Sporadic E skip on 144 MHz Occasionally Happens — Be Alert

   12:45pm Thur.  
   What follows is a revision of a post I first made in May of 2011. 

    Last night (May 21st, 2014) was the first sporadic E skip opening of the season (that I’m aware of) on 2m or 144 MHz. 

    Sporadic Es happens regularly on 50 MHz (from about May to Aug. with a smaller peak about Dec-Jan.) and “E skip” is a big part of why so many hams call 6 meters “The Magic Band”.  
   Sporadic Es is far more rare on 2 meters than on 6, so you really want to be ready for it and take advantage of the few times it does happen.  For Es to happen on 2 meters, you need the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) to climb into the 144-148 MHz range. 
   Several ways you can be alert to this happening:
   1)  Find a fairly empty channel near the top of the FM broadcast band.  When E skip starts bombing in up to 108 MHz, you want to be extra alert.   (But there are many times where the MUF will go up to 108 MHz, but not get into the 2m band.) 
   2)  What a lot of VHF’ers listen for is when 6 meter E skip paths get short.  Typical one-hop range with 6 meter E skip is roughly 700-1500 miles.  When you start hearing stations on 6 coming in strong from 500 miles or less, that’s a good sign that the MUF is really climbing and 2 meter E skip may be developing or already occurring.  The typical pattern is for 144 Es to develop along the same path as the short 6 meter Es, but with the 2 meter stations farther apart.    In other words, if I’m in WI and I’m hearing short E skip on 6 meters say out to OH, then I might anticipate a 2m path to NY/NJ or New England.   Mind you, once the Es start, they can do anything they want.  Stay flexible and enjoy the ride. 
   3)  There are maps available on the internet that depict what the MUF is over different areas.  Go to this website:  www.dxmaps.com.  You will see a dazzling variety of things.  Have fun.  🙂  What I specifically bring up to monitor the MUF over North America is this:  http://www.dxmaps.com/spots/map.php?Lan=E&Frec=MUF&ML=M&Map=NA&DXC=N&HF=N&GL=N

      I’d say E skip on 2 meters only happens about 6-12 times a year.  Unless you’re truly obsessed, you’ll be lucky to catch more than 3-5 of these openings.    2 meter E skip tends to be short-lived and not as strong as the Es on 6m.    All the openings I’ve heard were either in the late morning/early afternoon or in the early/mid evening.        
   It is extremely rare for the MUF to get as high as the 220 MHz band, (I did hear VA once on 222, very briefly) and to my knowledge, it has never happened on 70cm. 

    Here’s some friendly advice…   Short CQ’s are best on VHF.  Especially if you’re trying to work E skip, which can literally be in for only a minute or two.  I have had times where a guy 15 miles away is working all kinds of DX and I never hear a peep.  Then for say 30 seconds, I hear someone bomb in and abruptly fade away.  If you are calling long CQ’s or ragchewing during this time, you’ll never know I heard you.  Whenever I hear a guy start up with “CQ, CQ, CQ, CQ.   This is AB9XYZ, AB9XYZ, AB9XYZ.  CQ, CQ, CQ, CQ…”  I smile  because I know someone used to HF is now trying out VHF. 
    Use shorter CQ’s for VHF, especially if the band is open or busy.  A simple “CQ E skip, KC9BQA EN63, CQ” is more than enough.  Unkey, wait a bit,  then repeat.  Keep a little RF out there, but leave pauses for others.  Our openings are precious, so be efficient, concise and you will make more contacts. 

    Another piece of advice — yes, the call frequency is 144.200.  Yes, you should swing your beams around and call CQ anytime you’re near the rig.   Don’t fall into the trap of “just listening”.   If 20 guys listen and nobody calls CQ, what happens then?… (nothing)
    BUT… keep your QSO’s on 144.200 short.  If you want to have a ragchew, QSY up/down 10, 15, 20, whatever.  Main thing is to not tie up the call freq. for long, especially when the band might be open or busy.   I will say that in rural, isolated areas with few 2m SSB ops, there’s some merit to keeping .200 more busy.  Provided you take frequent breaks to invite others to join in or to let them use .200 to make their own calls for DX.  
    If you monitor 2m long enough with decent antennas, you will have special days where contacts are being made well beyond the usual 100-300 mile range.  On those days, you will understand why it’s important to not all clump together on 144.200. 
    New ops, especially those who are used to channelized repeater operating need to use their VFO’s and spread out from 144.200 when it’s busy.   Say you do catch a big E skip opening on 2.   Would you rather have 10 stations all fighting it out on 144.200, or would you rather hear clearer signals scattered from 144.170-144.230?    Let’s put it another way.   If you went to a grocery store and saw 10 people with full carts standing in one line, wouldn’t you slide over to the checkout gal who has nobody in line?

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