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.

2 thoughts on “On the importance of being spotted”

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Interesting posit.

    However if I were more spotted I might be mistaken for a leopard and gunned down.

    Some of my grandest field operation failures have been achieved without spotting. Two SOTA activations and a VHF field day a long time ago. These are my Gallipoli’s. Folly’s perhaps but grand failures with lots of expense and physical effort involved. I may have medals struck.

    Today I had an uncommitted hour and SOTA Finder said Mt Somlo was 8 km away. I made it to the summit in spite of the efforts by my in-car GPS navigator taking me into a bush car park and then fighting my my efforts to go the way I believed was right. I tried FM on 146.500 and was rewarded with a contact with Matt VK1MA/M. Peak bagged. Matt spotted me and your good self put aside your activities and drove to a SOTA peak to give me a S2S. I am most grateful to you both.

    One day I might explain why my mobile phone screen was unreadable and I could not complete my own spot. Fortunately there were no hunters in the vicinity so this time I escaped becoming a trophy.

    73 Ron VK3AFW

  2. Hi Ron,
    sorry for the long delayed response. Not due to round the world propagation though. I just don’t look at the comments section of my blog often enough. I was very pleased to be able to give you an S2S and was just regretful that we didn’t put up more than a few operators for you to make enough contacts. 2m FM simplex is a rarely used thing in Canberra. Stirring up contacts via the repeater normally works a bit better but even that is a hit and miss matter. The best thing is to have the locals advised well in advance and then you can usually be sure of a few contacts. There is some noise near the trig on Stromlo so most of us avoid that area. there is a second hump about 200m north of the trig, separated by a dip of only about 10m or less, so the second hump is a much nicer place to operate from. You get to it by following the gravel road past the trig, bearing left for a bit then right and it takes you up to the hump.
    BTW I noticed that ParksnPeaks offered me Stromlo as a HEMA summit. that seems to mean Allen’s HEMA list has not been updated.

    73 Andrew

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