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Tips for getting started on HF?

I’m reasonably new to amateur radio and SOTA.
I’ve done plenty of SOTA activations (and chases) now on 2m but I want to try and do some activations using HF.

I have an FT817, with external battery and a wire dipole which I can unwind to suit whatever band I need and it works fine at home for FT8 (with the FT817).
When out on a summit though I haven’t been able to make any voice contacts yet on 17, 20 or 40m. I have tried calling CQ on or near what is supposed to be QRP CoA with no luck, and I’ve tried responding to other stations calling CQ but I’m drowned out by people running QROO.

Am I doing something wrong?
Do I just need to find a quiet frequency, put a spot on SOTAWatch, keep calling CQ and be patient until someone hears me?
Do people only listen out for a QRP SOTA station on HF if they’ve seen the spot and know where to tune into?

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As a practical matter, spots are required for good results. If you’re on a popular SOTA frequency, e.g. 14.061, you’ll get a little action. Once you post a spot, or are spotted by someone, then the show really begins!
All Best, Ken K6HPX

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I assume you put up alerts… you didn’t mention that. Only five minutes ago, I followed an activator hopping from freq to freq trying to avoid getting crowded out, never thinking to go to 14.347 USB, which is the top of the US band. There is rarely anyone at the top of many bands.

Elliott, K6EL

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Hi Pete,

I think the main tip is keep trying! The learning curve is quite steep and there’s so many variables at work.

Definitely post an Alert on SOTAwatch, this way people will be ready to listen for you.

If you can, post a Spot on SOTAwatch when you’re operating from the summit- it’s not always so easy, as data coverage on hills can be troublesome. Sometimes a text (SMS) can work better if you’re signed up for the SMS spotting service (Andy MM0FMF can help with that -Summits on the Air ).

QRP SSB can be hard work. With an FT817/8 an add on speech compressor can help to boost your signal a little. Check the mic gain settings, an FT817 needs driving quite hard to get useful output. Are you running the FT817 at 5 watts? The power level indicator can be a bit confusing. The power indicator should either be totally absent or flashing if the supply voltage is low, this means the rig is set at full output.

73, Colin

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Good advice from Colin. Assuming your setup is working at home, no reason why it shouldn’t work on a summit. Chasing can be harder with QRP (but certainly not impossible). In the early days to gain confidence be the ‘dx’ - alert, spot and call CQ. If you call, they will come! :wink:

Good luck and don’t get disheartened, everyone has days where things don’t go to plan!

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… and conditions are probably more variable than VHF so a combination that works well one day with lots of contacts won’t the next depending on what the sun is doing! 5w of FT8 has more “clout” than 5w of SSB even with a speech processor. I had a long natter using 10w into an end fed half wave with a ham in Germany on 10m last Sunday - when they are open the higher bands can be effective with low power, but I find 20m ssb hard work with 5w. Paul ( PS Keep Trying )

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Hi Pete, In addition to what’s already been said:

Route planning, timing, band choice aerial orientation.

  • Through experience I can usually get to a summit and set up station within ten minutes of my alert time. If you can do this, then you’ll stand a better chance with Chasers, although Spot is King. It’s good hillcraft too.
  • If I can I plan to work lower bands in the morning, as QSB/fading has been a real issue from noon (in the summer).
  • Think about likely hop length of your signal. 40m tends to short hop with my inverted V, so I can work from Aberdeenshire to N. England, whole of Ireland, Midlands, Wales even if the band isn’t great. When the band is in good shape in the morning, I can work southern Europe and even Scandinavia off the side of the aerial. All of this with 5 to 10 watts recently.
    20m will skip most of the UK, so with qrp and a poor band, you may end up with nothing. However, that’s just what works for me.
    I’ve only recently started playing with 17m on summits, so not qualified to comment, however it has brought in the four stations I needed to qualify the summit on each occasion, funnily enough Swiss stations dominate and summit to summits too!
  • Finally, how is your antenna are erected - height, orientation? Think about where you want your main lobes of propagation.

