Aids To Understanding HF Propagation Numbers
Using HF Beacon Tracking Programs
This article is in 2 parts:
2. HF Beacon Tracking Programs
1. HOW TO UNDERSTAND
Understanding hf propagation can be a daunting
task for the newcomer to hf radio. There is much information on the
internet and when you consider all of the theory books that, when
digested, can still leave you thinking, "What does it all mean to me? All
I want to know is can I make some good DX contacts today on the hf
ham bands that I am authorized to use?"
There are a multitude of answers to that question and they all can
be confusing to you if you try to remember what you have read with all
that information overload. In this article we will not present a multitude
of charts and graphs that mean little to many of you
hope to help you understand what those numbers mean in all of that
started......Take a look at the propagation forecast box with realtime
info below courtesy of G4ILO and WebProp...
You will notice first off, it
states "HF Propagation": (meaning 160
thru 10 meters)
Next the date and UTC time,
Solar Flux and a number beside it.
K Index and a number beside
Sunspots and a number beside it.
"Conditions" forecast and
a word or two in the right column.
_ signs means stable or
Arrows beside the numbers pointing up or down mean
change in the respective direction.
So what do those numbers mean
Look again at the numbers in the box
above then compare them below.
Solar Flux [ HIGH is GOOD
Higher Solar Flux generally suggests better propagation on
the 10, 12, 15, 17, & 20 Meter Bands; Solar Flux rarely affects
the 30, 40, 60, 80, & 160 Meter Bands.
Represents the overall geomagnetic condition of the
ionosphere (Ap if averaged from the Kp-Index) (an average of the eight
3-hour K-Indices) (A referring to amplitude) over a given 24 hour
period, ranging (linearly) typically from 1-100 but theoretically up to
A Index [ LOW is GOOD
1 to 6 is BEST
7 to 9 is OK
11 or more is
A lower A-Index
generally suggests better propagation on the 10, 12, 15, 17, & 20
Meter Bands; a low & steady Ap-Index generally suggest good
propagation on the 30, 40, 60, 80, & 160 Meter
index [ LOW is GOOD ]
0 or 1 is BEST
3 or more is BAD
5 is VERY VERY BAD
overall geomagnetic condition of the ionosphere (Kp if averaged over the
planet) over the past 3 hours, measured by 13 magnetometers between 46
& 63 degrees of latitude, and ranging quasi-logarithmically from 0-9.
Designed to detect solar particle radiation by its magnetic effect. A
higher K-index generally means worse HF conditions.
A lower K-Index generally suggests better
propagation on the 10, 12, 15, 17, & 20 Meter Bands; a low
& steady Kp-Index generally suggest good propagation on the 30, 40,
60, 80, & 160 Meter Bands.
Next is "Conditions"
with frequency ranges on the left and the "condition" of those
frequencies on the right :
< 10Mhz (Means less than 10Mhz in
The other two frequency ranges are self explained.
So the most important part of the
propagation forecast box above is the "Conditions" section if you
don't wish to refer to those "numbers".
for the particular ham band/s within the frequency range you want to
checkout should enable you to get a good "educated guess" at how the
band/s will perform for you for those DX contacts!
important question remains....where in the world will
those bands be open? Is South America open? Is Europe open? What about
that other country you are interested in?
If the information in the forcast
box still means little in answering your questions as to what part of the
world is open.......then read on....
2. HF Beacon Tracker Programs!
Beacon tracker programs can be very helpful when you are
ready to try DXing on the hf bands. But do you really know in
advance if the band/s are open to the area of the earth you are
interested in? The propagation forecast information above will only
tell you "in general" if your band may be open and won't be "specific" to
any particular country or part of the world.
How the HF Beacons Work:
operated by amateur radio operators all over the earth transmit a CW
signal varing power levels in all directions. If you can hear it
from it's location you are usually "good to go" for that particular
location! But you need to know from what part of the earth the
beacons are being heard at your station. If you can't hear them from a particular part
of the world, then odds are that the band is not open between your station
and that part of the world!
