This post explores SOTA as an activity that could increase student engagement in a radio club.

What is SOTA

Summits on the Air (SOTA) is an international activity that provides a framework for individuals to get outdoors hiking up summits and making radio contacts from the peak. It brings together trekking (which is shown to have physical and mental health benefits) with actively working radios in a remote field setting. What could be better for a radio enthusiast?!

Participants earn points for trekking up peaks and ‘activating’ them by making radio contacts with others. Those others (who, if they are actively participating in SOTA without the trekking, are called ‘chasers’) also earn points for supporting SOTA. So people of all interest, kit, and ability levels can participate in SOTA.

How would we do it?

Pursuing SOTA points as Activators and Chasers will be an easy and enjoyable activity for radio students and local club boosters. The Activators and Chasers need to be licensed amateur radio operators, but unlicensed operators can participate under the supervision of a licensee. For example, a person without a license could accompany an Activator to a summit and get experience on air by making one or more QSO with the Activator’s call sign.

Valid Activation/Chase expects the following:

  • the Activator reached the summit under their own physical power (e.g., no motorized transit to the peak)
  • the Activator is operating their station under battery power
  • a QSO must be simplex; it may not go through a repeater; and,
  • the Chaser may not also be on the same summit. An Activator of one summit may claim Chaser points for a QSO with someone who is Activating a different summit. A Chaser may only get one point per day per summit.

A QSO must include an exchange of call signs between the Activator and Chaser, reports of signal quality, and the reference number of the SOTA summit.

Activators and Chasers must keep a log of their QSOs and be reported to the SOTA database online.

At the most basic, an Activator with a dual band HT can activate the peak on the 70cm and 2m National Simplex Calling Frequencies of 446.000 MHz and 146.520 MHz, respectively. A QSO can be exchanged at that frequency, but any more conversation should move to another frequency to keep the frequency open.

Here’s the procedure I imagine the club can employ to involve many people in a SOTA effort.

  1. An individual declares to the club they intend to mount an Expedition to a SOTA peak by sending an email to the club with a peak ETA (date and time) and the methods they will use to activate the peak.
  2. Club members will reply to the email with an acknowledgement of whether they will be able to act as a Chaser to help them complete a QSO. (To activate a peak, an individual needs four QSOs.)
  3. The Activator will also post their intentions to activate a summit to so others in the SOTA community will know about their plans. (According to these instructions, it appears that this kind of notification can also be made by SMS message.)
  4. During the day of an Expedition, and if the target summit is close enough to campus, we could open the radio room to monitor for Activations and invite students (with and without licenses) to get on the air with an Activator, providing a QSO for each licensee present.

It might also be interesting to establish an SMS text ‘group chat’ with individuals who are open to support and Expedition as a Chaser. The Activator could text the list when they are getting close to the summit and before they are out of cell service.

Tracking Points

In the radio room, we could post a map with SOTA summits and a listing of Chaser and Activator points that club members have accumulated.

Inviting non-hams on Expeditions or to the radio room on expedition days would be a good outreach activity.

At the end of a school year, we could have a club picnic that would include celebrating those who have earned SOTA points.