Tips for getting started on HF?

Hi Pete,

I have an ft817 and I am familiar with its quirks, and Guru @EA2IF is even more an expert on it (indeed a Guru!).

I agree with his advice re the SWR indicator, even one blob showing on that is a sign that something needs improvement. When your antenna is very low (4m is very low for the 40m wavelength, only 10% of a wavelength) that affects the impedance and the efficiency. So not only is the antenna presenting the wrong impedance making it hard for your transmitter to deliver power to the antenna, what power reaches it is soaked up by the nearby earth, rocks, operator, kitchen sink etc. This is why the majority of activators are using poles higher than 6m. 7m is a good compromise on pole strength and longevity while giving good antenna performance. When erecting your wire antenna, try to get the ends as far above ground as possible. They must not be lying on the ground. The ends of the antenna have a large effect on the antenna resonance so if they are very close to ground the antenna frequency goes lower than it would be if it was 1-2m agl. If the ends are on the ground, the antenna is effectively shorted out.

Re the metering on the 817, do not expect to see more than 50% of the nominal power output when using ssb mode. The metering circuit is not fast enough to indicate the peak power of the voice signal, so it only indicates the average power. This could be between 30% and 50% of the actual peak. It may worry you to see the indicator at half scale, just mentally double it and that will reassure you.

Voice technique on ssb is very important. Talk like a newsreader, never let your tone drop below “HERE IS THE NEWS”. Every word has to be spoken at a high tone and level. This takes practice and nobody was born with this skill, they all had to learn it and practice.

I have made world wide contacts with the ft817 at 5w on ssb, but that was in better propagation conditions than we have now. Just keep faith that provided your antenna is up in the air, well matched to your radio, the meter indicates about 30-50% of max when you speak, and you keep your voice up, you are doing the best you can without fancy compressors or external amplifiers.

You did the right thing by self-spotting on suitable frequencies. That should work well once your antenna is radiating a good signal. But once you’ve done that, stay on that frequency if it is still clear. Not all chasers are at their radio when they see your spot. Sometimes I am a long way from the shack when I see a new spot and it takes me 5 mins to get to the radio. Staying on the frequency for at least 10 minutes after my spot is my usual practice.

I suspect with the low antenna and the high reflected power you were effectively operating at less than 1 watt, which is long way down on 5w. Answering other CQ calls is a good tactic, but don’t assume that just announcing your callsign while many others are doing it, will get you heard. If they are louder than you, how will you be heard? You would need to use extra techniques, by making your call a bit longer such as adding “Summit to Summit” if that is the case, - if other callers have given their callsign already, maybe the only part of it the other activator hears is your “summit to summit” phrase or part of it, and most activators like S2S points and will then stop the pileup and request the S2S station to repeat his call. So you do it with technique, rather than a bigger transmitter power or antenna. Try it.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH


Hi Andrew, great advice and incites provided. Thanks.

73 de Geoff vk3sq

Been trying to keep my nose out of this discussion but could not help myself sorry.
I use a Link dipole style antenna with various clip on extensions for different bands.
My antenna is from the antenna design site in its third configuration over 9 years or so.
Support pole is now 7m long the Antenna is cut for 7.050 and 14.100 a 2 band link dipole, with clip on extensions for 80m and 30m.
End support height is a rock usually at ground level so is set to .01m.
End strings should be 5.5 metres long to give a good 60 degree angle of the inverted V antenna. My end strings are 7 metres long in the hope lifting the ends a little higher will give a miniscule amount of gain over the standard config. I may be luckier than some but of the 46 summits I visit every year there is room to erect this antenna to its full Hight and extent to the ends of my support strings fully. Minimum compromise for what the antenna is and tuned properly so an antenna tuner is not needed for either my KX3 or FT817 which are my main SOTA rigs.
Good luck Peter maybe the only other suggestion to you at testing your kit for SOTA is set up in your yard or a park and do some SOTA chasing. Chances are if the SOTA activators can hear you from a portable location you will be heard when you are activating from a summit. Alert your intensions to activate even email a couple friends who might be interested in chasing you, the more people who know you are out and about the better.
Ian vk5cz …


Hi Pete
I am sure you have the power setting for 817 sorted, but just in case here is a short video

Had a look at the antenna, i am unfamiliar with it, but it must need an ATU to get any kind of decent match. even then i have some doubts if it will be an efficient radiator . As VK1DA says 4m pole will not give you enough height 6/7 m should be ok I use a 6m pole without problems.
Linked dipole antenna is the way to go as mentioned by VK5CZ, easy enough to make and you can get all the bits from Sotabeams and other suppliers.

