Category Archives: SOTA

FT817 programming

I recently purchased a programming cable for use with the FT817. Plenty are advertised on eBay.

What I received:

  • a cable with plugs for the mini DIN plug for the CAT socket on the radio and a USB plug at the other end
  • A cd containing software

The USB plug is larger than a plain USB plug as usual for one of these USB-serial adaptors, as it contains the electronics to convert from USB to plain serial required by the radio.

The software on the cd included a driver for the USB adaptor and several other programs including a 2012 version of HRDeluxe, a digital modes utility and a few other programs. A specific program for the radio programming was not included.

The cd also included some “readme.txt” files and advice on how to work out which COM port was allocated to the adaptor, as most older software including HRD apparently is designed for COM ports rather than USB.

I installed the driver and it worked ok, revealing that COM9 had been allocated to the USB adaptor.

In HRD the only option appeared to be COM1. Same for a Yaesu programming utility written by a French radio amateur.  (817-mem from F5BUD.free.fr)

I opened the Windows control panel and found the details of the USB adaptor. In the tab revealing the com port allocated I double clicked (or right clicked?) the COM9 and was offered the option of changing it to another unallocated port. I chose COM1.

This still did not allow a connection to the FT817 to work. To see whether the USB hub needed to be restarted to get the new COM port to work, I unplugged and reinserted the USB adaptor cable.

Checking in control panel > device manager showed that the USB adaptor was now indicating COM1.

Launching the 817-mem Yaesu programming tool again, it now found the 817 on COM1 and I could then read the memory contents of the radio, save as csv, modify the csv with notepad++, then reload the csv and send it to the radio.

I set memory freqs for cw and Ssb frequencies on the hf bands and some net frequencies for VHF bands.

Programming the 817 direct using the front panel controls is quite feasible but having the memory channels saved externally is convenient. Also being able to clone and edit in an ordinary text editor is handy. Seeing the frequency and mode settings on a screen is better than having to scroll around them on the 817.

VK2 and VK4 have joined SOTA

VK2 and VK4 have joined SOTA, a world wide award programme originating in the UK and now active in many European countries, the USA, Canada, Korea and some states of Australia.

I took on the role of association manager for vk2, aka New South Wales, initially to coordinate the surveying of mountains to identify the complying summits for the SOTA award. Enjoying portable operation myself, I thought having NSW in the SOTA map would provide me with additional incentives to climb more local and distant mountains, enjoy the Australian bush land, use amateur radio in a slightly different way and along the way improve my fitness.

All NSW regions have been included in the initial registration. Amendments can be made annually.

The association manager for vk4 (Queensland) is Dave Clodd VK4OZY. Due to the size of Queensland it was not possible for one or two surveyors to cover the whole state. Queensland’s most populous area in the south east and along the coastline north from Brisbane have been listed and other regions will be added according to demand in annual updates.

Vk2 SOTA summit list submitted

The list of proposed summits for the vk2 call area has been submitted to the SOTA Management Team in the UK and we now await feedback and questions, followed soon after (hopefully) by approval for vk2 summits to be used for SOTA activations.

The summit count is about 1100. We had included a small number of summits in more than one region and a few are on the vk4 border so will have to be assigned to one state or the other.

I’m expecting the review and approval process to take a month or so but we won’t know until we get there.

In the meantime vk2 activators need to test their gear, get fit enough for the hills they intend to climb and register with sotawatch.org to be ready for a big kickoff day. I am hoping to get 20 vk2 activators on the air on day 1. Will you be one of them?

Six months of SOTA in vk1

The Summits on the Air (SOTA) programme has been operating in the vk1 call area, aka the Australian Capital Territory, since 1st February 2013.

In that time we have seen an increased interest in operating from hilltops, with some operators using simple equipment like VHF HTs to make local contacts. Others are setting up HF dipoles and verticals to operate on the 7, 14 and 24 MHz bands. HF antennas are typically supported by fibreglass poles which collapse to about 1m length.

To mark the semi-anniversary of SOTA in vk1, a multiple operator event is planned for Sunday 11th August from 9:15 local time onwards. Details are on Andrew Moseley’s blog at vk1nam.wordpress.com.

