Saturday, April 24, 2021

Improve Your Chances Of SOTA Activating


Want to have the best chance of getting the minimum of 4 contacts on a summit to be awarded the SOTA points? The secret is to get spotted.

A spot tells people that you have been “spotted on a summit”, and are on a frequency NOW. Chasers load either sotawatch or sotl.as in their browser and wait for activators to show up.  Some, like me, also put your call-sign or region into Hamalert so they are notified as soon as they see their favorite activators appear on sotawatch or RBN. Do you have me on your Hamalert list?  More on that later.

 

Getting a spot posted for yourself is the most important thing you can do to ensure getting contacts, especially when running QRP SSB.  Getting a spot means you'll have a pileup most of the time.  SSB is hard though and you can still get skunked.  But if you are operating any day of the week before 1PM, you are almost guaranteed to lure in some chasers.

When I started SOTA, I didn't know what a spot was and I had the same problem as some of you out there.  When I learned about spotting from another Youtuber, KG6HQD, my problems of not being able to activate with points were solved. Sure, there are times when, say, on a Sunday afternoon, after a SSB contest, I wasn't able to get enough contacts.


Alert:

 A spot is different from an "alert".  Let me explain. You post an "alert" on SotaWatch for some future time and guess at a frequency.  You can go far into the future. It tells people that you are going to be on a designated summit around a particular time and to look for you.  Chasers can hunt around that frequency at the designated time.  If you are running SSB, that's all you get.  If you are running CW, there is a HUGE bonus.

If you run CW and create an alert, when you start sending "CQ de <your_call_sign>" within one hour before or three hours after your alert time, automated listeners attached to computers on the internet, RBN, detects that you are calling out and put you on RBN spot page.  A second program, RBNhole, watches that RBN list very closely AND, if you have an alert within the window described above, it creates a spot for you on sotawatch on that summit on the frequency that you are currently using.  This is super handy but only if you run CW.  If a CW operator is going into the back country and knows that they won't have cell phone access, they will create an alert and let the magic of the RBNhole computer do it's thing.  Guaranteed pileup on 20 and 40 during the day on a weekend.

 

There are multiple strategies you can use to create an alert.

 

How to create an alert:

1.    Alerts can be created by going to https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk/

2.    You can also create one at https://sotl.as/alerts

3.    You can use an app on your phone.  If you have an iPhone for example, you can use sotagoat. 

4.    A friend can also create one for you if they have an account.

5.  And why not let friends know you are headed and give a listen.


Spot:

A spot is the lifeblood of a QRP SOTA operator.  It tells others that you are on a summit right now.  You can do it yourself (called self-spotting) or others can do it for you, sometimes you don’t even have to ask.

Anyone can go to https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk/  or https://sotl.as/spots/sotawatch,  or via phone apps and look for stations to chase (all the data is from the same source).  If the spot is fairly new, (like created just a few minutes ago) the activator is probably out there on that exact frequency.  The chaser listens for your CQ or you talking to others.  If they can here you, they can probably work you. 

Because many SOTA operators run low power this REALLY helps.  As I mentioned, I didn't know any of this when I started out, failed a couple of times and then started taking a 100 watt rig to summits for a while (heavy and not needed).  I will say though, bringing a 100w rig can be a lot of fun during a contest or just to see how far you can reach with a little more punch.

How to create a spot for yourself:

Note: To create a spot, the person will need an account on sotawatch.sota.org.uk.

1.    Spots can be created by going to https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk/

2.    You can also create one on https://sotl.as/spots/sotawatch

3.    Sometimes when someone hears you out there doing SOTA, they will create a spot for you without you asking.  This is super cool.  I've had this happen and have done it for friends.


4.    You can use an app on your phone.  If you have an iPhone for example, you can use “SotaGoat”.  My logging program Outd also has that ability and there are other phone apps that do it as well.

5.    Use your HT on VHF to contact any ham that can create the spot for you.  You can use a repeater in the area or simplex on 146.52.  I've done this and hams are always super helpful, especially up in areas where you can almost always raise someone on the HT simplex or repeater.  I've done this multiple times.  In the LA area, there are operators listening out for SOTA operators on 146.52 all the time.  It's no guarantee though.

6.    If you run CW and create an alert, when you start sending "CQ de <your_call_sign>", automated listeners attached to computers on the internet, (called reverse beacon network,RBN), detects that you are calling out and put you on RBN spot page. 
A second program, RBNhole, watches that RBN list very closely AND if you have an alert set for one hour before or three hours after your you are noticed by RBN, it creates a spot for you on sotawatch on that summit on the frequency that you are currently using.  This is fully automated, and is super handy but only if you run CW.  Note, it only creates a spot if one hasn’t been created already, or you changed frequencies.  If you are on the same frequency within the 4 hour window, it will create a new spot every 10 minutes unless someone else creates one then the clock is reset.

