Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Snipe on a Tower

There is a limited ability to achieving mechanical leverage when you are working on a tower. You can only "push" against the tower, directly or via your positioning lanyards. As I like to say: an ordinary task on a tower is three times as difficult as it is on the ground.

A good example is one I wrote about several months ago: adjusting the direction of a large yagi. I had to rig my positioning gear to maximize how far I could lean out from the tower to plant my legs and pull on the boom or driven element to overcome the antenna's inertia. Then I had to do it again to stop the rotation. There's a lot of angular momentum in a 300 lb antenna with a 46' boom and 65' long elements!

There are many other examples in tower work. The most common is tightening and loosening the bolts that hold a tower together. On large towers those bolts have a wide diameter and high tensile strength. The required torque can be difficult to achieve on the ground, let alone at the top of the tower you're erecting or taking down.

The bolts in the above picture are examples of what I've dealt with recently. On the left is a ½" grade 8 bolt used to join the horizontal flanges of mated tower section (see the picture below right). Unlike the typical round or V-shaped tower legs familiar to hams, you'll find that many commercial towers are built this way. They're far easier to work with when the tower sections are long, wide and very heavy. On the right is a galvanized ⅝" A325 bolt that is designed for the high shear forces found in V- or L-shaped tower legs.

The specified torque for these bolts is high. Achieving a torque of 100 ft-lb or more is no easy feat when you're on a tower. It can take even more force to loosen fasteners that have corroded or attracted dirt over the years. On the left bolt you can see what was lurking under the nuts.

For the tower I was taking down, those ½" grade 8 bolts had been properly torqued when it was erected years ago. Each section joint has 6 bolts, with two per flange on 3 legs, and there were 5 of these 11' sections. 

Pulling hard on my long ¾" wrench wasn't good enough to loosen the nuts. The nuts either didn't budge or, in a few cases, the bolt and nut moved in unison. I needed more torque.

Since it took longer than expected to remove the antennas and cables, tower removal was deferred to a later date. That gave me time to fashion a solution. In essence, I needed a longer lever arm to increase the torque at the wrench head. 

There are "breaker bars" made for this very purpose but they're heavy and expensive, and if you're a typical ham you probably won't get much use out of it. Also, they usually take sockets and that can make it difficult to firmly hold the nut because you apply force to the tool arm that is necessarily offset from the work surface by up to 2".

The traditional way it's done is to slip a steel pipe over the wrench and use that for added leverage. It's simple, easy and works well when the wrench is forged steel and designed to take the abuse. My ¾" offset box wrench is very robust (40 years of reliable service!). However, it is extremely awkward to manipulate a large pipe slipped over it when perched on a tower. You'll inevitably drop the wrench, pipe or both. Ask me how I know!

A common name for a pipe used in this way is a snipe. It's a term that seems to vary by country and industry, so you may know it by a different name. I'll stick with the term I know.

Note about safety. Careless use of a snipe can destroy the fastener or the tool. If you find that you're applying far more torque than the job should require, stop immediately. The problem may not be simply the lack of torque. Inspect the fastener for signs of rust, debris, metal distortion and other anomalies. Shearing a tower bolt, if it's the last one holding the sections together, invites disaster. The shrapnel from a shattered wrench or snipe can easily injure you and the debris can strike those on the ground. Hardhats and eye protection are recommended.
When we returned several days later to take down the tower I brought along the snipe I purposely built for the job. I keep a lot of scrap material around for reasons just like this. Here's what I whipped together after 30 minutes in my workshop.

The wrench has two box ends. The 25/32" end is inside the pipe and held in place by a ⅜" grade 5 bolt. The wrench cannot slip out of the pipe. To keep the weight low I used a short length of thin wall 1.5" diameter pipe. It looks like it was once part of a mast for a TV antenna. There's a PVC coupler jammed into one end that I remember once trying and failing to remove. So I drilled a hole through it and tied on a short length of rope. On the other end of the rope is a large spring-loaded carabiner. A length of stranded wire is less flexible but you may find it more reliable than rope. Don't use solid wire since it can fatigue and break.

