Category Archives for "Contesting"

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Learn a single band

Single Band ContestingThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities. Today’s tip: Learn a single band.

Many, if not most, contests operate on a 48-hour clock. As a single operator, you may have rules that state you can only operate a certain number of those 48-hours, but there are two full days of contesting where there will be a good number of signals on the air.

That is stating the obvious, of course. But this little obvious fact has some good implications — you get two full days of activity, two cycles to learn, and two opportunities to see how things work.

This is a perfect environment for learning how a single band works for propagation.

A band operates differently over the course of a day and night; the full 24-hours is rarely used by an amateur radio operator to learn about how a band operates.

For example, the midnight opening on 15-meters to Scandinavia from the east coast or the 4 PM long path to Japan. How 80-meters opens and closes with the grey line. Or working South America over the north pole long path.

Normally in a contest, we’d rarely check all of these paths because we’re too busy running on the hot band. But using the contest as an activity booster in a 48-hour time frame allows the ham operator to learn about a single band in a short period of time.

If you’re looking to improve your understanding of a band’s propagation, enter a contest in the single band category. You’ll learn about your band in a hurry.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Use a Grey Line Map

greylinenorthernsummersolstice-3.pngThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities. Today’s tip: Use a grey line map.

For those who may be new to ham radio or propagation, the grey line is the area on the earth where the time is between day and night. This time period, longer at the poles, less at the equator, is both a wonderful propagation time and the time of transition between bands.

Knowing where the grey line is at the moment — using a great visual tool such as a grey line map — is a great accessory to have for a contest.

Depending upon where we are at in the sunspot cycle, ten meters can go from open to closed as soon as darkness hits or 160 meters can be open across the planet during the grey line and shut down to a chorus of static as soon as the sun comes over the horizon.

The grey line itself has many interesting, and perhaps still unknown, propagation characteristics as well. Signals travel further, are louder, and are geographic specific while in the grey line.

Consequently, in a contest the time between day and night or night and day is a big time of transition — and tough decision-making. Is the grey line running through our QTH and a distant multiplier that we need on 80-meters? Do I try and stay on 80-meters to see if a multiplier will be heard or do I shift to 20-meters and work the run? How should I use my second radio? How strong will the band open after the sun comes up? Should I try a higher band first?

This is classic contesting strategy: where on the bands should I be to maximize my score? The grey line work — for multipliers, for when to shift bands, for how the radio(s) are used — is one of the critical tasks for the contester to learn. And a grey line map is a great help in making those decisions.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Have a QSL system

QSL CardThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: have a QSL system.

One of the side effects of contesting is that you can generate a lot of QSL card requests from other hams who want a card from your station. Whether it is for reasons of DX, county hunting, state confirmation, prefix collecting — there are a hundred reasons — contesters get QSL cards.

Consequently, it is important to have a well thought out system for working the QSL process. Your system needs to address several areas:

Logbook of The World. The Logbook of the World service enables you to electronically confirm contacts with other stations. As I noted in “30 Ham Radio Tips — Logbook of The World,” there are some very good reasons for electronically submitting your log to this service as it reduces incoming QSL requests.

This means it is important that you have gone through the LoTW setup process, gotten your certificate, and have a log program that will format up your contesting logs into a LoTW format so you can submit them after the contest.

Direct Cards. Many stations, especially if your station is a new “something” for them, will send you cards directly. Here you need to ensure you have the right stuff to process them: Your QSL cards, envelopes, stamps, a logging program that will identify the sent and receive dates for the QSL card so you have tracking, and knowing how to process International Reply Coupons with your post office.

Bureau Cards. By far, the greatest number of QSL cards come through the worldwide bureau systems. The process is different than direct cards in that you don’t want to send bureau cards back directly to the stations as it will break your local bank.

Utilizing a bureau service, such as that provided by the ARRL here in the United States, means that you have to get the cards lined up by their rules and then be prepared to ship them off to the bureau for processing.

There is also a new service available that addresses bureau cards called Global QSL. All you need to do with this service (after creating an account and purchasing the cards) is upload your ADIF file to them and they will process all of the cards in the file. Simple and straightforward — and making bureau cards much easier to handle for the contester.

QSL cards are a fact of contesting. Having a QSL system in place for your station will ensure that the process is handled efficiently.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Review UBN’s

VP9-K9JY WriteLogThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Review UBN’s.

If you’re new to contesting, your first question is “what’s a UBN?” It’s a good question. Based upon some log review analytics, unverified contacts with other stations fall into these three categories:

Unique: The callsign worked in the log was unique compared to all other logs submitted in the contest. This is one reason why it is important for all contesters to send in their log. Points, however, are not deducted for unique calls in the log.

