18 April 2015

02 Dipping my toe into SOTA (17 April 2015)

What is SOTA?

SOTA or Summits on the Air, is a really cool award scheme for radio amateurs. Basically there are Activators and Chasers. Activators pack their gear and hike up hills and mountains that have at least 150 meters of prominence in the area. Chasers on the other hand, try to contact the Activators once they are on the air.

Chasers and Activators accumulate points as they make contacts, and the points count toward certificates such as the Mountain Goat (for Activators) and the Shack Sloth (for Chasers). Higher summits count more points, ranging from 1 to 10. The SOTA pearl, off course, is the Summit to Summit contact, where two activators contact each other from listed SOTA summits. In such contacts, both activators gain the points for their own summit as well as that of the other activator. I could go on, but right now I only have a superficial understanding of the rules.

What struck me about the way the scheme has been set-up, is that:
  1. it is free.
  2. everyone can participate whether they are more goatsy or slothful in their inclination.
  3. the more, the merrier. Especially if they coordinate to achieve S2S contacts.
  4. It's wombats and watts - the perfect union between bush walking and technology.
Ham Shack on Mt. Taylor

What is a contact?

A contact can be as formal or informal as you like, but at the very least the participants must exchange Call Signs and Summit Codes. Although its not required in the data submission to the SOTA database, it is also useful to exchange signal reports. A typical contact may go like this:

Activator: CQ SOTA, CQ SOTA, CQ SOTA, this is VK1FJAW, VK1FJAW, VK1FJAW calling CQ.
Chaser: VK2UH
Activator: VK2UH, you are 5 and 9, 5 and 9 on One Tree Hill. The summit reference is VK1 AC-035. QSL?
Chaser: VK1FJAW, I copy 5 and 9, and summit reference VK1 AC-035, you are  5 and 5, 5 and 5, 5 and 5, QSL?
Activator: VK2UH, I copy 5 and 5, thank you for the contact! This is VK1FJAW, 73.
Chaser: VK1FJAW, have a nice day. VK2UH clear.

QSL means "Please acknowledge" and 73 means "Goodbye". Have a look at the international amateur radio Q-codes at Wikipedia.

Coordination, Points and all That

An Activator needs at least four unique contacts on a summit to receive the summit points. If you want to make sure you are not disappointed, declare your intentions to activate a summit by creating an Alert on SOTAWATCH at least a day before the activation. When you are ready to start making contacts, also Spot yourself on SOTAWATCH.

Have a notebook and pen ready to record the details of each contact. You will need this when you get back home. Once you return from the activation, log the contacts with the SOTA database at SOTADATA. SOTA keeps track of the summits and will credit your points balance once you have submitted your log. Remember to log your Summit to Summit contacts separately.

What's in the bag?

I have the following with me when I go out for an activation:
  • GPS, Map, Compass, pocket knife, matches, cash, food, water and a charged mobile phone.
  • Hiking Boots, Hat and clothes to suit the weather on the summit. (Usually windy and cold.)
  • Squid Pole, coax, 2 meter Moxon antenna, 40m, 15m, 10m Link Dipole antenna, rope and pegs.
  • Notebook, pen, torch, FT817 (charged) and VHF/UHF Handy Talkie (charged).
  • Electrical insulation tape, needle nose pliers, rubber hammer.
  • Personal first aid kit.
  • A list of nearby repeater frequencies and details such as activation tones.
Please be safe and remember to let friends and family know what your plans are.

With Andrew VK1DA, Andrew VK1NAM and Pete VK2PFMC on Mount Bowning


VKFAQ SOTA page: http://vkfaq.ampr.org/opersota.php
VK SOTA Group: https://au.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SOTA_Australia/info
VK1 SOTA Group: https://au.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/SOTA_VK1_area/info
VKSOTA Summit Info: https://sites.google.com/site/vksota/

SOTA: http://www.sota.org.uk/
SOTAWATCH: http://sotawatch.org/
SOTADATA: http://www.sotadata.org.uk/default.aspx
SOTAMAPS: http://www.sotamaps.org/
John Evans' ACT Bushwalking Website (Andrew VK1NAM): http://www.johnevans.id.au/wp/
Victoria Police Trip Intentions Website (Andrew VK1NAM): http://tripintentions.org/tripinformation 

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