Because the pipe wall is thin, the edge of the wrench can bend and perhaps break the pipe under high torque. A rusty muffler clamp strengthens this high stress point. The snipe is far lighter than one made from a thick wall pipe. The carabiner clips to a ring on my climbing gear or onto a tower strut. You would have to be exceptionally clumsy to drop this tool.

Notice that the total length is only about twice that of the wrench along. As a general rule, use the shortest snipe that accomplishes what's required. There's less risk of accidents due to application of excess force. With the tool as constructed you can likely achieve more than twice the torque of the wrench alone because the round pipe is more comfortable in the hand than the wrench narrow side profile. Breaker bars are round but are comparatively thin.

The purpose of the snipe is to "crack" the nut, not to remove it. For properly torqued bolts of this size and quality there is a satisfying crack when the nut first moves. You can probably set the snipe aside at that point and use ordinary and less awkward wrenches. 

If the bolt turns, have your tower partner put a wrench on the bolt head to hold it. You typically need less torque to hold the bolt head than to turn the nut due to friction between the tower steel and the bolt head. The snipe should always be applied to the nut, not the bolt head. We passed the snipe back and forth depending on which of us was best positioned to crack each nut.

When all the nuts are cracked, proceed with fastener removal and lowering the tower section. The snipe was clipped onto the lower section while we did this. Pick a place that won't interfere with the delicate job of shifting and lowering the tower section with the gin pole.

This little snipe worked so well that after removing the carabiner and wrench I kept it intact. I don't know when or if I'll use it again but I'd like to have it ready just in case.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Preparing for Fall Antenna Work

This is what I call transition season. The 6 meter sporadic E season is effectively over and the fall tower and antenna season is a few weeks away. I have little appetite for summer contests and there are few DXpeditions at the moment. This is the perfect time to go QRT, tear the shack apart and get organized for tower work and the fall/winter contest season.

Beginning late in July, I gradually disassembled the shack until there was nothing left. First I removed the second operating position, then the SO2R gear the remaining amplifier and other peripheral equipment. Soon the desk was empty and even that was disassembled. You can see that nothing was left.

This is temporary. If all goes well I'll be active again within days. I wasn't happy with the shack desk that I built last year so I am rebuilding it. The new one should be ready to install shortly. It is designed for a more ergonomic SO2R operating position while allowing rapid reconfiguration for a two-position multi-op. I'll say more about it when it's fully built. That could be a while since I'll be reconstructing the shack in stages.

There are no new towers planned this year. There may never be. Acquiring towers at a good price is no problem, and I certainly have the space to put them. I remain very fit and I do a lot of tower work for myself and others, but time is unkind to all of us and one day that will no longer be the case. I don't want to create a maintenance nightmare in my sunset years, or at least nothing worse than what I now face.

My 2023 plan was written 9 months ago and an update is necessary. I will not get it all done, and indeed that happens every year. I like to aim high and make compromises along the way as I determine my true priorities versus what might only be nice to have.

For those keeping track (which, I'm sure, is no one except me), you can compare the current outlook with my plan for 2023. I'll do well if I get all these jobs done (coloured in red).

The trap tri-banders -- TH6 and TH7 -- are going away. I decide a while ago to migrate away from trap yagis due the inevitable loss in the traps. They have been helpful until now by filling an immediate need. Now I am in a position to move on, mostly.

The Hy-Gain Explorer 14 sat idle for a long time until I sold it last year. The TH7 was recently sold to a friend. It did its job when I had fewer antennas but it, too, is now surplus. The TH6 will come down and be set aside while I contemplate whether to sell it or put it elsewhere. It might be useful fixed south for rapid multiplier hunting. The resale value of this 50 year old antenna is pitifully low so I'm tempted to find a use for it.

Per my plan, I purchased a trap-less tri-band yagi for a multiplier antenna. It is a Bencher Skyhawk tri-band yagi (now manufactured and sold by DX Engineering). I jumped at the opportunity since it is faster and easier than designing and building an equivalent antenna. The antenna is well regarded and the performance is quite good.

