RBN Thoughts and Questions

I have a couple of things that are fuzzy in my mind about the RBN. First, I know the the RBN will post a spot even if your alert frequency doesn’t match your calling frequency. For example, if you alert for 7.030-cw and you start calling on 7.028-cw, you will get a spot.

First question. Do you even have to post an exact frequency? Will the RBN get you spotted if you alert like this: 7-cw?

Second question. Can you simply post an alert for the band such as 40-cw?

Third question. Even if it is OK to use abbreviated frequencies or just a band, do most chasers want a more exact frequency in the alert so that they can hopefully tune around and hear you in case a spot did not get posted?

Merry Christmas,
Ron, KI4TN :hiking_boot:

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Hi Ron,

You do not need to post an exact frequency. Yes, you can post something like: 7-cw, 14-cw, 10-cw, etc in your alert, and when the RBN picks you up the RBN Hole will post a spot on SOTAWatch for your actual freq. The freqs you post in the alert don’t matter, they are simply a convenience for the chasers to have some idea of what your plan is. You can also put some commands into the comments field to adjust things… have a read of this some time when you can’t sleep:


I find it helpful to know which frequencies an activator is planning to use. Of course the activator might need to QSY if a planned freq is in use, but that is no big deal.

After a while you get to know which freqs an activator likes to use, and often I’m waiting for them and make first contact =)

When I chase I’m almost always working, so it’s great to set the rig to the expected freq and then focus on work. I also have Ham Alert set to notify me when any NA SOTA activations are afoot.

Merry Christmas!



The RBNHole is barely sentient, so it just checks if there’s an alert. It doesn’t bother with reading frequencies, partly because I’m lazy, and partly because if RBNHole didn’t spot someone on a particular band because they’d left it off the alert, there’d be at least one furore-inducing post to the reflector about it :slight_smile:

You can probably put almost any free text there, but don’t go testing Jon’s input validation code on my account.

Ah, now that’s RBNHole independent, but the general vibe seems to be that the more exact you are, the more likely you are to find chasers just tuning around (or stuck on the “usual” frequencies listening in).

I dare say that mixing megahertz and metres will not result in hoped-for results. 40-cw might mean you have to be heard calling CQ on 40 MHz.

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Your questions and the answers above are very appropriate! A couple of points:

  1. The RBN itself is independent of SOTA and SOTAWatch. The RBN will spot you, whether you have an alert or not. It will spot you if you call CQ at home. The original idea of the RBN was to spot DX stations.

  2. If you’re a chaser, looking for a particular activator, you don’t need to look at SOTAWatch at all - you can just look at the RBN and type in the activator’s call as the DX Station.

  3. The RBN is very fast - delay is less than a minute, maybe just seconds, if you are putting out a decent signal. I sometimes get 5 or 10 spots within less than a minute from my first CQ. I only run 10 watts (max) and an end-fed 66-foot wire at 20 feet or less.

  4. Unfortunately the RBN is selective about spotting some calls. I don’t know why, but it’s a shame. The RBN people have their reasons, whatever they are. My call KX0R gets spotted easily and often, while WG0AT does not get spotted very often.

  5. You MUST call CQ, or send certain similar phrases, to be spotted by the RBN. I don’t know much more than that. I call like this, more or less, to get spotted:


This is enough I believe:


also maybe:


The critical part is the DE KX0R, or DE KI4TN, or whatever. I believe that the other words are mostly ignored. If you don’t send DE and then YOUR CALL, with good spacing, you might not get spotted by the RBN.

I look at a lot of RBN spots for activators - often after the sessions, when I get home from my own activations, and I see these mysterious things:

I often get more than 100 spots on the RBN. Reasons why:

A) I call CQ correctly and often, several times per band
B) I have a RELATIVELY efficient system - much of my 10W of RF is actually being radiated
C) I operate an several bands
D) I do long activations

HOWEVER, if you saw some of my activations, with the end-fed wire running through tree branches, over rocks near the summit, sometimes touching the ground or running a short distance across the snow, usually no counterpoise (other than the KX2, tiny tuner, headphones, key, connecting cables, and my body), often half the wire is less than 8 feet high, end tied to a bush or rock cairn near the ground, etc., you wouldn’t believe how good the spots are.

With our current ionospheric conditions, at mid-day, near winter solstice, no sunspots, low solar flux, mostly quiet geomagnetic field, you can judge the RBN spots by one simple rule:

The “Good Activators” have a majority of their RBN spots in double-digits of db than the “Poor Activators”, who have mostly single-digits of db, or very few spots.

