Amateur Radio in Australia (VKFAQ)

 

SOTA at Mt Taylor, Feb 2013

This was the site of VK1DA's SOTA station on Mt Taylor for the start of SOTA in VK1, 1st February 2013.

The trig station provided a good support for the telescopic fibreglass pole which supported a plain 40m dipole fed with RG58 cable at the centre.

The equipment used was a FT817 powered by a 2AH 12v GelCell battery. This provided enough power to operate for about 2 hours by which time there were no more contacts available. The FT817 runs at 5 watts at input voltages as low as 9.6v though running the battery that low would not be good for it.

 

What is “Summits On The Air” (SOTA)?

The SOTA programme is an amateur radio awards programme, not a contest. It is about making radio contacts from selected mountain summits, or making contacts with operators on those summits.  It was first launched in the UK in about 2002.

SOTA operates under general rules published at http://sota.org.uk in conjunction with specific rules in the Association Reference Manual (ARM) for each Association, where regions, height bands for scoring, winter bonus details and summit lists are published.

The individual ARM documents do not repeat the basic rules of the programme so it is worth reading the documents:

What is SOTA in Australia?

In Australia there is an Association for each call area vk1-vk9. However these associations are unincorporated. They are informal associations you join virtually if you operate.

Each Association has an Association Manager, the name of whom is in each ARM. Within each region of each association there is a provision for a region manager.

What Australian call areas are "in SOTA"?

From October 2014, all Australian call areas have approved summit lists registered with SOTA UK.

What web resources are available?

The programme operates with a great deal of support from the SOTA organisation in the UK, a voluntary amateur group. They run the following websites:

Maps are also linked from sotawatch and sotadata. Here you can view details of specific summits, maps showing all the summits in a region or in an association, or download files for use your mapping software or GPS. These online maps are based on Google maps and many of the same facilities are available for zooming, marking points etc. Some use OziExplorer software to view their planned summits and can export waypoint files to their GPS from OziExplorer, or export KML/KMZ files suitable for Google Earth and Google Maps or your GPS desktop software (eg. Garmin's Basecamp).

Can I access SOTA sites via Apps on my smartphone?

What local info and services are available?

In Australia the Yahoo Mailing Group at http://au.groups.yahoo.com/group/SOTA_Australia/ provides these services:

Several associations have local mailing groups on yahoo groups for local/domestic discussion and social event scheduling. These were set up to limit the amount of local material (eg. about a social event) on the national mailing group.

What do I need to read before going on the air and making contacts?

Ideally, look at all the above. Read the websites, the documents, look at the maps. Work out what’s near you using the list of summits and the maps.

What next? How do I join in?

To participate as a chaser:

To participate as an activator, first plan your activation:

On activation day

On the summit:

Back at home:

Can anyone make contacts or do you have to be registered?

There is no need to register. You can activate summits and you can make contacts as a chaser, entirely without registering anywhere. It is amateur radio and open to all. However if you want your contacts to earn points towards the awards you need to upload the contacts at SOTADATA and to do that you need to register a user id, your callsign name and email address. A confirmation email is issued to you to confirm that the email address you quoted is a valid one.

Are there fixed frequencies for SOTA operation?

No. A starting frequency of 7.090 has been common in south east Australia on 40m but that has simply been a convention. You operate within the terms of your licence, using the bands and modes you are licenced for and are keen to use. There is some PSK31 operation elsewhere but in Australia most operation has been SSB and CW on HF, FM and SSB on VHF.   On 20m, the frequencies above 14300 are popular for QRP operations, to get away from kilowatt alley between 14200 and 14300. However use your knowledge of the bands to choose your operating frequency.

With all VK states registered there will be opportunities for longer distance contacts on 20m, 15m and 10m. 30m, 17m and 12m have also been used successfully.  In summer 10m is likely to be very active when conditions are right. 6m is also likely to be used during Es season. Some operators like to use VHF and higher frequencies and in the UK many contacts have been made on 10 GHz by some operators, notably by Richard G3CWI who runs SOTABEAMS, an excellent source of antennas, materials and ideas.

Are there fixed times or dates for SOTA operation?

No. The most popular days in southeast Australia are weekends with slightly more activity on Sundays. There is an increasing level of weekday activity and most is notified on SOTAWATCH.ORG. Overnight operations are most likely in summer. Some activations are timed for DX opportunities especially to Europe. Long path propagation in the late afternoon in Australia often gives contacts into Europe on 20m and higher bands when conditions are good.

How far up the mountain do I have to climb before I can consider myself on the summit?

You may operate as an activator anywhere within 25m (vertically) of the peak. This area of the peak is defined as the activation zone.

What is the minimum distance I have to walk?

Why is my local hill not listed? Can it be added in the next update?