The way I bought the Skyhawk is funny. Earlier this summer I was helping to dismantle an old friend's station. He hasn't been active for a while and decided to exit the hobby. The Skyhawk was on the smaller of his towers. I had a good look while rigging it for lowering and I liked what I saw. Once we had it on the ground I asked him, from 50' up the tower, how much he was asking for it. We proceed to negotiate by shouting back and forth and settled on a price. There was much laughter from the others helping that day.

After a few days of work the towers and antennas were down and the towers trucked to their new owners. One more trip with the help of a friend and his truck brought the Skyhawk home along with hundreds of pounds of aluminum and steel he'd accumulated over the years. Some of it I recognized from my youth decades earlier when I worked on his towers.

In the picture you can see the Skyhawk boom reassembled and many of the elements. At right is a small portion of the gifted aluminum. One picture can't do justice to how much aluminum there really is. Some of it has already gone to another ham with his own fall antenna plans. That will still leave me plenty of pipes and tubes to build several antennas that I have planned. But perhaps not this year.

When the Skyhawk replaces the XM240 on the Trylon tower I'll have a fully rotatable tri-bander up 21 meters that performs well and can be turned more quickly than the upper yagis of the 20, 15 and 10 meter stacks that are rotated with slower prop pitch motors. Speed counts in a contest. The Skyhawk replace the TH6, which is side mounted with limited rotation.

Putting the XM240 where the TH6 presently resides will reduce my capability on 40 meters since it will only be rotatable between southeast (South America) and west (W7/VE7/Pacific). This is temporary. My plan is for a 2-element reversible Moxon that will be more efficient, have improved F/B and SWR, instant switching between Europe and the US, and 270° of compass coverage. If I get ambitious I'll stack it with the big 3-element yagi at the top of the tower (150').

I considered a W6NL Moxon conversion of the XM240, but that's no longer necessary with all the aluminum in my possession. In any case that would have been only a partial job since I want to make it reversible. A reversible yagi makes the best use of the side mount, and I really want to avoid the mechanical challenge of a swing gate and rotator that can handle the torque from an antenna of that size offset on a swing gate. The ancient Ham-M on the side mount should have no difficulty with the 40 meter Moxon, despite its long elements, since the wind area will be lower than the TH6.

I have preliminary computer models for the reversible Moxon but I doubt I'll be able to build and test it this year. Hopefully I'll be able to replace the XM240 with the new antenna in 2024. I could do a conversion of the XM240 but it is actually easier to build a reversible Moxon from scratch with the aluminum I recently acquired and sell the XM240 if I choose to do that.

That will have to suffice for 40 meter antenna work this year since I must consider the work to repair the capacitance hats of the 3-element 40 meter yagi. That's a major repair job that I have planned this fall. The new design that I installed earlier this year is performing well so I've gone ahead and made replacements for the director and reflector elements. 

I recently designed a 2-element yagi for 17 and 12 meters. There are published designs out there but I preferred try to do it myself. This antenna is in my 2023 plan. The priority isn't high and I will delay the project if necessary. There is also the challenge of where to put it since I am running out of tower space! 

My plan for 160 meters is modest compared to my stated ambitions. I will improve performance of the shunt-fed tower, and that may be it. The radials will be doubled from 8 to 16. I have been accumulating scrap wire over the past year to make up the 240 meters of wire for the additional 8 radials. Small gauge wire isn't so expensive that I need to scrounge but it's more fun this way. Once a scrounger always a scrounger.

The other problem I want to address is the small SWR bandwidth of the antenna. As ON4UN documented in detail in his book Low Band DXing, electrically long verticals have a narrow matching range. For daily operating it is not a problem since activity is concentrated between 1810 and 1843 kHz. The narrow bandwidth becomes a problem during contests when activity spreads from 1800 to beyond 1900 kHz.