Some of the spots are 30 db or more on the best bands, like 40-30-20M. Quite a few spots are 20db or more.

Some of the “Good Activators” have very few spots, even though they have good signals, because:

  1. They don’t call CQ much, or send DE and then their call. Just sending their call and the word SOTA doesn’t result in a spot.

  2. They have weird calls that the RBN doesn’t like

Most of the serious chasers prefer that you indicate your intended frequency. You just need to be close, within a few KHZ. We tune around and look. Many of my chasers are waiting and call as soon as I get on the air, IF I’m on time and at my alert frequency.

Any alert is much better than none.

If you don’t put up an alert, you won’t get spotted by the RBN HOLE, even if the RBN spots you!!

You don’t have to list your frequencies or even your bands to be spotted by the RBN Hole! You MUST do an alert and you MUST be within the broad time window!

I’m missing MANY S2S contacts I could otherwise get because some activators do these things:

  1. No frequency listed on alert
  2. Activators using weird freqencies outside the narrow band areas most of us like
  3. Activators using frequencies with lots of QRM, like 14.060, 7.030, etc. Lots of stations just jump on these frequencies and call CQ, destroying an activation they can’t or don’t hear.

Many chasers and activators don’t use smartphones, or don’t have cel coverage, so we’re not all seeing the spots on SOTAWatch when we’re on the summits.

If you want to get in my S2S logs, do a good alert for a popular SOTA frequency, and be there, and I’ll have a better chance of finding you.

Also tune around and hunt for other activations, as you and many others do, and just call me and we’ll do a fast S2S!

73 and Merry Christmas!

George (Carey)


Thanks George,
That’s a good checklist for both activators and chasers.
MX es HNY!

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Hi George,
I’ve never noticed or heard anything anbout RBN being selective on which callsigns to spot and I wasn’t either sure about the real need of DE between the CQ and the callsign, so I’ve just run a simple test myself by calling CQ EA2IF PSE K on 40m. In 2 different CQ calls like that one (without DE) I’ve got immediately spotted by several skimmers. So the conclusion is DE is not necessary. I usually call CQ SOTA DE EA2IF/P EA2IF/P SOTA but I sometimes omit DE and never noticed any problem with RBN not spotting me. I have even been spotted after making the most minimalist CQ call I can think of:
I just sent CQ EA2IF K and I got spotted by 2 skimmers on 40m.
Perhaps, the fact of not being spotted by RBN has more to do with efficient transmission with good signal, good spacing, good code sending with no errors…
You mentionned that you see your callsing more often spotted by RBN than that of WG0AT. I can tell you that, from my location in EA2 land, I remember some occassions in which I copied you and we made QSO while WG0AT was with you in the same summit or in some other W0C summit and I wasn’t copying WG0AT at all or copying him with a much weaker signal than yours. It is clear to me that your SOTA portable station (including rigs, antenna AND operator) is currently one of the best performers if not the best of the regular activators in NA.




Thank you! This is very interesting information from your tests. Perhaps the CQ and the call are the important items required for the RBN spot. We should try tests to see if the DE works the same.

I’m pretty sure that the RBN ignores the word SOTA, because stations who just send their call and SOTA may not get spotted, even though the chasers will hear them and call.

The RBN may not cover all CW frequencies, it may have a limited range, and some RBN stations do not receive or lists spots for all bands. I have trouble getting spotted on 5.332 many times.

Everyone can do tests of their own to see if the CQ calls result in spots - do this with low power at home if you like, not on SOTA frequencies.

WG0AT Steve has good signals here in CO, and we contact each other S2S very often. He may run radios with 5W, so he might be down 3 db sometimes, but we do S2S many times at great distances across many mountains, and we often can do it both ways OK. He also is a very sharp listener!

Since we’re usually on different mountains, any differences to you might be because the paths are very different, or there may be other high mountains in the way at this end.

Another station with good signals but not so many spots is WS0TA Fred. I think the RBN does not like his call, but he is an expert activator and has strong signals. He does not call CQ for long, and he goes fast.

I have heard that sometimes the RBN is different for contests also.

