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SOTA Chasing for Beginners        
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SOTA Chasing For Beginners, Part 1


By Mike Lamb GW0DSP

ImageTo the newcomer to SOTA, things can seem a little confusing at first with so much to take in, so I have decided to write a series over two or three months, which I hope might attract new people to SOTA and it is hoped that newcomers will find it interesting and give them a little bit of help to get started. I will be concentrating mainly on chasing.

What Is SOTA

SOTA or Summits on the Air is an awards scheme which was the brainchild of John G3WGV and Richard G3CWI. The scheme is governed by a management team, often referred to as MT for short. The MT are responsible for a number of duties, such as the setting out of the rules of SOTA, the constant updating of the SOTA website and the SOTA database, making awards when a person qualifies for one, the introduction of new countries into the scheme, liaison with the various associations AM’s (association managers) and they also oversee the different associations ARM’s (association reference manuals). The MT carry out a lot of other work also but the above is the mainstay of their duties. The current MT members along with their individual “job descriptions” and contact details can be found on the SOTA website.

How does the award scheme work?

You can get involved in SOTA in 3 ways, as an activator, as a chaser or as a shortwave listener/chaser (SWL).

What is a SOTA activator

The activators are the people who climb a set of mountain summits known as “The Marilyns” where they set up portable radio stations to operate on the different amateur bands where they attempt to contact the chasers. There is a comprehensive list of the Marilyns which can be found on a link on Sotawatch2, more about that later. As an activator, the portable station is governed by certain criteria which must be met to qualify as a truly portable station. I won’t go to deeply into details here, but the main points are: A. that you must be vertically within 25 metres of the summit (this is in the UK, check the ARM for other countries) and B. you must run your equipment from an external power supply, so solar power or a sealed lead acid battery (SLAB) or similar, or the radio’s internal battery pack. You cannot use a vehicle’s battery while it is still wired to the vehicle. No fossil fuelled power supplies such as a generator are allowed.

What is a SOTA Chaser

The chasers are licensed radio hams who attempt to find and contact the activators from their shacks, or maybe as a portable or mobile station. Short wave listeners (SWL) can also join in by finding the SOTA activators and enter a SWL log to claim their points.

The points scheme

The points awarded for the activators are as follows depending on the height of their summit:
1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10. During the winter period, the activators earn a winter bonus of 3 points on any summit with a points value of 2 or more.
The points are the same for the chasers, with the exception that the 3 point winter bonus does not apply.

Points are awarded to chasers for each contact made, but only one set of points can be earned per summit per day by the chasers, i.e. if a chaser works a SOTA station on the summit of Snowdon he will score 10 chaser points but he/she will not qualify for any more points from that summit on that same day, even if it is with a different station on Snowdon. The chasers can only chase and score points for any given summit once per day for each day of the year.

For the activators the rule is totally different. The activator can only score activator points for ANY summit once in a calendar year, January 1st to 31st December, i.e. if an activator activated Snowdon in 2008 he/she gets 10 activator points for his/her 1st activation of Snowdon. If he/she activates the summit again in 2008 he/she receives 0 points. However from the 1st of January 2009, he/she can activate the summit again for 10 points. There is just one exception to this ruling. If an activator activates a summit with a points value of 2 or more in the summer period, he/she can activate that same summit again in the same year during the winter bonus period and will receive the 3 winter bonus points only.

Scores for both the activators and chasers are entered into the SOTA database where a running total can be found along with other information such as how many unique summits you have worked, or with the use of filters in the database, you can check how well you are doing on each particular band or mode or year.


SOTA Chasing For Beginners, Part II


By Mike Lamb GW0DSP

ImageIn SOTA For Beginners part 1, I explained what SOTA is all about. I covered the basics of what SOTA is and how the awards scheme works. I also covered the points scoring scheme. This month, I will offer a more detailed look at the SOTA website and the SOTAwatch pages, including the links within. I will do my best to explain how the activators and chasers can use the links and information within both. As a SOTA participant you will find SOTAwatch to be the most powerful tool in your armoury, plus, it contains a vast amount of information which will be of great value to you.

The SOTA Website

The SOTA website can be viewed here.

