Summits on the Air (SOTA) is an award scheme which encourages hilltop portable amateur radio operation. But the award scheme is not just for mountaineers, anyone can be involved. There are awards for activators who ascend the summits and also for chasers who can score points by contacting the summits.

Summits score points from 1 to 10, depending on the height above sea level. Awards for 100, 250, 500 and 1000 points are available. At 1000 points Activators achieve “Mountain Goat” status and Chasers/SWLs are “Shack Sloths”.

For activators the rules are simple. The entire radio station must be carried up to the summit. This includes antennas and power supply. And while on the summit the station must not be connected to a vehicle, building, generator or external power supply. But this is not necessarily a pastime for the fit and energetic. The rules state that the top 25 vertical metres of a summit is the activation zone and entry to the activation zone must not be by motorised transport. So those of us who are not as athletic as we would wish can find a summit with vehicle access close to the activation zone, drive some of the way and walk the final part.

SOTA was started in the United Kingdom in 2002. Since then many other countries have joined the scheme. In Australia each state is run as a separate association. A group of volunteers have surveyed the summits and listed all those which qualify. A summit (or group of summits) must be at least 300 metres above sea level and have 150 metres prominence from the surrounding landscape. There are around 1100 qualifying summits in VK2 alone.

VK3 was first to “go live” and join the award scheme. Followed by VK5, VK1 and VK9. VK2 and south VK4 became part of SOTA on 1st September 2013. VK7, VK8 and VK6 are part way through being surveyed and will join the award scheme in due course.

Since Australia became active in SOTA there have been summits on air most weekends. Listen on and around 7090KHz. Most activators are using 40m band although other bands are regularly used. Especially 30m, 20m and 2m. To become a chaser and score points is very easy. You don’t even have to send in logs or QSL cards, it’s all done on the internet. When you work a summit, log the contact in the usual way but make sure you get the summit reference number. This is in a state/region-number format. E.g. VK2/NR-009. VK2 for New South Wales (obviously), NR for Northern Rivers and 009 is the number for Jerusalem Mountain.

A full list of all qualifying summits worldwide can be found on the excellent SOTA website at To find our local summits, click on Database, Summits, List of all Summits. Select VK2 association and NR region. You’ll see Scott VK2AETs email address on there as he is Northern Rivers regional manager. So if you have any questions about specific summits, ask Scott.

To start scoring chaser points you must start an online log. First go to the website and click on Logon so you can register in the usual website manner. Then click on Database, Submit log, Submit chaser entry. You can then enter the contact details. Remember times are in UTC. The website will then compare activators logs to chasers logs and automatically confirms the contact and awards the points. Go to View Results, My Results, My Chaser Log to view your log. The online log is so good it’s worth being a summit chaser just to be able to use it.

There is a lot of advice on the website about activating summits. You can make it as hard or as easy as you want. Find a local qualifying hill and take a 2m band hand held is enough to be an activator. But contacts must be simplex, repeaters are not allowed. You need to make at least 4 contacts to claim the points. And you can only claim points for each summit once a year, although there is nothing stopping you activating that summit many times to give away a few chaser points. An anomaly that benefits us is that a day’s activation starts at 0000z so a chaser can work you before and after 0000z and score double points. This is an advantage to living in Australia that those in Europe and USA don’t get.

So if you hear anyone calling CQ SOTA from a summit and not getting an answer, reply to them, you may be the fourth contact they need to claim the points.

sota_rigSOTA with Elecraft K2 transceiver

Not surprisingly the ubiquitous FT817 has become the activators choice, but there are many low power portable transceivers to choose from. A popular item is the collapsible squid pole used as a walking stick/antenna support. The squid pole has now become such an established part of amateur radio it’s hard to imagine it ever had anything to do with squid.  Remember water, map, compass and clothing for unexpected weather. Safety comes first, even before amateur radio.

The great thing about SOTA is that anyone can join in at any level whether you are a mountaineer, a Sunday afternoon walker or an armchair chaser. It’s not a contest. The points you earn show your achievement. SOTA encourages healthy outdoor activity, technical ingenuity and communication with other active radio hams. Give it a try. The more the merrier.

SOTA website

Aussie SOTA mailing list

This page written by Jack Cook VK2AXL