If anyone knows of a good set of instructions for the RBN, they should please post it here so we can read it and save it…

73 and CUL


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Some good information here George:

Geoff ZL3GA

I agree that ‘DE’ is, or at least was a trigger for the RBN, I was once calling a station at their speed =>30wpm (I don’t usually go that fast) and I was spotted by the RBN at some ridiculous speed - I then worked out that I had answered a CQ by ‘DE M1BUU K’

73, Colin

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I don’t think “DE” was ever needed. I’ve always had good luck with using TEST or CQ one time followed by my call twice. I think the key is, as someone else here mentioned, is sending proper CW characters and properly spaced. I’m no CW expert by all means, but lately I’ve heard a lot of fists on the air that were actually hard to copy (none were SOTA peeps).

For chasing I recommend downloading VE7CC’s CCUser program and placing activators in the alerts to sound off whenever one of you guys get spotted. Usually faster than sotawatch.

Someone also mentioned 60 meters. Been a while since I’ve taken a look at the listed skimmers on RBN, but I recall there were only a handful, if that many, listed stateside (??)

73, Todd KH2TJ

Hi George,
Thanks for detailed explanations, I would like to add my experience of using RBN as a chaser and activator.
Here in Europe we can look for all activators at once with single entry in DX Station field i.e. */P. Almost all activators in Europe use /P suffix, so I do not need to type each activator’s call sign. With */P filter I can spot activators that did not put their alert in SOTAWatch! And I can spot activator even before RBNHole spot appears in SOTAWatch, which is big advantage for my low power home station.
Unfortunately we can not use this filter for looking for NA activators as very few of them use /P suffix.

73 and HNY
Mirko S52CU

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Shameless self promotion follows:

On SOTLAS, all RBN spots from known (i.e. registered in the SOTA DB) activator callsigns are listed if you choose “All” from the popup menu with the blue info button. Of course that doesn’t mean they’re actually activating at the time. If you choose “Activations”, then it only lists RBN spots for callsigns for which a SOTA activation has been spotted within the last three hours, or alerted for the next 24 hours.

As it uses a live WebSocket connection to get the RBN spots, you have a slight edge (up to about 30 seconds) over websites with traditional polling, like reversebeacon.net.


I didn’t know that, Very good news Manuel, thank you very much for the

From now on I will certainly use this great feature of sotl.as.
Congratulations on your SOTA Sherpa Award 2019, Manuel! Well deserved.

73 and HNY to all!


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I didn’t know this either, so thank you very much for letting us know through this “shameless self promotion”. I think it’s not shameful at all, rather very helpful instead!
When I first tried sotl.as, I selected the map and I got this:
This is why I have only used it some few times on my smartphone to check the reference of some few summits in my area and some statistics. I found it nice, easy to use and helful.
For various reasons, I’ve become a bit too lazy nowadays about computers and updating programs becoming obsolete before I had had the time to fully learn how to use them, so I’ve done nothing about that message of my browser not supporting WebGL, which I have no idea of what is that and I don’t think I need to.

From now on, I’ll also use sotl.as to see the spots from SOTA DB registered users.


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Part of the confusion here comes from the multi-tiered and adhoc nature of RBN. Consider that to get a spot posted on RBN requires:

  1. An individual CW Skimmer station can hear your signal. These are crowdsourced “ordinary operators”, some very dedicated, some just trying out skimming on a lark. Rigs and antennas vary, regional participation and band coverage varies.
  2. That station is presently running a skimmer and RBN aggregator (some run the software part-time).
  3. The CW Skimmer can decode your call and considers it a CQ of a valid call - it is an option at the skimmer level to send all spots or only those with “CQ”. This is to prevent posting beacons and replies to CQs. However, each skimmer operator chooses this option themselves. It is not an option to require “DE”, and this is the layer that would make that decision, nowhere else. The skimmer also has a limited bandwidth to monitor, depending on the operator’s equiment and skimmer settings.
  4. The RBN aggregator (a second piece of software that talks to the skimmer at the local station) collects spots from the skimmer and does additional filtering. The filtering is based on a few config files, which are broadcast from RBN as an “official” set of files, but individual operators can modify these also. The filters include bad calls and notched frequencies. The skimmer operator may also choose to validate against a supercheck partial file.
  5. Finally, if the spot passes all of the skimmer and aggregator validation, its passed on to the RBN servers proper. At that point, additional black magic rules could be applied.
  6. If the spot passes black magic, it’s posted to the RBN main page and cluster feeds. This is where RBNHole and other systems like HamAlert/Sotl.as pick it up.

It’s a fairly tall stack as far as software goes, but understandable how we got there. Suffice to say thoguh, there are a lot of places your calls could fall through the cracks, and it’s very hard to point blame in a single spot when it doesn’t work.

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