Maritime and NDB’s
Here are some beacon lists and information. Maritime beacons are used by shipping for Navigation and their callsigns usually consist of 1 or 2 letters sent in Morse Code. There are fewer of these maritime beacons around now as navigation is being dealt with by GPS and Satellite technologies but you can still hear some.
Non Directional Beacons (NDB’s) are used by aircraft for navigation purposes. They, like the maritime beacons, mostly inhabit the part of the spectrum between Long Wave and Medium Wave (i.e. 270-500kHz approximately). NDB’s identify by sending their call letters in Morse code and usually consist of 2 or 3 letters (which quite often bear a relationship to the actual location of the beacon).
Although these beacons are only designed to have an operational radius of just a few tens of nautical miles, they can often be received MUCH further afield. It is not uncommon for UK based listeners to hear NDB’s located in North America, which is about 3000 miles away—slightly outside the NDB’s designed operational range!
There are many excellent sites devoted to NDB’s, Alan Gale runs a particularly good one (Beaconworld) as does Robert Connolly, over in Ireland. These sites will give you a wealth of information about these beacons and reception techniques. Because of the transmission mode that most NDB’s use, there are tricks to ensuring you have the best chance of hearing and identifying the beacons. Both these sites are well worth visiting if your are intending to have a listen to these beacons and you can get the latest information regarding callsign and frequency changes.
Click HERE to download a text file of NDB’s in Europe, but with some further away. I cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of this list as it was pieced together from information found on the internet—it is put here just to give you an idea of the beacons that may be receivable. I cannot comment on the legality of listening to these beacons, it may be illegal at your location, it may not.
Click HERE to view my NDB heard list (315+ logged).
Here is a screen grab of some of the beacons heard on 404kHz, as you can see this frequency, and many others, tend to get busy and it can be very difficult to separate the different signals - good ears, eyes and filters are called for in this game!
For a detailed list of worldwide 6m beacons visit the G3USF site.
Many amateurs operate beacons from their own stations, so may not be operational all the time.
The beacons on 6m are an excellent indicator of propagation, which is their primary use. I must admit it can be very frustrating to hear a beacon from a new country but not to hear any operators on air. I have heard one of the Moroccan beacons a number of times (sometimes at very good strength) and similarly the Svalbard beacon but have not been able to find a single active station from that country. There will be more information and recordings of some beacons heard on my 6m page.
On the 14, 18, 21, 24 and 28 MHz amateur bands are a chain of propagation beacons that were constructed by and operated by the Northern California DX Foundation (NCDXF). The chain consists of 18 beacons which are time synchronised and follow a strict transmission schedule. Because of this it is possible to know at any given time which beacon is transmitting. Also because of this time synchronised schedule it has been possible to develop software that takes advantage of this. One such program is the well known BEACONSEE. This program can be setup in a number of ways to monitor the beacons on a given band or to monitor a single beacon across selected bands (provided you have a radio that is capable of being controlled by the computer). Using this program it is easy to see if propagation exists to a given part of the world, or what areas a particular band is open to (or just opening/closing). The beacon network has been carefully selected and the 6 main continents are represented. All the beacons run the same equipment and antennas (which I believe are modified Kenwood TS50’s and Cushcraft R5 Verticals). The beacons have a useful secondary feature which is a stepped output level. The first tone and the call sign are sent at full power (100 watts), the next tone is sent at 10 watts, then 1 watt and the final tone is at 100mW. It is amazing just how many beacons can be heard at all power levels. The 100mW tone is 30dB down on the 100W carrier, which would equate to 5 s points on your signal meter (using the ’standard 6dB per s point’ calibration. In practise though you will find that doesn’t hold true as receiver s meters are usually not very linear in calibration, especially over such a wide frequency range. What you will find is that if the first tone is loud, the chances are you will be able to hear all power levels (providing the noise level at your station allows!).
Below are captures of the 14MHz band using BeaconSee. Each beacon runs on a very slightly different frequency/offset, which is an aid to identification, particularly if there is noise present on the band.
The beacons in order of keying are:
4U1UN (USA, NY), VE8AT (CANADA), W6WX (USA, CA), KH6WO (HAWAII), ZL6B (NEW ZEALAND), VK6RBP (AUSTRALIA), JA2IGY (JAPAN), RR9O (RUSSIA), VR2B (HONG KONG), 4S7B (SRI LANKA), ZS6DN (SOUTH AFRICA), 5Z4B (KENYA), 4X6TU (ISRAEL), OH2B (FINLAND), CS3B (MADEIRA), LU4AA (ARGENTINA), OA4B (PERU), YV5B (VENEZUELA)
These captures were taken on 20m in the middle of March 2006 (nearing the bottom of the 11 year sunspot cycle).