The solution is a wider gamma rod. A wire cage is lightweight and cheap and is as effective as a large diameter "wire". I have been considering alternatives mechanical designs, one of which you can see above on my indoor tower jig. Before settling on a design I'll model several configurations. Work on the 160 meter vertical will have to wait until at least late September.

At the right of the picture you can see a lot of LDF4 Heliax. This is ancient cable that I first used in 1985. It has seen some rough handling over the years and is now little better than scrap. The impedance "bumps" on the three 40 meter lengths begin to emerge as low as 4 to 5 MHz. So what can be done with it other than disposing of it as trash? Answer: Beverage!

I don't really need another Beverage for more directions. The 6 directions I now have serve me well. What I'm missing is a directional antenna for the second station for use in multi-op contests. The Beverage switching system is not designed to be sharable and schemes for doing it all have shortcomings. A separate receive antenna can help when both stations are on the low bands at night. Most of the time these will be 80 and 160 meters, but sometimes 40 meters when a little extra noise reduction is needed to dig out a weak station.

My intent is to run it east-west and make it reversible like my other coax Beverage made from RG6. It will run along the fence line that I used for a temporary 90 meter long west Beverage a few years ago. If its 120 meter length makes it too directive I can shorten it. This is a project for late fall when the snow flies and tower projects are wrapped up for the season.

I have several work items to pursue this fall on 80 meters. The easiest is to improve the anchors for the 80 meter inverted vee that I re-installed this year. Most of what I'll need has been prepared for some time but I delayed the work due to the growing hay and the arrival of tick season. 

The central tower of the 80 meter vertical yagi has to be replaced before I can make antenna improvements. That involves planting improved guy anchors. These will be identical to what I made for the overhead cable run. It is a physical job that is best delayed until the weather cools, but must be completed before the ground freezes. The new anchors can be built without disturbing the tower and antenna. However, I'll have to move quickly should I decide to replace the tower this fall because the antenna is needed for the coming major contests.

There are several half-completed projects on the back workbench that you can't make out in the above picture. I'll talk about those another time. This is, as usual, a busy time of year.

Inside the shack, the new operating desk is slowly coming together. The desktop's final coat of polyurethane is drying and the multitude of cables is being organized. This project, too, will progress in stages. I want to get the station minimally operational soon even though I have little motivation to operate in August. I don't want to rush later since that will result in a sloppy job. I'm a poor carpenter but I wasn't satisfied with the suitability of the numerous commercial products I looked at.

Other indoor projects include: rotator controllers, improved performance and new features for the station automation system, lightning protection and computer networking. Outdoors maintenance items include clearing of summer growth around the Beverage antennas, removing tree limbs near overhead cables, checking and replacing cable ties, and much more. Maintenance is the curse of a big station.

There's no end to all the work and that's fine. Amateur radio is a great hobby to learn new things and see immediate results when you put your station to the test. Sharing what I learn in this blog is one way I give back the hobby.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Contest Flare

This will be a short article about a short subject: dealing with solar flares in a contest. The goal is to briefly describe the effects of solar flares on contest strategy. 

When I've written before about contesting in poor conditions, I emphasized how everyone is in the same situation so it is imperative to carry on. For those unfortunate cases where the effects are not the same for everyone, you can still measure yourself against others in your geographic region. It's relative performance that matters, not the absolute value of your score.

Those articles were written when solar activity was low. Solar maxima are different because flares are more frequent. For the observant ham, it is possible to gain a competitive advantage when a flare occurs. The X-class flare on August 6 during the NAQP (North American QSO Party) illustrates the point.

A solar flare temporarily boosts the ionization level in the ionosphere. While this may seem like a good thing, it is too much of a good thing since signals that would be refracted are instead absorbed. The result is a radio blackout at HF. 

Notice in this map of the estimated effects of Saturday's flare (screenshot from SolarHam) that the intensity of the blackout depends on the solar declination (angle of the sun above the horizon). The tropics are hit harder than the polar regions and where it's midday. There is no increased absorption where it's nighttime. Signal attenuation declines with increasing frequency.