When the website opens up on it’s home page, you will find blue coloured headings across the top of the page as follows: Home, Joining In, Associations, Rules and Guidelines, Awards, Database, SOTAwatch and About SOTA. Each of these headings is a clickable link to the page(s) which each heading represents. Lower down the page are some more links in blue, these are self explainable links and clicking on any of them will take you straight to the item named. That forms the basis of the home page of the website. It’s up to you now, put your mouse cursor over any of the links across the top of the page, left click your mouse and enjoy reading the specific articles contained within the page you chose. Newcomers will find that clicking on the 'Joining In' link will offer them all the information they need to get started. There are lots of tips, advice and information on the awards scheme itself, there are also several photographs. Also on offer is other valuable information such as, the weather (WX), what walking equipment to use, radio equipment, power supplies, antennae, etc, take the time to read through it all carefully before venturing onto the SOTA airwaves and certainly before heading off up the mountains. Remember at all times that the mountains are dangerous if you don’t have the knowledge or proper equipment with you at all times. Once you have scanned the pages of the website and digested all of the information which is there to help you, you will feel ready to get started, either as a chaser, a short wave listener chaser (SWL), or an activator. At this stage you will need to get familiar with the SOTAwatch pages, where you will find the tools you require to help you in whatever capacity you wish to join in.

SOTAwatch

The SOTAwatch home page can be found here.

When you open the home page you will see that the page is split into two sections. On the left will be the latest spots as they happen. As new spots appear, they will show you in real time, the callsign of the activator, the time he/she was spotted, the summit reference for the mountain they are on, the frequency he/she is using and usually a comment from the spotter whose callsign will appear at the end of the comment.

On the right hand side of the page you will find the Reflector. This is a forum where SOTA participants will find ideas, interesting topics, activation reports are posted or questions asked and advice can be given or sought. Just click on any of the headings listed in the Reflector to open the relative page to allow you read the item. When any item opens up, you will see a reply button at the bottom, you can click that button if you wish to post replies etc to the person who posted the article. At the top of the list, in green, you will notice that the SOTA News is posted each month by the SOTA News editor, currently Roy G4SSH. This is the only item which does not move down the Reflector listings as time passes and will only disappear when a new news editorial is posted by the news editor.

Similar to the website, there are a row of links across the top of the home page as follows: Home, Spots, Alerts, Summits, Reflector, Website, Database, Video, Photos, Recent Summit Info. We have had a brief look at the home page, Spots, Alerts, Reflector and Website, so let’s take a quick look at the other most commonly used links - Summits, Database, Video, Photos and Recent Summit Info.

Summits

By clicking on the summits link we open up a page which shows all of the SOTA associations included in the scheme at that time. If you click on G - England, a new page will open up for you. In the new page you will see a new list which represents the different regions of England. If you click on the top link in the list, you will open the summit page corresponding to the area of G/CE or Central England. This next page shows us the summit list of all of the summits in that area which currently qualify for SOTA. The top summit in the list has the SOTA reference of G/CE-001, this reference will be needed when you log your contact with anyone from that summit. Now click on the reference number G/CE-001. As you will see, you now have a vast amount of information on the summit known as Cleeve Hill. Halfway down the page are links to various maps of the summit and surrounding area and at the bottom of the page you will find useful tips from other participants who have already activated the hill. Play with the summit lists and try some of the overseas lists to familiarise yourself with these pages.

Database

If you now click the Database link, a page will open up where you can enter your log on details to access the database pages. Once you have logged on, you will see that like the other pages, there is a row of links at the top of the page. These links are, Home, Logon/Logoff, View Results, Summits and Submit Log. Home and Logon/Logoff are self explanatory so let's go straight to the View Results Link. When you hover your cursor over this link you will see that a drop down menu appears. Click on any of the links in the drop down menu to help yourself to information on your own progress within SOTA, or check out the relevant rolls of honour to see how ALL SOTA participants are faring. Just have a play in there and all will become clear in a short time.
The Summits link works the same ie hover your cursor over it for a drop down menu, then search the info within. Just familiarise yourself with the link and it's contents.
Finally the Submit Log link. Again this link has a drop down link which offers you the choices on how to enter your activating or chasing scores into the database. I would advise beginners to use just the Submit Activator entry and/or Submit chaser entry for the first few weeks. The other two links will be explained to you by someone in the scheme if you ask, maybe make that your first post on the Reflector. Once you have clicked on the Submit Activator entry or Submit Chaser entry tabs simply follow the online instructions and fill in the relative instructions, it's simple. Don't hesitate to ask the MT or your fellow participants for help.

That just about covers the basics of the SOTA Website and Sotawatch, have fun. Now, go get those points scored and more importantly, stay safe enjoy yourself.

SOTA Chasing For Beginners, Part III


By Mike Lamb GW0DSP

ImageIn part 1, I offered an explanation of what the Sota awards scheme is all about and explained the basics of how the awards scheme works. In Part II, I explained the basic functions of the SOTA Website and SOTAwatch. Now, in Part III, I will offer you some tips and advice on chasing, and how to optimize your chances of getting those points in your log. I will also offer some tips and advice on activating.