If a CW operator is going into the back country and knows that they won't have cell phone access, they will create an alert and let the magic of the RBNhole computer do it's thing.  Guaranteed pileup on 20 and 40 during the day on a weekend.

7.    Send an APRS text message from your APRS capable HT radio.  I've done this, but I don't do it anymore since it's useless in many of the back country Arizona summits I operate within.  In California near metro areas, it works pretty well.  I think you have to be setup in smsmgate prior to using.  To keep spammers out they create a white list of numbers they trust.  Do a quick search to get more info on setting this up.

8.    SMS message to a special address and  format with your cell phone.  This has to be setup in advance by an opp to allow your number to text the machine.  (see note above).  There are times when you don't have data service in the back country, but you can send an SMS.


9.    You can use a Garmin Inreach satellite communicator to send a SMS text to the spotting network.  You'll have to be setup to do this.  To keep spammers out they create a white list of numbers they trust.
(I've done this and it's super cool)  Plus, that Inreach device serves as a risk mitigation option for rescue if needed.

10.  A friend can also create a spot for you if they have an account, you just have to contact that friend by radio, text, phone, satellite call, or whatever other method you have.  I’ve used social media accounts to let my ham buddies know I’m looking for a contact too.  They just need an account on sotawatch to spot you.

11. BONUS: Send a DMR message from your HT. 

      All you need to do is Send an SMS to the private DMR ID 214996 following the format below. Use SPACE character only to separate fields or in the comments:


SOTA_REF FREQ_MHz MODE CALLSIGN Optional_comments
(CALLSIGN and Optional_comments fields are not mandatory)

Example: 
EA2/BI-001 14.063 CW EA2CQ/P NOW QRV
After sending, you will receive a succesful or fail SMS depending on Sotawatch answer.
(More info can be found on EA2CQ's page HERE.

12. A New Way is Coming 

      Brian, AB6D, is working on a way to use FT8 from your phone to spot yourself.  Brian has built a suite of tools under the moniker "SOTAmāt.  Brian has built a web app that, after properly configuring your account, will monitor PSK Reporter for your callsign/<suffix>. 

A user logs into 
SOTAmāt, and then prepares the system by supplying a list of frequency ranges you might use, then telling it the list of association / regions (not actual summits) that you might possibly want a spot for.  SOTAmāt then calculates every permutation of of frequency to summit and creates a table of callsign suffixes.  Brian then has a way of moving your configuration to a phone app.  When you are on a summit with no cell service, you start the app, choose the summit association and region, and then enter the summit ID number.  The phone app then returns your callsign /xxxx (where xxxx is few digit code.  For example, when I chose  W6/SC-338 the app displayed the FT8 message "SM N1CLC/139B".  Using my iPhone, I simply pressed the "Launch HotPaw FT8 app" button and then use  that to send FT8.  In my testing, simply playing the FT8 message at the right time into the mic on the radio on a FT8 frequency causes my spot to got out.  I generally only need to do it twice at most so far.  If you are an operator without any of the other means mentioned above, this ingenious approach can save your activation.


I may be missing a method on how to create a spot but as you can see, there are multiple ways to do it.  If you spot, other hams will most likely chase. If it's before 1pm on a weekend, you're gold.

If you don’t get spotted, all is not lost.  

  1. Try answering CQ of other stations. I got lucky one day and heard a JA station calling CQ on sideband and he came back to me.  He couldn't believe I was only running 5w.

  2. If there is a rag chew in progress, wait for them to wrap it up and then call one or both when they are done. 

  3. Call CQ like you would any other time.  Be agressive, don't call once and quit.  Think of it like fishing.

  4. Check into a simplex net if you think it's OK.  You may need to hang out for a while for when they ask for visitors.  


Bonus answer for the question you didn't even ask :)

You want to know when your buddy is out there doing SOTA, go to https://hamalert.org/ and setup an ham alert for them.  Alerts can be sent to the phone app and you'll know within a minute when your buddy is on the air.  Tell your ham friends to setup an alert for you. The cool thing about ham alert is I can have the app on my phone ping, my watch pings, and sometimes, I even setup an email alert to ensure I don’t miss some activators.  If you've read this far, put N1CLC in your list to monitor with a source=sotawatch.  I'd love to hear from you.

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I hope this helped at-least one person out there.  If so, feel free to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

 

73,

N1CLC

Chris Claborne

(aks christian claborne)

 

2 comments:

  1. SOTA Spotter works well for android users de AI6XG

    ReplyDelete
  2. FANTASTIC information here. I never knew how RBN knew the SOTA summit I was on. I thought it had something to do with GPS but now I know it got that info from the ALERT. Activating/Operating is so much richer when you understand what's going on in the air.

    ReplyDelete