Anyway, good luck! It’s an exilirating feeling when it comes together and you have your first mini-plie up.

73, Fraser

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Hi Pete,
It sounds like you are going about this the right way, there have been lots of good suggestions - I don’t think I saw anyone say this though …
Find another local SOTA activator who operates on HF and then go with him (or her) to a summit a do a joint activation. With both of you taking your gear, all parts can be tested and you’ll gain both experience and advice.

73 Ed DD5LP (G8GLM).

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Hi Pete,

As a rule, when I am ready firstly I am trying to do S2S with any station. It’s fair to sat we all look out for such QSOs secondly this verifies that everything works ok on my side and others can hear me.

Hi 2W1PJE

here some hints:

  • The FT-817/818 does not have a voice compressor. A compressor will increase the signal a bit. There is an almost finished kit available. (Initially from FA/Germany)
  • make sure the FT817/818 is set to 5w or 6w output
  • make sure your HF antenna is tuned and does not need an ATU. As this might waste some energy.
  • use the right bands: for SOTA SSB: 1st choice 40m, 2nd choice 20m
  • in a forrest 40m will work better than 20m
  • check the SOTA activation frequencies for SSB
  • if you are in a WWFF area this might give it a boost too. In that case check the WWFF frequencies as well.
  • COTA, GMA, MOTA, IOTA etc. and any other reference will give it a boost as well
  • post your intended activity in time as an alert (post frequencies on different bands with the associated mods (SSB, FT8, etc.))
    If you have other references post them as well in the corresponding portals.
  • when calling CQ - now and then mention the SOTA reference and/or other references
  • make sure you are putting a good signal out. Ask someone to monitor or use websdrs to check this.
  • check the conditions to see when bands are working best for the intended range (check VOACAP)
  • most of the activators are active in the morning (8-10 UTC seems to be a good time), avoid the time after 13:00 local time. In the afternoon the bands will be noisier
  • find a friend that can post your current frequency and SOTA reference on a cluster and any other reference that might attract people
  • erect the antenna in an unobstructed area (if possible),
  • dipole as as inverted V should work well

Hope this helps…

Good Luck!
Hope to hear you on the air!

73s
Ingo

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I’m also very new to all this, both SOTA and amateur radio, and it continues to surprise me how much the conditions for HF propagation change. The Dartmoor Radio Club had a field day this week and even with 250W and a dipole strung from an 11m mast on Cox Tor, a location with a reasonable take off, we could only get responses from anyone on 40m and most of these were in the UK. The furthest we reached was the south of France. We tried on 20m but apart from one or two difficult QSOs the band seemed dead. I tuned in to an HB9 SOTA operator using 20m on a summit but could barely hear them and I don’t think they heard my call. By the middle of the afternoon we couldn’t raise anyone even on 40m.

If you post an alert the day before then post a spot once your are on the summit if you don’t get any responses on 40m, especially if it is a weekend morning, then you may have an equipment fault. My (admittedly limited) experience in the UK suggests to me that on 40m you will get a reply in the UK.

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Probably not, but a lot of casual chasers do not spend hours tuning around the bands. Some, like me, primarily an activator but feeling obliged to assist my fellow activators by chasing if I can, will probably only see the spot if they have already seen an alert and are ready for it. So maximise your chances of bringing them in with a fairly well timed alert and a spot later on. I often adjust alerts en-route if things are going a bit pear-shaped :slight_smile: EDIT - or, if early, eat lunch first :smiley:

I have just been looking at my logs for my most recent activations of NW-042, 043 (and 051 on a different date). 29th December 2019 in the afternoon (because of travel time) I had 13 QSOs on CyB and 21 on MyG all but one on 80m. (BTW I don’t know why 80m, unless I wanted to test the coils, because I normally use 60m adding 80m in the morning and 40m in the afternoon if I have time.)
I mention this to emphasise how strange conditions can be - wrong time, wrong band but quite enough contacts before I got cold. However, I was using 15W and not all reports were 59.

