During a recent AmRRON HF Net we experienced horrible band conditions.  It was easy enough to see.  Every ten minutes the band conditions are updated in a bar graph visual representation of the bands and their reliability at http://www.bandconditions.com/.

But the question was posed, “what if there’s no internet?”

Answer:  Beacons! 

Once program I use regularly is called the HF Beacon Tracker by W6NEK.  This is available as a downloadable desktop PC program or an App for your Smart devices.

Available at:   http://www.w6nek.com/
This program, whether on your desktop or mobile device, shows a world map with 18 beacons across the world indicated by a small round pin.  The beacons rotate through a cycle, switching from East to West, each beacon transmitting for ten seconds in turn.  The program will indicate which beacon is transmitting, in real time, by a flashing red light at the transmitting location.

HF Beacon Tracker - W6NEK

From the W6NEK Website:

The 10 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: its 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 watts respectively.
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 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.  For more information on the NCDXF / IARU International Beacon Network visit their web site at

Beacons are transmitted on the following bands:  20m, 17m, 15m, 12m, and 10m.

I’ve copied/pasted the following chart for ready reference and have it printed in my comms binder.  Feel free to copy/paste/save the following chart and print it for your binder as well.  It’s a great ready reference.

Propagation Beacons - DX

The following Youtube video is a pretty good demonstration of a ham operator using the program:

Unfortunately beacons in the 160, 80, and 40 meter bands are “frowned upon” in ITU Region 1 (where Americans live).  However, there are some resources that show where beacons are located all across the world — in those bands.  It won’t be of much help most of the time in America, but it might be helpful to know when various bands are ‘REALLY’ opened up.

The website at http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/por/28.htm contains a worldwide list of beacons in VHF, UHF, HF, and MF bands.  I copy/pasted the list into a Word document, then saved and printed it for my comms binder.