Good luck and hope to work you from a summit

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The antenna needs to be higher than 4m! Most SOTA activators are using at least a 6m pole and many use 8m.

That antenna almost certainly needs an ATU to get the best out of it. If you don’t want to use an ATU then convert it into a link dipole so that it is resonant.

My guess is that currently you are only radiating about half a watt!

I’m going to be doing some activating in the Welsh Boarders next Sunday/Monday, drop me an email or a PM if you want to tag along.

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If it’s really “40-to-2-metres” then, unless it has links/switches/traps/whatever, it’s not resonant on most of those bands, and therefore it’s assuming some sort of ATU’s in use(*). Even when using an ATU a resonant antennna will have advantages. As you don’t have an ATU, your first step should be to make yourself a resonant antenna. That will be for just one band unless you use links or traps, of course, but a linked dipole isn’t hard to make. Plenty of instructions about on how to do that, and a handy calculator on SOTAMaps under extras. If you don’t have the bits in your junk box and need a starter, SOTABeams sell a kit of bits for making a linked dipole to which you will need to add a feeder cable and antenna wire of some sort. An antenna analyser is a handy help, too, as it’ll do a rather better job of measuring SWR than the 817/8.

Another monoband alternative is a simple vertical, but that’s not really practical for 40 metres, and even for 20 metres you’ll need a pole quite a bit longer than 4 metres. Again, you’ll find instructions around and about, including more than one place in this reflector (Lightweight Vertical Antennas, for instance).

I could rabbit on for hours, but that’s enough for now. Good luck. :wink:

(*) Colin @G8TMV pointed out to me else-Net that it might be using the “Clansman” technique of expecting the operator to only un-wind enough wire for the band desired, which leaves the rest of the wire in a big (lossy) lump of a coil at the end…

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Hi again, Pete,
In case you feel like trying an ATU, let me show you this very light one I bought as a kit and assembled + tested successfully some time ago:

This tuner may work well with the antenna you have. All you’ll have to do is bringing the wire length to something close to resonance and the minituner should do the rest.
Again, good luck!



That will get the SWR to a better figure - but a dummy load has a good SWR too. The antenna design is inefficient, the extra wire on the winders at each end makes it very lossy and a poor radiator.


Agree. A linked wire for 3 bands (15, 20, 40) would be the best choice for this case.

It looks to me like you wind/unwind the antenna to the coloured markers to set the element lengths. It’s just a case of selecting the right lengths to get to resonance on the desired band.

Can you borrow an antenna analyser? The MFJ-259B is ideal for this work. Set up the antenna wound to the band markers and measure how well matched it is? You may find just a few turns more or less are needed to get to the best match. Then take it down and repeat to make sure the setup is repeatable. See what the 817 says when the analyse says best match too. You can then learn how to interpret the 817 display better.

I only use a 5m pole and have managed some 12500 QSOs for SOTA on HF using dipoles, 1/4GP and simple vertical (up and outs). Victor GI4ONL tends to use mainly a 4m pole and has logged 10500 QSOs for SOTA on HF. The longer the pole the better but short, compact and light poles do work well IF the antenna is correctly setup.

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I did have a listen Pete, but there was absolutely nothing from you… zilch. I would have expected something over the 40-odd mile path down to CE-005. It all points to that antenna being the problem.

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A load of good advice here! I’m sure that every suggestion here will work. My approach was a little different. I decided to use the venerable W3EDP multiband antenna, consisting of a 25.6 m wire as in inverted L and a 5 m counterpoise draped over the heather. This needs a simple tuner, just a coil and capacitor, 14 turns on a T130-2 toroid with a central 2 turn link winding, tuned with a little variable cap salvaged from on old transistor radio, gives a zero bars tune on the FT817 from 7 MHz to 21 MHz. This worked well, the FT817 giving me SSB contacts in 5 continents when conditions were decent. I also have another tuner covering 80m to 20m with the same wires but capable of taking 100 watts when I take the FT857 out. The advantage of this approach is that I don’t need to leave the operating position to change bands. Yes, I’m lazy, but it also avoids scrambling around on a rubble-strewn summit! :grinning:

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Nothing wrong with stretching your legs Brian from time to time when you change bands - after sitting hunched up in one place for an hour twiddling knobs you must get very stiff… :grimacing:


My advice would be to accompany an established activator to see how they do it and what equipment they use. You can then compare your setup with theirs. There’s plenty of sporadic E around this time of year to enable your 5w on 20m to be heard. A couple of weeks ago, my 5w from the KX2 put a 5/9 into Skipton from Jersey and was still 5/3 when I reduced to 100mW. I see you are in the Wrexham area so you should have no problems arranging a joint activation. Best of luck :+1:


I activate SOTA VHF only but in other “OTA” programs,

*FT818-6w (Blank power screen display) on @12V+ power supply.

*SOTAbeams speech compressor.

*20m endfed-1m of RG58 feeding from antenna port. Antenna end ~6m off ground.

FT818 settings I recommend,

RF…Gain ON/SQL OFF (selected to RF Gain) menu #45.
Volume knob all the way up and use RF-Gain (outer knob) to adjust volume/noise.

I have done 10-12 activations over the last month with this setup and have had amazing results. Mostly early evening. 2 SSB QSOs 4500+ miles Italy and Slovenia from Ohio, USA.

***Morse/CW is the way to go for reliable QRP, I’m getting there!


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The logic behind the yaesu menu items always confuses me…
No bars on power setting for maximum setting; IPO on to turn-off the pre amp.

I am surprised that att off is the setting to turn off attention!

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It doesn’t turn off the preamp.

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The IPO and ATT are used only to attenuate nearby loud signals… otherwise both off. Noise blanker on, narrow filter on with 500 Hz CW filter fitted.

I’ve tried lots of 817 settings to use for weak signals, and the best is to confirm that full RF gain equals no bars on the S-meter, then back off RF gain until three bars show, then turn on the outboard bhi DSP filter to your favorite settings (you do have one, don’t you?), then advance the AF gain to taste with headphones. Voila… best ears, ever, other than a KX3 on FT-8.

If full RF gain shows some bars, move elsewhere in the AZ or give it up and go bowling.

Elliott, K6EL


Hi Pete,
Sorry to hear of your HF SSB difficulties. There’s been loads of good advice on this thread! I don’t have an FT-817/818 but I do use a uBitx transceiver, which is similarly low powered and even more basic. I’ve used a simple link dipole (actually it started out as a single band 40m dipole, then I made ~10m extensions to bring it to resonance on 80m. So now it’s a 2 band link dipole. :smiley:) and as long as I put out a spot or two I’ve always managed to qualify my summits (so far, thanks to the dedicated chasers).This is in Aus though - might be different in the UK.

I think that’s how it works, but I’d say it should work fine at least on 40m, as even if the coil of wire is lossy, on 40m there won’t be much coiled up.

But the main reason for this post is to agree with the previous posts that the antenna SWR may well be the problem. It sounds like a bit of experimenting with the antenna and SWR meters (external and built in) may be a good idea. As has been mentioned, a basic analyzer would be a help.

Obviously, I don’t know what your meter at home is, but
(A) if it’s not a cross needle type meter, is it calibrated properly?
(B) are you reading the right scale? Sounds obvious, but it’s not sometimes :upside_down_face: and
(C) they’re not always accurate.
I have an MFJ tuner with a built in cross-needle meter and if I set up the tuner to read 1:1 SWR on the built-in meter, the SWR at the rig is often around 3:1… I’ve found this with different antenna, feed lines, and so on, and have confirmed the accuracy of the rig’s meter several times with my analyzer. I probably could recalibrate it but it doesn’t worry me too much.

But if the SWR is up, the rig will not only cut back the power to protect it’s finals, but there’ll be reduced power transfer to the antenna as well. I’ve seen this quite dramatically with my uBitx - it’s got no SWR protection, so it will try to output full power in to any load, until the smoke comes out, anyway… but I’ve had reports of my signal dropping fairly dramatically when the antenna is mismatched.
Just a few thoughts - which probably doesn’t add much to the previous posts…
Good luck!

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I could be wrong but I believe IPO-ON turns off the RF-Preamp.

Curious as to what others think about this hams FT817 settings?

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