F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions)

Pre-activation Activities

  1. Go to the website and read through each of the tabbed sections from “Home” to the “About SOTA” in order to get the “big picture” of SOTA and the organizational structure of the program.
  2. Open a account. Click on the “Logon/Logoff” tab to register. Secondly, open a account. These two accounts will give you access to valuable SOTA websites necessary for the following activities.
  3. The first effort is to read the ARM (Association Reference Manual) for your Association which can be a State or a FCC Call Area (W1, W2, etc). You can download a copy at: Scroll down to find the US or Canadian Association that you are interested in for further detail. The ARM docs are in .pdf format and contain valuable information about SOTA rules and requirements but also specific Peak information including the Peak Reference Number (ex: “W2/EH-001″), Lat/Long data points, and in some instances the six-place Grid Square ID.
  4. Once a SOTA Region of interest is identified and using the Region Identifier (ex: W7/NC-xxx), look at: . At the bottom of the page, from the dropdown menu, select the Region of interest and click OK. A map of available peaks will then display. You can “zoom in” as necessary for the appropriate detail. Clicking on any one of the tags will display that Peak information and links to SOTA resources specific to that peak. This SOTA and Google Maps “mashup” is a very easy way to “find” peaks on a map and plan your proposed Activation.
  5. By then clicking on the hot link in the upper left corner of this “popup” of Peak information, a webpage will open with specific data about this Peak including a Google Map view as well as “near by peaks” that might be of interest. At the bottom of the Peak data window, you can select “Google Maps” for more road and terrain detail. Selecting the “SOTAwatch” link takes you directly to the SOTA database information for this Peak. You can read any documents or links posted by previous Activators that might assist in your planning.
  1. Check with any governmental agencies that might have specific information such as road outages or maintenance detours, trailhead access information, or other restrictions that might impact your Activation. Usually the Forest Service has up-to-date information about road or trail access information. Generally the ARM document will have specific links or phone numbers for your State or Region for local weather or road reports. In the summer time many backcountry roads are closed either for logging, fire restrictions, or maintenance.
  2. Other very good Peak information resources include:a.
  3. Check the weather forecast appropriate for your State or Region and plan accordingly. Remember, if you get wet, hypothermia is a very real problem especially if the wind is blowing or the ambient temperatures are less than 60f- degrees. Always pack rain gear. You never know when your Activation may get prolonged for whatever reason.
  4. If you have any general questions about the Activation process, join which is a Yahoo reflector for all SOTA activities in North America. There is a wealth of SOTA experience on this reflector with folks very glad to help or answer questions.
  5. The website is both a “spotting” (where your Activation is spotted, similar to the DXcluster) and an “alerting” capability where your planned Activation is posted prior to the Activation. Click on the “new Alert” hotlink and enter your specific information for your planned Activation. All times are in UTC and the SOTA “activation day” is 0000 UTC to 2359 UTC. Many “Chasers” actively monitor this webpage in order to make contact with you. Generally, “no alert, least number of qso’s” is a guideline.
  6. Determine local 2m FM repeaters that have coverage for your Activation Peak. In the USA, there are very few locations without coverage. Introduce yourself on the repeater as many locals will be very interested in your activity plus it becomes a “safety net” in case you or others you meet on your hike need any kind of assistance. If you have APRS capability, announce your SSID and links to
  7. Post your planned Activation information on any number of websites or reflectors dedicated to field or portable operations. Some favorites are the QRP-L reflector, HFPack, SOTA NA, etc. Shamelessly promote your Activation with your local hams! Remember, qso’s via repeater are not allowed for SOTA points but certainly use a local repeater for safety communications and “spotting” purposes.

Activations Activities

  1. Be safe! An Activation is for your enjoyment and should not be regarded as a requirement. Many Activators do turn back if an “obstacle” occurs such as weather (rain, cold, windy, hot, etc) or access is denied, unsafe, or unavailable. Do not feel obligated to push forward because of all your preparations.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time both before starting your hike and certainly for your return. Plan for “stuff” to just happen which will delay your Activation. “Murphy” enjoys these trips also!
  3. Log (somehow) your qso’s. Date, time, call, etc. You will need this log later for SOTA documentation and the Awards program information. A pencil and a small spiral notebook are favorites for manual logging.
  4. A 4-QSO minimum is a SOTA requirement within the “Activation Zone” for the Peak. See your ARM document for specific information for your Association concerning the Activation Zone. Note that the Activation Zone is defined as vertical feet below the actual summit peak. This generally gives you a lot of location setup choices to either avoid other hikers or to get out of windy conditions. Most Activators call “CQ SOTA” on or near the traditional QRP or VHF calling frequencies.
  5. SOTA operations are on the “honor system” to adhere to the minimum number of Rules and requirements for an Activation. Please note any unsafe conditions encountered and please report them to the Association Manager.