You Are Ready To Go

By now you should be familiar with SOTAwatch and reading and understanding the spots page. A dozen spots appear and you get exited, what can you do to give yourself your best chance of hearing and working them all?

The first thing any serious chaser has to consider is his station set up. Spots will appear on the different Ham bands and it is up to you to fill your “armoury” with the weapons you require to give you a shot at bagging those points and the unique summits. You can’t work them all, take that from me, but with the right equipment and chasing skills you can make sure that not too many “get away”. If a summit does “get away” without you working it, don’t be too disappointed, the summit will usually be activated again some time in the near future. Always remember, we can’t do anything about the activator who just went QRT, but we can do our best to make sure that the next one goes in the log!!

Antennas

In my opinion, your antenna system is the most important piece of equipment you will buy or build. There is no substitute for a good antenna system, end of story!! There is no point in owning an all singing & dancing rig and plugging a poor antenna in the back of it. You would never put a mini engine into a Ferrari, hi.

HF Antennas

Choose your antennas wisely to suit your situation. On the HF bands, wire antennas such as the dedicated dipole, G5RV, trapped dipole, Windom, doublet, long wire etc are very easy to build yourself and are inexpensive to build. Be sure to cut the dipole to the correct frequency to be used if you are not using an ATU. If you use one of the multi-band antennas, such as the G5RV, make sure that you use a good quality antenna tuning unit (ATU) with it. Your ATU will become part of the antenna system so quality counts. If you can afford it, some of the modern HF beams are very good, but these are best if fixed up a tower and they need to be rotated to the direction of the station you want to work.

Quite a few chasers choose to use one of the many vertical HF antennas currently on the market, such as the CP-6, Hustler or Butternut antennas. These work very well on the HF bands and can be a real winner if you have limited space in which to erect your HF antenna. The vertical antennas have a low angle of radiation compared to a dipole and this can sometimes mean that stations close to you can’t be heard or worked as well as they could if you are using a dipole.

VHF/UHF Antennas

At VHF and UHF frequencies, communications tend to be line of sight between two stations. This is not always the case, but I won’t go into too much detail here. Vertical antennas will usually be used for 2m/70cm activations, so check those spots, if the spot is for FM, then 9 times out of ten the activator will be using a vertical antenna. There are many verticals on the market to choose from, so pick the best one to suit your needs and/or your pocket. I would recommend the multi-band colinear for SOTA work. Many of these antennas cover 6m/2m/70cm. The main problem with vertical antennas is that they are omni-directional, this means that they radiate your power in a perfect circle, sending your signal out in 360 degrees. This means that only a small percentage of your radiated power will be heading to the station you are trying to contact and a lot of power is lost in the wrong direction. To combat this, we use beam antennas.

Beam antennas are much more efficient than vertical antennas at VHF/UHF because they tend to 'throw' all of our available power in the general direction that we want it to go. This is more important to a M3 or 2E0 licensee working on restricted power levels. This effect is reciprocal on receive, helping to pull the activators signal out of the air. Beams come in various designs, such as the Yagi, Quad, Quagi, etc. The golden rule still stands, mount the beam vertical for FM and horizontal for SSB and CW. When using a beam you will need a rotator to turn the beam in the direction of the station you want to work, don’t scrimp on a rotator, go for quality, you won’t regret it.

Radios

Always choose the right radio for the job. Modern “shack in a box” type radios are excellent for SOTA chasing and activating because they usually cover a vast amount of the Ham bands commonly used by the majority of activators. Rigs like the Yaesu FT-817 and FT-857 cover most of the HF bands and also offer the added bonus of the 2 metre and 70 centimetre bands, this gives you plenty of coverage for the most common frequencies covered by the activators and will therefore enhance your chances of being able to work most of the activators spotted. These particular radios can be used when you venture onto the hills yourself, so they serve a double purpose. There are other similar radios that will do the same job, such as the Icom IC-706 etc.
Another valuable tip is to always keep a 7Ah SLAB (sealed lead acid battery) charged up, you never know when a mains electricity power cut will strike, if it does, battery power will save the day and keep you chasing.