There are two possible reasons.

  1. It may not have 150m prominence as required by SOTA guidelines.
  2. It may not be listed because it was missed in the initial survey work that identified complying summits. If we identify it later, or someone lets the association manager know the details, including lat/long/altitude (m) and evidence that it has the prominence to qualify as a SOTA summit, it will submitted to the SOTA management team for approval in the next annual update and if approved it will be added to the list.

What is the basis of the points allocated to summits?

Each ARM defines the height ranges for each point value. Height above seal level is the basis of the points table and is the only factor once the summit has proven to have at least 150m prominence.

Why are some summits with road access rated as many points as those without?

That's the luck of the game. In all associations/countries/call areas there is a mix of easy access, high points, difficult access, low points. Take the good with the bad.

How often can I activate a summit?

As often as you like. But you will only get activation points for that summit once each calendar (UTC) year. So on 1st January get up there early, activate before 0000 UTC and again afterwards. Points earned for both years.

I hear stations having second contacts. Are points scored for both contacts?

The activator only gets the points once per calendar year. But chasers can get the points once per day for each summit.

What about dual or multiple operators at a summit? How does that work?

Each operator can run their own log. Once each of them have made contacts with 4 different stations, they have qualified the summit and will get their summit points.

For chasers, there is no value in making contact with each of the operators, once you have made one valid contact with that summit on the current (UTC) day. But after 0000 UTC chasers can work the summit again for award points. To do that, the activator has to be willing to stay long enough to work everyone again. They have no obligation to do so though.

Some activators seem to want very short contacts. I prefer a ragchew type of contact? Can I ragchew with an activator?

Activators are limited by the capacity of their battery power, how much food and water they carry, the weather conditions and how far they have to walk down to their car or transport. They have the right to request a short QSO, even as short as signal reports and summit code. But most activators are happy to chat if they have enough power, the weather is good and there is no queue of chasers wanting contacts. Ask them if they saw any snakes on the walk and whether they have a hat and sunscreen. ;)

What is the meaning of "Summit to Summit" or S2S?

This refers to contacts made between activators (on different summits). SOTA offers awards for making contacts between summits. This award is one reason why some activators stay on site for longer than the time needed for 4 contacts. If SOTAWATCH has indicated there are other activations imminent the activator looking for S2S points will join the chaser queue. Convention has it that S2S contacts get priority over others, because activators on summits can have limited time or power and may be forced to leave a summit by inclement weather. S2S points can be earned once per calendar day, so S2S contacts will be sought before and after 0000 UTC.

What is meant by UTC Rollover?

When the time passes 0000 UTC, the date moves from one date to the next. this typically occurs at 10AM in the Eastern states of Australia, 10:30 in South Australia/Northern Territory and at 12 noon in the Perth time zone. For some reason some SOTA operators in Australia refer to this as UTC Rollover. It may go back to the days when a date shown on an ancient type of clock with mechanical displays would actually move or roll over from one date to the next. Most of us have newer types of clock.

Only some of my local summits have public access and a road up to the top. Other activators have many. Is there a handicap system to compensate me?

No.

How can I find out who owns a summit so I can get permission to access it?

Ask around. The local council could provide info. Residents in the area either know, or know who to ask. Google Earth can reveal access roads and nearby homes where there are likely to be owners or access approvers. Be diplomatic and respect privacy. SOTA and ham radio generally does not authorise you to enter private property in pursuit of points for an award.

SOTA rules state that if you activate a summit without permission from the owner, the points will not count. In Australia some roads and ranges are closed during periods of total fire bans and in winter conditions when snow and ice makes roads dangerous. If a summit is in an "entry prohibited" area you will not get points for activating it.

Some parks are administered remotely and obtaining permission well beforehand is recommended. A phone call and a followup email may be advisable. The administrators and rangers are not radio hams and are not familiar with our jargon. When describing your purpose be careful when describing equipment and antennas to persons not aware of what we mean by a "20m dipole" which to them could mean a tower 20m high, rather than a horizontal length of wire 10m long. Use terms they will understand, such as "telescopic fishing pole with some wires attached" rather than "squid pole with multiband HF dipole". Their concern is visual impact, inconvenience to other park visitors and safety. By describing your operation in terms they understand you help them and help yourself.

I'm having a lot of fun with SOTA. Are there handouts or other materials I can use for a presentation to my club?

Your state association manager or your regional manager may have materials or may be willing to present to your club about SOTA. Ask on the SOTA_Australia mailing list. Find the contact details from the ARM.

There is a SOTA leaflet available on the SOTA.ORG.UK website. It prints as an A4 double sided sheet and is intended to be folded into a 3 leaf brochure. You can download the PDF, print a few copies and distribute them to enquirers.


 

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