The first one, taken at 0950 shows weak openings to New Zealand and Venezuela (together with the usual ‘local’ beacons of Israel, Finland and Madeira))
This capture was taken at 1200, as well as the beacons from earlier, the ones from New York and Canada are now clearly audible. The path to New Zealand is very much weaker
at 1330, the story changes, and the band is changing again. The Russian beacon cannot be seen, and the paths to Venezuela, New Zealand and Canada are all weak. The vertical bars are high level noise spikes that lasted for some time, probably a faulty thermostat or some other electrical switch arcing.
As you can see just over the period from 1000-1400 on the same day, propagation varies wildly. I will do another set of captures for the summer, then the autumn (fall) and winter to see how the propagation varies over the seasons.
I changed software some time ago from Beaconsee (which is the program used for the above screenshots) to a relatively new package called 'Faros' from the same author that wrote 'DX Atlas' (VE3NEA). To download a 30 day trial of this software, visit www.dxatlas.com. The screenshots below were taken using Faros.
Click picture for full size image.
This is a screenshot taken on 1st October 2009 at about 1230UTC on 14.100MHz. Down the left hand side are the beacon callsigns with a coloured box next to them. This box indicates how strong the beacon was received, with black indicating no signal heard. It can be seen from this that I was able to hear the following beacons: 4U1UN (USA), VE8AT (Canada), 4X6TU (Israel) and OH2B (Finland). However if you look at the large blue area, this shows a slightly more detailed display. Along the top are the beacon calls and below that is an FFT area where you can see what has been recorded over the last few beacon cycles. From this we can see that we were hearing the New Zealand beacon (ZL6B), we have also heard briefly Sri Lanka (4S7B), Madeira (CS3B) and Venezuela (YV5B). The thin blue line across the top is a local noise source. From this we can determine that there is a weak opening to ZL at around midday so the best chance of working anyone from New Zealand would be at that time. If we were to click on the history tab, we would get an analysis of signal strength over tyhe monitoring period, and we can also find out if the beacon was received via short path or long path (cleverly calculated by received time delay against known transmission periods. This is then plotted on a graph.
Click picture for full size image
With this shot, taken at a slightly different time but on the same day, we can see that there is no trace of any beacons from North America, but we can hear OH, 4X, CS3 and ZL. If you observe what beacons are audible over the course of a week, you will get a pretty good idea of when to be active to stand the best chance of catching someone from the area of interest.
Click pictures for full size images.
This shot (faros3.jpg) was taken at 1530 utc in early October and I was monitoring 3 bands, namely 14, 18 and 21MHz. As you can see, 21MHz is closed, no signals at all were detected. However 14MHz, was open to East USA, Northern Canada, Finland (very strong signal) and a much weaker signal from Madeira. 18MHz showed a slightly different picture, it being open to East USA and Venezuela. So if you needed a contact from South America, at this time of day then 18MHz would be the band of choice even though there are not many stations to be heard from here (because they are in places that the band is not open to). I know the band is open and it would be ideal to put out some CQ's.
Click pictures for full size images.
Interestingly half hour later, at 1600UTC 14MHz is open to Venezuela, with stronger signals than 18MHz. But it is only a marginal opening as the signals are coming and going. Signals from South Africa are making an appearance every so often. 14MHz is a little unstable to certain areas at the moment and solid readable signals could not be guaranteed. This may change as the evening progresses.
The West coast of USA may be on the verge of opening as the W6 beacon has just been heard, very weakly on short path and only for one cycle.
Click pictures for full size images.
The advantage of Faros is that it can differentiate between genuine beacon signals and just noise. The last image (bottom) was taken at 10UTC the following morning, and as you can see from that propagation is not very good, certainly at my location. Unusually though, the VE8 beacon is clearly audible indicating that there is a possible path to the pacific over the north pole if you are one of the better equipped stations (sadly I am not!) - a few UK stations were working into the Fiji area just after I had taken this screen grab.
10m and other HF beacons
There are many propagation beacons that have been set up either by individual amateurs or by groups/clubs covering all the bands from 1.8 upwards. These beacons are very useful in determining where a band is open to and can also be used for propagation studies as they are located all over the world. 10m alone has over 300 beacons to listen for! For ease of use I have extracted the 10m beacons throughout the world from the G3USF list and have made it available to download as a PDF (71kb).
For a regularly updated list of all the HF beacons, visit G3USF’s HF beacons page.