Social gathering for vk1 area SOTA fans

We have had a couple of social gatherings of SOTA fans in vk1.

They have been successful in getting people to meet, for the first time for some of us, and have allowed some off-air discussions in a relaxed situation. We have met at a football club with a reasonable bistro but other venues would also be just as good.

We have talked about batteries, backpacks, squid poles, antennas, radios, explosives and additional summits to be added to the vk1 summit list. With several experienced activators present there is plenty of free advice for beginners.

Highly recommended for other SOTA groups.

Here are some photos of the VK1 group  at the Ainslie Football club bistro on 4th June 2013.

SOTA Flag flying at Ainslie Football club, Canberra
SOTA Flag flying at Ainslie Football club, Canberra

Standing: Al VK1RX, Peter VK1XP, Ian VK1DI. Seated: Andrew VK1MBE, Mark VK1MDC,  Andrew VK1NAM (with flag), James VK1DR.

James was kind enough to take another shot that includes me.

IMGP0227c

 

Efficient SOTA activations – a suggested operating procedure

SOTA Popularity causing longer queues

SOTA activators are finding that on weekends the number of “chasers”, or stations wanting contacts with them, is gradually increasing. The response to an activator’s “CQ SOTA” on a Sunday morning on 40m now resembles a mini version of the pileup caused by a rare DX station. There may be only 5 to 10 callers at a time, but for ordinary VK operators just wanting to log a few contacts this situation is much more pressured than the response to an ordinary CQ call. An ordinary portable station in a national park or at a lighthouse receives less attention than a SOTA activator on a summit.

The chaser may well know that there are a number of activators likely to turn up on the band(s) during the morning. SOTAWATCH.ORG shows the likely activations as “Alerts” and the actual stations heard or worked as “Spots”. The combination of the data available creates additional pressure to catch all the activators, before they stop operation due to battery power limitations, a change to another band or closing down to leave the summit.

The activator tends to use battery power that is sufficient for several hours of typical operation on at least one band. The lure of S2S (Summit-to-Summit) contacts which qualify not only as contacts for the activator’s own summit, but also “chaser” contacts for the other summit and contacts for the S2S award. Thus activators themselves may be calling other activators in the pileup.

So it can be easily seen that even for the dozen or so callers, most are very keen to make their contact with the SOTA activator.

Listening to a typical contact, though, contacts are not completed efficiently in many cases. Apart from the information necessary to log a valid contact, ie. callsigns, signal reports and confirmations of reports, any other information exchanged is superfluous and only serves to delay the process. It is frustrating for those waiting to make a contact with an activator who may not be on air for much longer, to hear a long contact being made, with information such as the weather, how actually strong the activator’s signal is and how amazing it is that a 5 watt radio can be heard over the long distance of the contact. If the waiting chasers are truly unlucky, the caller will go into more detail about his station, how he thinks conditions are today, etc. To add to the problem, some chasers will also point out that other stations are probably wanting to contact the activator!

This may seem outrageous but in my view, apart from callsigns and summit details, the additional discussion has no place in a SOTA contact. Also there should be no need for three or four overs by each station to get a valid contact into the log.

What is the ideal SOTA contact?

Contacts need to be efficient and quick. To achieve that, the activator needs to take charge of the process and flag to callers that he wants to make efficient contacts. How does this work? Here is an example.

The activator VKyCBA calls CQ SOTA and one or more stations respond. The activator being called makes a list of the callsigns heard if possible.

In his first response the activator sets the pace and style of the contact.

Activator: “VKxABC this is VKyCBA portable, (optional: Good morning/afternoon, thanks for the call,) your report is five by nine, five nine, my summit code is VKx/RR001, (how do you copy?) callsigns …”

[By starting the contact in that way the activator is letting the calling station know that this operator is prepared to make it quick and concise. Setting the standard lets the caller know to respond in similar terms. Note that the report has already been given to the chaser.]

Chaser: “VKyCBA portable this is VKxABC, Roger/Romeo, thanks for the report, you are five by seven, five seven. Thanks for the SOTA contact and have a safe trip back home. Best wishes VKyCBA this is VKxABC “

Activator: VKxABC this is VKyCBA portable, Roger (or Romeo) and thanks for the report and the contact. VKyCBA portable is clear and calling QRZ SOTA”.

