To save time, let me get this out of the way:
Yes, I do know that making contacts via FT8 is not as personal and may not be as much fun as running a pileup on SSB or CW. Still, it is Real Ham Radio and enjoyable in a different way.
I’ve used this station on multiple activations now but I have to admit that these have been mostly for POTA. It seems that whenever I get on top of a SOTA summit, I tend to focus on making VHF contacts which consumes the available time and the HF gear remains stashed way in my pack. This is more about my operating habits than anything else. Looking at spots though, there is a lot of FT8 on POTA and not nearly as much on SOTA. The SOTA crowd tends to have a lot of traditional CW enthusiasts and maybe POTA has fewer of them. Also, SOTA operating is usually backpack portable so carrying a compute device for FT8 may be considered an unnecessary hassle. POTA stations are often in or near a vehicle, so station size/weight is less of a concern.
For POTA, I make sure my activation is posted at pota.app, indicating the park number I am activating. When calling CQ, I modify the standard FT8 text to be “CQ POTA” to indicate that I am doing an activation. When my signal is detected by the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), a spot is created that shows me doing a POTA activation from that park. Pretty cool. If I have an internet connection, I monitor my spots using the Ham Alert app. This provides useful feedback about where my signal is showing up around the world.
But what are the main reasons that FT8 is useful for POTA?
FT8 is popular
In case you haven’t noticed, FT8 has emerged from being just a niche activity to now being very popular on most ham bands. At times this can be a problem with the standard FT8 frequency slice being overloaded with signals. There is a lot of FT8 activity on the bands, for general ham use and SOTA/POTA.
FT8 works well with low power
FT8 and the other WSJT-X modes are designed to work well with weak signals, so they are a great match for low-power operation. Of course, QRP power levels are very common for backpack portable activations, mostly due to the limitations of carrying a reasonable-size battery.
FT8 signals are spotted on RBN
As mentioned earlier, FT8 signals are picked up and spotted by RBN. For better or worse, people have come to rely on spotting for many types of ham radio operating. When on a SOTA or POTA activation, you really want to be spotted as such. For phone activations, I usually do that with a smartphone but that requires some extra effort and a mobile phone connection. FT8 and RBN take care of that for you.
FT8 logging is automated
The various FT8 software applications automatically log the QSO information, which means it is easy and less error-prone. After the activation, I just pull up the ADIF log file, check it for obvious errors, add in the SOTA/POTA info, and submit it to the appropriate websites.
FT8 is campsite friendly
This last one may be a bit subtle but I’ve found FT8 to be campsite friendly. By that, I mean I can get on the air at any time (early, late or at nap time) and not disturb anyone else. (On SSB, I would likely be enthusiastically yelling into the microphone trying to work a pileup.) Besides the audio noise factor, FT8 operation allows for multitasking. I can converse with my fellow campers while still keeping up with the FT8 flow. Alternatively, I can cook dinner, make a fire, or pack my backpack while the FT8 QSOs roll in. This may sound a little bit like cheating but, hey, whatever works.
So clearly, I’ve been having fun with FT8 for POTA. I consider it to be another tool in the toolkit. There are times when I will make good use of it but there will also be times to use other modes.
73 Bob K0NR