When a couple of contesters in the area expressed concern about the poor weekend propagation forecast, I joked that if there's a solar flare all they need to do is to step out of the shack for 30 minutes. That may seem an odd thing to say and perhaps my joke went astray. It is important to understand that the various solar and geomagnetic indices we follow are not all alike. Geomagnetic disturbances, proton storms and flares have unique effects. The effect of flares is more predictable than most and typically of short duration.

Most flares are brief and the HF blackout can recede in as little as 30 minutes. Less common long duration flares have similarly longer blackouts. The intensity of the flare (M or X class) determines the amount of signal absorption and frequency breadth. The X1.6 flare during the contest (the above X-ray flux graph is from the GOES web site) was of moderate length and the worst of the blackout would have lasted perhaps about an hour -- I was unable to monitor the bands so I'm going by the reports of others.

Contests don't have a timeout when there's an HF blackout! As a participant you have to decide what to do. First, however you need to know that a flare occurred. When the bands suddenly empty of stations you should suspect a flare. Check the solar and geomagnetic indices. Some are updated within minutes, and the rise in X-ray flux due to a flare is very rapid. By the time you notice the blackout it is probable that the online X-ray flux data will show the leading edge of the flare.

Let's assume that you are an observant contester and you quickly discover that a flare has occurred. What should you do? Is there a way to take advantage? The answer depends on the contest. In many cases there is nothing you can do except take a short rest so that you're in better physical condition when conditions improve. In select cases you can use the flare to your competitive advantage.

Flares do not affect propagation on the night side of the Earth. There's about a 50% chance that the flare does not directly affect you. You might only notice that you cannot work stations in the daylight hemisphere. There may be no reason to change what you're doing. You can continue to do well on the low bands, which are certainly better at night. By the time the sun rises it will be business as usual. During times of low solar flux you may be totally unaware of the flare since the high bands are dead at night, and that is where you work most of the stations located in the flare-affected half of the globe.

That was not the case during last weekend's NAQP. All of North America was effected. Even stations in the eastern fringe where sunset was approaching would have found few stations to work on either the low or high bands. Going to 10 meters where attenuation is lower was not an option for most since the prevailing conditions were poor on that band.

NAQP is a contest where single op stations are restricted to operating less than the full contest duration: 10 out of 12 hours. There are other contests like this, including CQ WPX where single ops can operate 36 out of 48 hours, or 24 out of 30 hours in ARRL Sweepstakes. The best strategy in these contests may be to take time off when the flare occurs. The sooner you recognize the HF blackout and confirm the rise of the X-ray flux, the sooner you can pull the switch.

The minimum off time is typically 30 minutes. That may be enough to escape the worst of the blackout. Stations that continue to operate will see their rate and score potential decline. They will have no choice but to take their off times when conditions have recovered. A strategic off time can improve your competitive position relative to them. Check the X-ray flux to see if the worst as over -- that does not count as assistance for unassisted operators -- since listening time counts as operating time according to the rules of most contests.

Let's look at a slightly different situation. Imagine that the flare had occurred 2 hours later. Most of eastern North America would have been in darkness and not directly affected the blackout. Stations where it is nighttime have a different strategic option available to them. 

The high bands in NAQP favour those in the western half of the continent because they are relatively few compared to the major population of the eastern seaboard and US mid-west. Their run rates can be very high on the high bands. In the east, the low bands are the most productive since that is where the bulk of contacts can be made.

It can be very smart for those in darkness to concentrate on 40 and 80 meters while the HF blackout lasts. Check 20 meters occasionally for signs of recovery from the blackout -- this is where SO2R or a separate SDR spectrum monitor can help. Less time is wasted on the unproductive high bands. Since many eastern stations operate 40 meters during daylight in NAQP and Sweepstakes there are ample stations to work, including those that may be less aware of the flare's effects. The flare can alter the relative competitiveness of eastern and western competitors.

