On the importance of being spotted

Recently the WWFF group in Australia ran a very successful WWFF weekend, encouraging activators to go out into the field and activate parks, nature reserves and other areas with VKFF designators, providing a smorgasbord of park codes for hunters and activators alike.

The success of the weekend was obvious to all, and I managed to make almost 40 contacts with the activators on Sunday alone, without spending all day in the shack.

The situation is that an activator is being called by a series of hunters and also by activators at other parks. To make contact with the activator all you need to do is wait until the current contact is over and the activator asks for new callers, either with an explicit CQ call or by asking if there are other callers, or by using QRZ? then you call the activator and if you were among those s/he heard, you will be making a contact by exchanging signal reports and optionally, names and references (park codes) before long.

Some hunters simply announce their callsigns when they think the previous contact is over, especially if the activator has not stated whether the contact is complete, but that’s not the preferred method – the activator should retain control by announcing what s/he wants to happen next. They may have a lists of previously heard callsigns so that is naturally the sequence to follow.

Managing a “pileup” where there are a lot of callers at approximately equal signal strengths is an art that many activators are very good at. Some sort out the noise by giving initial preference to other park activators, to portable stations, QRP (low power) stations or to those with a specific state prefix in their callsign. By reducing the number of callers it is usually very much easier to identify a caller’s callsign.

The hidden activator problem

In these situations, it can happen that one or more of the callers are themselves activators, and sometimes when I hear these activators respond to others I realise that I have not made a contact with the caller and I haven’t seen a spot for them. So after they complete their contact my question is where will they move to in the band? Will they find a clear frequency and call CQ, will they spot themselves to let callers like me find them?

In the following minutes, I might look around the band to see if they have commenced calling CQ. Often I just don’t find them. They are “the hidden activator”.

So, how to solve that problem? There is nothing the hunter can do to flush out the hidden activators. Hunters rely on the activators calling CQ and preferably spotting themselves on Parksnpeaks.org so hunters know where to find them. This is particularly important if the activator moves to a different band or mode.

Self-spots, where the activator announces their frequency and mode together with their park reference are important for all activators. Otherwise an activator may spend a few hours chasing other activators and never making a CQ call that hunters can use to track them down. if they never self-spot, the activator is hidden and will only be worked by tail-ending a contact. That is not always workable as the frequency is “owned” by another activator at that point. Avoiding treading on toes of others is an important part of good operating procedure here. A minor variation of that is to break in quickly after their contact is completed, asking the unworked activator to move up or down the band for a contact.

So my conclusion is a recommendation to all activators. Please make sure you are spotted at least once during your activation. Otherwise there will be lots of hunters out there wanting to find you, but not knowing where to look. You don’t have to spot yourself, though this is likely to be the most certain method if you have internet access. Without internet access you can ask any of your contacts to post a spot. The majority are very willing and capable of doing that.

This will help you avoiding becoming the “hidden activator”. And your logs will fill much more quickly.

Links: Australian WWFF website

The ParksnPeaks website providing an alerting and spotting service for VK and ZL activities across WWFF, SOTA, Silos on the Air and NZOTA.

The WWFF mailing group on groups.io

The database of logged contacts with WWFF activators.

Amateur radio experiences with VK1DA