SOTA using datamodes

I have recently acquired a RigExpert Tiny to go with my FT-817. I thought it would expand my horizons during SOTA activations, as well as giving me additional options during holiday operations abroad.

As anyone who has dabbled in datamodes will know, it can be a time-consuming and frustrating business getting all elements of the station (rig, computer and interface) to talk sensibly to each other. The MMI of the FT-817 is notoriously unwieldy, and this adds a further level of difficulty to the whole process.

After many hours with equipment, cables and instruction manuals spread across the floor, I was reasonably confident that things were working. Indeed, I could transmit on the 817 and decode readable text on the home station. However, the proof of the venture would only come with a successful session out in the countryside.

The weather today has been very mixed, with sunny spells interspersed with torrential showers. However, I decided to make the trip to my local SOTA summit, Leith Hill (SE-002), in the expectation that I could find a suitable sunny spell to set up in. Having driven through some hefty showers en-route, I arrived to find blue sky and sunshine. So far, so good!

Taking advantage of one of the convenient picnic tables, I connected all the cables, and switched on. Tuning to 7040, the band sounded fairly empty of signals, but with lots of static crashes. I had a nagging feeling that something else wasn’t quite right either, and soon found that the CW filter was still switched in although the radio was on digital mode. A quick rummage through the manual found how to fix that, but the band still sounded empty.

Undeterred, I tried several CQ SOTA calls on 7042.2 without success. I then self-spotted, or so I believed, using sms to SOTAwatch. Unfortunately, I have since discovered that sending the mode as PSK31 causes a reject, and that I should have used just PSK – a lesson now learned.

After another ten minutes of CQing without any reply, I had a tune round. I could hear a couple of CW stations low in the band, and some SSB higher up, but no datamode stations at all. At this point I strongly suspected that something was not right with the set-up, and that I was flogging a dead horse. I was sorely tempted to pack up and leave, but the weather looked clear for a while yet, and I decided to try 30m.

Changing bands somehow switched the narrow filter back in, but that was easily sorted. At least I could now hear, and decode, various PSK31 signals. I tried calling CQ and self-spotting (of course, doomed to failure!) without success. As the storm clouds closed in I tuned across the band and found an Irish station calling CQ. I gave him a quick call, and he replied! The band was noisy with static crashes and there was deep QSB, but we managed to exchange the vital details. Exultant with success, I missed the rapidly-approaching shower until it was nearly too late. A quick apology preceded an equally quick packing-up process, and then the rain was upon me!

So, now I know that the gear works, you can expect the occasional SOTA activation with datamodes as well as the regular CW option. Of course, the weather will have an important say as to where and when, because the computer is far less resilient in the wet than the 817 and key.

I’ve now got the urge to re-activate the two nearest French summits, but on datamodes this time, so watch this space!

73 de Les, G3VQO

In reply to G3VQO:

There’s no time like the present. So having helped Les with why his self spots I’ve implemented a derivavtive of Les’ suggestion to me. Before if the mode in the SMS spot was not recognised the entire SMS was rejected. Now if the mode you send is not valid i.e. not “am”,“cw”,“data”,“dv”,“fm”,“psk”,“rtty”,“ssb” or “other” then the mode is changed to “other”. The spot still needs to match correctly on other fields but at least it wont be discarded for a trivial reason.

I could slacken the requirements further but the purpose of checking the data is to ensure the spot is of some use. Anyway, it may pass my filtering but it still has to be accepted by Spotlite which is where an SMS spot goes next so I can only go so far.

Best of luck with the trans-Manche Data-xpedition Les!


Welcome to the slow modes :slight_smile: My computer is broken now and I am writing this with the same HP hand held that I have used sometimes in SOTA activations. The keyboard is quite small.

73, Jaakko OH7BF/F5VGL

I see Les G3VQO is activating today using PSK31 and RTTY. It will be very interesting to read about his results later. Has anybody worked him?


Today saw my first real SOTA activation using datamodes. As usual with anything new, I visit my local summit at Leith Hill (SE-002) as it can be reached in about twenty minutes driving and another twenty minutes walking-in and setting-up.

