Pile up

In Central Europe, especially on 40 metres, a considerable pile-up can build during the first minutes of an activation. Five or more people calling at the same time is not uncommon. This can be challenging.

To reduce stress and frustration on both sides, one can learn from the big DX-peditions. This way the pileup can even be fun.

The following suggestions may help the chaser getting in the log more easily:

  • Call in a range of +/- 150 Hz (in case of operating in CW). If all stations are calling zero beat, copying is very hard.
  • Sign your call only once. Then listen! Adapt to the rhythm of the activator. If you are calling constantly, you possibly don’t notice when it’s your turn. This will slow down the process for everyone and cause deliberate QRM to others.
  • Only repeat your call sign if the activator has made a mistake with it. Repeating your call sign without good reason slows down the process for everyone. Moreover, the activator might introduce a mistake with the otherwise correct call sign. In the worst case you could end up being „Not In Log“ 😦
  • If you’re not in a hurry: Listen! It’s fun learning from others. Plus, it won’t take long until the pile-up dries up and you get through on the first call.

The following suggestions may help the activator getting stations into his log more easily.

  • Maintain a moderate, but “in-charge” attitude.
  • Tell the pile-up what’s going to happen (QSY, QRX, QRT, etc.) use moderate CW speed.
  • Do not use excessive speed on CW. Slow down when signals are weak.
  • Sign your call  and reference regularly if not after every QSO.
  • Repeat corrected call signs so everyone is confident of being correctly logged.
  • Work and log dupes, it’s quicker.
  • Maintain a rhythm of regular transmissions – no long silences – and maintain a consistent QSO format.

I’d like to explain the last bullet point as it really is important.

Maintain a rhythm

Let’s assume the pile-up just started to build. Three or four chasers signed their calls and listen for the activator’s reply.
If the activator doesn’t reply immediately, chasers will start calling again. Each chaser in his individual timing. Maybe more chasaers have arrived by that time and join in.
Result: As soon as there’s a gap, somone will start calling. It becomes difficult for the activator to be „in the clear“. His instructions are drowned in the chasers‘ calls. Confusion will inevitably start.

It is therefore important for the activator to maintain a predictable rhythm. Chasers won’t call continuously when they know the activator comes back with a call sign or at least with a partial after a few seconds.

Ideally, the activator has logged a complete call initially. He then calls this station and makes the QSO.
Example: DL1ABC DL1ABC gm ur 579 579 bk

If the activator logged only a partial, he should call it together with a report.
Example: SP9? SP9? ur 559 559 SP9? kn
This way he keeps the rhythm and – at the same time – indicates that he is going to finish this QSO and does not accept any heckling.

Even if the activator only copied a single letter, he can keep his rhythm. It is not advisable to call a single letter, though. A more favourable approach is calling a prefix, which is most likely present in the pileup.
Example: HB9? HB9? ur 599 HB9? kn
Alternatively, he can call a known chaser, who might still be calling. (There are some chasers who are „always“ there)
Finally, the activator can ask for portable stations.
Example: pse /p /p only  /p /p only kn
Maybe this will result in a S2S- QSO. But even if there is no portable station in the pile-up, the frequency will become quieter and the activator can start over again with „QRZ?

Maintain a consistent QSO format

As a SOTA activator you should always asume that your signal is weak at the other end. It may even disappear in QSB or QRM completely during your transmission.
In order to synchronize the chasers, a consistent format of the QSO is very helpful. If the activator is very inconsistent his chasers will be confused.

If I’m not 100% sure that everyone can hear me well, I use the other station’s call sign twice, followed by his report (also twice). If I think he can hear me well, I might add the chaser’s name and the summit reference.
Example: DL1ABC DL1ABC gm (name) ur 579 579 (on DM/BW999 DM/BW999) bk

If the other station replies as expected I use a standard format to complete the QSO.
Example: r 73 (awdh) tu
From time to time I use the phrases awdh, ciao, hej, ahoj, etc. to add a personal note

All hints for the activators are taken from the great website of DX University.
OH2BH, the grand seigneur of DXpeditioning, published them here:
http://www.dxuniversity.com/showpage.php?id=20&title=Best_Practices_for_DXpedition_Operating 10

 

Of course, not all of them apply to a SOTA activation. e.g. split operation is scarcely being used. But it’s still worth reading:

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