Self-Spotting from a Smartphone a Fair Means?

Hi all.

I recently activated my first summit (DL/AL-108) and as a typical beginner’s mistake, I relied solely on posting an alert, but did not try to self-spot me with the actual frequency for SSB. It took me two attempts on two different days to get the minimum number of QSOs, despite having a decent antenna (full-size resonant dipole) and spending more than 1 hour on the summit at -15 degrees.

Am I right that getting spotted or spotting yourself with the exact frequency and mode is more or less a prerequisite for successful activations? Or was I just unlucky (no weekend day, bad propagation, …)?

If so, I have kind of mixed feelings, because if I need a smartphone to coordinate a QSO, then a lot of ham spirit as I see it is lost.

I read that you can also share spot information via APRS. Does anybody use APRS on HF for this? Or other data-modes on HF?

If spotting is essential, I would prefer a style that is independent of a smartphone with data connection.

Martin, DK3IT

Hi Martin I have shared your experience and empathise with your views! I’m very new to the tech of APRS so cannot comment but look forward to the responses of those with more experience. Hope to work you one day!

I have never self-spotted, and I never check to see if I was spotted. I also rarely post alerts. I rely solely on making contacts via whatever bands I have access to.

I have had some frustrating times when it took hours to get contacts, but if you’re on a pleasant hill with a great view and nice weather it doesn’t matter.

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Hi Martin,
I have mixed feelings about this myself, and look back fondly at the days before I knew about self spotting (or spotting for that matter) and just threw CQ to the ethers and hoped (not sure if my memories would be so fond at -15 degrees!!)

I always get my first 4 in before any spot, but I have friends and club member chasing so that’s not difficult (now.)
I’ve also kept my smart phone stashed and enlisted others to not only spot, but modify alerts, keep an eye out for S2S and band openings - and even using their big stations to encourage others to point their beam toward my puny QRP call. My local chasers love to be part of the game, as I would guess many a chaser would. And you can always drop into a local repeater or HF net.

Sorry no experience with APRS…except as a chaser and so far I’ve found it pretty hit and miss. I’d opt for a dedicated chaser or two on a local repeater updating online alerts for you.

But lacking other routes in the snow or rain I would self spot in a second! (and sotawatch pileups are a unique kind of fun)

I see spotting as a courtesy to chasers. Personally, I can’t sit in the shack all day checking 14.285 and 14.3425. I have a day job. And kids and a lovely wife. I can join the chase when I have time and when the danged plasma TV isn’t blasting the bands (it was a gift from my father-in-law).

When I get a chance to activate, I check cell service before I transmit. Then I throw out a few CQ SOTA calls before self-spotting because we have some super-dedicated chasers in NA. I can request a spot or do it myself depending on cell service.



Hi Wender,

Agreed. Here in VK and I suspect many other places there are few “band tuners” during the week. If someone has alerted and I know they are reliable I’ll try to spend 10 minutes listening out for them - other activities permitting. Week day activators know the value of spots. Some peaks have no phone coverage so the first “by chance” caller if a known SOTA chaser is asked to spot. This will usually bring up the requisite number of callers.

Any phone that can send an SMS can be used to spot and is a worthwhile safety device to have when out in the hills. SMS works at low signal levels but if you have no coverage at all then you are reliant on your radio.

There are popular calling frequencies. 14.310 USB is probably the most popular for 20 m in this region with 14.062 CW for CW buffs. LSB on 7.090 +/- 5 kHz increments and CW on 7.032 ares also very popular.

Calling blind on these is a better option than picking any old clear frequency.

While the above is true for VK/ZL something similar would apply elsewhere I guess.

We all still get failed activation’s. My last one in 2015 resulted in 3 contacts. I did not spot but had alerted.

So reconsider your strategy and have another try is my advice to all. Propagation is down and for QRP and not so great antennas we need to create as many possibilities of success as we can.

Spotting helps the chasers, not just the activators.


Yeah, that 7.090 thing. I don’t even try to listen for y’all there, because in the US we can’t use phone below 7.125. Even that is for Amateur Extra licensees. The rest have to stay above 7.175. If I could hear you, it would just make me sad.


Sorry about the typo Wunder.

This is getting off topic I realise. Standby we will return. Our bands have in the past been narrower than yours with 40 m being only 100 kHz then 150 kHz. When it expanded to 300 kHz we had a lot of SW broadcasters in the top 100 kHz and some in the 150 - 200 kHz bit. Hence a lot of SSB activity has remained concentrated below 7.150. It’s hard (impossible) to get anyone to move.