This time, with more confidence that I would actually be radiating a signal, I alerted for both 30m and 40m. In fact, I was ready-to-go some fifteen minutes before the alerted time, but decided not to wait as there were some very heavy showers around between the glorious blue patches.

From start to finish, I was active for some fifty minutes. As with any learning process, there were some notable positives, and also some disappointing negatives.

First, the positives –

  1. I worked five stations on PSK31, three on 30m and two on 40m. At least three of them were genuine SOTA chasers, so the exercise was a success in SOTA terms.
  2. After Andy’s changes to the SMS spotting service, I was able to self-spot successfully.
  3. I experimented with the narrow CW filter, and have come to the conclusion that it is better “in” than “out” for the narrow datamodes like PSK and RTTY, as it reduces the noise from strong stations on nearby frequencies.
  4. I stayed dry!

Now for the negative issues –

  1. Datamodes are extremely power hungry. Despite ensuring that both the computer and rig batteries were fully topped-up before setting out, they both expired on me in quick succession. First the computer gave fair warning of its imminent demise during my QSO with Peter ON2AWB, so I was able to explain and retire gracefully – apologies to any chasers still waiting patiently. I then switched to CW to continue the activation, but the rig battery died in the middle of my first CQ call.
  2. There is an intermittent problem whereby the waterfall just fills up with noise when going from transmit to receive. I can hear the callers from the rig’s speaker, but nothing is visible through the “mush” on the waterfall display. The only thing that seems to fix it is going to transmit, then receive again, sometimes several times. This, of course, means that some replies are missed, and repeats become necessary, thus further slowing an already slow process! This problem needs more investigation, but not on an exposed hilltop!
  3. I still don’t know whether RTTY works properly. Of course, to be fair, I didn’t alert for it, so it was not a scientific result when my random CQing received no response.
  4. If I touch the wrong part of the computer during transmit, the program locks. This is obviously an earthing problem, but is easily avoided as long as I keep my wits about me (the function keys are safe!).

Thanks to DL2HWI, DD9QD, OK1AW, G0NUP and ON2WAB for their patience with my stumbling efforts.

To be continued ……

73 de Les, G3VQO

In reply to G3VQO:
Hi Les
Sorry to have missed you today but was at work :frowning:
Just to say that despite the change to the bandplan most 40m
PSK32 is still centred about 7.036.

Roger G4OWG
Manager EPC-UKPA Awards

In reply to G3VQO:
Hi Les

This sounds very interesting, after several joint activations with Dave M0MYA, he informed me of his failed PSK activation of GW/MW-001 some years ago. However it appears that you have had some success from PSK31!

I have recently started to use Digi Modes from Home, my rig of choice at home is my Yaesu 857, main reason was that if I wanted to use the 817 I would have an interface that was compatible. Furthermore it transmits from 160m to 70cm! I have used PSK 31 from home and had great results with HF and 6 Metres so mayvbe this is worth a go on a hill top!

I have contemplated using PSK 31 from hilltop locations, I bet 6m would be good, however you would have to make sure that an opening was about at the time! Having said that 30m and 40m are good most of the time. I suppose I should try and go up one of my local summits and give it a go! I have already activated View Edge G/WB-018 so it may get another visit for no points! (Will have to swallow my pride of no HF on SOTA)

The only issue I can forsee is my laptop battery dying! I think a netbook would be the best option to go down, battery life of 3+ hours! Ebay here I come!!!

73 keep on experimenting

Matt G8XYJ

In reply to G4OWG:

Just to say that despite the change to the bandplan most 40m
PSK32 is still centred about 7.036.

Despite the obvious truth of this comment, my conscience would not permit me to operate datamodes below 7040. In fact, my choice of frequency may be beneficial in that it should make my PSK31 signal “stand out” in a relatively unpopulated segment of the band. Let us aim to make SOTA datamode operating a “beacon of good practice” rather than merely following the crowd :wink:

73 de Les, G3VQO

I note that several activators have alerted for datamodes, or more specifically PSK, this week. How long before somebody manages an s2s contact using data? Perhaps it has happened already!