Get To Know Your Activators

Getting to know the activating habits of the regular activators is one of the best weapons you will have. Learn their habits off by heart so that you tend to know which frequencies they use, what mode of transmission and their likely amount of time they will spend on a summit. Are they likely to do a single summit or multiple summits in a single day. If multiple spots appear, say 8 spots at the same time, this will help you to know which order to “pick them off” in. Just as an example I will offer you a hypothetical scenario and how I would go about working them all to get maximum points in my log. Let’s say it’s a busy day on the spots page typical of most weekends these days and spots appear for G4BLH, DF2GN, GW4BVE, LX1NO and M1AVV. What’s the best way to work through them? My knowledge of these five activators, weather being good on all summits tells me the best way to go about working all of them. Mike G4BLH and Simon M1AVV tend to do 2m FM activations of late, Mike usually wanders up a summit and takes his dogs for a walk so he won’t be on for very long, so I would go for Mike first. Simon tends to activate on a hand-held only on 2m but would stay on summit a bit longer than Mike so he is next. The remaining three tend to operate on HF so who is next? I know that Norby likes to squeeze as many summits into a single day as possible and likes the fast contest style of activation, this means he likes to get the job done then head for the next summit, he is usually greeted with a pile up which he will work through until the last chaser, so Norby would be third for me. Next would be John GW4BVE. John's MO is to work multi-band, usually 60m/80m/40m, this means that I have got three shots at logging John and of course he will be on summit for at least 30 – 40 minutes, so I'd go after John fourth. Klaus DF2GN is well known for his multi-band/multi-mode activations and will be greeted with pile-ups every time. He always gives every last chaser the chance to be worked and will usually return to some of the frequencies and modes already worked for a second time to give everyone a chance. This means that Klaus will probably be on the summit for at least 1 – 2 hours, so I save him until last. The above is only a hypothetical example and is not set in concrete, but it is a fair assessment of how I would chase those five stations if they were all spotted at the same time. Get to know your activators, it will bag you lots more points than simply trying to work them in the order in which they are spotted. Also, listen for some of the top chasers on air. If I'm tuning around on CW and I hear G4SSH, G4OBK, or any of the top EU lads, I sit and listen intently because it usually means they are working an activator who hasn't been spotted yet. The same applies to FM and SSB, if I hear G4JZF, G4BLH, G0RQL, G0NES, etc, my ears are glued to the speaker.

Modes Of Transmission

Most people connected with SOTA will be competent in the use of FM and SSB with a large and growing percentage competent in CW.

To those of you who are not familiar with Morse code, you are missing the cream on the pudding. Without a doubt the fastest growth in SOTA is in CW and it is here where the big points are scored and the majority of uniques are available to you. You won’t have to work at 35wpm, the activators will be just as happy to work a station at 5wpm, trust me. I have heard many an argument about CW versus SSB, but without CW you can’t keep up with the multi-mode chasers and that’s a fact. Consider learning CW if you really want to increase your chaser scores significantly. CW is without a doubt the most efficient mode to use and can sometimes give you a contact where SSB has failed, this has happened to me on several occasions. Give it a go at learning the code, there’s only twenty-six letters and ten numbers to learn. It’s surprising just how many people who were anti CW took the time to learn CW and found it to be great fun and their favourite mode. Give it a go!!

Go Mobile Or Portable For Those Uniques

If a unique you require is alerted and it’s a summit that keeps dodging you, consider going mobile at a high spot near to you, quite a few of the top chasers have used this ploy, myself included. Another tip which some use regularly is to go out and set up a HF dipole in a field or on a hill. This can reduce your noise levels compared to those you experience in the shack and again, you will stand a better chance of bagging that elusive summit.

Never Give UP

A lot of chasers will see a spot come up, then hurriedly tune the frequency of the spotted activator to be greeted by a stunned silence. Maybe you can hear other chasers calling the activator but you can't hear the summit station yourself. Don't give up, keep listening for some time. Try wearing your headphones, especially with CW. It's surprising how many times I have tuned around looking for an activator and didn't receive a whisper from them, then just ten minutes later their signal comes booming out of the noise and he/she is in my log. Propagation can play tricks on you especially on the HF bands, so listen long and hard and don't give up to easily.

Activating Tips

I will offer some activating tips in a separate article.

Newcomers need good sound advice from experienced activators. It is essential to make sure that you are well informed on portable equipment, clothing, safety equipment, summit weather and other general advice needed before venturing out onto the mountains.

Conclusion

Well that’s it, I have enjoyed writing this three part article and I hope it has been informative to the newcomer to the wonderful world of SOTA. The article has been given a permanent page of it’s own on the Summits Knowledgebase where any newcomers can read it through and hopefully pick up a few tips.

I can only offer you one more piece of advice: Whatever you do in SOTA, make sure that you enjoy it and have loads of fun. SOTA is like a close knit family where you will make numerous friends in the UK and abroad.

73 Mike GW0DSP




Created by admin. Last Modification: Wednesday 04 of January, 2017 17:24:39 GMT by G4CPS.