Busted (sometimes called “bad”): are those callsigns that are valid, but not copied correctly. For example, putting K9JX in the log as an incorrect copy of my callsign K9JY means that your contact will not count and points are lost.

Not-in-the-log: You claimed K9JY as a contact, but K9JY’s log doesn’t have you in it. Since there wasn’t a two-way confirmation of the contact, it was removed from your score.

UBN reports are provided to you after the contest committee has reviewed the logs from the contest. Not all contests participate, however, but the major CQ Magazine and ARRL Contests provide this service.

UBN reports constitute a major measure of the accuracy of your log. The higher your accuracy, the higher your score given the number of contacts.

Reviewing your UBN report — and trending it over time — will give you a good indication on how accurate your logging is and which direction it is heading.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Logbook of The World

Logbook of the WorldThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Send your log to Logbook of The World.

After sending in your contest log to the contest committee, there’s another important task to complete — sending your log into the Logbook of The World.

For those who may not be familiar with this service:

ARRL’s Logbook of the World (LoTW) system is a repository of log records submitted by users from around the world. When both participants in a QSO submit matching QSO records to LoTW, the result is a QSL that can be used for ARRL award credit.

My first experience with LoTW was after my trip to Bermuda. I, of course, was expecting an onslaught of QSL requests from the trip, but I was reminded that I should upload the logs to the LoTW. Within a couple of days returning from Bermuda, I did just that — and was rewarded with over 50 countries worked and hundreds of contacts confirmed for the deserving by other hams who had uploaded their logs as well.

Sending your log to the LoTW has several advantages for you:

  1. Instant confirmation of the contact. This confirmation can be used by you for awards.
  2. Time savings. No handwriting of QSL card requests for your awards, mailing them to the station, waiting for the return, and then submitting your award.
  3. Reduced QSL requests. One of the things that happens with contesters is that they generate a tremendous number of QSL requests from the stations they work looking for confirmation. When you send in your log to LoTW, no matter how few the contacts, the demand of your time to return QSL requests will drop.
  4. Dollar savings. Fewer QSL cards. Fewer stamps. Fewer envelopes. This is a good thing.

While it may be terrific to get physical QSL cards from your favorite stations, most contesters view QSL’ing from their contest participation as a necessary evil that comes with the territory. But sending your log to the LoTW will help put the focus back where it belongs: on contesting.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Send in your log

Send in the logThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Send in your log.

It may seem obvious that if you participate in a contest that you should send your log, usually electronically, to the contest sponsors. But many hams don’t, and that’s a shame.

The reasons for not sending in the log varied, but all the reasons come down to two basic themes: not enough contacts to warrant turning in a log and not having the time.

With the advent of electronic submission of logs, I now dismiss the “not enough time” arguments out of hand. Electronically submitting your log takes less than ten minutes. While there are sometimes issues with the ‘robots’ that accept your submission, most of the time electronic submission is simple and fast.

The “not enough contacts” to justify sending in a log is usually based upon a contester not thinking that what he or she has done is important for the contest — it’s only three contacts, so who cares? — or not thinking that it matters to the contest committee.

But sending in your log is significant for several reasons:

  1. Logs are used to cross reference other logs to validate contacts. Your three or three hundred contacts are thrown into the mix and help the contest sponsors validate what happened in the contest.
  2. Your log reduces the “uniques” count in other logs. If all you do is go into the contest and work ten stations without submitting a log, you created ten “uniques” for other stations. Uniques, while not taking away points, are a flag to contest sponsors. By submitting your log, you validate those contacts and reduce the “uniques” in the contest.
  3. You may win an award. There are many examples of logs submitted in some categories that are unique and your 300 contacts will win for that division. You may not feel it’s deserved…but the paper on the wall will give you bragging rights.
  4. Completion of the contest. Sending in the log closes out the contest portion of your participation. Closed loops are a good thing.

Sending in your log after the contest is the right thing to do. Even if you have ten contacts and think they mean nothing, send in the log and help the sponsors validate what happened during the contest. Every contact counts — and the way it counts is by sending in the log.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Accurate Logging

Accurate contest loggingThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Accurate logging.

It is sometimes forgotten that contesting consists of three key activities: making contacts, working multipliers, and accurate logging. Most of the writing out there, as well as the planning and preparation, focus on making the contacts and working multipliers. Accurate logging is often, at most, an afterthought.

