Don’t become a ‘black hole’

This morning, I received an SMS message from John VK5BJE advising me that he was on air in the Little Desert National Park.  So in the throws of making my coffee, I headed to the radio shack and there was John on 7.095 with a great 5/9 signal from western Victoria.

John was keen to get as many contacts as possible for the World Wide Flora Fauna (WWFF) program, so I set about trying to alert as many other amateurs as I could to John’s presence on the band.  I kept listening, and it was really pleasing to hear John end up with a large pile up, with many of the stations I had alerted either via SMS, email, etc, giving him a call.

I have mentioned it before here on my WordPress site,

and during various presentations I’ve delivered, but I thought I would mention this again.

PLEASE, don’t become a black hole, and keep the contact to yourself.

Remember, that many of the National Park activators are seeking the required 44 QSOs for the WWFF global award program.  So the more calls they get, the better.

There are currently no phone apps similar to SOTA Goat or Rucksack radio, for park activations.  So park activators are relying on the goodwill of park hunters to let other amateurs know that they are in a park.

So, what can you do to let others know that a park activator is on a particular frequency?  The answer is quite a bit.

SMS message.

Consider setting up an SMS group on your mobile telephone.  A few amateurs are doing this, and it works extremely well.  If you work a park activator, send an SMS to your group, advising your mates of your contact, so that they too, can hopefully make contact with the park activator.

DX cluster

A DX Cluster is in essence a “chatroom” or node into which amateur DX hunters can post information about DX either worked or heard.  Physically, it is a central computer that collects, stores and disseminates information that hams send to it.  There are thousands of nodes around the world, connected together via the internet or radio.

Personally, I use…..

Screenshot 2014-12-21 10.48.46

Here is a link to the recent presentation given by Brian VK5BC at the Welcome to amateur radio symposium…..


The parksnpeaks site is a terrific spotting and alert facility created by Allen VK3HRA.  The parksnpeaks site is FREE to join.  Just simply register a new account.



The parksnpeaks site has some excellent features.  It can be used to add VK activity including QRP operation, National Parks, Conservation Parks, or portable operation in general, whilst SOTA spots are added directly via SOTAWatch.

The parksnpeaks site offers:-

  • ‘spotting’ facilities


  • ‘alert’ facilities.

‘Spotting’ is where you can add details of stations you have worked or heard.  This allows you to share information with other amateurs.

‘Alerting’ is where you can add details of your proposed activations, so people can see what your future plans are.


Send an email to your mates.  Creating an email group is easy.

If you are using Gmail…..

  1. To create a contact group:
    1. Click Gmail at the top-left corner of your Gmail page, then choose Contacts.
    2. Select contacts that you want to add to a group, click the Groups button. , then Create new.
    3. Enter the name of the group.
    4. Click OK.

If you use another email platform, there are plenty of tips on the internet regarding creating groups.

Yahoo groups

Place a post on the World Wide Flora Fauna or VK5 Parks Yahoo groups.

Screenshot 2014-12-21 10.53.47

2m repeater

Send a message out to other amateurs on your local repeater.  I know that many of the amateurs in the South East of South Australia, are doing this, and it works well.

WWFF Forum

The World Wide Flora & Fauna program (WWFF) does not have a spotting & alert facility like SOTAwatch.  But Activators are encouraged to place their intended activations on the WWFF Forum.  A huge number of European amateurs read the Forum and will be able to see your intentions.


So, as you can see there is a lot you can do.  So please, after working a park activator, don’t just sit back and do nothing.  Consider sharing your contact with other like minded amateurs.  You are not only benefiting the other park hunters, but also the activator themselves.

How to attract Chasers and Hunters

I was recently asked by an amateur who has been bitten by the ‘portable bug’ as to how they could ‘spot’ themselves for parks activity & thus attract callers.  And listening on air in the past couple of days, it has been evident that it has been a little bit of a struggle during a weekday for some ops to pick up the required number of 10 QSO’s for the WorldWide Flora Fauna (WWFF) program.  I know that in the past there have been a few unsuccessful SOTA & Parks activations here in VK5.  Not many, but enough to perhaps discourage activators.

So I thought I would point out the various websites & spotting / alert facilities which should help you in filling up your logbook.  And I’ve also included a few tips I’ve found when operating QRP from a summit or a park myself.

I would welcome all of the other regular SOTA & Parks Activators / Chasers / Hunters to comment with their own tips & suggestions.

If you are a SOTA Chaser, or Parks Hunter, please do your best to advertise that the Activator is out there.  Don’t just work them and leave it at that.  If they are not already on there, place them on SOTAwatch, parksnpeaks, etc.  Your contribution as a Chaser / Hunter may help the Activator qualify a SOTA peak or a WWFF Park.  It may also help another keen Summit or Parks Chaser / Hunter, to add another summit / park under their belt.


Summits on  the Air…..

The first point of call for SOTA is SOTAwatch2 of course.  Here you can view the ‘Latest Spots’ and ‘Upcoming Activations’.

As a Chaser, you can ‘spot’ an Activator.  Many keen SOTA Chasers keep a watchful eye on the SOTAwatch2 site.  And even if they are not near their computer, and viewing SOTAwatch, the introduction of various phone apps such as SOTAGoat and Rucksack radio will alert the keen Chaser to the ‘spot’.

