Ham Radio

VHF Hilltopping

If you like the idea of being the DX for a change, then operate your ham radio on hilltops.

This page is my collection of notes about VHF 2-meter roving and hilltopping.

Weak signal operating refers to long distance communications that requires an unusual combination of luck, skill, and equipment on the VHF and up amateur frequencies. When everything clicks, it is possible to span distances in excess of 400 miles on all bands up to 10GHz.

This is not "low power" operating. You'll want to use the most transmitting power and high-gain antennas you can afford in order to achieve greater distance.

Nearly all weak signal operators participate in scheduled nets and contests, exchanging locations via grid squares.

Operating Procedures for Hilltopping

Scanning: The 2-meter SSB band is not actively scanned for people calling CQ. You will find it is not generally rewarding to call CQ except during contests.

Announcing: Announce your trip a week ahead, then again the day before. Include relevent details such as date, time, location, grid square, frequency and antenna-pointing direction. I'm in the Pacific Northwest, so I would post on the PNWVHFS email reflector.

SSB National Calling: Leave your SSB rig on 144.200 MHz. Move to 144.220 or 144.240 for ragchewing.

FM National Calling: Leave your FM simplex on 146.520 MHz. Move to 146.540 or 146.560 for ragchewing.

Join a net: Find and participate in your local 2-meter weak-signal nets. This will give you practice setting up and testing your equipment on a regular basis. If you want to be over-achiever, check into your net from a hilltop.

Elmer: Invite a newcomer (like me!) to join you on your next hilltopping trip.

Know your grid: Keep track of where you are and the altitude. Know your Maindenhead grid squares. Some APRS devices display your grid as you drive, such as the Kenwood TM-D710. This makes it easy to find grid line crossings.

Bring camera: Take a photo of your GPS at good locations, along with a few snaps out the window, for a quick and easy record.

Grid tools:

Signboard: Post a sign in your car window for passersby. "Amateur Radio Emergency Communications"

Log: Prepare a log sheet in the format needed for the contest.

Rover Strategy

Tips provided at the 2009 HamCon Rocky Mountain Division Convention, 30 May 2009.

  • Start at grid convergence or grid boundary near populated area
    • this lets people know you are on and gets their attention
    • gives them two quick multipliers
  • Keep moving and keep operating
    • more grids are more multipliers
    • maximize operating time while maximizing the number of grids you go to
  • Be loud on two
    • Use a beam and amp
  • Publicize where you are going and when
    • Make it easy for people to track you
    • Give general plans a week before; give itinerary a day before
  • Identify yourself on the air
    • Always sign "/R"
    • Always use phonetics
    • Always give grid when you call CQ
  • Have CW available

Tips for Fixed Stations to Work Rovers

  • Know who is going out, where they are going and when they will be in what grid
  • Keep track of the rover's progress and location during the contest
  • Swing the beam
  • Ask if they have additional bands
  • Ask where they are going next
  • Listen for the weak ones
  • Have CW available
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