Now a pileup ensues as the contact just made has attracted listeners who now want a contact with the activator. The activator must retain control of the frequency. After making a list of the calling contacts, or a partial list, a new contact is commenced with the callsign copied first. If several callsigns were noted in the pileup, they are acknowledged and that has two effects: first, the callers know they will be the next to be worked so they don’t go away, secondly the station now being worked knows there are others waiting so he should make it quick.

In this procedure it is vital that the signal report is included in the first transmission from the activator. That tells the chaser not to muck about, give a report and get the contact over with. So what if the activator didn’t look at the S meter or conduct extensive analysis of the incoming signal strength? Will the chaser worry much about the report if he gets a contact in his log? No.

In particular this means ditching the “give you a report on the next over” sentence. If you do that, you commit to another two overs to make the contact. In that time the activator could be making another complete contact.

At the end of that contact, the activator can say something different from QRZ SOTA. This time he can say “clear with VKzBCD and now calling the next on my list, VKzDEF, good morning thanks for the call, you are five by seven, five seven, how do you copy me, (callsigns)…

By controlling the sequence of operations the activator is making sure he is in charge. But also by noting all callsigns copied, it makes it possible to work stations in a fairer sequence. If at the end of each contact, the activator simply calls CQ without mentioning callsigns already heard, even if only part calls were noted, a new pileup ensues and the stations who have possibly listened to several contacts being made are now competing with anyone new who has arrived on frequency. Remember new chasers are always looking on SOTAWATCH and finding the activator’s frequency. They will join in the chase and unless the activator gives existing callers a fair chance, the newcomers will make the contacts instead of those who have already called.

Like a contest?

Yes, this process is an adaptation of the procedure used by successful contesters in a “run” of contacts. The number of “overs” is kept to a minimum, that way the contacts are made quickly.

“But wait”, you may say, “that makes the contacts simply signal reports. That isn’t the type of contact I like to have”.

That is true, it is a very short and somewhat impersonal contact, though once you know the regulars you will know their names and you can add personal touches without unduly extending the contact. Most activators post to the SOTA_Australia group at Yahoo. But the activator may not have battery power (or suitable weather) to make 25 contacts each taking 5 to 10 minutes. So to be fair to everyone, including the activator, it is best to whizz through the contacts, allow those who want to look for other contacts to do so, and when the smoke clears you can always call the activator back and exchange some chat about the weather, the walk up to the summit and all the other stuff. And if the activator has plenty of battery power and is not wanting to close down and go to another summit, or get out before the weather worsens, he will likely be happy to chat.

Confirming the reports

What about confirming the reports? Many people are heard “reading back” the reports received from the other station. This is not necessary, all that is required is that the report is acknowledged if copied completely. This is done using the word “Roger” or the modern equivalent “Romeo”. They mean “Received your transmission fully”, or in other words “I am confident that I copied everything necessary 100%”. This is called a procedure word or Pro word by some networks, specifically military. Other professional networks such as aircraft communications also have specialised Pro Words, with unambigous meaning, such as “clear to land”.

For more on pro words, see google or read this page on QRZ.com or this one at Wikipedia.

If you are in doubt about the report, and only if in doubt, you can either say:

  • “Please say again my report” (using the pro-word “say again”)

or

  • “I copied my report as Five Seven, please confirm”

followed by a quick break for the other station to confirm. However this should only be necessary when signals are low or there is a lot of interference. In the majority of cases, there is no problem copying reports from the other station and the reading back of reports and comments on them can be reduced to a single word: Roger or Romeo.

Why the term “say again”? Like “roger” it is also a pro word. The reason it is used is in the phonetics, the sounds, which make this phrase very easy to recognise. The alternatives used by some amateur operators are phrases like “repeat my report”, “give me my report again”, etc which do not contain pro-words that will be recognised. (We have all heard responses like “what was your question?” to which the late Tony Hancock would have the other station saying “no, what was your question”. )

Summary

I suggest this procedure would speed up SOTA contacts and make it possible for more chasers to join in the fun.

I will be interested to hear other views on this and see whether more activators use this kind of procedure in future.