I do operate above 7.200 from home but it’s not a popular region because of the concern over residual bscst interference.

20 and 30 m bands are our best bet for dx now. 40 improves in the dark hours but few of us want to be on a summit then. During the last sunspot peak I worked S2S into Eu on 5 W SSB and CW but struggle to get out of my backyard now.

So it’s a matter of concentrating on the frequencies that are proven providers in the time 2200 to 0700 UTC (our daylight period) - and spotting…we are back on topic.


Spotting is not essential. Ignore the SOTA aspect for a moment and think instead about how to make 4 contacts in the time that you are on the summit. The contacts don’t have to be people participating in SOTA.

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There is a limit to how long you can sit tuning a band hoping to hear an alerted station (or sometimes an unalerted station) pop up out of the noise! At busy times I sometimes use the dual watch feature on my rig to monitor two popular frequencies while I busy myself with something else, but after a while the metronomic changes in the noise gets on my nerves and I have to stop. On a couple of occasions I used dual watch on two rigs but it didn’t take long for that to start driving me crackers!

I can’t speak for CW, I don’t play that game, but 14.285 and 7.118 are popular here. If conditions on 40 are poor I monitor 5.3985 USB.

We need some sort of protocol to deal with that problem. I would suggest a self-spot for 7.090 with a note “listening on 7.178” or some other frequency in the General phone sub-band. I know this could work because I have worked American contest stations on 40 that have been announcing something like “listening on 7.090”. Trouble is that when 40 is good it is a babel of stations three deep in many languages, but it would possibly work better on 20.


Dear all:
Thanks for your many replies! Please do not misunderstand me - I totally agree that there is a trade-off between “fair means” and success rate / fun in the activity/family duties etc.

If we do not want to be smartphone addicts that coordinate contest-style minimal QSOs entirely on the basis of Web applications, we need, IMO, an alternative path for relaying spot information.

I see at least three options:

  1. APRS on VHF
    You could easily add frequency and mode information to the comment field of an APRS message and start sending this once on the summit, entirely by fair ham radio means. We might need an APRS spotter service that extracts such info from and posts spots.
    Pro: Simple, established grid of gateways and digipeaters
    Con: VHF coverage - I am unsure how well APRS works in the inner Alps and other rather remote areas, despite the elevated position. But maybe others can share their experience with APRS on SOTA activations.

  2. APRS of HF
    This is specified (HF APRS Notes), but my feeling is that there is no wide use of this. We also have the problem that a single-frequency protocol like APRS does not work well on HF due to the long-range propagation and lower reliability of the raw channel. After all, the APRS modulation is simple 300/1200 bps AFSK modulation.

  3. New PSK31-based protocol
    This is my favorite: It will be easy to craft a protocol for sending spot information as PSK31 message, and they will have a great range - if your SSB can be heard, your PSK31 can be received a hundred times.

We would only need a relatively modest net of PSK31 skimmers that monitor either the commonly agreed PSK31 frequencies on 40 and 20 meters or the entire phone portion of those bands. The latter would be useful for sending the short PSK31 spot information on the very same frequency you plan to use for SSB.

This third option would give us much better means to choose our frequency or even band on the summit depending on actual conditions - after all, what do you do if your alert said you will be on 7.118 ± and the band is full of QRM there.

Ideally, we would combine #1 and #3 and use the very same syntax for both the PSK31 spot information message and the APRS comment field, so we would have two independent transport layers for the same purpose. In areas with good APRS coverage, simply enter the comment field into your APRS device, and in more remote areas, use a tablet or stand-alone device to send the PSK31 message.

Comments? Ideas?

Martin, DK3IT

Or learn Morse.


The way I look at this Martin is that SOTA is a two way process. It is not purely activating, it is chasing as well. I regard it very worthwhile when activating to try to work as many SOTA chasers as possible. To facilitate this, I wholly embrace the alerting and spotting system and always try to be on the bands as close to my alerted time as possible. This has stood me in good stead and in over 500 activations, the “difficult” ones where I have struggled to qualify the summit number only a few. I have never failed to qualify a summit in almost 10 years on SOTA.

I do not feel that the existence of the alerting / spotting system diminishes the value of an activation in any way. After all there is enough of a challenge in getting up to the summits, setting up the equipment and enduring what can often be a harsh environment.

73, Gerald G4OIG


Already exists last use was on Monday, see SOTAwatch.