I look forward to working some chasers on PSK or RTTY tomorrow from Northern France. Please be patient with my less-than-slick operating style.

73 de Les, G3VQO

In reply to G3VQO:

You have inspired me to set up my new computer for data modes so that I can add to my single lonely PSK chase. I have also in the past attempted an SSTV activation using Hampal, I know what went wrong on that occasion so its about time I bit the bullet and had another go! Good luck tomorrow, Les, and if the shack is sorted out in time I hope to contact you.


Brian G8ADD

In reply to G8ADD:
I’ve started using psk31 from summits with my NUEPSK modem. Now that I’ve got used to the interface, I’ve had good luck with psk. I find great pleasure explaining to people that I’m on a hill working them.

Andrew K1YMI

I operated PSK from France recently, the hard part was seeing the screen on the laptop in bright sunlight. Someone in the office said I need a hood like the old photographers.

In reply to G4VFL:

I operated PSK from France recently, the hard part was seeing the
screen on the laptop in bright sunlight. Someone in the office said I
need a hood like the old photographers.

That’s the nice thing about the NUEPSK modem is that the display is LCD so bright sunlight is not an issue, also it runs on 12V so I run it off the same LiPo as my 817.

In reply to G3VQO:

Hello Les,

Monday and tuesday, I tried PSK from 2 summits…
40m = 0 QSO
30m = 0 QSO
20m = 0 QSO
So, today, my notepad and PSK interface remained in the car…

CW for ever…

73 Alain F6ENO

In reply to F6ENO:
Hello to all
Yesterday, I didn’t hear you both, at all. I’m not a digital mode fan but I wake up logger32 to work you but no way.
Maybe next time.
Best 73
Andre - f5ukl

In reply to G3VQO:

Tuesday I tried PSK31 and had 7 contacts, but I think they were no SOTA chasers.
I called “CQ ETPA/SOTA”. ETPA is a new EPC award program and I think they were more interested in that.
I was QRV with a FT-817. Next time I will try with QRO from a FT-857 and hope to have more success.

73 Reinhard, DK1IO

I must be getting better, or maybe it’s just luck, but yesterday in Northern France was quite successful in datamode terms, and excellent overall as SOTA activations go.

The usual early start found me disembarking from the Shuttle at 06:00 UTC. After a quick breakfast, during which time it started to rain, I drove down the autoroute to Boulogne. By the time I reached the hypermarket just as it opened, the rain was very heavy. Having made my purchases (no bargains these days due to the virtual parity of the pound and euro), I emerged to drizzle and a gloomy overcast. This was not looking good, as my datamode set-up is not waterproof. However, I pressed on through more heavy showers until I reached Mont des Rêveleux (F/NO-027) some twenty minutes later. As if by divine intervention, the rain had stopped, although the sky still looked threatening.

I set up a short distance from the car – just in case! I had alerted for 30m first, but, upon switching the rig on, I was greeted by S9+++ noise right across the band. I then moved to 40m, where the noise was at its usual low level. I found a clear frequency at 7041, and started calling CQ. Simultaneously, I self-spotted via sms to SOTAwatch (thanks to Andy MM0FMF for assisting by confirming that my spot had been received OK). My first caller was Phil G4OBK, quickly followed by Laci HA7UG, but then there was silence in response to further CQ calls. I then switched to CW, where I managed another thirty-six QSOs before the pile-up ended and it started to rain again.

I then drove the few miles to Mont Le Communal (F/NO-026), once again through heavy rain. Yet again it stopped just as I arrived on the summit, to be replaced by blue sky, but with a strengthening wind. This summit is rather more exposed, so I found a little shelter behind a hedge. I set up for 30m, and was relieved to hear normal noise levels this time. I could hear PSK activity on about 10141, so found a clear frequency around 10142 and called CQ. Despite self-spotting, this time there were no SOTA chasers pouncing, but I managed a scratchy QSO with S57WO, followed by a solid exchange with G4WOL in Macclesfield.