     590206108x356     Rucksack_Radio_Tool_Summits

And of course you can post an intended activation as an activator.  For the vast majority of activators, SOTAWatch is used to very good effect.  Some activators find that adding an alert for a planned summit, places pressure on them regarding arrival time on the top of the summit.  But nowadays the vast majority of SOTA Chasers are well aware of the various anomalies that come in to play when reaching a summit on time.

There is also the SOTAwatch 2 reflector.

The SOTAwatch Reflector is an extension of the SOTAwatch facility.  Recently the SOTAwatch reflector has been put to very good use when advertising planned activations involving Europe – Australia contacts.

And there is the SOTA Australia Yahoo Group.

Many SOTA activators place their intended activations onto this site which has numerous members all around Australia.  If you place your intentions here, it is exposing your intended activation to a wider audience.

And why not also try the DX cluster.  Remember the ‘DX Code of Conduct’.  It is impolite to self spot (spot your own call sign) unless you are desperately trying to drum up activity on an open but quiet band.  But as a SOTA Chaser, why not spot the Activator you just worked, on the DX Cluster.  The bigger the audience the better !


VK5 National & Conservation Parks Award…..

With the VK5 National & Conservation Parks Award there are a number of different options open to you to ‘advertise’ your intended activation.  Sadly, at this time, there are no phone apps to alert you of activators being on a particular frequency in a South Australian National or Conservation park.  But this is being worked on.  To help you achieve success and lots of QSO’s in the log, try adding your intentions to the following sources.

There is the SANPCPA Yahoo Group.  This has members from all across Australia, and Activators are encouraged to place their intended activation/s on the Yahoo Group as a message.  Hunters have also placed messages on the group, announcing that they have just worked an Activator.  This is welcomed.

Allen VK3HRA has developed a magnificent site called parksnpeaks.  On the parksnpeaks site you can view VK Spots and VK Alerts.  Registration to the site is free.  You can add either a Spot (new VK Spot – Current Activity) or An Alert (new VK Alert – Proposed Activity) for a VK5 Park, QRP operation, Keith Roget Memorial National Parks Award (KRMNPA), VK WWFF.  For a SOTA spot/alert it is recommended that SOAwatch be used.


As mentioned above, consider using the DX Cluster.  If you hear an Activator out in a park, help him/her fill up their logbook, and place a spot on the DX cluster, so everyone around the world can see.

Why not consider setting up an SMS group on your mobile telephone.  I do this and use to to great effect.  It contains a list of amateurs I know that are keen Parks Hunters, who receive an SMS message each time I work a parks activator.


Try sending out an e-mail to your mates in the local radio club or other interested amateurs to notify them of your intended activation.

Use the local repeater to your advantage.  Although repeater contacts are not allowed for SOTA, VK5 Parks Award, WWFF, etc, there is nothing stopping you jumping on the local repeater before an activation, and advising people that you are sitting in a park and looking for contacts.

WorldWide Flora & Fauna…..

The World Wide Flora & Fauna program (WWFF) does not have a spotting & alert facility like SOTAwatch.  But Activators are encouraged to place their intended activations on the WWFF Forum.

The Australian (VKFF) branch of WWFF has a Yahoo Group.  Australian activators are encouraged to place any intended activations on the Yahoo Group.

Another option is the WWFF Facebook site.

And you can also follow WWFF on Twitter.


As mentioned above, the parksnpeaks site has a facility to either spot or alert.  It is a great tool, so please use it.

And as mentioned above, consider utilising the vast audience at the DX cluster.

Some general portable operation / QRP tips…..

Below are just a few general tips to help you fill up your logbook.  It is by no means an exhaustive list.  But it contains a few things that I have found through trial & error.

The secret is in the antenna

We have all heard this, but it is true.  It has been said that antennas compose one third of your QRP station.  The other two thirds are your operating equipment and your operating skills.

Try different bands 

Propagation is not always kind on 40m for the longer hauls around VK, and certainly for DX if you are running QRP.  So if possible, try operating on a selection of bands.  This may not always be possible I know, due to restrictions with licences, and lack of appropriate antennas.  But the give the people further afield the chance to get in the action as well.  The vast majority of portable activity here in Australia seems to be on 40m SSB, which often excludes the guys & girls in Western Australia (VK6).

Place your intentions on as many forums as possible

The more people who know you are out there the better.  So post your intentions on as many forums as possible.

Consider the time of day / know when bands are open

Who is your targeted audience ?  There is no point going out at midday if you want to work Europeans on 20m long path.  So try to time your activations for those who you would like to get in the log.

Look at the solar figures / propagation conditions

Propagation conditions are extremely important with any QRP operation.  If the solar figures are lousy, then maybe consider putting off an activation until another day.

Operating skills / practice

This is just a suggested practice I try to adopt.  If you do call for DX, you might be surprised who comes back to you.

–  call for any SOTA/parks activators
–  call for QRP stations
–  call for portable or mobile stations
–  call for any DX
–  call for stations who can hear you, but with difficulty (there is nothing worse as a Chaser/Hunter listening to an activator who is weak, but then disappears down below the noise floor due to a change in the band.)
–  call for anybody else (now the fun starts).