But accurate logging is critical to the score. What you put into your log directly translates into points for the contest.

Inaccurate logging costs you:

Loss of points. Inaccurately logging the call and/or exchange information means that all the work you did for that contact is lost. No points for the contact — and if you blow it on a multiplier, you blow the points and the additional points associated with the multiplier because multipliers can only be worked once in a contest.

Penalty points. Many contests not only dock you the one contact, but will also dock you penalty points, usually equivalent of three more contacts and the associated points.

Loss of time. Inaccurate logging results in working the same stations over as duplicate contacts later in the contest. In fact, one of the metrics some of the larger scores use is the percentage of contacts that are duplicates — time spent where you could have been working a new contact for more points.

There are many examples of a contest being so close in points that the only differentiater between the two scores ends up being the accuracy of the log.

So taking the time to get the call and exchange right is a good contesting tip. The time you take will save you points and time later.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Filter your Packet Connection

VP9-K9JY WriteLogThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Filter your Packet Connection.

I was working a significant implementation of software for my work several years ago. It was a ton of work and a lot of pressure to get things done. Yet, one of the great breaks for me was the ability to contest — it totally gets you out of the pressured environment.

The really interesting thing about this project was that it was the first time I had worked with “human interface” consultants — people who made it their profession to understand and make recommendations for how software should be presented on the computer screen for people using the software.

On the Friday of the contest, I was speaking with one of these consultants and the cardinal rule for the number of windows open on the desktop at one time for clarity and understanding was: four.

The information in four windows is the most humans can realistically deal with at one time.

And then I went to CQ WW SSB and had our contesting software open on the desktop and, for the fun of it, I counted the number of windows open at one time.

You know it was more than four, right? I counted a total of eleven.

For our hobby, we’re willing to almost triple the number of windows open on our desktop compared to what people who do this for a living recommend. That’s contesting!

But, information overload is an important subject for contesters. We have all these windows open, asking for our intention. We have our paper based plans, propagation plans, and operating schedule by our sides. We have at our instantaneous access all that we need to do operate during a contest.

So information overload is actually something to think through. And one of the things that we can do to reduce the volume of information coming to us during the contest — and asking for our limited attention, tiring us more with insistence of concentration on the information, and distracting us from getting the call and exchange right — is the amount of packet information coming to us from the network.

Most clusters and/or software programs allow you to filter the packet spots you want to see, whether by band, by mode, or even from which operator locations making the spots.

Customizing these filters for each contest you operate is a great idea to reduce the information overload experienced during the contest.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Have a Propagation Plan

Propagation plansThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Have a Propagation Plan.

It is one thing to have an overall plan for a contest — what bands to operate, what QSO goals to have, and when to plan for off times. But a contest plan is not the whole story.

A big part of the contest is propagation and propagation is a variable right up to the contest, if not during the contest as well.

Knowing what bands are open to which locations is a critical skill to learn and this contesting skill can be significantly enhanced through the use of propagation programs.

What these programs can do is take the solar flux, K-index and/or sunspot numbers and provide you a decent indication of what bands will be open to various locations around the planet. Printing these predictions out and having them beside you while you contest can be a great reference during the contest.

I’m a great believer in not having the contester think much during the contest — because the longer we contest without sleep, the less thinking is capable of being done. We are capable of only doing basic activities — such as copying and sending code while working our logging program.

Consequently, a contest plan, propagation prediction and other contesting tools being available to a contester is an invaluable asset to help keep the contester oriented on the right band at the right time with antennas pointed in the right directions.

Scot, K9JY

30 Ham Radio Contest Tips — Review Newsletter for Contest DXpeditions

Contesting NewslettersThis month, I’m providing a ham radio contest tip-a-day (along with other posts) to help you trigger your own contesting activities.

Today’s tip: Review Newsletter for Contest DXpeditions.

I’ve written in this series about the need to update your multiplier files in order to capture the correct country and zone for those operators going off to far-away places to give the deserving their needed multiplier in the contest.

However, there is a difference between what your computer remembers and what you know so that you can recognize what you are hearing during the contest. At 3 AM local time, weird callsigns from far away places don’t make much sense and you are liable to tune away silently because you are tired — and miss the juicy multiplier passively waiting for you to work it in your multiplier file.

There are dozens of little known stations and DXpeditions on the air for major contests. The only way to know about them is to read your favorite DX or Contesting Newsletter.

These newsletters will — week by week — update us on the stations planning on being active in the contest. Reading your favorite newsletter will help you know that “this one is a multiplier” when you hear it on the air during the contest.

Scot, K9JY

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