SOTA Summits On The Air Ham Radio Award

Summits On The Air, SOTA is a ham radio operating award that combines activities of hiking with amateur radio and enables both activators & chasers to gain awards.

Ham radio operating awards includes:
Introduction to ham radio operating awards     DXCC - DX Century Club     WAC, Worked All Continents     WAS, Worked All States     IOTA - Islands On The Air     SOTA - Summits On The Air    

Summits On The Air award, SOTA, is an innovative award that encourages activities like hiking and enjoyment of the outdoors and combines them with amateur radio.

However the award is not just for those who enjoy hiking, as the award has categories for activators who travel to the summits as well as chasers who seek to contact stations on the summits.

In this way the award is all-encompassing, enabling anyone interested in amateur radio to participate whether hiker, climber, home based operator, short wave listener or whoever.

One of the key elements of SOTA is that people are able to work towards awards, but also engage in the activities for fun.

SOTA was inaugurated in March 2002 by John Linford, G3WGV and it has been going strong ever since.

SOTA basics

The SOTA award has been designed both for people known as "Activators", i.e. those who ascend to the summits, and for those known as "Chasers", i.e. those who either operate from their home station, a local hilltop or are even Activators on other summits.

The award is open to all modes and all bands and therefore it is ideal for both HF and VHF / UHF enthusiasts where newly licensed or old hand.

The ethos of the award is that ascents to summits should be, as the award brochures put it, human power and therefore the use of motorised vehicles to drive to the summit is not allowed.

To start to become involved in working towards an award, it is necessary to visit the SOTAwatch website to see what is happening, and then to log suitable contacts and activations, etc, it is necessary to register an account, on the SOTA website.

Each summit is assigned a number of points between 1 and 10. In some countries a seasonal bonus of 3 points per summit helps the score along.

Details of summits are contained on the SOTA database and given a reference number. This makes it easy to refer to summits that have previously been ascended. Also with contact details held within the database, it is easy to match contacts with the SOTA points claimed.

For a summit activation, a minimum of four contacts must be made. This is quite easy for some summits because the height and take-off will be particularly good, but for other more remote sites, this can present a challenge.

Contacts for SOTA can be summit to a home station, or even more within the spirit of SOTA they can be summit to summit.

Certificates & awards

There is a host of certificates that can be gained by participating in the SOTA scheme.

certificates are available to both Activators and Chasers for gaining 100, 250, 500, and 1000 points.

The certificates themselves are printed in colours and personally signed by a member of the SOTA Management Team. In addition to this, each certificate is numbered and printed with callsign or SWL number of the applicant.

It is also possible for endorsements like "All CW" or "VHF" to be added on request. With CW being a major element of many SOTA activities, this can add an additional element to the challenge and hence to the award.

It is also stated that for the keenest of SOTA enthusiasts, additional certificates are available for 2 500, 5 000, and even 10 000 or possibly higher numbers of points.

In addition to the certificates, trophies are available for those with over 1000 points. Activators can receive a "Mountain Goat" award, while chasers and SWLs can receive the "Shack Sloth."

Trophies are engraved with the callsign of the recipient along with the year in which it was gained. Endorsements like "All CW" or "VHF" can also be engraved for a small additional charge - the charge is necessary to cover the additional engraving.

Radio equipment for Activators

With SOTA activists needing to hike and carry all their equipment with them, portability and light weight are the key parameters, along with the obvious requirements of god performance.

As the equipment needs to be carried, power is obviously a constraint, and as a result, much of the operation involves low power equipment.

There are many options from which to choose to provide the required combination of portability and performance.

  • VHF / UHF equipment:   VHF UHF operation ties in with SOTA very well because the equipment and antennas are often much smaller than those for HF:

    • VHF UHF handheld transceivers:   There is a huge variety of VHF UHF handheld transceivers which are ideal for SOTA operation - sometimes the small antennas provided with the HT can be used. They also have a reasonable battery life for the batteries that come as part of the HT. It is also possible to use a small vertical as well as these do not take up too much space and might give a better level of performance. Alternatively a vertical dipole or even a vertical beam could be used.

    • VHF UHF SSB:   It is also possible to use VHF UHF SSB, although activity is a little less except on contest weekends. With a horizontal dipole or beam, a good number of contacts should be able to be made, even when there is no contest weekend.

    • VHF UHF antennas:   When using a VHF UHF handheld, the antenna on top of the walkie talkie can be used in many instances. However for FM, SSB or CW it is also possible to use a beam, remembering to keep it horizontal for SSB and CW and vertical for FM. A number of small portable beams for SOTA activity are available from various suppliers.

  • HF operation:   SOTA activity is present on many of the HF bands and although HF may not seem like an easy way of activating summits when all the equipment has to be carried there, a little care and thought enables a good station to be very light weight. SSB is widely used, but CW is particularly popular because of the simplicity of the equipment.

    • HF transceivers   There is a variety of the portable equipment available including HF SSB/CW transceivers provide an ideal option being compact and able to deliver around 5 - 10 watts.

    • HF Antennas   HF antenna are a little more cumbersome, but a lightweight dipole could easily be carried and mounted between suitable trees, etc. or a lightweight support could be carried. If wire antennas are used, then it is necessary to ensure any by-passers cannot become entangled or be subject to RF fields.

  • Power supplies:   One of the challenges with SOTA operation is that large batteries are not suitable for being carried up mountains and hills. Fortunately modern lithium ion batteries are able to provide enough power for a reasonable level of operation.

There is a good level of equipment available these days for SOTA operation - lightweight transceivers, lightweight antennas, compact batteries and the like.

Walking and climbing gear

When setting out to scale a summit, it is necessary to be prepared with the right type of gear. Good quality equipment should always be used, making sure to have the right gear whatever the weather may be.

Summits not only see a fall in temperature when compared to start out points, but the weather can change, and being higher they can be subject to more extremes.

Guidelines for activating summits

The SOTA organisation has a variety of guidelines for Activators which cover everything from the gear required, to safety requirements, gaining permission to operate when it is needed, observing radio quiet areas and several others.

When activating a summit, it is necessary to ensure that it is safe and legal to do so, and in addition to this, that it does not interfere with the enjoyment of others, as well as not interfering with the environmental aspects of the area. Some people will not want what they may consider to be unsightly antennas spoiling views, or wires interfering with wildlife and so forth. Care must be taken to avoid any undue detriment to the environment and the enjoyment of others.

In addition to this SOTA is a passtime, and care must be taken not to become too enthusiastic and take risks. Due precautions should be taken when considering weather, preparedness for ascending to the summit and so forth. Again, these are covered on the SOTA website.

It is also necessary to take all due care when hiking and climbing - safety is of paramount importance.

Summits On The Air is a growing award, and indeed more than just an award, it has almost become a passtime in its own right. Combining a love of amateur radio and technology with walking, hiking, or even mountaineering, it provides an ideal way of getting out and about and staying fit and healthy with technology.

SOTA has a great following, and there is a growing SOTA community on the web as well as within general radio circles.

Read more about . . . . SOTA, Summits On The Air Award.

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