Post-Activation Activities

  1. Part of the appeal of SOTA is the Awards program. Both Activators and Chasers accumulate “points” which allow each group to be eligible for specific Awards. See for more information.
  2. Go to and login. You will need to register one-time for an account on this SOTA database prior to entering your QSO information for your Activation. You can either manually enter the data under the “Submit Log” tab or upload a larger log via CSV or TSV data formats. Excel is a good program to build the upload file. Be sure to save the file in a CSV format.
  3. Return to the Peak Information database from Step #3 under Pre-Activation activities for your specific Peak. Upload your Trip Report so other future Activators can benefit from your experiences. A good example of this is at: Your Activator callsign will then show up on the Activator Roll of Honor at under the “View Results” tab.
  4. Submit your Trip Report, if desired, to any of the websites or reflectors dedicated to field or portable operations. This helps SOTA to grow as readers want to be participants, either as an Activator or as a Chaser.
  5. Post questions or concerns to the SOTA NA reflector so others can potentially benefit from your experience.

All of the SOTA participants, from the SOTA Management Team to Activators and Chasers, want to encourage SOTA activity in North America. The Program is very successful in Europe and is growing very fast in North America. Enjoy your participation, be safe, and encourage your ham radio friends to participate.

What next? How do I join in? (To participate as a chaser)

  • Listen for activators on the air at the times advertised as Alerts on SOTAWATCH.ORG or notified on the SOTA_Australia mailing list (not all are notified there).
    Make contacts with the activators and note the code for the summit they are operating from. Record the summit code in your log.
  • You earn points for each separate summit you work in each UTC day.  For this reason, you will find some activators work stations once before 0000 UTC and once after that time.  This is no advantage for the activator but it does help chasers earn points
  • Go to SOTADATA.ORG.UK and register a user id (your callsign should be ok) and password. You’ll receive a confirmation email. Record your password somewhere safe. This user id links your callsign to your log of contacts both as a chaser and as an activator.
  • Record your contacts in the chaser log to start your award points
  • Repeat until you reach the points level needed for each award level, eg. 100 chaser points, 250 etc. You can apply for the award certificates as you reach the various point
  • On reaching 1000 chaser points (typically 250 contacts at about 4 points each, on average) you can apply for the Shack Sloth Award.  Details on the site.  There are higher levels of awards with no limit.
  • Noisy receiving conditions at home? Go portable in your local park or elsewhere. You can chase SOTA contacts from anywhere.

What next? How do I join in? (To participate as an activator, first plan your activation)

  • Select a summit you want to operate from
  • Work out how you will access that summit eg. how far can you drive up the summit, where you may need to park your car, electric bike or helicopter.
  • Prepare your equipment, antenna, power source, backpack, food and drink
  • Let others know what you are planning
  • Look at SOTAWATCH to check whether another activator may be planning to be at the same summit.
  • Look at the summit information on SOTAWATCH and on the summit info site run by Ben VK5TX ( The info on these sites often includes comments by previous activators, GPS track logs, photos and links to blogs. For summits on private land, you may find owner contact details. Operation without permission earns no points and may place you in danger. Private property owners often own guns to deal with ferals.
  • Post an Alert to SOTAWATCH for your planned activation, preferably several days beforehand
  • Optionally, post some comments about it on the Yahoo mailing group especially if it is likely to be a new unique summit for chasers.
  • Make a checklist of the equipment, safety and navigation, clothing and food/water you will need
  • You don’t need to go solo – joint activations with one or more others are quite legitimate and encouraged. It increases safety, helps to spread the knowledge and you may learn something from your walking buddies.
  • If you are not an experienced bushwalker, talk with others, find information on the web and take the advice available.

… On activation day

  • Prepare your pack and check against your checklist
  • Carry a printed map as well as your GPS for remote summits. A backup compass or other directional device is recommended.
  • In hot weather you need to carry enough water to stay safe
  • On the day of your activation, take a buddy to walk with and join in the fun. Some activators walk with their family (spouse and/or kids) and others jointly activate summits with friends from their radio club. Others take their dog or their goat (see WG0AT’s videos on Youtube)
  • Take a note of your intended summit code. Write it into your portable log at home so you aren’t stuck on a summit asking chasers what the summit code is! (I have done it!)
  • Advise your family where you are going and how to contact you if you are running late. Your family’s cooperation and assistance is vital and could save your life in the event of an accident or injury.

...On the summit

  • Ensure your “final approach to the summit” is by non-motorised means, unless you normally use a motorised wheelchair, which is permitted. Operators who have impaired mobility are encouraged to participate in SOTA.
  • Your station including radio, antenna and power source must be independent of any vehicle. The test for this is to remove the vehicle – it should not affect your ability to operate the radio and make contacts, and should also not affect any shelter you use to operate from.
  • Either SPOT yourself or ask one of your contacts to SPOT you on SOTAWATCH
  • Set up your equipment, work the contacts and enjoy being the dxpedition everyone wants to work
  • Log your contacts – date, time, Mhz, mode, call worked, signal report sent and received, optionally the name and location of the station worked. For s2s contacts log the summit code.
  • Once you have worked 4 different stations (on any mix of bands and modes) you have “qualified” the summit and you have earned your activation points.  You can get those points for each summit once per calendar year.
  • For some summits you can also earn winter bonus points for activating them in the winter months. Some regions have no winter bonus points and some have different winter periods. The bonus applies only to activators. The chasers are at home in a warm shack!

...Back at home

  • Upload your contacts to SOTADATA
  • Plan your next activation and probably consider how you will lighten your back pack but take more food and water

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.

An advantage of registering with SOTAWATCH (separately from SOTADATA) is that your name will be shown on a mouseover when your callsign is shown on SOTAWATCH alerts and spots.

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.

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.

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.

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 follow-up 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.