduced faster).

Even if others blot out the rest of someone’s callsign, I’ll stick with the first one I hear. Also, if I come back to a caller who is weaker, and another calls with a big signal (unfortunate happens often when you’re qrp), I’ll still stay with the original caller until I have them. I try not to get the last caller as that tends to be bad practice as others will imitate and delay their call making overall noise higher and harder to respond as a qrp station.

As far as split, my simple radio doesn’t do split, but as a qrp station doing a SOTA activation, I wouldn’t anyway. The pileups get to five or six, but it’s not dozens, so it can be managed ok. In any case, it’s all fun and there may be only once or twice I’ve ever not answered a caller I’ve heard and worked the entire pileup (and those few were safety issues with storms). Have fun out there!

73/72 Mike AC0PR

1 Like

Oh, and I REALLY appreciate it when callers hold off when they hear a Summit-to-summit or DX calling–a very cool thing SOTA chasers have done numerous times.



Being a qrp chaser with a long callsign who sends at 14 wpm, I wait for the pileup to dissipate. Otherwise, the activator is often halfway or more through sending a signal report to someone else by the time I finish. Peter KD0YOB


I experienced that a few times, and I have been amazed at how well-mannered folks get every time it happens. As soon as the S2S or a DX call comes over the band goes silent. After the contact is made it’s back to the madness :joy: I can definitely relate and also really appreciate that one. :+1:


I think everyone pretty much covered it, but I would also recommend sending your call completely regardless of where you are in the pile. For starters you don’t know how your signal sounds to the activator - you just might be louder, faster, slower, or up/down just enough to be the one that stands out. Like some folks have mentioned, the first 10 or so minutes are usually the most intense - for me it can sound like one solid tone; however, I can usually find and mentally focus on that one signal that stands out in some way. Speed, pitch, and using a bug or straight key is a great way to do that. Your call has a slight advantage because it is longer, but I’d probably have to ask ? to get it right given most are 2x1 or 1x2 on CW. Additionally, just know people go activate to be the rare DX, and for me, I appreciate every person who throws their call in and chipping away at the pile is part of the fun of it :laughing: So don’t be worried about QRM, unless you hear a S2S or a nice DX coming in. I really hope to catch you at some point, I just checked my log and don’t have you entered yet. Until then 73 and thanks very much for chasing!

1 Like

this also happens to me in contest, while sending 25+. Why send complete call, when another qso is running yet? I often get answer to my part-callsign and I am used to repeat my call, some stns really have problems to copy, Do some morse-runner and you will start enjoying pile-ups, hi 73 Martin

One difficulty with that is holding the calling frequency when you’re QRP. When you’re running simplex the louder chasers make it clear the frequency’s in use…

A few tens of hertz either side is probably the limit. If the chaser’s using a lower than average side-tone then finding the side that’s higher pitched than the zero-beat probably works better. When I’m activating I do try to run with a wide filter, but I’ll probably not hear you if you end up more than a hundred hertz above my preferred pitch, as my ears particularly hate tones up there.

6 characters and a weight of 78 (a bit over 6 seconds at 15wpm) is a bit longer than the average, but isn’t that long. Activating under CEPT rules I might be using something like DL/M0LEP/P (130 and a bit over 10s), and when visiting Kenya I might have to use 5Z4/M0LEP/P (148 and almost 12s).

I have been tempted to ignore some very loud signals when I’ve put out a partial (like “SM9?”) and the loud one coming back contains none of those characters, let alone in that order. I try to work the first call I hear, but probably end up working the one I’ve heard best as often as not.


I’ve given up on (non-SOTA) DX pile-ups when things got too crazy for me (especially when chasers in the pile-up get so frantic that they start working each other thinking they’re working me!).

That’s not at all uncommon with the way propagation happens these days…

Yep! Very much appreciated. :slight_smile:


A silent key I knew many years ago, IOTA man Erick G0KJW, always said to me ( in a very deep, gruff voice)
“BUT in very exceptional circumstances you may lower the power.” On my activations I often feel that Erick is just behind me, making sure I follow his mantra.

Clearly on Sota there may be life and limb reasons, e.g. imminent danger from lightning, freezing to death, or when we run out of mobile electrons in our batteries, to stop transmitting. Always remember, it is just a hobby to be enjoyed.



Hi Malcolm,

Fred DL1FU usually calls slightly off frequency and is easily extracted from the pile up… and it usually only takes one call. Repeats not required!

In my opinion, full break in is a mixed blessing for SOTA. I only have one rig so equipped and that is rarely used. I therefore send my complete call sign when chasing, but just the once.

73, Gerald G4OIG

1 Like

Hi Malcolm Welcome to the CHASER club!
I’ am sitting in the shack reading the reflector waiting for
the 7 land guys to get on! Hi Hi. only get a DX once and a
while. I guess I do all the same things as the other Folks
have said, but I never did try split!
One thing I do most of the time is check my log if a activator starts out say on 40m and he is out west I go to
the frequency on 20m where I worked him last and hope I can get him first before the pile up starts. Some times I just have to wait until all the strong signals dye down and
hope the QSB does not wipe him out. You will get in your own pattern and have a BLAST! Like anything else the more you Chase the better you will get!!

Best of luck to you Malcolm, Have FUN
73 Gary, N2ESE

1 Like

Couple of additional thoughts.

I, like many others am a creature of habit. in my case 7.0325, 5.3545, 10.1185 and 14.0625 in that order.

Roy G4SSH has worked me many times, first call. A man with great CW experience, his technique included calling a little off my frequency, he always stood out from the crescendo of noise and we made the QSO.

Moral, don’t zero beat with the Activator, be creative.


1 Like