HF blackouts due to flares lower everybody's score potential. But the objective in a contest is to score better than competitors, not to achieve the highest possible score. Strategic reaction to solar flares can improve a station's prospects. It is good to keep this in mind since solar maxima bring more and stronger flares, and they will be with us for at least the next 2 years.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Unclear on the Concept: DX Spotting

In the beginning, when we heard a rare DX station we would pick up the telephone and call our friends. They would get on the air and work the DX, and then they might call their friends. These telephone trees were always shallow with few beneficiaries. But there were many of these small trees spread across the globe. They relied on those with the time to spin the dial and find stations, and a smaller number that globally networked with other DXers. This was how groups of DXers found stations and, importantly, knew when and where stations were likely to appear.

The internet changed everything. Now we have a large number of DX spotting clusters networked together so that when a stranger on the other side of the world spots a station we learn about it almost instantly. We click on the spot and our transceiver interfaced PC instantly jumps to the DX station and might even set the correct mode and frequency split. 

It has never been easier to chase DXCC and other operating awards. I've benefitted and it's likely that you have as well. Some laud the technology, exploiting it to the maximum. Others sneer at the ease and simplicity and mourn the loss of the traditional skills of research, tuning and listening. I'll set that debate aside to focus on a different and modern problem: poor and improper use of spotting networks.

First, what is the proper way to spot DX? We can debate which stations to spot, but that's pointless since we will never all agree. It can be rare DX, but it can also be anyone and everyone during a contest, or simply a kind note about a non-rare station who was a pleasant conversationalist. Regardless of your thoughts on this I think we can agree that spots should ideally include the following information:

  • Frequency
  • Call sign
  • Whether the station is operating split, and optionally the offset
  • The location of the station if it is not obvious from the call sign; e.g. IOTA, grid square, state/oblast/county/zone, POTA/SOTA, etc.

Only the first two are mandatory. The rest depends on how helpful you want to be. It isn't unreasonable to avoid including optional information so that others must do their part by listening. I'm a minimalist when I spot a station.

The list of poor spotting etiquette is long. We can roughly categorize those as careless, inappropriate or malicious. I'll talk about the ones I've encountered that aggravate, surprise and amuse me. And why not? The height of summer is a great time to relax and have some fun. I'll leave the technical topics for another day.

Above are a few examples that I randomly selected for the purpose of this article. They are assembled from screenshots collected from a web-based spot aggregator. In these screenshots I am redacted personal identification even if the spotters are not shy about what they're doing.


We all make mistakes. The proper way to deal with it is to correct the error. Few do for their bad spots. In the example above, I'm not sure if the correction was distributed out of sequence or whether the error "corrected" the correct call sign.

Careless mistakes that I often see include:

  • Automatic spotting while running: Many logging applications include a feature to spot every call sign you type in or log while spinning the VFO. If you forget to tell the software that you're running (CQing on a frequency) the spots will continue to be generated. This is of course irritating for those who click on the spot and find that the station isn't there or not workable because it's the spotter's frequency. A few hams do it deliberately (bragging about their big signal?) though most often it's just a mistake.
  • Call sign error: Mistyping a call sign can cause confusion. It can be a dropped letter, transposed letter, changing "0" to "O", or just a typo. Most logging software will let you make the mistake. If I click on the spot, work the station and log it, I should not expect a confirmation! These mistakes are common, so listen carefully.
  • Propagating an error: I know this one well. Someone copies my call during a contest as "VE3UN" and spots it. Many hams miscount dits when the CW speed is very high in a contest, and this error is very common for my call. The mistake is propagated when callers, drawn in to work a new station, fail to listen and also spot the erroneous call.
  • Spotting the wrong frequency: This is common for split operation in a DX pile up. Rather than spot their receive frequency (where the DX station is transmitting) they spot their own transmit frequency. This is worse than simply unhelpful since most logging software give precedence to the most recent spot. You click on the spot and find yourself listening to the pile up instead of the DX station. You either hunt for the DX or manually locate an old spot with the correct frequency.


There is a fine line between careless and inappropriate spots. My criterion is that the inappropriate spot is one whose purpose is not that of informing about a station's call sign and frequency. That is, using the spotting system for communication of other kinds of messages is inappropriate. 

