Once you get into Amateur radio and you start looking around, you will come across the terms SOTA (Summits On The Air) and POTA (Parks On The Air) and to a slightly lesser degree, WWFF (World Wide Flora & Fauna).
The SOTA, POTA and WWFF are amateur radio awards programmes, not a contest. The aim of these Awards programmes are to get operators outdoors, by hiking to a Summit, or driving and hiking to a park in the case of the POTA & WWFF awards.
There are probably other programmes that I have not come across, but generally all of them operate in a similar way which is
- Programme Name (SOTA / POTA / WWFF / etc)
- A co-ordinator for the program in your country
- An Active Web site allowing you to add your spot and/or scheduled activations
- A clearly defined set of rules
- An awards system, goals and how to achieve them.
- They will also have map system showing the summits or parks or feature locations that can be activated
Just for interest, after writing feature locations, I thought it would be nice to provide an example, and immediately thought lighthouses would be ideal as activation spots, so I looked up Lighthouse on the Air which immediately brought up World Lighthouse on the Air. A bit of an unusual Award Program and you won’t find the site up to the same spec as the others, and you may find the rules are very different, including needing to visit some Lighthouses as part of an expedition, but this was just one example.
As I previously mentioned, they are to get you out of your shack, out in the fresh air, learning new skills (erecting Antenna’s in trees), powering your rig from Batteries and Solar. In a small way it is introducing Ham Radio to others, even to Bush walkers that are looking to find a purpose to go bushwalking
SOTA has been running since 2002 is well known and well attended world wide. Each country has it’s own Association which defines the summits and the points allocated to them depending on the height of the summit, and points can also vary depending on the time of year (e.g. Winter etc.).
You can see more at this site https://www.sota.org.uk/
There are activators (the operators that climb the mountain) as well as chasers (the ones that stay at home that respond to the activators. There are awards for the chasers as well. And you also have Summit to Summit awards (two operators on separate summits making contact with each other.
You will find the SOTA activities are well coordinated, with Websites showing current activations (so chasers can jump on board). You also have clubs using their resources (Forums / Mail lists / Emails) to announce that their local members are doing activations with rough times and bands. This is necessary as some of those summits can be a several hour climb and in some cases, a day or two, and the last thing you want to do is get to the summit, and find that no one is online and no one knows you are up there.
Like the contests, take it step by step, and listen as a chaser for a while. Understand the coordination between your local club and hams and by looking the SOTA Website including https://sotawatch.sota.org.uk/en/ which lists Spots (actual contacts) and Alerts (posts by activators and expected times that they will be on the summit as well as bands and modes). You can also read the posts on the SOTA reflector whcih will teach you the more you read the posts. One of the best things you can do is do a SOTA with a fellow ham that has done them before and learn everything you can.
Besides getting you outdoors (the activators), you learn to keep your pack lean, taking the minimum equipment possible, building portable antennas, and taking only the absolute essentials. You learn to test everything at home (or local park), as the last thing you need after a 2-3 hour hike up a hill is to find you forgot your coax for the antenna connection.
Just be aware, to do SOTA correctly, you are probably going to need a good quality GPS. There are apps for phones which are quite good, but the main things that will impact you are the delicate nature of mobile phones (especially when you drop it on that rock), the battery life of phones (especially when it is searching for towers), and also the moisture and rain.
If you do decide to use your phone, then spend a little money on an external battery pack and whatever app you use, make sure you download your maps of interest (the summit) before you leave as in most cases you may not necessarily have internet access.
I fully recommend you look at the sites governing the award to the exact rules as there are a number of rules as the operating position and distance from the summit, the number of contacts for an activation and the number of contacts for the points, how you power your equipment, time between activations of same summit, and seasonal activation of summits. You will note that I have no specifics listed, you need to read the rules yourself. There would be nothing worse that climbing a once in a lifetime summit only to find someone’s interpretation of the rule was wrong.
A link to the rules is on this page https://www.sota.org.uk/Joining-In/General-Rules
This is probably bigger in the U.S. than it is in Australia. It does exist here, but there is a lot more promotion of the WWFF (World Wide Flora & Fauna) here in Australia. A good example of this is performing a google search of “parks on the air pota australia” and whilst it will bring up a few posts, most of it is related to the U.S.
As a test, I selected 5 parks (accessible by at least 200 opeators within a 10 minute car trip and checked the activation status on each of them on the POTA website. All five have never been activated via the POTA System.
However if I check the activations for the same parks on the WWFF, one of the more enjoyable parks is showing 14 activations, 221 total QSO’s, 131 unique QSO’s
So that gives you an idea (at least in my area) of the level of POTA participation
However it does have a co-ordinator here in Australia, Designated Parks in Australia have been given point scores and a few Youtubers in Australia are pushing POTA.
Like SOTA, there are Activators (the ones at the Park) and Hunters (the ones at home), but the big difference is that you need 10 Contacts to activate a Park
WWFF – World Wide Flora & Fauna
This one appears to be the primary “Parks” awards program in Australia.
The rules of the WWFF are very similar to POTA rules such as 10 Contacts to Activate a park, but you need to read the rules which you can find at https://www.wwffaustralia.com/uploads/1/3/9/8/13982788/vkff_rules_version_0.7_.pdf
Like the POTA program, it has Activators, Hunters and SWL’s.
Again awards are given based on log evidence, with the operator applying for the Award. Like most it is an award you download and print, but for a fee you can have it printed by the VK WWFF coordinator.
Which one do I take part in?
Hands down, SOTA has a much larger international presence and “prestige”, mainly as it is a fair bit of work to climb these summits, but there are also some that you can drive up and walk a few metres for those that are challenged.
The SOTA Web site is far more rounded, but it is understood that SOTA has been running since 2002, POTA since 2010, and WWFF, my understanding was 2010/11.
However this is not who is better, who has been running the longest. They are all run by Volunteers in most cases with the sole aim of getting Amateur Radio outdoors, getting us to recognise what we have in natural beauty in our own countries, and how much we need to protect it.
The main thing to point out is have a look around, see what suits you best, understand whether others follow, but the main thing is enjoy!