 

SOTA activation at Mt Stromlo, Canberra – 22nd March 2013

I was running late for this activation and had not been up to the mountain for quite a few years.  In fact I had not seen the level of destruction by the 2003 bushfires, I might have postponed seeing that because I had heard and read about it.

The mountain has a restaurant on it which is apparently open at night.  There are sometimes stargazing events open to the public.

Access to the summit is limited by a security gate which is closed to uphill traffic at 6pm.  That gate is a fair way down from the summit so if you can go a bit further uphill it will save a lot of walking.  I parked just below the gate and walked from there.  It took me about 25 mins to get to the area I operated from, which was on the side of a fenced water reservoir.  I only used 7 Mhz ssb and 14 MHz CW for this activation.  I had about 10 contacts on 7 Mhz and then about the same number on CW on 20m, including contacts into Germany, Finland, the UK and New Zealand.

Signal reports received on 20m were low and I need to improve my signal strength on this band.  I have a few ideas I need to try out.  The best simple low antenna for dx contacts is a vertical, but it needs an effective ground radial system to be efficient.  I am probably going to try using 3 elevated radials, about 1m above ground.  The squid pole is a good support for the vertical radiator and as it only requires 5m of vertical radiator, the radials can be almost 2m above ground, further reducing ground losses.

On this activation I found I was being attacked by mosquitoes especially once it got darker.  I had not had trouble with these on earlier activations and my fellow SOTA activator Andrew VK1NAM also had lots of mossies on Black Mountain this evening.

No photos as I got there too late.

Closed down after the contact with ZL1KLP at about 7:45 local time, quite dark by then. Have to make the most of daylight saving while we still have it.  DST end date 7 April 13.

I have disabled comments as I was receiving no comments from fellow amateurs but dozens from spammers with automatically generated inane comments and links to irrelevant and usually offensive websites.

SOTA activation Mt Ginini ACT VK1/AC-008, 3 March 13

This was a joint activation with Andrew Moseley VK1NAM.  We met at 6:30am at Weston, ACT, and arrived at Mt Ginini around 8am.  Ensuring we complied with the SOTA rule of entering the activation zone on foot, we parked about 40m below the summit and walked up with the equipment, with some attached to a luggage trolley.  This reduced the number of trips up from the car, but the trolley was still lumpy with Andrew’s massive collection of SLA batteries on board.

We got onto 2m SSB and made a number of contacts with VK3BJM, VK1KW, VK3VL, VK2BXT VK2KOL, VK3II, VK3EJ, VK3ES, VK3AJN and were called by VK3KH on a peak that did not last long enough to make a contact.  To make the most of the aircraft enhancement peaks we tried to work each station using both our callsigns. These contacts were made using a FT857 running 40w output, to a 4 element yagi.  The mast was a 4m painter’s extension pole with a guying plate attached mid height.

4 el beam used for ssb dx
4 el beam used for ssb dx

At about 9am we got 40m going with the IC703 and continued on 2m with local contacts on FM.  40m seemed to have very selective propagation at that time of day, with contacts possible from some vk3 portables into the Canberra area but not available to us, presumably due to being just inside the skip (exclusion) zone for that frequency.  That situation gradually changed and by 11AM we were able to work any stations others were working.  Ionospheric propagation always has its interesting behaviour.

While we had qualified for our SOTA activator points for the summit, we tried to stay on air long enough to give chasers and other activators the contacts they needed.  Finally around 11:30 we thought we had exhausted the possible contacts.

Other bands were checked but available contacts were nil.  There was quite a bit of interaction between the IC703 and the FT857 when using two HF bands, not surprising given the close proximity of the antennas.  Separating the antennas by at least their own length to reduce that problem would be a good plan for future joint activations.

Calls worked on 40m were VK3KAN, 3DET, 3MRG/p, 1RX, 3ZPF, 3PF, 3YY/p, 3HRA/p, and VK1RX and 1XYZ were also worked on 2m FM.

Operating position on Mt Ginini

Andrew Vk1NAM operating the radio
Andrew VK1NAM operating on 7 MHz on Mt Ginini

Weather conditions: very windy, quite cold.  I wore a few extra layers and was not warm at any stage.  The mountain area was in low cloud for an hour or so after we arrived but gradually cleared up giving us the typical Ginini views.Mt Ginini Set Up