Mon 10:57 HB9NBG/P on HB/VD-030 - 14.287 ssb
(Posted by APRS2SOTA)
Mon 10:39 HB9NBG/P on HB/VD-030 - 14.287 ssb
(Posted by APRS2SOTA)

Hi Gerald,
thanks - I am not challenging the idea of alerts and spotting infrastructure per se. What I feel uncomfortable with is using a smartphone app with Internet connectivity on the summit to coordinate a short ham radio exchange. APRS2SOTA is in the right direction.

But all of this is clearly a matter of personal preferences.


I never tried to spot from a summit.
Alerting works fine if you give correct time and QRG !
There may be problems for QSOs from the summit if you are late
and there is a contest running. Perhaps work some contesters then ?
You also might give a phone call to a friendly chaser when you are on/close
to the summit. On some summits there is no access to internet.

But it is impossible to work from summits without informations
distributed to others by chasers or DXcluster users.

73 es cu on SOTA
Mike, dj5av

Hi Martin,
I presume you were running HF SSB?

If you run CW you have no choice - you will be automatically spotted by the RBNGate Robot (unless you don’t post an alert). So self-spotting, somehow “balances the playing field” for SSB operators as RBNGate doesn’t work on SSB signals. That said CW Ops also self-spot at times.

You don’t have to self spot and when I was living and activating in Australia, often I would not need to - I would simply call CQ SOTA on 7090 or 14285KHz and I would get contacts - one of whom would spot me.

As you have found, in Germany, calling on an expected frequency is often not possible as some Italian or Russian (or other nationality) station is often sitting on the common QRP frequencies chatting with his mate down the road, both running QRO power levels that are not even allowed in Germany. So one has to search for a clear (often at an odd part of a band) frequency that is free (at least it’s free until you have finished your CQ call on it). To inform the chasers that you are on a wierd frequency, I think self spotting is the only option.

I see you said it took two activations to get the required 4 contacts for the summit points. I’m not sure if this is correct. As the activations were on two different days, I think they stand alone. It’s not like the WWFF rules where you can accumulate the required 44(!) contacts over multiple activations.

APRS could be an option. On VHF it should work from an APRS equipped 2m HT from some summits. I know HF APRS exists but I don’t know of anyone using it from a SOTA summit, most use a smart phone or SMS using a handy.

I see you are not located too far from me (I live near to Landsberg am Lech) if you want to do a joint activation sometime, let me know. (Naturlisch, mann spricht Deutsch auch, trotz meine Englische nationalität).

73 Ed DD5LP.

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Hi Ed:

I was unclear: I was on the summit twice, made 1 contact 2m-SSB the first time and 5 on 40m-SSB the second time. The first attempt was no successful activation, the second was, independently of the first try.

As for CW: I am fine with the RBNFate Robot and actually think it is very useful. Maybe my subject header for this thread was misleading - I have no problem with online means to coordinate and facilitate SOTA QSOs. But I do not want to use a Smartphone app on the summit to initiate a few contest-style QSOs, because I could then also do Summits-on-Twitter, Summits-on-Facebook, etc. :wink:

APRS, be it VHF or HF and CW skimming is perfectly fine with my – beginner’s – understanding if the hobby.

Martin, DK3IT

PS: Will send you a private message re activations.

hello martin,

it is also possible to self-spot yourself via SMS … so you do not need an internet connection or smartphone on your activations. here is a description of “how-to” spot yourself via SMS:

i also used APRS2SOTA a few times, works also very good (when there is an i-gate in the area).

for android smartphone-users i recomend “SOTASpotter”
you can choose if you want to spot yourself via internet connection or SMS!

all of these SMS-services are not in DL … so make sure you check the costs for sending international SMS!

73 Martin, OE5REO

Hi Martin (OE5REO), I believe Martin (DK3IT) doesn’t wish to use a Smart Phone on an activation, so while Android apps such as SOTA Spotter and Rucksack Radio Tool are, as well as a way to spot oneself, also a way to see who else is out on a summit, that you might get a Summit to Summit (S2S) contact with, Martin prefers not to use a Smart Phone. I had also suggested the point regarding using SMS which of course will work from the simpler “just” mobile Phone (aka “Handy” in German speaking areas of course).

Martin (5REO) when you used APRS was that on 2m or HF?

As Martin (3IT) is just getting into SOTA, we should warn him that it becomes adictive!

I look forward to receiving your PM to discuss a possible joint activation Martin (3IT), either over this reflector - just click on my callsign/avatar and you will get a “message” button, or via email (my address on is correct).

73 Ed DD5LP.