CyB should be good for QRP HF because it has a big flat area and a stock fence just beyond the mast compound so there should be a good reflective ground to help things along. I cut short the time there ready to move on to MyG.

With conditions as they are for ssb it might be sensible to take one of the small, fairly cheap, amps available. This would give you more battery life (and less weight and expense) than carrying a bigger radio as they (857 etc) can be greedy on receive.

Expecting to be in NE Wales in a few weeks time, so hope to catch you then.
Good luck.
73,
Rod

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I am inclined to agree on the possible fault. Mike gain setting, perhaps.
By the time I get onto 40m almost all replies are europe, GM, GI or very distant G :slight_smile:
73,
Rod

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… more ideas:

  • use an SSB filter otherwise you will have continuous QRM on e.g. 40m
  • make sure there is no QRO stn nearby
  • as an activating station you are the stn being chased - you can select the frequency, but stay within the expected area. With SSB you have the disadvantage that there is no Reverse Beacon Network that will post you. Thats why a cluster post will help…

73s
Ingo

You’ve already received some very helpful replies, but I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head with your point above! I’m new to SOTA and like you have mainly been using the 817. I’ve focussed mainly on cw but have also tried some ssb, and it’s been noticeable how much slower the the qso rate is on voice. Don’t give up though - there are lots of chasers out there eager for points as well as potential s2s contacts. Hope to work you from a summit soon,
73 - Matthew, M0JSB

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I would state actually just the reversed order. 40m can be quite packed by QSO stations that reckless overrun QRP stations. On 20 m this is less frequent from my experience.

Working S2S might need a trained SSB ear.
So count on the chasers having great stations.

Setup an antenna system that just works and is easy to setup. My goto is a linked vertical with an elevated radial ( upper and outer) mainly used on 20m.
Only one failed activation because of weekday late afternoon.

So another learning: weekend are increasing chances. More activations and more chasers being active.

Using an app like sotaspotter or sota goat (Apple ios) will help send the spots
Or use the feature from www.sotl.as

Good luck with your next one.
73 Joe

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As already mentioned in this thread, post your alert early, at least the day before your activation.
The reason for this is other groups do use this information to try and get contacts. In the case of WAB they post a list of UK activations early every morning. It would help to have your WAB square and trig point info handy. Also perhaps take a look at their usual frequencies to see if there is any activity.

Good luck.
I may try HF myself one day…

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These answers just go to prove how activating is different for all of us. None of them are wrong, but I’m going to disagree with them because it’s not my experience.

So, with all due respect to my seasoned SOTA friends:

40m is usually OK around the qrp frequency. And above 7.100. It’s the go-to for UK contacts.

I can work more one station a minute on SSB and can usually work a 15 station pile up in 15 minutes. I’m no contester and like to take time to be polite and thank Chasers.

Indeed, but contests can make it tricky at the weekends. So, check a contest planner. I use WA7BNM Contest Calendar: 8-Day Calendar

I also find that the Pro Chasers (EA2DT, F5JKK, F4WBN, EA7GV, G0RQL, 2E0AGB, G4IAR and other callsigns) are always there when I key the mic. and band conditions allow, even late at night. I work these guys so often, I could rattle off their callsigns from memory.

I made one of those for 20m and it worked really well. I think a resonant antenna or two are worth their weight. I carry a linked 40/20 inverted V plus the (100g) upper and outer 20m monoband as a spare. Sometimes it goes up if the weather is poor, and the mast can be jammed into rocks. That way I don’t need to guy the mast, just the counterpoise.

Everyone is right here, so pick a few ideas you like the sound of or haven’t tried and crack on.

Or learn Morse. :wink:

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Very true, and one of the reasons why we have such a fascinating hobby!

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Thanks for the responses everyone.

I’ll give it another try tomorrow, it sounds like a combination of impatience with a bit of wrong frequency choice, not enough notice with the alert/spot and wrong band at the wrong time of day.

Ingo made a good point, my 817 doesn’t have an ssb filter fitted. Something to consider for the future I think.

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