Moving lower in the band, I changed to CW and called CQ SOTA/WFF. This seemed to be a magic formula, and I quickly gained another thirty-six QSOs. There were some unfamiliar calls amongst the callers, and I presume that they were primarily WFF chasers after my FFF-043 reference. By the time that the pile-up dissipated, timing for my return crossing meant that there was no time for any 40m activity - apologies if you were waiting there for me.

Statistics show seventy-four QSOs in the log – seventy on CW and four on PSK31. I found twelve new countries on 30m to add to my DXCC totals from France, as well as the three counters on datamodes.

So, what did I learn about datamode SOTAing? This time it was mainly positives –

  1. the strange over-powering noise that occurred on going to receive on the last outing did not recur
  2. the successful spotting ensured that (some) chasers found me without delay, thus ensuring that I retained enough battery power for the second activation
  3. I am getting better at mixing text from the function keys with on-the-spot typing where required, thus (hopefully) making more sense

There were two negatives, both of which I had discovered on my previous activation –

  1. the MixW software cannot remember the previous configuration, leading to valuable time and battery power being wasted re-setting various parameters
  2. touching the mouse-pad (I did it accidentally this time) whilst transmitting locks the mouse function out, thus necessitating a computer re-start – further loss of time and battery power

Thanks to all my callers, whether SOTA, WFF or random, without whom it would have been a pointless exercise. I always welcome QSL cards, and will reply to all, but will especially appreciate any for my 30m and/or datamode QSOs – using Logbook-of-the-World would be even better!

73 de Les, G3VQO

In reply to G3VQO:

Glad you had some success Les.

The spotbot has been a little unstable over the last week and weekend. This is due to some upgrades needed to better support APRS and to improve the ease I can manage the system. There were some long term changes being rolled into it as well to allow spotting by the SPOT2 two-way GPS systemts and to allow local call remote nodes. (i.e. send an SMS to a local number in your country not an international SMS for users outside the UK).

The result of all that was it did “fail to proceed” on a few occasions resulting in no spots getting through. Every time this happened Les happened to use this system was just after it had “shuffled off its mortal coil and joined the choir invisible”. As Les wanted to give data modes ago he was much more dependent on self spotting that normal CW ops are. So I monitored closely and made sure Les knew his spots were getting through. And the spotbot performed without a glitch!

I think you should throw away MixW and move to Fldigi Les. I use it for several reasons:

  1. It’s open source. You can build it yourself and change things you don’t like.

  2. It runs on Linux, OSX and Windows. All versions look and feel the same. This means you can use it on a variety of hardware and it works the same.

  3. Free as in beer !

  4. Excellent support group, excellent design team.

  5. It remembers set ups.

  6. It has a built log book that will interface to LoTW

I originally started using it as I have a tiny Asus EEEpc (the original one) and run Linux on that but now run it on my main Windows machine as well. FLdigi binaries were used at first on that. Now I compile the source for my own use. It means I have full control of the software on the netbook. I can build all of the OS and software myself. This means I DON’T have to be forced to upgrade or change because someone in Redmond or Cuppertino wants to sell new hardware/software! Windows users are forced into the non-stop upgrade the OS, upgrade the apps followed by having to upgrade to ever faster machines for no real benefit in performance. Likewise, the fruity fanbois are easily led onto the treadmill of incessant upgrades in order to keep their iTat suitably shiny!

The software works so well and covers all the popular data modes and many obscure ones. for more details.


In reply to MM0FMF:

Hello Andy

The result of all that was it did “fail to proceed” on a few
occasions resulting in no spots getting through.

Last monday morning, I used your SMS selfspotting for the first time (I was starting on PSK at abt 07:10). No chance… Then, in the evening, when I was in my hotel, I saw that the spot appeared at 08:10 (one hour later). May be your busy system or a bug on my side ?

73 Alain F6ENO

PS:- the link oesn’t work here

  • I use Fldigi here, and think it’s very sensitive, compared with MMvari

In reply to F6ENO:

I fixed it early Monday morning. That’s why the spot was delayed in appaearing. I typed the last message about fldigi without glasses as I couldn’t find them!