HF Beacon Worldwide Sequence of
second beacon transmit sequence moves westward from New York across North
America, Asia, Pacific to Africa, Europe, and South America. On each
frequency, each beacon transmits the following for ten seconds:
call sign (in Morse code at 22 wpm) and a one-second carrier at 100 watts
followed by three additional one-second carriers at 10, 1, and 0.1
When each beacon completes a transmission it
goes silent on that band and switches to the next higher band. One by one
each beacon station will transmit it's call and output four 1 second
carriers (100, 10, 1 and .1 watts) until all 18 beacons have
completed the cycle. Then the sequence will start over again.
Total time for all 18 beacon stations to complete a transmit cycle on a
given band is 3 minutes.
"Seeing" the Beacons On The Map!
tracker programs can let you "see" if the beacons are on the air by a
"lighted" indicator in various countries. They are located all over
the earth. You can "see" if they are transmitting and whether or not
they can be heard with your receiver tuned to that particular beacon
frequency at your location
using the program and your receiver.
Using both your receiver and
the program together helps confirm that the band is propagating signals
from a particular area of the earth where the hf beacon is
located to your location.
So what this means is, if
you can't hear the hf beacon on your receiver, that part of the world is
usually "dead" at the present time for THAT SELECTED BAND AND THAT
PARTICULAR TRANSMITTING BEACON so you must try another hf band or
wait for the program to cycle thru all 18 beacons in the
NCDXF/IARU nework using a beacon
tracker and hopefully you will "see" and hear a beacon on your chosen
Each beacon station cycles between the 5 bands listed in a
programmed sequence, so in real time, if you are listening to a beacon on
say 17 meters, there is another beacon in another part of the world
transmitting on another band.
There are many methods, websites, programs, etc you can
download to your computer that will help you to get an idea of what bands
are open to various countries or parts of the world. Some are
free and some are not!
One of the programs I recommend
that you download and install on your computer is called The W6NEK HF Beacon Tracker and best of all it's
FREE and very simple to use!
It does a great job in telling you
what beacons are transmitting in real time from their respective
countries. You do not have to be connected to the internet for it to
work. You can use it directly from your computer.
One of the
better FREE HF Beacon Tracking Programs shown below.....
Screen shot above showing tracker in action
on 17 Meter band.
How to use
It could not be more simple....The tracker is shown above set
for 17 meters at 18.110Mhz CW on your receiver. It shows OH2B
in Finland active and transmitting with the red "led"
indicator. The beacon in Finland will transmit for 10
seconds, then the beacon tracker will switch to the next beacon in line at
another location and repeat the process. You will notice that all of
the other beacon "leds" are off on the map. The beacons from various
locations rotate transmitting and are synchronized with each location with
very accurate time so as not to interfere with other beacons. What this
means is that only one of the beacons on the map is transmitting at any
given time for one chosen band at the bottom of the tracker
program. Each beacon transmits for 10 seconds then the next one in line
starts the sequence with it's turn on the air in the pathway around
the world. All of this happens in real time as long as your computer time
In simple words, Turn on your transceiver then
download and install the beacon tracker program on your
computer...set the computer time on the internet (it MUST be be very
accurate to work with this program), open the tracker
program, follow any instructions you see and it will start
tracking worldwide hf beacons including the ones in the U.S. Choose the
band with the buttons on the bottom, (refer to screen shot above), tune
your CW receiver to the frequency shown where the beacon transmits
CW for the band you choose on the tracker and watch the magic happen.
It will "scan" the world showing the active beacons from different
parts of the earth. If you can hear one or more of them, then you know,
that band in that part of the world indicated by the tracker is
"open" or at least is propagating that frequency to your location
that you are hearing on your transceiver!
It helps to know CW since the beacons are transmitted in
Morse Code at 22wpm for identification! No, there is nothing to
hookup to get the program to work!
You can download it here> http://www.w6nek.com/ Read all about
it, download, install it and have fun!
Many more beacon tracking
here...check them out!
Other methods of
course are just to tune the bands listening for DX call signs or find
a list of all of the
worldwide beacons on the internet, use it and...tune, listen, tune,
listen, tune, listen.
Hear sound bites of what each beacon
sounds like here!
(click the little speaker when page
The W6NEK Beacon Tracker is
copyrighted by W6NEK - His email address is on