Examples are legion, but here are a few that I regularly encounter:

  • No copy: These are variation of "nope, I hear nothing". If that's the case, what is being spotted? Your failure to copy a station not only doesn't justify a spot but also misleads others to believe that you have heard the station. Few hams notice the added comments and solely rely on their band maps and spectrum maps that just plot the call sign at the frequency.
  • ESP attempts: The DX station is working a pile up, not reading spots. You cannot effectively communicate with them this way. Pilot stations for the especially rare DXpeditions may, but that's about it, and it still won't help you. Cries of "you got my call wrong!" are not only pointless but non-radio attempts to correct the DX station's log is inappropriate. Do what the rest of us do: work them again. The same goes for spot messages such as: "turn to NA", "I need you on 160 SSB" or "upload your log!".
  • Shaming: We all make mistakes. Using the spotting network to publicly shame other hams is inappropriate no matter the reason. Naming the alleged guilty party with a call sign and a message like "UP UP", "20 khz splatter", or "DQRMer" is very rude. Your impatience or frustration are not a valid excuse for your inappropriate behaviour.
  • Help me: "Where is he listening?", "did he QSY?" and so forth are inappropriate. Spots are not a chat line. There are venues where assistance can be requested.
  • Complaints: There are an awful of spots of this variety. Examples include: "they only work EU", "too much $$$ for a QSL", "he's deaf" and insults for a host of perceived affronts. Public tantrums are not cute after you've passed the age of 3.
  • Brag: "DXCC300", "worked with qrp and dipole", "human to human" and so much more. We should be proud of our accomplishments, but not in this way. The implication with some of these messages is that those who operate differently from them or have accomplished less are lesser hams. Bragging is almost always impolite, and it is certainly inappropriate in a spot.
  • Skimmers: There are always a few hams who connect their personal skimmers to spotting networks rather than to the RBN.

Many of these inappropriate spots should not be sent at all or should be fodder for the announcement feature of the cluster network. But few hams pay attention to announcements -- for good reasons that I won't get into here -- and these are people who want to be heard. But that's a poor excuse to misuse the spotting network.


Human beings continue to be human when they sit in front of a radio. Hams are not angels. Those with malice in their hearts or who harbour grudges don't always set them aside when they operate. When these individuals are sufficiently uninhibited they will use the spotting network to expose their inner demons.

I won't give examples of malicious messages since this is intended as a lighthearted article. Consider the following:

  • Political and hate speech
  • Impersonation of others to post inappropriate messages
  • Deliberate frequency and call sign errors to misdirect or confuse

You've probably seen examples of all of these types of malicious message. I suggest that you ignore them and use a cluster that actively monitors for and filters abusers of the network. Which brings me to the next topic.


Cluster operators do not act independently. They share tools and filters and discuss ways to minimize improper use of the network. They not only filter users but also clusters that permit or encourage bad actors. It is to our benefit that they do. I don't believe enough hams are aware of their efforts on our behalf.

In addition to the filters applied by the cluster operators you can have your own filters. Filter features are provided by most of the cluster software applications. You can configure those with applications such as CC User by VE7CC

You can also create filters in your logging software. I have done this for several hams that persistently make careless and inappropriate spots. Don't overdo it since most hams eventually correct their behaviour.

In truth, I'm rarely annoyed by poor cluster etiquette. Most of the time I find it quite funny. For example, when a busted call is posted and others echo the mistake rather than listening. Their carelessness is mostly undermining their own award chasing and contest scores. I just shrug, smile and move on.

Is the above example of spotting behaviour inappropriate? Sure. Funny? Very. Sometimes you get the right result by doing the wrong thing. Relax, laugh and don't take poor cluster etiquette too seriously.

Note to readers: You may have noticed a longer than usual gap since my last article. Nothing has happened except summer weather and too many projects. It isn't easy to sit in front of a computer and bang on the keyboard when the weather is fine. I'll soon get back to regular blogging to talk about some of those projects.